Anita Cobby murder: ‘Everyone in the car that dreadful night had a passport to doom’

Thirty years after the trial of five men for the shocking attack on a Sydney nurse, then public defender Bill Hosking reflects on his part in it

The tragedy that would shock the whole of Australia began just before 10pm on 2 February 1986. A registered nurse, 26-year-old Anita Cobby, had been having dinner with friends after finishing her shift at Sydney hospital on Macquarie Street, next to state Parliament House in the city.

She caught the 9.12pm train to Blacktown in outer-western Sydney to her parents home, where she was living after recently separating from her husband. On arrival at Blacktown station just before 10, she went to find a phone to call her father. The usual routine was for Cobby to phone her father, Gary Lynch, to collect her by car. This was well before mobile phones and the public phone at the station had been vandalised, so Cobby decided to walk home.

As she did, an HT Holden Kingswood slowed beside her and stopped. Two of the five male occupants jumped out and grabbed her, pulling her into the car as she screamed. Cobby was then robbed, bashed, raped and tortured before having her throat cut. So severe was the cut, it almost left her decapitated. Her bloodied, naked body was left in a secluded cow paddock at Prospect, not far from Blacktown, and was not discovered for two days.

Everyone in the car that dreadful night had a passport to doom. None more so than poor Cobby.

When Cobbys body was found, the New South Wales government posted a $50,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. In the hope of jogging memories, a police officer dressed as Cobby travelled on the 9.12 pm train to Blacktown while her colleagues interviewed passengers. Cobbys murder was front-page news. Gruesome details of the offences and the harrowing atrocity gradually unfolded.

Anita Cobby, who went missing on 2 February 1986. Photograph: AAP

Understandably, the community, indeed the whole of Australia, was outraged. Even the police involved in the investigation were deeply affected. Led by Detective Sergeant Ian Kennedy, a top detective of his day, it took police just under three weeks to track down, arrest and charge five men with the murder.

They were 19-year-olds John Travers and Michael Murdoch, and the Murphy brothers, 33-year-old Michael, 28-year-old Gary and 22-year-old Leslie. The five were hated and reviled by the community. They all came from deprived backgrounds and were of below-average intelligence. They were petty criminals accused of a major crime. I was briefed to appear for Michael Murphy.

Given the dreadful nature of the crime, the atmosphere in the community after the arrest of Cobbys alleged killers was one of brooding malevolence. It manifested at the first formal court appearance of the five accused at the tiny Westmead coroners court.

Opened in 1984, Westmead coroners court was brand new and located inside the grounds of the huge Westmead hospital complex. Uniformed police were present in large numbers in case of trouble. Ominously, a dummy dangled from a noose tied to a tree branch. A large crowd had gathered. Some held up placards calling for the restoration of the death penalty. Showing solidarity with Cobby, uniformed nurses were prominent. The magistrate was the city coroner, Derrick Hand. Formalities were short and Hand promptly fixed the committal proceedings for the more secure surroundings of the coroners court on Parramatta Road at Glebe.

As the prison van edged out of the Westmead hospital, the crowd surged forwards. They banged on the sides of the van and booed and catcalled. It was clear the chances of finding a sympathetic jury in the Sydney metropolitan area or the world were zero, and chances of finding a cool and impartial one were slight.

Bill Hosking QC, who acted as public defender for Michael Murphy. Photograph: Harlequin

Before the advent of the public solicitor and legal aid, the unrepresented accused standing trial was at a tremendous disadvantage. The role of counsel for the accused in any criminal trial can be controversial, particularly where there has been a grave crime. Defence counsel has a duty to act for his or her client with vigour, but also with ethical propriety.

There is a popular misconception that a true defence counsel must believe in the clients innocence. Nothing can be further from the truth. A competent and vigorous defence is essential to a fair trial. The personal belief of counsel is irrelevant. The lawyers duty is to argue, firmly, the case of their clients and not to express a personal opinion.

Often, this is forgotten by the public. The so-called cab rank principle simply restates the rule that barristers do not choose their clients. If it were the other way around, despised causes and hated accused would be denied an experienced, professional voice. Fearless independence for barristers is fundamental. Even more so where there is a public defender involved who holds that independent statutory office with all its privileges and its responsibilities.

In seeking the convictions of the five men, the crown relied upon the legal doctrine of common purpose. To explain common purpose, judges use an example of two would-be bank robbers. One drives the getaway car, while the other enters the bank and demands cash of the teller using a replica pistol. The teller refuses and is then shot. It turns out the pistol was not a replica. Both men are charged with murder although the driver has never left the car. There follow disputed questions of fact and law. First of all, was there an agreement to use a replica and not a real pistol? The answer could be decisive in determining the drivers level of criminal responsibility. Likewise, did the driver know his accomplice well enough to reasonably expect him to bring a real pistol and use it? In other words, you can still be guilty of murder if you have never set eyes on the victim let alone wanted them to be killed.

The defence of each of the accused in the Anita Cobby case was that Travers alone had the knife. Travers alone stabbed Cobby. He alone was to blame for her death. The crown case was, irrespective of what each actually did that night, all were equally responsible for her death and each was guilty of murder. Because each knew what Travers was likely to do, therefore all were equally culpable under common purpose. For the crown, this was true as a matter of law and, equally compellingly, as a matter of fact and common sense. Even so, questions remained as to the extent of each accuseds personal involvement. In that respect, their signed confessions were the crowns trump cards.

