Graham Writer

Musings of an author.


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Murder Mayhem and Madness in Carmarthenshire

Rural Carmarthenshire had always been an idylic, rustic paradise where time moves slowly, dictated by the seasons. Where autumn follows summer and spring, bringing new life to the fields, follows the dark months of winter. In the heart of Carmarthenshire, nestling in the Towy Valley, sits the small town of Llangadog. First appearances are of a sleepy hamlet, a place where motorists drive slowly around a labrador, sleeping in the road outside the Red Lion – where locals, with time to spare, stop to gossip in the post office and the butcher next door knows every customer by name. Casual visitors might be forgiven for thinking that not much of interest ever happens in such a quiet backwater as Llangadog and the surrounding villages. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Llangadog

Queen’s Square Llangadog

​​William Powell of Glanaraeth Mansion was a particularly unsavoury character. As a youth, he was brought to trial for the murder of a servant girl who he was accused of pushing out of an upstairs window. The members of the jury acquitted him of the crime, allegedly, because he bribed them.  A male servant later disappeared. Powell was suspected of killing him, dismembering the body and disposing of it but there was no proof.

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William Powell’s House

After Powell married, he discovered that his wife was friendly with William Williams, a draper from Llandovery. The two men became bitter enemies. Despite being married, Powell entertained local women in a house he built in Llangadog, much to the annoyance of their husbands and brothers. In January 1768, several of the disgruntled men went, with William Williams, to Glanaraeth Mansion and murdered Powell. All the men, except Williams, were quickly apprehended because they had left a trail of footprints in the snow. Two were hanged for the crime while the others turned king’s evidence to escape the gallows. Williams escaped to France and died later in a boating accident.

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He wrote his name above the door.

Llangadog Fair was always a lively event. During the 1811 fair, Lewis Griffiths, a local lawyer, was set upon by three men from Llanddeusant. He died from his wounds. The three attackers were charged with manslaughter and two were convicted. The third, John Rees escaped and remained at large for 10 years until he was caught and stood trial for Griffith’s killing.

In 1816, 26 year old lay preacher, Rees Thomas Rees of Gelli Bant was courting Elizabeth Jones from a farm in the village of Gwynfe. The couple were in love but Elizabeth’s family objected to the match and refused to countenance a wedding. Unfortunately, as a result of their liaisons, Elizabeth became pregnant. Not wanting Elizabeth to have a child out of wedlock, Rees travelled to Brecon and purchased a bottle of medicine, which he was told would abort the baby and solve the problem. Elizabeth drank the contents and complained of a great pain. She died a short time later. The bottle had contained arsenic. poisonRees fled to Liverpool intending to escape to America but the distraught lover changed his mind and surrendered to the authorities, explaining that it had all been a terrible mistake. The authorities took a different view. Rees was tried for murder, convicted and hung on the gallows at Babel Hill in Carmarthen. There was considerable sympathy for the young man’s predicament and a crowd of 10,000 turned up to watch his public execution. After Rees was cut down, his body was sent for dissection. Elizabeth Jones and her unborn child were buried beside the old church in Gwynfe.

A stage coach, stopping at the Red Lion Llangadog in 1832, was being unloaded when the horses bolted. Three passengers were still in the coach. Two men managed to jump clear, leaving a frail old lady behind. The driverless coach careered along the main road at a full gallop until it was stopped in Llandeilo, nearly seven miles away, where the old lady emerged shaken but otherwise unhurt.

In 1832, the grave digger in Llandingat churchyard accidentally broke into an old coffin and discovered bones, later identified as having belonged to a lawyer named Morgan.gravedigger Strange silver globules were revealed as bones were removed. Morgan’s death certificate identified the cause of his demise to be apoplexy but tests of the silver globules revealed he had been poisoned with mercury. The killer was never identified.

During the 19th Century Llangadog was a thriving meeting place for drovers starting their long walk to England. There were fourteen taverns in the town and fights were common. In March 1845, a brawl started in the Rose and Crown between Evan Evans and William Grey. The argument was over who should pay for the 16 quarts of ale they had consumed. During the fracas, Grey was bitten on the lip. The wound became infected and, after he died of tetanus, Evans was charged with murder. Evans was found guilt but, hearing of his previous good character, the judge sentenced him to just 14 days hard labour.

