I would like to share with readers of theRecord how new rules allowing Google links to be removed (‘The right to be forgotten’) has turned my life around. I really do believe that it can be of use to people with convictions.
Eight years ago I was in a very abusive relationship with a partner who was, in fact, a Police Officer. The relationship had ended although we did still have to live together and unfortunately one evening, an accident at our house caused a serious fire. I ended up in Intensive Care for two days fighting for my life. When I recovered I discovered that I was being taken to court, charged with arson. It was an extremely difficult time which was made worse upon conviction when details of the offence were published in the local newspapers. In court, my ex partner pleaded with the judge not to send me to prison, and I received a two year suspended sentence and 150 hours of community service.
For years I’d been living in the knowledge that anybody could look me up on the internet. I’d searched for myself and found a twisted press story of the event, which even showed where I lived. I knew that I was a good person and this was never going to happen again.
As a result of having a very understanding boss, I had kept my job and just wanted to move on and concentrate on my career so I studied for a Leadership, Management and Business Degree. A fantastic job opportunity came up and I applied. I was totally honest and disclosed my conviction as I knew it was going to show up on my DBS which they requested. I was delighted to get the job and was told it was entirely on merit, references and my drive to do well and succeed. I was over the moon and knew my life was now going in the right direction again and I was never going to look back.
In the meantime I had met a ‘nice’ man and we married. The relationship seemed to be going well, however when I used to come home and say that I had done well at this or that or I had received another pay rise, things started to go wrong. I eventually found out he was leading a double life, one with me and the other with a 24 year old (he was 52). I told him to leave and I moved back in with my parents. I filed for divorce as I felt I couldn’t ever trust this man again and that is when my life came crashing down again.
He suddenly decided that he wanted revenge and told my employer that they were employing a very dangerous person who was a risk to others because of my conviction (a complete lie). He had also printed off the newspaper article he had found on Google about me and said he was going to post it around the city so everyone could read it and destroy me. His attacks on me were malicious and it was terrifying not knowing what this man could do and the lengths that he would go to. I was advised by my solicitor and my employer to file for a Harassment Order and inform the Police of his allegations and intentions. My employer could see what this man was trying to do to me and supported me wholeheartedly. Despite having a spent conviction, that terrible newspaper article was being used against me again. It just wasn’t fair and I felt that enough was enough. I had to fight to get the past ‘put to bed’.
I remembered reading an article about ‘Google’s Right to be Forgotten’ in an Unlock update and decided to contact them. I told them what had happened and they advised me to do two things:-
- Firstly – contact the newspaper who had published the original article and ask them to ‘remove the contents’ and,
- Secondly – contact Google’s Legal team (through the link that was sent to me by Unlock) and ask them to remove the actual ‘link‘ that had any reference to me.
The staff at Unlock helped me word the email and information I was going to send, stating that I would be sending copies to the Information Commissioner’ Office or ICO (They are the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals).
I emailed the newspaper and explained to them that the information in the article was being used maliciously against me, quoting references from the ICO asking them if they would support me in my attempts to remove the article and its contents due to it being related to a spent conviction. I then completed the online Google form with as much details as possible to try and remove the link and sent that off too.
To my amazement within a day, the newspaper had emailed me back saying that they had removed the article from their site. I quickly went on to their site and, yes, the article had been removed. All that was left was the link on Google. I waited in anticipation and seven days later I received an email from Google saying that all links to me, my name and the offence had been removed.
Well, as you can imagine, it was a joyous day. The dark grey cloud had finally been lifted. I could walk tall again and restart my life.
The reason for this ‘long’ story is for me to reach out to everyone caught up in a similar situation. Is there something out there on Google that could be used against you? Is it being held against you now through a partner, a friend, a work colleague…even your boss? Are your children or family suffering because of it? Because if this is the case you must try and get it removed. If the conviction is spent then that gives them all the more reason to remove it. You will be surprised how helpful people are when you tell them that you made a mistake and how much you have turned your life around, that you are a good person… so get writing! Mine is a success story and so can yours be…just don’t give up. Good Luck!
By Sam (name changed to protect identity)