The defence claimed the confessions were obtained improperly and by force. To present the clients case, those allegations had to be put. They were all denied by the police. Mere presence that night in the car, then the cow paddock, leaving aside what each offender himself did, was a matter of the gravest wickedness. The law, through the courts, had the task of determining the degree of culpability using rules that have evolved over centuries and long before 1788 and the arrival of the First Fleet, carrying with it the invisible cargo of the common law.

The line of defence that emerged was, even accepting the crown case, the worst that could be sheeted home to Murdoch and the Murphys for the death, in terms of legal liability, was the crime of manslaughter. That line of reasoning was barely intellectually respectable but, nonetheless, required a competent presentation to the jury. Was only Travers accountable for murder and one or more of the remaining four only guilty of manslaughter? This had to be considered calmly and unemotionally and, I have to tell you, on these facts it was not an easy task, even for an experienced defence counsel like me. That initial question was limited, of course, to the homicide, not the rape and sexual brutality. My difficult role was to seek to protect the interests of Michael Murphy.

Anita Cobby, right, with her younger sister Kathryn Szyszka. Photograph: AAP

On 16 March 1987 when the trial began in historic No 5 court at Darlinghurst, the central criminal court, the bar table was crowded with five, sometimes six, robed barristers and their instructing solicitors for what the press soon described as the trial of the century.

Closest to the judge, with his own lectern, was the grim, unsmiling crown prosecutor, Alan Slipper Saunders, QC. The origin of the soubriquet Slipper is lost in the mists of time. It was definitely not derived from being a soft and comfortable opponent. The crown had no better or more able advocate. He dominated the bar table with his reputation, experience and sheer forensic skill. We had been regular opponents over the years. I didnt like him. He didnt like me.

The days proceedings always began with what became a ritual loud knock on the large oak door leading from the judges private chambers. Preceded by his tipstaff wearing a black frock coat and carrying a white staff topped with an elaborate gold crown, in came the judge. Not a tall man, he was resplendent, wearing the royal scarlet robes of a supreme court judge sitting in the courts criminal jurisdiction. Justice Maxwell was the epitome of duty, courtesy and dignity.

The usually solemn atmosphere at Darlinghurst was absent the morning the trial began. A huge number of potential jurors milled around in front of the sandstone pillars, spilling over on to the lawns fronting Taylor Square and Oxford Street. Television crews seemed everywhere, as were radio network reporters. The press had their usual, reserved, prime seats on the judges left, facing the jury.

The police had done their duty. The magistrate, Hand, his. Next, the crown prosecutor and his instructing solicitors were ready. The judge and the jury were now in place. Also present, in almost reviled solitude, were the lawyers all funded on the modest legal aid rates, except me, on the salary of a public defender. The others would only receive the extremely nominal legal aid fees of the time in accepting these briefs. Far from helping the four other barristers careers, or bank balances, appearing in this trial was a positively negative factor. There are no lawyers made rich on the meagre fees paid for by legal aid cases. It is done as a noble service by the profession.

The concept of legal aid itself seemed to be on trial. Legal aid is effectively the postwar creation of the NSW McKell Labor government, ensuring the honest battler is not subsumed by the power of the state. I lost count of the number of friends and strangers who asked me, Why on earth would you accept a case like this? or, Do you enjoy it? There is a simple answer, apart from duty. There are many, many occupations and professions which are not only more unpleasant but some are also very dangerous. There is the challenge of appearing in what you know is a losing brief for a particularly despised client. Particularly, where there is no real issue as to identity, and the crime is so harrowing and has such cruelty, there will be not a scintilla of public sympathy for your client. This was such a case. During it and afterwards I received considerable personal criticism for accepting the brief. Even my son, James, who was still at school, was criticised by other boys. They wanted to know why his father would appear in such a terrible case.

This trial clearly raised the question, does the community want symbolic or real representation for major criminals? Under our system the accused is not guilty until our grand, but still imperfect, system has run its full course. The spectacular miscarriages of justice staining our history highlights the still inherent dangers which arise through human fallibility. A major safeguard is that all court proceedings with the rarest of exceptions are open to the public and, perhaps more importantly, open to and subject to intense scrutiny by the media. There was certainly no absence of that for this trial.

In such a case, where there is justifiable community anger, counsel has at least two options. One can merely go through the motions to ensure it appears the formalities of a fair trial were observed. Alternatively, counsel does what he or she should do in every case. That is, to do ones professional best for a client who would not have a clue what that involves.

Opening the crown case to the jury, Alan Saunders QC lived up to his reputation, describing in detail the callousness Anita Cobby suffered. He described Cobbys ordeal as sustained degradation, brutal, unbridled lust culminating in one of the most savage brutal murders the state has ever known. Any wonder the media called it the trial of the century.

Anita Cobbys parents at her grave site. Photograph: AAP

The first witness set an atmosphere of indescribable sadness: Cobbys father, Gary Lynch. He was a tall, dignified figure. He gave brief, formal identification evidence relating to his late daughter. While he did so the silence in the courtroom was deafening. He then joined his wife at the back of the court where they remained for the duration of the trial. Gary and Grace Lynch attended the trial each day. They showed great dignity. Because of police fears, security was tight and gallery and lawyers alike were searched after each adjournment. In the process, Cobbys parents often had to stand in a line with their daughters killers lawyers. Never once did they show anything other than class. Propriety and protocol prevented us from exchanging a single word.