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During World War II a Lancaster bomber was flying over Mynydd Ddu when the pilot lost control and the aircraft hurtled towards the mountain. Four crewmen baled out before the pilot regained control and managed to land at Swansea. Three of the jumping crewmen survived but the fourth, Sergeant Trevor Jones, was lost. His body was found weeks later. lancasterThe unfortunate airman had crawled three miles over the mountain with a broken leg before expiring.

In 1879 Watkin Hezekiah Williams, whose bardic name was Watcyn Wyn, arrived in Llangadog to teach at the seminary on Back Way. His arrival was welcomed by the people. The seminary, which had no living accommodation, lodged its pupils in the town and the extra income from their rent was greatly appreciated by all. The good will was, however, short lived. Within a year, Watcyn Wyn had fallen out with the residents of Llangadog and moved the seminary to Ammanford, taking all the pupils with him. Incensed at losing the rent from their lodgers, the residents made a life sized effigy of Wyn and burned it in Queen’s Square.​

goatinnRhys Prichard the vicar of  Llandingat was a habitual drunkard. One afternoon the inebriated cleric plied a goat with ale for some amusement. He did the same the following day but this time the goat refused the alcohol. The startled vicar, realising that the goat was more intelligent than himself, promptly signed the pledge and, according to legend, never drank again.

According to the Carmarthen Journal, an aircraft called the ‘Lady Peace’ landed unexpectedly in a field near Llangadog in 1936. The plane, travelling from New York to London, was lost and the pilot landed, thinking he was in Scotland. His passenger was Harry Reichman, an entertainer famous for the hit song ‘Putting on the Ritz.’ The two aviators stayed overnight in the Cawdor Arms, Llandeilo and the following morning a large crowd gathered to watch them take off. Before they departed, the intrepid pair signed autographs and, as the plane taxied before lifting into the air, the people sang hymns finishing with the Welsh National Anthem as the plane disappeared. What the audience did not know was that Reichman had been worried that the plane might come down in the sea and sink. To allay his concerns, the aircrafts wings had been filled with table tennis balls.

 

When a fire started in the kitchen of Glanrhyd Meilock, a Gwynfe farmhouse, the rooms quickly filled with smoke. Upstairs, Mr and Mrs Williams and their two children reacted by feeling their way down the narrow staircase to make their escape. Mrs Williams’ mother, a blind 80 year old invalid, was asleep in a downstairs room, beyond the kitchen. Opening the kitchen door, Mrs Williams was faced with an inferno. The fire had spread across much of the kitchen. She crawled across the floor and, despite being badly burned, managed to drag her mother from the house. Both women survived but Mrs Williams remained in hospital for some time with serious burns to her back. The farmhouse was completely destroyed by the fire. Learning that the family was homeless, villagers started a fund and money was collected to build a new home for them. Thanks to the generosity of surrounding communities, the new house was completed the following year. Elizabeth Eunice Williams’ bravery was recognised with a British Empire Medal and an account of her heroism was reported in the London Gazette on the 21st July 1953.

In 1971, the October 3rd edition of the Sunday Express reported a gangland killing in Gwynfe. Malcolm Heaysman, 46, had recently bought Godrewaun Cottage in the village. He was restoring the property when two strangers arrived looking for the cottage. They approached Godrewaun on foot across the fields and beat Heaysman to death. According to the paper, police were looking for Frederick Sewell and one other suspect whom they believed to be the killers. In August, Sewell had shot a police superintendent dead during a botched jewellery heist in Blackpool. Heaysman had moved from Islington and the murderers were said to be old London associates of the dead man, settling a grudge. Sewell was captured and convicted in 1972 of the policeman’s murder. The judge recommended he serve a minimum term of 30 years. Sewell has since been released and the retired gangster now lives near Gravesend, Kent.

