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Northern Ireland sex offender cannot sue Google, court rules

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, when he sent sexualised text messages to another boy in  his class.

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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.

Some articles included his photograph and street address at the time of court appearances.

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.

By that stage he had been convicted of 52 separate offences, while a further 22 were committed under his new identity.

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

Townsend believed the Google search results, especially those related to his sexual offending as a minor, led to his home being attacked and other distressing incidents.

In 2014 he asked the company to remove 12 URLs from results produced when searching for his name, stating that the links wrongly infer he is still subject to a SOPO.

The court heard he has been assaulted and subject to death threats, while his education and employment opportunities have also suffered.

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

Following the firm's refusal, 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.

It was alleged that the defendant had misused private information and breached the 1998 Data Protection Act.

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

Ruling in the company's favour, Lord Justice Stephens also held that Townsend's new identity did not create an expectation of privacy.

He said: "The simple and usual consequence of committing offences is that the offender's name will be public and an offender cannot avoid this by the device of changing his name either formally by deed poll or informally by adopting an alias." e

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