Michael Murdoch. Photograph: NSW police/AAP

There were no eyewitnesses to Cobbys ordeal, and the principal evidence was the individual confessions. It must be said, the account of one in the others confessions could not legally be used against another. This means the confession can be used to prove the guilt of its author but not prove guilt against any co-accused mentioned in it. This is a safe and fair way to view confessions, because the confessor may want to shift the blame to their co-accused. It should be for a jury, hearing evidence, to determine the accountability of each accused.

The exception to this rule is where the co-accused agrees with anothers confession. More astute police try this stratagem, to get offenders to agree with each others confessions, even in part, thereby implicating themselves. While not unlawful, the strategy is discouraged. Accepting the confessors account only against the person making it is a technical but important rule. The crown had the powerful advantage of not having to ask the jury to rely on circumstantial evidence alone but on the words out of each accuseds own mouth.

Leslie Murphy. Photograph: NSW police/AAP

At the outset, sadly, there could be no argument about the fact poor Anita Cobby had been murdered. The trial was all about, 1. the involvement of all or any of the accused; 2. if that issue were resolved adversely, the extent of involvement; and 3. having decided the extent of legal liability, whether the particular accused is guilty of murder or manslaughter.

In part, Michael Murphys case, and that of his two brothers and Michael Murdoch, was that Travers inflicted the fatal wounds on Cobby with a knife and was acting on his own account. Travers had pleaded guilty to this. So far as the murder charge was concerned there was really no direct evidence to support a conviction of the others for murder on the basis they assisted or encouraged Travers to commit murder. Michael Murphy allegedly told the police, I didnt want her to be killed. [Travers is] a maniac. Its his fault, I told him not to kill her Hes a fucking lunatic. I just wanted to piss off What I done Im prepared to cop. Its just that cunt, Travers

Michael Murphy. Photograph: NSW police/AAP

In legal terms, it was the defendants case that they were neither party to a common purpose to commit murder, nor had they intentionally assisted or encouraged Travers to commit the murder. That was not technical legalistic jargon. It was fundamental. It must be conceded on the crown case there was evidence they, as Travers co-offenders, were criminally liable either as principals or accessories for the murder, as well as the other grave crimes alleged. They denied this.

Defence strategy in this trial was to seek to avoid confronting and emphasising prejudicial evidence and to direct the focus to more favourable features. That is easy to say, but the harsh reality of the situation was such favourable facts were thin on the ground. Michael Murphys defence was a legal nightmare. On his instructions, he was not guilty of any crime. The law provides being present when a crime is committed is not an offence. But to infer that co-accused John Travers, who pleaded guilty, committed the murder of his own volition, was to stretch reality beyond credible limits.

Gary Murphy. Photograph: NSW police/AAP

The reading [of the accuseds statements] was damaging stuff, but nothing compared with the police photographs of the scene and the postmortem details. Again, what was my clients defence? I wasnt there, and If I was, it was for sex and not for murder.

Merely stating those horrible alternatives underlines the gargantuan task facing the defence. Given the basis of the Travers is a maniac defence, this unanswerable question always loomed large: Why, then, ever be in his company?

I repeat, this was not an easy case.

John Travers. Photograph: NSW police/AAP

The inscrutability and confidentiality of the jury room shields the tenor of their deliberations. They were instructed by the judge to banish prejudice and, to use the words of the jurors oath, to well and truly try and true deliverance make. Pre-judgment and prejudice would have brought swift verdicts. The jury deliberated all day and were locked up in a secret location overnight to continue their deliberations. They were obviously conscientious and, from time to time, sought Justice Maxwells help. All communications were proper and in open court in the presence of the accused.

First thing the next morning, all accused were convicted on all counts.

The morning for the sentencing had arrived. At 10am there was a slight delay, as Anita Cobbys parents were not in court. When they arrived, all that remained was the formal ritual of judgment. Everyone in court thought they knew the result: life. Even so, there still was the possibility that release one day would not be excluded. Personally, I wondered if a future government would ever be brave enough to give any of the five an opportunity for release, however deserving. It would be, I thought, decades away before such a decision would have to be made.

The judge entered and was seated. Then the five accused, together for the first time since the first day of the trial, were brought up into the dock. There were police everywhere. The atmosphere in the courtroom was one of unprecedented tension. So high was the emotion, at one stage, the experienced, calm and respected judge, Maxwell, was moved to tears.

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The day my lawyer advised me to get a gun was the day reality came to an end | Dirk Kurbjuweit

Dirk Kurbjuweit, author of the bestselling German novel Fear based on his terrifying experience of being stalked reflects on fact, fiction and the former hell of his everyday life

When our lawyer told me that she didnt think the law could help us, but she could organise a gun for us, reality came to an end. From then on we lived in the realm of the unimaginable.

Reality is not boundless; it has limits. At that time, more than a decade ago, my wife and I and our kids were living in the suburbs of Berlin. My reality was a civilised middle-class life family, job, friends, books protected by the rule of law and democracy. Then a stalker burst into our everyday existence Herr T, our downstairs neighbour, who was at first friendly, then too friendly and then nastily intrusive, turning up out of nowhere and harassing us with threats, letters and accusations of criminal behaviour.

He tried to invade our flat one night when I was away and my wife was alone with the children. He hid a ladder under our bedroom window and we suspected that he used it to spy on us at night. He did these things, he said,to protect our children, because we were abusing them, a claim he made to our neighbours and to the police. He wrote a love poem to my wife, in which he fantasised about killing her. For a few months we went through hell.