When the Minister of Agriculture, Michael Jopling visited Llangadog’s dairy in 1984, 2000 angry farmers arrived with tractors to protest against a cut in milk quotas. Farm machinery blocked all the surrounding roads for four hours. Police officers were unable to stop slurry tankers releasing hundreds of gallons of milk into the road. Mr Jopling eventually escaped from the confrontation. The dairy closed in 2005 with the loss of 200 jobs. The closure was a bolt from the blue and a serious setback for the farming community. Many farmers gave up dairy farming and sold herds that had taken generations to develop.

In 1987, following a weekend of continuous rain, the railway bridge at Glanrhydsaeson, near Llangadog, collapsed as the early morning train crossed. The driver and three passengers drowned in the River Towy as a result of the accident.

Caroline Evans, who was 27 and six months pregnant, was a barmaid in the Red Lion in Llangadog in 2004. William Davies, a local farmer, was a regular drinker at the inn and became infatuated with Caroline. He was 59 and mentally unstable. According to witnesses, he would sit in the bar starring at her for hours. When Caroline refused his advances, Davies produced a shotgun in the public bar and told her she would not live to see her 28th birthday adding, ‘I’ll blow your brains out. We’ll go together.’

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The Red Lion

Charges of threatening to kill were dropped and Davies was convicted of a more minor offence by Ammanford Magistrates. Later Davies returned to the Red Lion and carried out the threat with a stolen shotgun, shooting Caroline Evans first then he turned the gun on himself. A barmaid found both bodies when she came to work.
Before the killing, psychiatrists’ reports stated that Davies need not be detained and, although he was suffering from depression, he was no danger to anyone else.

To the casual observer, Llangadog may appear to be quiet and sleepy but, beneath the rustic calm, life is never dull. Sadly, since writing, the old labrador sleeping in the road outside the Red Lion has passed away and, in case you are wondering, no, it wasn’t run over.


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Western Mail shares the secret tricks of selling a business.

‘If choosing to start your own business is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, so is deciding how to pass it on’, says business writer Graham Watkins.

There are over 2 million privately owned companies in the UK employing nearly half the workforce and more than 17 million in the USA. Business owners have spent years learning how to run and grow their company but virtually none have any idea about how they will sell up when the time comes.

It was no different for us. After 11 years of running a thriving business it was time to let someone else take over. My wife and I decided to cash in and sell. Three years of stress followed before we completed a deal and walked away. During that time we went through a meteoric learning curve. There were false starts, dashed hopes and tears on several occasions. Planning, preparation, employing intermediaries, finding a quality buyer, negotiating a good price and avoiding traps laid by buyers were issues we knew nothing about.

There were textbooks written by ‘experts’. They dealt with the mechanics of selling a business but did not provide the heart of the information we needed, how to do it better, for a higher price and in a way that protected our workforce.

We realised that our exit plan should have began years earlier. Like an endowment policy, starting sooner gives bigger rewards. Thinking about selling focused our attention on issues that strengthened the company and produced superior performance. We built a team that could operate when we had gone. The team took responsibility, and sharing leadership with them energised our operation. The business grew and our jobs got easier.

We took a hard look at the company. What would make it more attractive to a buyer? Smart premises, literature and staff uniforms were a start but there was more to be done. The business needed structure, a strong business plan and a clear vision for the future.

Smartening up the business included settling disputes, making sure the business was legal, software licensed, taxes paid, contracts of employment updated and returns properly file
d. All potential minefields when the lawyers start probing.

We learned early that good advisors pay for themselves. Ours added credibility and experience. They opened doors to buyers we didn’t even know exist. For us, selling up was the biggest deal we had ever done and no time for DIY.

A properly prepared valuation was essential. It’s the tool needed to establish a realistic price for selling the company. A buyer also values the business and uses his figure, usually lower, as a negotiating tool. Our valuation added confidence and the realism that we needed to do a deal.

Finding our buyer was a problem. Advertising in the press would make the business look like a lame duck. Protecting our identity behind a box number would not get the right response. Quality buyers don’t find their target companies in the paper. Our advisors started to identify prospects and approaching them, while at the same time, protecting our confidentiality. It was time consuming but the transaction justified it.

A company sale is like any other, only bigger. It needs to be planned and prepared for, if you want to win your objectives and strike a good deal. Negotiating tactics should be flexible and realistic or you will overplay your position. Use your advisors and do your homework on the buyer before you negotiate. We did and it paid off handsomely.

