Some Media Notes on Farah Damji

From the Daily Mirror:

A former New York art gallery owner who made the life of a church warden “complete hell” has been sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Farah Damji, 53, was jailed for five years in 2016 for stalking the engineer after meeting him on an online dating site in October 2013.

…The businesswoman, who ran an art gallery in Manhattan in the 1990s, was convicted in February of two counts of breaching the restraining order on April 2018 and June 2018.

There now just remains the small matter of apprehending her – she has declined to make herself available to the authorities, and sentencing took place in absentia.

Damji’s scofflaw antics have provided the media with fodder for years; here’s Guy Adams writing about her in the Independent in 2006:

Damji, the socialite daughter of a prominent Asian property tycoon, has become a notorious figure in the media village. She last made headlines in October after being jailed for three-and-a-half years for using stolen credit-cards to fund her free-spending lifestyle.

As that case approached trial, she dropped another gift into the laps of headline writers by impersonating David Blunkett’s secretary and two members of the Crown Prosecution Service, in a failed bid to have the charges against her dropped.

Damji absconded that time as well, bringing her further fame as “Britain’s first on-the-run blogger”, and Adams observed that “recent coverage of her tale has been remarkably sympathetic” despite the fact that many of her frauds during this period “involved other journalists”. This was also the case even though there was evidence that Damji was not just crooked but also vicious, with a former lover (the author William Dalrymple) having called in the police.

Following her release from prison, Damji easily re-established her position as a London socialite involved with literary/media matters – the publication of her memoir Try Me in 2009 was covered by the Lifestyle section of the Evening Standard under the headline “Confessions of London’s most dangerous woman”, and the gushing profile amplified various grievances she had included in the book:

we find tales of incest, rape and kidnapping; allegations of an alcoholic father and a mother incapable of love: of pimping — Damji was once a madam for a New York “escort agency”—and of numerous sleazy, dangerous men, all named. There are drugs and drug-dealing, prison and escape and, yes, high glamour both here and in New York. How much of it we can believe isn’t clear, as Damji’s chequered past makes her a very unreliable narrator. But her version of her own life is compelling.

This media plug was published while Damji was persisting in criminal behaviour, and just a few months later she was jailed for ripping off landlords and engaging in benefit fraud. The Daily Mail covered the case at the time; due to what I assume is a technical error the article was recently re-dated from 2010 to 2020, but the original can be seen in the Internet Archive here and her age as given in the piece signals the error.

Despite being jailed for 15 months at the end of January 2010, she was (bafflingly) out in time to participate in the Stoke Newington Literary Festival in June (in conversation with Darcus Howe) and to take part in a subsequent event at a local library in August (where she appeared alongside Shaun Attwood). Perhaps inevitably, she also set herself up as a prison reform activist – the Sunday Times cast a critical eye over her attempts to monetise this with a 2011 piece headlined “Fraudster eyes Tory rehab cash“, but although her plans fell through she remained available as a rent-a-quote on prisons in the years that followed.

Frustratingly, however, despite her name continuing to appear in the Evening Standard diary column (e.g. here in 2012) there was no media interest in the fact that she was also engaging in harassment against multiple targets (I discussed one case here). She wasn’t brought to book until 2016, by which point it was at last very clear that the previous “colourful rogue” media framing was not appropriate:

The court heard that between December 19, 2013 and January 5, 2014 Dan [Damji’s legal surname], using a number of false identities, made 186 silent or hoax calls and texts to the victim’s mobile.

She also tried to plant stories in the media about the company where the man’s company.

She even sent sexually explicit texts and made silent calls to her victim’s 16-year-old son.

…Some of the more disturbing messages included threats of sexual violence against members of the victim’s family including his six-year-old daughter.

Damji continues to maintain her innocence, and alleges a widespread conspiracy against her involving her victim and the authorities. So adept is she at playing the system that even while in prison in 2017 she managed to get the UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee to upload a document to the Parliament website that amplified her version of events and tormented her victim further with incredibly vile allegations (although he wasn’t named) – this was achieved by inserting the details into what was supposedly a report on mental health services in prison, thus taking advantage of the liberal principle that serving and ex-prisoners may have some useful and valid insights into prison conditions.

Damji’s most recent conviction and sentencing were covered by Court News UK, and it is likely that the Mirror article is derived from their work. However, it is reasonable to suppose that media interest in Damji has declined, and this is likely to have been the case even without the current pandemic. That may be harder for her to bear than yet another prison sentence from which there is very little chance she will emerge either rehabilitated or subdued.