Such things happen; you hear of them. A stalker is someone we can all imagine and we know that, if the worst comes to the worst, the law is there to protect us. Anyone on the right side of the law will be helped. This is the pact we all enter into with the state. We renounce the use of force, leaving the monopoly on violence to the public authorities, and in exchange the police and the judiciary protect us if we are threatened.

Full of optimism, I went to the police and made an appointment with our lawyer, confident that I could get the law to work for us. But I was told that unfortunately nothing could be done. Twice I was more or less explicitly advised to take matters into my own hands with a gun. I wanted to protect my family and found myself up against the question: do I shoot him or dont I?

Dirk Kurbjuweit: At that time I really felt like we were living in a novel. Photograph: Maurice Weiss/Ostkreuz Agentur der Fotografen GmbH

When something of this kind happens, its never long before somebody says, Its like a film, or, Its straight out of a novel. Films and novels are classic fields of expansion of reality. By having recourse to fictional worlds we link the unimaginable with what we have seen or read, making it paradoxically more real easier to imagine and less uncanny.

At that time I really felt like we were living in a novel. Almost everything we thought and a great deal of what we said and did changed dramatically when the stalker entered our world. Eight years later I began work on an actual novel, Fear, which is derived from those events. Now, apart from the reality of that time, which seemed fictional to me, there is also a work of fiction based on that reality, although it is not identical to it.

Written narratives whether newspaper stories, works of nonfiction, novels or Facebook posts always stand in a complex relationship to reality. The act of writing creates a version of reality which lays claim to validity without, ultimately, being valid in the sense of being true. In their different ways, all these forms of writing can only approach truth.

In my first novel there is a woman who likes having sex in rubber gloves. After my first public reading of this novel, the first question from the audience was whether I liked having sex in rubber gloves. I didnt know what to say. Simply to deny it seemed inadequate. I didnt feel that the novel needed to be measured against reality. Now, after writing eight novels and doing countless readings and interviews, I know that one of the questions that most interests the pundits is: how much of this book is about you? The answer is simple: all of it. Every word is based on a decision I have made, a decision that comes from me. But that is not what is meant by the question. What is meant is: how much of it have you experienced personally?

It is the question of reality, of authenticity. No writer can provide an unequivocal answer; no writer knows the answer, because being a writer means, among other things, having your sense of reality undermined. It is easy for me to tell a talkshow host that there really was a stalker in my life. But does that mean that Randolph Tiefenthaler, the main character in Fear, is really me?

Not long ago the writer Michael Khlmeier said: Once a character exists, I watch him with curiosity to see what hell do. I feel the same, although I couldnt have put it so well. If I had written a book of nonfiction about my experiences with our stalker, Id have watched myself. As my novel developed, I watched Randolph Tiefenthaler, who began as an I but gradually became autonomous.

Anyone who writes a novel based on his own life bends the truth to delve into it all the deeper. No life, however exciting, is a novel. It is not memory that creates a novel, but narrative. Memory provides a frame, but if each sentence answers a question, that question is not, What happened? but, What does the narrative need? Literature is born when narrative triumphs over experience. Tiefenthaler invents a life for himself and tells his story from within this invented life. If reality gets in the way, he pushes it aside.

The best writers create a story that is more real than a true-life report. Writing is an internal investigation into the soul, Salman Rushdie said, talking about his book Joseph Anton. Internal, but public. There are various ways of contending with this. Rushdies book is an autobiography written in the third person, a form which made it easier for him to write things that hurt, things that revealed unpleasant sides to his character.

It has to hurt when you write a novel, or it will have no power. Some writers and I am one of them can only cope with the pain by translating their reality into fiction by stepping out of their own worlds, by making themselves strange and becoming part of what they invent. Am I Randolph Tiefenthaler? No. He is one of me. And through him I can say what hurts me, although I wouldnt let on where in the novel. Used in this way, fiction allows us to speak the whole truth.

Many people write about their own lives for therapeutic reasons. This was not the case with me. By the time I began to write our stalker had died of natural causes; the events, which had taken place years before, had long been digested. Working on the novel, I returned to hell, but not to cure myself of anything; I came back in the role of the Devil. I reorganised hell and got to decide who suffered and how.


When Herr T was tormenting us the big question was: what shall we do about him if the state wont do anything? In a desperate moment I asked a police officer, What would you do? He looked at me and said nothing, and, in that moment of silence, his hand drifted to his service pistol and lingered there. First the lawyer, then the police officer. But by then I had begun to think about a violent solution anyway.

The gun was a possibility. The idea smouldered in my mind and sometimes, to my own horror, I would imagine myself gripping the weapon, pulling the trigger. Taking the law into your own hands is something I regarded and still regard as deeply wrong. Tiefenthaler has the same thoughts that I had, but arrives at a different decision. He lets the gun into his life and in the end a shot is fired. I cannot deny that I felt a touch of satisfaction writing that for Tiefenthaler. Helplessness is humiliating. As a man I was expected to protect my family from Herr T, but I was unable and unwilling to assume the role of a Hollywood hero. Tiefenthaler did not rehabilitate me or avenge me, but he did live out the consequences of such an act for me. Unsurprisingly he didnt get on too well and fiction became a consolation for me.

