Individuals convicted of sexual offences often have to deal with other people’s discriminatory and judgemental behaviour and it’s easy to believe that this is how they will be treated by everyone. Bruno’s story demonstrates the very different attitudes of staff working for the immigration authorities.
I was convicted of a sexual offence and currently have to sign the Sex Offenders Register. I believe my conviction was harsh, but I’ve accepted it and understand that every year I’ll have to sign the register and when, I want to go abroad, I’ll have to inform the police.
Recently, my wife and I decided to go to France for a few days so, well in advance, as per registration rules, I informed my local police station. We travelled out via the Euro-tunnel, a journey which proved to be extremely stressful. We got through the British border with no problem at all but, when it came to the French border things were quite different.
Initially, we were told to pull over and wait. After about 40 minutes, two British police officers arrived – a male and a female. They asked to see my passport and started to question me about where we were going before walking away taking my documents with them. Another 10 minutes passed before the female officer came over to me and asked me whether I had a phone. When I said ‘Yes’ she asked to see it. She then asked me whether it had internet access and again, I said ‘Yes’. Looking at me in disgust, she called over her colleague before telling me that she’d have to take my phone away as I wasn’t allowed to have internet access.
I politely advised her that I thought she was wrong and went on to explain the full terms of my SOPO – basically that I was allowed internet enabled devices as long as I made them available to the police whenever they asked to see them. I could tell she wasn’t happy that I was disagreeing with her and she told me to wait while she went away to check. Her colleague stayed with me and was quite chatty and personable. He said that he thought there’d been a mistake, that I shouldn’t be denied internet access and not to worry.
Eventually the female officer came back and rather than apologise she said:
You’re right. Let me have your IMEI number and then you can go”.
This really wasn’t a great start to our trip and it really infuriated my wife. She wasn’t angry with me, but at the attitude of the female police officer and the delay that it had caused us.
As you can imagine, we were both dreading the trip home but it couldn’t have been more different. The border officer pulled us over and then asked me to get out of the car and open the boot. He didn’t look in the boot at all but did ask me some basic questions “Where have you been?” “Who are you travelling with?” He went on to say that he had to ask these questions but didn’t want to draw attention to me and thought it would be better to make it look like a random check. He wished me a safe journey and sent me on my way – a refreshing attitude!
Travelling whilst you’re on the register can be daunting and your experience will be made worse if you come across an official who shows you very little respect or is unclear about the responsibilities of their job. However, I’ve seen that there are some good guys who’ll be professional and treat you well. After our initial blip my wife and I had a great trip and we’d have no hesitation in travelling to France again.
Due to the nature of my offence, I’ve been left to deal with all sorts of problems and it’s taken me a little while to accept that I can’t change what happened in the past. For the sake of my family and friends, I try not to dwell on it and accept that in terms of other people’s attitudes, you just have to take the rough with the smooth – I feel a lot better for that.
By Bruno (name changed to protect identity)
Comment from Unlock
The Schengen Information System (SISII) is a European database that passes real time information from one participating country to another in the form of alerts relating to people or property. SISII alerts hold no prohibitions or punishments and the presence of an alert like this doesn’t require the Schengen country to refuse entry – this is a decision for the individual country to make as part of their own immigration policy.
Bruno was quite right to question why the police officer wanted to ‘confiscate’ his telephone. He was able to have in his possession internet enabled devices but even if he wasn’t allowed them, there would have been nothing on the SISII alert which detailed this prohibition.