Man with 74 convictions refused permission to fling sueball at Google

Injunction application nixed by Northern Irish High Court

A sex offender with 74 convictions who changed his name to escape his past has been refused permission to sue Google by a judge in Northern Ireland.

Callum Townsend, 25, who was previously called Stuart Townsend, had his effort to prohibit Google from publishing search results about him squashed by Lord Justice Stephens, sitting in the Northern Irish High Court.

Townsend claimed that Google was publishing links to news reports of criminal offences he had committed while under the age of 18, as well as inaccurate reports that he had breached his Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) and identifying old, "spent" convictions.

"Google Inc. declined to de-list any of the URLs notified by the plaintiff in May 2014 on the basis that the inclusion of the news articles in Google Inc.'s Search results was still relevant and in the public interest," wrote the judge.

Lord Justice Stephens found that none of the 12 search results Townsend complained about were inaccurate. Most were contemporaneous reports, meaning they accurately reported events as they had occurred at the time despite being several years old.

"Each URL says i am currently accused of several sexual offences breaches and subject to a SOPO (Sexual offences prevention order) this order was discharged on 26 July 2013 and i am no longer on the sexual offences register nor am i banned from owning a mobile phone," [sic] Townsend wrote in his original complaint of May 2014.


Townsend also complained about the description of him as a "sex offender" was "inaccurate", despite his having committed a number of sexualised harassment offences. Crucially, although he committed those offences while under 18, he turned 18 before he was sentenced for them – meaning the automatic ban on reporting those youth crimes does not apply.

He also "breached the terms of the SOPO on numerous occasions", as the judge found.

"There is no serious issue to be tried in relation to the plaintiff's claim for misuse of private information and any application to serve notice of the writ of summons out of the jurisdiction on Google Inc. under Order 11 Rule 1(1)(f) on the basis of that tort is refused," ruled Lord Justice Stephens, who also ruled that there was "no arguable case as to an expectation of privacy in relation to the change of the plaintiff's name."

Of Townsend's lengthy criminal history, 28 offences were breaches of suspended sentences, court orders and of legal requirements to register with police as a sex offender. 16 were for fraud, while a number were for harassment, disorderly behaviour and criminal damage.

Google also submitted that Google UK Ltd "does not own or operate Google Search", as it told the court. The judge, while noting that prominently, declined to make any finding on the point.

Lord Justice Stephens' full judgement was handed down today. Previous press reports of this case relied on a summary only. Although judgement was originally handed down in July this year, full publication was delayed to allow Townsend time to file an appeal, if he so desired. ®

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