One problem with the novel is that it is expected to be more plausible than life. In a newspaper report you can tell any true-life story, however unlikely, and it is lent credibility by the research that has gone into it that is to say, by the readers assumption that the reporter has probed reality so deeply that what he or she writes must be true. A fictional narrative, on the other hand, has to be convincing. That is another paradox: fiction must appear real, while reality may appear unreal as long as it is substantiated.

One criterion for a novels plausibility is that there shouldnt be too many improbable coincidences. There is, however, one such coincidence in my own life: I grew up with weapons and learnt to shoot as a child. When the lawyer offered us a gun, things seemed to come full circle, as if all my life had been building up to this one shot. But wouldnt that seem contrived in a novel? Wouldnt it be laying it on a bit thick? The moment that made a novel out of my life was almost too extreme for a novel. But Randolph Tiefenthaler decided that he had learnt to shoot as a child. That was fine by me. I was able to tell him a little about what it meant.

Interestingly, a lot of people now report on their own lives, on Facebook or Twitter. In these live tickers of day-to-day existence, anyone can experience the feeling of being part of a grand narrative. In the past such position taking was almost exclusively the reserve of people like me writers.

What distinguishes these posts on social networks from newspaper stories is that they tend to focus on the individual, rather than on the outside world. What distinguishes them from the novel is that they report almost entirely on successful lives. Nothing hurts on Facebook or Twitter; you show your cheerful side and respond positively to whatever happens. Lovely evening in Seaview Restaurant! The novel, on the other hand, tells us more about adversity and failure. How strange it would have been if we had live-tweeted about Herr T: Now hes trying to break into our flat through the garden door.

What distinguishes the self-narratives on Facebook or Twitter from reportage and the novel is that they do not, on the whole, point beyond themselves. That is not to say that what happens on social media is in any way reprehensible; it is merely another version of reality prettier, selfier, atomised. In principle it works in an opposite way to the novel: while the novel uses the life of a fictionalised individual to evoke the lives and thoughts of many people, the multiple reports on Facebook reflect the ordinariness of each individual.


Thus the written image of reality is changing. Journalism and fiction are turning to stories that are eye-catching and action-packed, while social networks report on everyday existence. In that respect they are more normative than the hyped-up lives on display in newspapers, magazines and novels. I kept a diary while Herr T was stalking us. When I was working on Fear I reread it and was surprised at how much everyday life our hell had contained, how things had simply gone on.

Reality is made up of fragments, and memory is only a form of first-person narrative on a wobbly base. We dont keep one version of our lives in our heads, but many. I sometimes find it difficult to distinguish my own experiences from Randolph Tiefenthalers. Which of us hammered furiously on Herr Ts door? Was it once? Twice? Three times? And what did I threaten to do to him? Since there are gaps in my diary, I cant say for sure.

Translated by Imogen Taylor

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit is published by Text Publishing (RRP $29.99)

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Maggie Rowe on how she escaped from evangelical hell

In a blistering new memoir, the comedy writer recalls her youth as an obsessive-compulsive believer and how she ended up in a strip club

Maggie Rowes dark, funny new memoir, Sin Bravely (subtitle: My Great Escape From Evangelical Hell), opens under the watchful gaze of a shifty-eyed Jesus. As she sits with her mother in the waiting room of the Christian mental health rehabilitation center, the author then 19 glares up at the painting, suspicious of the Nazarenes serene expression. She knew his perfect love could curdle into indifferent cruelty in an instant, and that she could be cast aside, damned for eternity, on a whim. Rowe was filled with doubt, even as she awaited her admittance into Grace Point Evangelical Psychiatric Institute a last-ditch effort to curb the obsessively pious Born Again Christians all-consuming worries about going to hell.

I did not want to see a traditional therapist because I figured they would try to dissuade me from a belief in hell, that theyd tell me the whole thing was a fairy tale or opiate and that seemed incredibly dangerous, Rowe explained. I needed someone to work within my belief system, so I was really happy when my parents found Grace Point for me.

Raised in the Evangelical Christian church, Rowe was always a believer. Even as a child, Rowe found herself consumed by worry over whether she truly had been saved, and whether her acceptance of Jesus Christ had stuck. Shed said the words, but what if she hadnt really meant them? What if she hadnt meant them enough? She lugged around a massive Bible, memorizing lines of Scripture the way other kids memorize baseball stats, but as her familiarity with it grew, so did her fears of inadequacy.

Her parents encouraged her to get baptized at age nine, hoping to quell some of her fears about really being saved, but the ceremony only served to exacerbate her worry. Plagued with recurring thoughts about eternal damnation, Rowe sought answers from her local pastor, who seemed overwhelmed by the little girls questions and left her feeling even more anxious. As she grew older, she struggled to balance her religious morals with the temptations and realities of American youth; when she left for college, the worry went along with her. Even as she rationalized experimenting with drinking and sex, her old fears refused to let go. After a trying sophomore year, her parents checked her into the Grace Point for the summer, where the bulk of Sin Bravelys narrative takes place.

There, Rowe introduces us to a curious cast of characters one might say colorful (especially in the case of the perpetually irate, reformed biker who found Jesus after dropping a hellish mixture of angel dust and crack) but overall, the personalities she encounters are painted in sad, anxious shades of black and grey. Grace Point is not a happy place, despite the forced cheerfulness of its employees; the friendships Rowe forms during her time there feel rare and precious, glimmers of light in the fog of meetings, therapy and the misguided exclamations of her dangerously clueless counselor, Bethanie.