After we struck the deal all hell broke loose. Auditors and lawyers descended on our company dissecting it for any weaknesses or flaws. We were glad we put our house in order beforehand. We had to keep calm during due diligence and answer all questions through the lawyer. He protected our positions and reduced our exposure to potential claims from the buyer.

The hardest part for us was the ‘Completion Meeting’ when we signed away our company. A traumatic last act, but finally we were free to ride into the sunset.

Article reproduced courtesy of the Western Mail.


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Right Foot Wrong

Researching for a new book can throw up some surprising stories. As an author, I’m constantly looking for unusual ideas and finding treasure like this is a joy. Here’s a well documented true police case that my Dad found which really surprised me.Gendarmerie

Chief Inspector Robert Ledru of the Surete was a brilliant detective. In fact, his superiors in Paris rated him as possibly the most brilliant in France. He was also vain and arrogant. But, in addition, he had a bigger flaw – an obsessive determination to continue being seen as the country’s top crime-buster. To satisfy this determination he worked excessively long hours –often 20 out of 24 – and this arduous routine damaged his health. Eventually it swept him to centre stage in the most bizarre investigation in the annals of sleepwalk killings.

 During the pleasantly warm summer of 1887 Ledru, then 35, was at the pinnacle of his success. His impressive list of triumphs included breaking up black magic cults and arresting scores of anarchists as well as notorious murderers. And he had just been applauded for his two greatest victories.

The first was the foiling of a gang of political rebels which had been aiming to overthrow the government. The second was even more notable   the rounding up of the French members of The Brotherhood of Social Order. This was an underground political organisation spawned in Germany. It was seeking world domination and had spread its evil tentacles, as Ledru called them, throughout mainland Europe and Great Britain.

 ‘Its members were not restricted to one class’ he wrote. ‘I was arresting bankers as well as dustmen, lawyers as well as pickpockets, doctors as well as the dregs of the underworld.’

Now the talent and intuition for which he was so renowned was needed at Le Havre. Police there were under fire for failing to track down those responsible for the brutal killing of six sailors and Ledru’s bosses in Paris had agreed to let him help.

 He seemed so exhausted when he arrived at the Channel port that he was advised to rest for a day or two before starting work. He refused. Too much time had already been wasted, he said, and it was vital to push ahead before the trail went still colder.

 However, by the end of his first long day at Le Havre he could hardly stand, let alone think straight, because of overwhelming tiredness. Even he was forced to recognise the folly of pushing himself any further. Maybe a bit of a nap. A couple of hours or so and he’d be fine.

 In fact he had more than a nap. He collapsed into a deep sleep lasting about twelve hours and when he awoke he was annoyed with himself for having wasted time. All he had achieved since arriving at Le Havre, he reflected, was give more lee-way to the murderers of those sailors. He had increased their chances of never being found and that was unforgivable.

He was also puzzled by two facts. The socks which in his weary state he had not taken off before going to bed were slightly damp. It also seemed that some of his belongings had been disturbed while he slept. All very odd, he thought, but that would have to wait. He couldn’t be bothering with it right now. There was too much to catch up on.

 Indeed, it was a tough assignment but after three days he felt he was making progress. He’d discovered the sailors in a drunken rampage had molested a couple of women in their early 20s – one of whom had a male friend, no stranger to the police, with a reputation for violence. Ah yes, that was a good start but, unfortunately, that friend had apparently left town and no-one admitted knowing where he might be. Ledru was not perturbed. He was confident it was now just a matter of time, probably very little time, before this case was satisfactorily wrapped up.

 But suddenly his investigation was interrupted by the local police chief who wanted him to drop it for a few days and advise instead on a strange case at Sainte Adresse — the city’s most popular and up-market seaside suburb where one of the landmarks was an elegant villa owned by actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Ledru was livid. Damnit! You don’t just stop in the middle of an operation. You keep going and nail the murdering bastards. What the hell was it with these provincial clowns? He had no intention of being side-tracked by whatever had happened at Sainte Adresse. Let the local bloody peasants do their own thinking. His superiors in Paris ignored his protests and supported the request from Le Havre. Ledru was ordered to take charge of an investigation into the killing of fellow Parisian Andre Monet.

