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Email is the British Jerry Springer

Today's show: Dad you're a nutter!

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Kids have it easy these days. Email is what we all dreamed of when teenagers - you get to tell your parents what you think of them and they can't interrupt or send you to your room. But in terms of getting things off your chest, you would be hard pressed to find a better story than that of Sufiah Yusof and her barking father.

The story has been plastered all over the papers in recent days but just gets better and better. It started off as a mystery thriller. Young Sufiah (aged 15) disappeared after her final maths exam. The thing that made the story different was that the exam was for the maths degree she was studying at Oxford University. You can presume she is smart.

So she vanished. Was it the stress? Where had she gone? Was she okay? Her father was worried, if a little peculiar. She's run off with a boyfriend, he stammered. Then an email arrived, the press sniffed a story, and all hell broke loose.

"I seen you've taken the liberty of running to the national newspapers with the story of how your 'innocent and naïve daughter' has run off from a 'happy home' with some nasty socialist boyfriends," it began. Interesting.

"Has it ever crossed your mind that the reason I left home was because I've finally had enough of 15 years of physical and emotional abuse?" It hadn't.

It goes on: "I've finally had enough of suffering because of your stupid whims. You ruined my brother's life because you wanted him to make lots of money for you winning tennis tournaments [hello?]. I want, first thing tomorrow, to read about how I'm safe with relatives or family friends in Scotland or London. Otherwise I'll go to the press with my side of the story. I mean it. Try to damage me and I'll see you in Hell."

This truly is the British equivalent of Jerry Springer. But of course, as with every good Springer show, there's a twist. She didn't write it, says her father Farooq.

No, Farooq has a far more plausible explanation: she has been abducted by people who want to learn his accelerated learning techniques. They have brainwashed her. "They are not words written by the daughter we know. It is from a third party which has taken her, is in control of her and is pursuing their own agenda. They are preparing the ground for something dramatic, possibly the loss of her life." There's loads more of this since Farooq seems to have spoken individually to virtually every newspaper.

One of the more revealing quotes: "We are going to defeat their agenda and redouble our efforts to defeat them by producing more Sufiahs. From our perspective this is the end of the story for Sufiah."

With a Dad like this, it's perhaps just as well that email exists. The story also highlights the next stepping stone in the digital revolution - there was no way for Farooq to know the email actually came from her. He knows it didn't but the police aren't in total agreement. Perhaps a digital signature may have helped, but then it somehow seems unlikely.

Farooq denies putting excessive pressure on Sufiah. But then he didn't explain why he felt the need to call her on her mobile every two hours either. We would suggest text messaging, but that won't work either. What about a Web site? ®

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