The smug, saccharine Bethanie the closest thing to an outright villain found in Sin Bravely constantly tries to force wildly inaccurate diagnoses on Rowe for the sake of what seems like convenience, if not outright ignorance. Group therapy sessions with her were a nightmare, as she steamrolled discussions and thundered against what she saw as heretical ideas, even when her tactics came to the detriment of her patients. Rowe saw her as both an adversary and an almost pathetic figure, one with whom she locks horns more than once.

Bethanie was one of those people that you encounter in all walks of life who lacks a healthy skepticism of her own opinions, who is really sold on her own ideas, Rowe reflects. That attitude is especially dangerous in mental health. My bumper sticker is Dont believe everything you think.

It takes a light hand to keep such serious subject matter from sinking into the doldrums, but Rowe deftly juxtaposes dark humor with raw emotion without ever yanking the reader out of the story.

I really worked to keep it in the nineteen year old voice and not jump into my perspective now. When I was going through earlier drafts I would try to catch moments where the voice slipped into my current one, where it would be a little too wry, a little too confident or certain or calm, Rowe explains. It helped that I had two giant notebooks from the time I was there where I journaled about every bit of the experience. I also saved folders of handouts from the different therapists that I took notes on, so I had a lot of help in remembering what I was like then and how I thought.

The books biggest breakthrough moment comes near the end, when the centers no-nonsense Dr Galvade diagnoses Rowe with a very specific kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Being able to put a name to the condition thats dominated her life fills the author with hope, as does a phrase sin bravely offered up by Dr Benton, the psychiatrist who becomes her greatest ally at Grace Point.

Using phrases or mantras to encourage and comfort myself has been a powerful practice for me. For years I would say to myself Remember the purple sky when I was feeling anxious, which to me meant remember a sense of internal spaciousness and kindness toward myself, says author Maggie Rowe. Theres so much junk that goes on in my head, I think its important to add some friendliness to the mix.

Martin Luthers adage to sin bravely in order that you may know the forgiveness of God and Bentons admonition to ease off the Bible a little dovetail to leave Rowe feeling very brave indeed. Her newfound comfort with the idea of being bad take her to a strip club and onto the stage. Despite the power of her new mantra, Rowes night at Lookers ends in crisis.

As the taste of blood seeps into my mouth, I think, Dear God, Ive done the same thing again. Ive made the same mistake. What is wrong with me? The throbbing bass of the song Centerfold bangs in my ears. My blood runs cold. My memory has just been sold. Its loud. Too Loud. I press my earlobes over my eardrums. Was sinning bravely just an excuse to sin? My eyes smart from the dense smoky air, my contacts sticking to my eyes, my eyelids sticking to my contacts. The air and the volume are punishing. Im sorry, I say to God over the throbbing bass line banging into my head. Im sorry. I got it wrong.

Rowes younger self spends most of the book beating herself up, which her current counterpart draws on to deftly illustrate the panic, incessant anxiety, and rote repetition that accompanied her brand of obsessive-compulsion. Young Maggie is a sympathetic character, and a frustrating one; its hard to resist the impulse to yell at this ghost girl to just snap out of it, to calm down, to stop fretting about hellfire and worry more about her homework but thats now how anxiety works, and to ignore that is to render the reader as crass and tone-deaf as the hated Bethanie.

Rowe navigates the tangle of her own messy emotions with a firm hand and an eye for detail. Poignant little moments abound, and some of the most interesting (and ironic) ones appear when she allows glimpses into the inner lives of her fellow Grace Pointers. The heart pulls towards wine-sipping Cindy with her doomed dreams of motherhood, and stone-faced art professor Dwayne, whos only there on court orders and isnt even that religious: Im no fan of born-agains, but theyre better than junkies. Her motley crew could have easily veered into farce, but instead, became the most stable aspect of Rowes anxious summer.

Her time at Grace Point left a profound impact on her, and as Rowe tells it, was the catalyst for the next stage of her evolving relationship with spirituality and faith. The experience began to dislodge my belief in a literal reading of the Bible. After that I began to visualize God differently, as a spirit of kindness, she says. Theres an Indigo Girls song that I used to sing to myself a lot He is only what is best in us, whats decent and kind and right. I began praying to a higher spirit within myself.

Now married and working as a TV writer and actor in LA, Rowe seems to have found peace, as well as a healthy distance from the tumultuous period of her life we observe in Sin Bravely. Shes moved away from her Born Again beginnings, instead embracing meditation and, at one point, starting a whole new religion called Pyrasphere, a satire on what has been called prosperity theology.

Shes come a long way from being that little girl with the big Bible and even bigger worries about hell, but hasnt turned her back on the church entirely. Sin is just less of a concern than her overall well-being these days.

I continued to suffer from anxiety and obsessive thoughts although the thoughts stopped centering on hell. I moved into an ashram called the Himalayan Institute after college and studied meditation, which made an enormous difference. Meditation helped to watch the thoughts and feelings come and go and not get caught up in their storms, she explains. Today, I regularly attend two Buddhist organizations, the Zen Center of Los Angeles and Against the Stream, but I also attend certain Christian functions. I try to cultivate a generous, kind spirit and am open to anything to help get me there.

