Chapter 23: Damages

The Williams family at Gareth's funeral
"We've invited Ellen and Ian for dinner -- neither of them are in any shape to cook so soon after the funeral, sir -- and I am sure they would be very pleased to meet you," said William Hughes as he drove us away from the hotel.

"I had been hoping they would be up to seeing us," Holmes replied. "How have they been these last few days?"

"It's been a horrible time for everyone, sir," William Hughes answered. "But they're holding up as well as can be expected. There's a sense of closure about a burial, and in an odd way it can be somewhat comforting -- especially when it happens so long after the death. But at the same time there's a terrible sense of finality, and I think they'll be needing as much support as we can give them for a long time, Mr. Holmes."

"I have some news which may help matters somewhat," offered Holmes to my surprise, but then he announced he would say no more about the case without them.

After a short drive, we found ourselves at the home of William Hughes, of Trefor, near Bodedern.

We were enjoying a quick look at the Hughes family farm when Gareth Williams' parents arrived, at which point Hughes broke off the tour to introduce us to his cousin and her husband. Holmes and I expressed our condolences, the grieving parents thanked us most sincerely for looking into the case, and Hughes led us into his study, where we could sit and talk while dinner was being prepared.

"What can we do to help you, Mr. Holmes?" Ian Williams asked.

"I want you to tell to me about Gareth," Holmes replied. "I would also like to meet some other people who knew him -- especially any teachers who might remember him well, and his old school-mate, Dylan Parry."

"Oh, no, sir, I'm afraid you have that bit wrong," said Ian Williams. "Dylan and Gareth weren't school-mates. They knew each other from the train."

"From the train?" Holmes asked.

"Yes sir," Ian Williams replied. "Dylan used to ride the train between Holyhead and Bangor, where he was studying -- theology, if I recall."

"Divinity, I think," said Ellen.

"Yes, that's right," continued her husband. "Gareth met Dylan on the train, and as far as I know, he never saw him anywhere else. But he spoke of him quite often, and very fondly. Gareth described Dylan as a fine young man, and a very agreeable traveling companion. But they were never school-mates, sir."

"Where is Dylan Parry now? Do you happen to know?" my friend inquired.

"Why, I believe he's in London, Mr. Holmes," said Ian Williams.

"London? London??" cried Holmes, turning to William Hughes. "What sort of detective have you brought in here?"

I couldn't help but chuckle at Holmes' mocking reference to himself. The great detective tried to keep a straight face, but it was no use, and soon we were all laughing.

"Thank you so much, sir," said Ellen Williams. "That was the first time I've laughed in a month."

"You'll laugh again, Mrs. Williams," said my friend, "I promise. Time heals -- even such a wound as this."

There was silence for a moment before Holmes continued. "I should know better than to trust the London papers about anything," he said. "They all give the impression that Dylan and Gareth attended school together. But that's not the only misleading impression they have given."

Mr. and Mrs. Williams both rolled their eyes, but Holmes said, "Ironic as it may seem, the lies that have been printed about Gareth could do two important things for us."

"How so, Mr. Holmes?" William Hughes inquired.

"First, they may lead us to the killer," Holmes replied. "That's an angle Dr. Watson and I will explore further, even if the police do not. But there's also an angle the family may wish to explore."

"And what is that, Mr. Holmes?" Ian Williams asked.

"These lies could be worth millions to you," my friend replied. "In the hands of a good attorney, it should be possible to obtain ample compensation for some of your trauma."

"What makes you think so, sir?" asked William Hughes. 

"Four years ago," Holmes explained, "the so-called 'Liquid Bombers' were arrested. Do you remember that?"

We all nodded, and Holmes continued, "Several of the major dailies made a mistake, incorrectly stating that a certain Amjad Sarwar had been arrested -- but it was his brother, Assad Sarwar, who was arrested; Amjad Sarwar was not. For falsely claiming that Amjad had been arrested and released without charges, the papers which carried this story paid a settlement in six figures.

"Then another man -- the father of one of those who were arrested in London -- was reportely detained for questioning. But then it turned out that he hadn't been detained at all, and he received another six-figure settlement.

"In both cases, the papers involved were forced to print retractions, and they settled for damages out of court, giving hundreds of thousands to family members of alleged terrorists, about whom falsehoods had been published, once only, and apparently by accident.

"Contrast that with the false stories which have been published repeatedly, and with obvious malice, about Gareth, who was never accused of anything, and who has been described as a hero of the war against terror. I should think the papers which printed those stories would be more than willing to settle out of court -- on very generous terms indeed."

"It wouldn't bring Gareth back," said Ellen Williams.

"Of course not," said Holmes, "but on the other hand, you could probably use the money. Would you like to travel? Are you tired of getting up and going to work every day? A harsh penalty would serve these liars right, and I would be elated to see it happen -- to your benefit.

"The choice is yours," Holmes continued. "But if you don't wish to pursue it, I'm sure nobody else will."