Belfast Telegraph

Sex offender's bid to wipe criminal history from Google rejected

By Alan Erwin

A sex offender who changed his name by deed poll has lost a legal battle to have links to Press coverage of his previous convictions removed from a major internet search engine.

Callum Townsend (25) wanted to sue Google and secure an injunction to stop it revealing his personal data and criminal history.

But a judge at the High Court in Belfast refused him leave to serve proceedings out of the jurisdiction on the United States-based company.

Rejecting claims about misuse of private information and breach of data protection, Lord Justice Stephens backed the case for revealing unspent convictions of a "notorious recidivist".

He added: "The public interest in disclosure is also demonstrated by the fact that the plaintiff has sought to associate his name with a children's charity. That charity and others like it should have access at the very least to information about his unspent sexual convictions."

Previously known as Stuart Townsend and from the Magherafelt area, he has amassed more than 70 convictions since the age of 15.

Only two of his convictions are spent, with offences including 14 counts of breaching his Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO), and further incidents of violence, dishonesty, disorderly behaviour and criminal damage.

Imprisoned at least twice in the last six years, he has been the focus of 26 newspaper reports.

Townsend's repeated breaches of his SOPO also led to questions being raised in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In October 2012 he changed his first name by deed poll in a bid to try to escape the publicity surrounding his previous criminal activity.

The SOPO was removed by order of Dungannon Magistrates Court in July 2013.

Townsend believed the Google search results led to his home being attacked and other distressing incidents.

Google declined to delist any of the URLs on the basis that the news articles in the search results remain relevant and in the public interest.

Townsend applied for leave to serve notice of a writ of summons out of the jurisdiction. He also sought an injunction ordering Google to stop processing personal data which could produce search results revealing sexual offences committed by him while a child.

Google opposed his application, contending he had failed to establish an arguable case and had no expectation of privacy.

Lord Justice Stephens also held that Townsend's new identity did not create an expectation of privacy.

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