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Milo Yiannopoulos peddles hate. Its not censorship to refuse to publish it | Sam Sedgman

Defenders of free speech are misguided in championing his cause. Reasoned debate will never arise from his utterances and others will be scared into silence

A coalition of free speech organisations rallied together last week to defend Simon & Schusters choice to publish professional irritant Milo Yiannopouloss autobiography, Dangerous, saying that boycotting the book, as so many people have called for, would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Im sure that having his book (which hit the No 1 spot on Amazons pre-sale charts the day after it was announced) pulled from shelves or dropped from S&S would catapult it to even greater success at another publisher, but never mind. Its clear that this coalition of organisations are standing up for what they believe in, and feel it is important to defend Yiannopoulos well-rehearsed right to speak his mind.

Defending free speech often means finding yourself in the difficult position of having to defend people who say disgusting things. People who make jokes about rape; Holocaust deniers; straight-up racists. Though we might not like what these people say, its important that theyre allowed to say it. You cant go around censoring people just because you dont agree with them. If we cant all express what we think, then we cant talk to each other about our ideas. We cant have a discussion; we cant improve; we cant function as a society.

And yet. Like the tax lawyer I met at a party who insisted several times that there was nothing illegal at all about what she did for a living, I cant help but feel that Yiannopoulos and his ilk are protesting too much when they say something Islamophobic or misogynistic and insist that they are protected by free speech. And Im uncertain that these organisations standing up to protect Yiannopoulous are doing the right thing especially when what he says, and the people he says it for, are doing so much to poison reasoned discussion.

For a start, Simon & Schuster being criticised for publishing the book is hardly censorship. Anyone can write and publish a book without the help of a major publishing house these days and can be very successful at it too. The man works for a news site, makes numerous media appearances, writes a regular column, and frankly if you think that the world lacks for his opinions in any way at the moment then please, please tell me which parallel universe you are living in so I can move there.

Free speech has limits. You arent allowed to shout fire in a crowded theatre because someones probably going to get hurt. Your right to say what you like is trumped by your responsibility to stop me being trampled to death by a stampede of panicked theatre-goers. Death threats; rape threats; bomb threats; online abuse that drives someone to suicide these are all things that free speech doesnt cover and which arent appropriate to defend in its name. Doing so makes it even harder for people to speak freely not least because that idea of speaking freely becomes co-opted by people who mistake it for I should be able to shout free speech at you until you stop talking.

Self-proclaimed super-villain Yiannopoulos has made a living from saying and doing hateful things, and has successfully embroiled himself in numerous headline-grabbing controversies. Whether its saying that gay rights have made us dumber, calling transgender people mentally ill, calling rape culture a fantasy, or being banned by Twitter for allegedly encouraging trolls to attack Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones with a tirade of racist and sexist abuse, you can usually find him saying something pathologically awful.

So when a major publishing house pays $250,000 to print the work of an alt-right figurehead like him, it gives credence to these ideas, and makes them part of the mainstream. It endorses them. It empowers everyone who agrees with them to act on their worst impulses, and spread hate speech.

Hate speech is not compatible with reasoned debate. You cant talk to it. When you try, it talks over you and ignores you and calls you a fat ugly whore and publishes your address online. If youre not scared out of engaging with it for fear of reprisal, chances are youll die of exhaustion. How many times do you have to explain to people that racism is bad or women are not worse than men before you give up because its not worth the bother? These are not discussions worth having. They shouldnt even be discussions.

With the ascendancy of Donald Trump and the rise of the alt-right we have seen a dangerous normalisation of ideas that we would once have rejected as too outrageous to endorse with our attention. We now publish endless think-pieces on them, have panel discussions about them, and publishing houses pay a quarter of a million dollars for someone to write a book about them.

For free speech organisations to stand up and defend Yiannopoulos is a dangerous miscalculation. It further supports the narrative that hes a radical visionary being oppressed by the system, rather than an opinion-spamming hack who brings out the worst in people. In their statement, the coalition write that only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech effectively. But if youve been on the internet lately, youll know that were not short of vigorous disagreement, and that theres more toxic speech than ever.

Free speech is vital. Of course it is. But is defending it like this really helping?

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Richard Adams obituary

Author of the classic 1970s novel Watership Down, the allegorical tale of a colony of rabbits

Richard Adams, who has died aged 96, was the author of one of the most successful books of the 1970s. Published in 1972, Watership Down, Adamss story about a colony of rabbits travelling across the country in search of a better home in the Berkshire Downs when their burrow is destroyed, became a cult novel, with a crossover readership.

Despite being published as an adult book, Watership Down won the two most distinguished childrens book prizes, the Carnegie medal and the Guardian childrens book prize, and sold more than 100,000 copies in Britain in its first year of publication. Unlike some such instant successes, Watership Down was not just a book of its time; it is now firmly established as a classic and has sold more than 50m copies worldwide.

The story of the publication of Watership Down is an example of the quirky nature of publishing. As a manuscript of more than 200,000 words, it was turned down by all of the major publishers and many of the smaller ones, before Rex Collings, a small independent company, picked it up. From the moment of publication, it was widely hailed as an exceptional title and almost instantly became a bestseller. At one point, it held the record for the highest sum paid for paperback rights. Its mass success and cult status was furthered by its subsequent adaptation in 1978 to animated cartoon film, with a soundtrack that included the hit single Bright Eyes.

The origins of Watership Down lay in stories Adams wrote down to entertain his daughters on long car journeys, based on his observation of rabbits from the train window on his daily commute to work. However, Adams himself did not categorise it as a childrens book. Once published, its evocation of the English countryside (the Downs near Adamss home), combined with its detailed descriptions of rabbit society much taken from RM Lockleys The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964) which includes a sharply observed study of leadership through the characters of Fiver, Bigwig and Hazel, made it as much a political allegory as a simple adventure story.