Monet was a middle-aged businessman whose wife –the real mainstay of their moderately-successful dress shop – was later to tell police she had sent him away for a few days break because he had a summer cold. His snuffling and constant coughing had been as irritating for her as well as for customers.

 Monet had no close friends and no known enemies. He was a mild and pleasant-natured man and his wife could think of no possible reason for anyone wanting to kill him.

Yet his naked body was found on the deserted beach at night with a single bullet hole through his head. No bullet or cartridge case had been found and initially the police had a problem establishing anything about the victim. There was no identification on or near the body and no trace of his clothing. However, that part of the puzzle had been solved by the time Ledru reached the beach. The dead man had hidden his clothes under a bush some distance from where he was found, presumably to prevent it being stolen. In his jacket pockets were bits of jewellery and his watch as well as his wallet containing money and identifying papers. Nothing seemed to have been taken and so robbery was ruled out as a motive.

The theory was that Monet had taken a moonlight walk and was a long way from his hotel when — with no-one else in sight, the weather being humidly warm and the sea so inviting — he had stripped in the bushes to enjoy a peaceful swim.

 The police had failed to find a gun but, as there were no powder marks on Monet’s skin, they concluded that the shot had been fired from quite a distance away.

 Their only clue was a second set of footprints in the sand not far from the dead man. Ledru shook his head when he first saw them. ‘This killer, if he did make these marks, was in his stockinged feet and that makes it hard for us.’ he said. ‘Otherwise we might have identified his shoes and that would at least have been a start.’

 He knelt down to look closer and the expression on his face showed he was suddenly perturbed. ‘These look familiar,’ he said. ‘I have a feeling I’ve seen them somewhere before.’

He ordered that plaster casts be made of the prints. For the next hour or so the local policemen watched in bemusement as he sat silently on the beach, apparently deep in thought, staring at the incoming tide. They had imagined he would want to question nearby fishermen and beachcombers who, after all, might have something helpful to say. But Ledru was not interested in talking to anyone.

 Eventually he stood up and, with no explanation, announced that he was going back to his hotel. ‘Nothing more for me to do here and I need to think this out,’ he told them. ‘I believe I know the identity of the killer – but I do not know the motive.’

 Le Havre’s police chief was outraged when this was reported to him. ‘Impossible! Crimes are never solved as easily as that,’ he shouted. ‘Does he think we are children?’

 Ledru locked himself in his room for the rest of that day and next morning he went to face the irate officer. The cartridge case, he was told, had been found and he nodded his approval. ‘Good. That may be the final piece of evidence I need. I’d better keep that case and the plaster cast. There’s something I have to check.’

‘What exactly are you checking on?’

‘As I said earlier, I believe I know the identity of this killer,’ replied Ledru. ‘The man is sick, very sick, and could easily kill again. It is imperative that he is arrested very quickly.’

 ‘But who do you think he is?’

Ledru did not answer immediately. He looked at the officer behind the desk. ‘I’ll tell you as soon as I’m sure,’ he replied evasively. ‘I don’t think that’ll take long.’

Back at the hotel, he secured his door before taking the pistol from the locked box he’d hidden beneath underwear in a dressing-table drawer. For some years, ever since the accident, he had not carried his gun unless he considered it might be essential – like when, for instance, he was aiming to arrest a violent criminal. In such a situation it would be stupid, quite unforgivable, to be defenceless but otherwise, no, he did not carry a gun.

 Now a quick glance showed one cartridge was missing and that the one from the beach matched those in the gun. Now there was no room for doubt. He had no recollection of leaving his room that night, no recollection of any nightmare or anything unusual, but clearly he was the killer. He must have done it in his sleep. That was the only possible explanation. He must have sleepwalked to the beach and across the sand past the rock pools. Then – oh, no, please no! – in his zombie-like trance he could have been startled by that naked man and shot him out of fear. Maybe, as people had said, he had been pushing himself too hard. Maybe the murder of the sailors had affected him more deeply than he had thought possible. Maybe he’d imagined the stranger was the one who he had been hunting and who was now about to kill him. Maybe, maybe, maybe….

