Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A wigwam for a goose’s bridle

It never fails to amaze me how gullible people can sometimes be. It is a shame I don’t have more cheek than I do, because it seems that the snake oil salesmen are having a great time these days.

For every wacko idea you can think of there seems to be somebody marketing it and selling it and for some reason they never seem to run out of suckers to buy it. Some of the schemes are downright evil and some very trusting albeit naive people get sucked in and spat out and they are often pretty knocked about by the experience. For the peddlers of such goods and services horsewhipping is too good.

However every once in a while somebody comes along with a really wacky idea that is taken up by people who should know better and I for one can’t help but chuckle at both the audacity of the vendor and the stupidity of the buyer.

One such scheme was dreamed up by a bloke called Gary Bolton. Now before I go any further I should make it clear that I think horsewhipping is also too good for Bolton because his little scheme had some catastrophic downstream effects. However he is far from the only culpable party here. Bolton’s outrageous plan could have been scuppered long before any harm was done if certain bodies including the U.K. Government and various police and military forces had done their jobs properly.

Bolton is the bloke who came up with the idea of selling bomb detectors and made over three million quid selling them to police and military clients in Mexico, Thailand, Pakistan, China, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Egypt and Tunisia. Good idea, you might think until you learn that these devices were completely bogus.

Based upon a golf ball finder the device consisted of a box with a handle and antennae attached and some pieces of plastic inside it. It was first launched in 1999 and tested by the Royal Engineers whose opinion was that was only accurate about 30 percent of the time, which of course means that the other 70 percent of the time you were likely to get blown up. In other words probably no better than guesswork at detecting bombs.

It would seem Mr Bolt-On took this assessment with a pinch of salt and a lot more twink and as a result his publicity material for his marvellous machine explained that the device worked by locking onto the atomic structure of the suspicious parcel or substance and then giving its exact location. He claimed it worked on static electricity, which would seem to me to be a rather dangerous thing to have around explosive devices (think cellphone and petrol station). Under the circumstances Bolt-On seems an appropriate name for this modern day mad inventor.

Our backyard amateur engineer also claimed his device had a range of 766 yards at ground level and 2.5 miles in the air and could penetrate lead lined and metal walls, water and earth, but not apparently the brains of certain armies, police and trade missions. Okay, I made those last couple up.

The British judiciary has just jailed Bolt-On for seven years for his fraud and it was claimed at his trial that people had lost their lives as a result of relying upon his machines, which if true is definitely not funny.

But what I can’t get over is why it took the law enforcement agencies over a decade to catch up with this bloke considering he was marketing these machines to law enforcement agencies and the military. I am also gobsmacked that the U.K. Government offered support to his enterprise and Whitehall’s sales and export division even introduced clients to him and allowed him to use their premises for demonstrations. One can only assume that he used a genuine bomb detector for these demos otherwise it is hard to see how anyone – even the police or military could be fooled. And they wonder why military intelligence is one of the best examples of an oxymoron you can find.

Let us not forget that this bloke’s clients were people who were ‘in the business’ so to speak. So how come they were so comprehensively hoodwinked and shouldn’t they all be appearing before the beak charged with criminal negligence for buying the bloody things and putting them into service? At the very least heads should roll (or be blown off) in every agency that bought them.

Mr Bolt-On was not working alone; he had a partner-in-crime called Jim McCormick who was obviously a better salesman than him and who was jailed in May this year for selling 50 million quid’s worth of the contraptions, mainly to Iraq. Expect a fatwa on that dude when he emerges from jail.

But the real punch line comes at the end as it does with every good story. Our enterprising duo was nothing if not cheeky; they were selling their devices for £15,000 each yet they only cost £1.82 each to make. 

Is this the ultimate in cynical disregard for human life or what? 

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