Using a right to be forgotten for the teaching profession
The question is whether a school teacher, who is a professional person should have a right to apply under a right to be forgotten for reports of legal proceedings against him to be removed from the internet.
Our client W.N. was a school teacher, working at a high school near Middlesbrough for nearly 25 years. In 2015, he was charged with a criminal offence in connection with allegations that he was involved in a historic sexual assault against a pupil at the school.
Following a trial at Teesside Crown Court, W.N. was found not guilty by the jury. His case attracted the attention of the local and the national press from the moment he was suspended by his school, following the commencement of the investigation against him, to the point of his Crown Court trial. Sporadic information about his criminal court case was published in the newspapers and on the internet and as such, did not give the full picture and in many cases the outcome of the case was not mentioned.
Copies of the news reports also appear on various news websites, blogs and news aggregators such as PresReader.com, ScarboroughNews.co.uk, BriefReport.co.uk, FrontRow.org and others. The publications caused W.N. immense stress and meant that he was unable to obtain employment.
Initially, following his acquittal, W.N. wrote to the publishers and requested that they remove the stories about the allegations against him because he was now found not guilty of all the allegations and wanted to move on with his life. Unfortunately, they all refused. He then made an application under a right to be forgotten for Google to de-list the news articles. Google also declined the de-list articles request, citing public interest.
W.N. was referred to us by another teacher whom we previously helped delete articles from the internet.
It is always a challenge to delete reports from legal proceedings from newspaper online articles. Publications about false allegations at a trial are very common and are subject to a defence of fair and accurate reporting from legal proceedings. However, when it comes to right to be forgotten applications, there are more possibilities than most people realise. Each case has to be considered by the search engine on its own merits which is where you can win over with good legal arguments.
For a start, our expert lawyers submitted a right to be forgotten request to Google. This was followed by a right to be forgotten GDPR Notice. Google then de-listed 12 web pages which referred to the allegations against W.N.
Having successfully facilitated the de-listing of all the web pages which mentioned the allegations against W.N, we successfully communicated with all the website operators to request that they delete the news stories from their websites. Some agreed immediately whilst the ones who did not, received a GDPR Notice (see GDPR notice on website operators from us after which all the publishers deleted the articles about our client's trial from the source.
This was an extremely happy outcome for my client. It is hard enough to go through an ordeal where you are falsely accused of a terrible crime and then to face the prospect of going to prison for a criminal offence you didn't commit.
And just when you think that the worst part is behind you and when you feel that you are ready to start rebuilding your life, then comes Google. In this project we have decided to first have the articles de-listed from Google and only then approach each of the publishers to request that they delete the articles from source.
The reason for this was that it was quicker to do it this way and as W.N. was in a desperate situation, not being able to work and in a bad mental state of mind, we wanted to give a “quick fix” before going back to do a more thorough job for him. Needless to say, W.N. was hugely grateful for the service we delivered to him. He had all the posts deleted and all the snippets removed from all the internet search engines. He was hugely relieved at the outcome, and so was I.