 Nothing but maybes – except for the undeniable evidence that, whatever the reason or motive, he had killed Monet. He had to share that appalling truth with people he knew and trusted – not those amateur policemen at Le Havre   and that meant leaving immediately for Paris.

 His chief there was astounded next morning when Ledru said he intended to arrest himself and added: ‘I don’t want to be locked away – of course I don’t — but I’m too dangerous to be free.’

‘Sorry Robert, the way you describe it … well, I know it looks bad … but I’m not entirely convinced.’

‘Then perhaps this will convince you,’ replied Ledru taking off his right sock. ‘You remember that accident when I shot myself in the foot? That’s when I lost my big toe. He held up his foot. Now see there! No big toe! And if you again look carefully at that plaster cast, although the sock disguises it a bit, you can make out that big toe is missing. What you are looking at there is my foot. Absolutely no question about it. And, in case you need still more evidence, here are the socks I was wearing that night.’ He produced the socks which he had carefully wrapped. ‘They haven’t been washed and you’ll see that they have grains of sand on them. Get some-one to check and I think you’ll find they match the sand on the beach at Sainte Adresse.’

He folded his arms. ‘Now you understand, I hope, why I must arrest myself.’

‘But listen man, you must understand that’s just not possible …’

‘Then you arrest me or get one of the men to do it. But for God’s sake let’s get it over with.’

 The chief was in a dilemma. He respected Ledru, admired his exceptional skills, and, although they rarely socialised together, he regarded Ledru as a friend. He could not put such a man behind bars like a common criminal but, on the other hand, he could now see it was not safe to let him stay free. He decided on a compromise. He would say nothing about this session to anyone except those who needed to be advised. Ledru would be given special leave for unspecified health reasons and would not be allowed out of his own apartment. There he would be monitored day and night by trusted men.

The watchers included a couple of police doctors working on a roster who stayed in his room at night. As part of a test a pistol loaded with blanks was left on his dressing table. For three nights Ledru hardly stirred as he slept through until morning but on the fourth night the doctor watched him, apparently still asleep, get out of bed, pull on his day clothes and pick up the gun.

The doctor stood up from his armchair and stood between him and the closed door Ledru gave a little gasp, as if suddenly startled, pointed the gun as his head and squeezed the trigger. The doctor was shaken but physically unhurt. Ledru put down the gun, returned to bed, and almost immediately was again apparently peacefully asleep. When he eventually awoke he had no recollection of his night-time behaviour.

That clinched the diagnosis. He was given permanent sick leave and for the next 50 years he lived in seclusion on a farm outside Paris, watched over by police-paid observers, until he died in 1937.

The killers of those six sailors were never arrested. Ledru’s track record made it highly likely that they would have been caught and punished if he had not joined the ranks of sleepwalk slayers.

 An Extract from The Sleepwalk Killers – The Nightmare Truth About Violence During Sleep.

Available now for pre-order from Amazon for delivery to your device on the 21st May.

 


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Llandeilo Book Fair 2016 in pictures and review

A great day during which I met some lovely authors and lots of new readers. Fun, informative and productive. Well done Christoph for organising the book fair.

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The first Llandeilo Book Fair happened on Sat 30th April and I have to say it was everything I hoped it would be, and more. 13116117_10154111069195890_3030147215879274381_o13119740_1091090187580860_3565965637614321087_o
From the first day of organising it people have been supportive: friends, local residents, businesses, schools, the libraries, the press, authors and readers. It’s been a dream to organise. 13118978_10153346314352132_7476212192213809584_n
I need to thank Helen, Robin and Luke from Caffi  lechyd Da for doing such a great job with the catering, Tracey and her team from Heavenly Chocolate for donating the cake and all their advise and support, Naomi Edwards from the local school and Janet Lewis from the library.

Also thanks to the best event day team ever: Hugh Roberts, Ryan and Meryl – Thanks for running everything so smoothly and professional.13119896_10154111069815890_7673435550460422218_o

We had a busy hall all day long and huge interest in the workshops, readings, talks and the discussion panel. The footfall was more than…

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