Son of Evelyn Adams, a country doctor, and his wife, Lilian (nee Button), Richard was born in Newbury, and brought up in Berkshire. He was educated at Bradfield college, Berkshire, and Worcester College, Oxford, where he studied history for two years until he was called up in 1940. He served in the Royal Army Service Corps in Palestine, Europe and the far east before returning to Oxford in 1946 to finish his studies. Adams then joined the civil service, where he worked in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and in the Department of the Environment, before becoming a full-time writer in 1974 after the success of his first book.

Subsequent books followed quickly, including Shardik (1974), the story of a hunter and a giant bear, which was particularly poorly received by readers wanting more Watership Down; The Tyger Voyage (1976), a picture book in verse with illustrations by Nicola Bayley; and The Plague Dogs (1977). None had the same success as the tale about rabbits.

Adams was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1975 and held posts as writer in residence at both the University of Florida (1975) and Hollins University in Virginia (1976). He continued to write for both adults and children. He revisited Watership Down in Tales from Watership Down (1996) and contributed a short story to Gentle Footprints: A Collection of Animal Stories, which was published to raise funds for the Born Free Foundation in 2010, just before his 90th birthday.

For almost all his writing, Adams drew on his deep affection for the countryside and the wildlife that lives in it that was formed during his childhood. In his autobiography, The Day Gone By (1990), he describes how, as a child, he lost his heart twice, once to the River Kennet and once to the Downs, of which he writes: I cant remember ever to have done anything anything at all more delightful than walking on the crest of the Downs, looking away to the purple, heat-rimmed edge of the horizon.

Adams was invited to become president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1980, having been a lifelong campaigner for animal welfare and an active member of the society, including taking part in a lecture tour in Canada in 1977 to drum up opposition to the hunting of baby seals. In a subsequent RSPCA members watchdog publication Adams was described as giving a stirring and inspiring speech as president elect, , but his time at the RSPCA was short lived.

Already going through a turbulent time internally, as traditionalists and modernisers fought and tried to put right the 1m deficit that had accrued, the RSPCA council voted to shorten Adamss term of office as president and he resigned in protest. He later commented angrily that senior members of the council were more interested in their own careers than in the welfare of animals.

He continued to be honoured for his work throughout his life, and was the recipient of the inaugural Whitchurch arts award in 2010, given by the Hampshire town in which he lived in later years. Earlier this year, it was announced that the BBC planned a new adaptation of Watership Down for release in 2017.

Adams married Elizabeth Acland in 1949, and they had two daughters, Juliet and Rosamond. They all survive him.

Richard George Adams, writer, born 9 May 1920; died 24 December 2016

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child could soon go worldwide, says JK Rowling

As play opens in London, author says it could find a home on Broadway and beyond to reach as many Potter fans as possible

As Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens in the West End of London, author JK Rowling has said the production could soon go global.

Part one of the play premiered at the Palace theatre on Saturday afternoon, with part two due to follow on Saturday evening. The play script will also be released at midnight, so fans unable to make it to the theatre will get a chance to find out what happens next to Harry Potter and his friends.

Speaking on the red carpet, where she wore winged high heels as a nod to the wizarding world, Rowling said the play could be destined for Broadway and beyond. Asked about Broadway plans, she told reporters: Id love it to go wider than that. Id like as many Potter fans to see it as possible.

Theatre producer Sonia Friedman said many countries could get a chance to see the play in future years. She said: Hopefully more than America, hopefully many countries at some point will get to see it. But its a big piece of theatre, its a big endeavour, you cant just turn it around overnight.

But if everything goes to plan over the years, we will get there.

As the play opened following nearly eight weeks of previews, it drew whoops, applause and gasps of shock from the audience as magic appeared to unfold onstage. The play also features plenty of twists and surprises, although fans have been asked to keep plot details secret with KeepTheSecrets badges handed to audience members on their way out.

Rowling said she had been impressed that fans had kept details under wraps: It is the most extraordinary fandom so Im kind of not surprised they didnt want to spoil it for each other but Im so happy we got here without ruining it.

JK Rowling sporting winged shoes at the premiere. Photograph: Dan Wooller/Rex/Shutterstock

The Harry Potter author highlighted the importance of the Friday 40, a chance for people without tickets to win seats at low prices. She said: What we would really like most of all is to bring people in who have never been to the theatre before.

I would be so proud to think that kids from my kind of background, who didnt come from particularly theatre-going families, learn what theatre is about through this show. That would be an incredible thing.

Attending the gala with his family, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: Many thanks to JK Rowling for ensuring the premiere is here. He added that he was a big fan of Harry Potter, saying: Whats important is that the world premiere is here in London, and we should be really proud.

Director John Tiffany also thanked fans for keeping the secrets so far, comparing sharing plot details with opening childrens Christmas presents in November: Why would you do that?

Set 19 years after the events of the seventh and final book, The Cursed Child brings back Harry Potter, now an employee at the Ministry of Magic.

Harry and his wife, Ginny Weasley, wave off their youngest son, Albus Severus, to their old wizarding school, Hogwarts but once there, Albus struggles with the weight of his family legacy and goes to extreme and dangerous lengths to right the wrongs of the past.

Reviews have been glowing, with the Guardians Michael Billington describing it as a duel of dark and light carried off with dazzling assurance. The two-part play stretches over five hours and was co-devised by Rowling, written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tiffany.

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