Extra Digit Accidentally Typed By Officer Turns UK Man Into A Pedophile

from the LIFE-HAS-CRASHED-[a]bort-[r]etry-[f]ail dept

What’s a few typos between you and a friend a few cops? Nothing, really. The lives they ruin will not be their own.

UK resident Nigel Lang lost more than two years of his life to a typo. He was never jailed, but the life he lived was bereft of freedom. Thanks to the addition of a single wrong digit, Lang’s house was raided, his electronics seized, and his life’s goals rerouted.

He was told that when police requested details about an IP address connected to the sharing of indecent images of children, one extra keystroke was made by mistake, sending police to entirely the wrong physical location.

That’s all it took to turn Lang’s life upside down. While police searched his electronics for nonexistent child porn, Lang lost his job counseling troubled teens and was cut off from his family.

Lang was bailed, but under strict and devastating conditions. Social services had visited his partner at home while he was being interviewed to conduct a “safeguarding assessment”, and it was decided he could not live at the family home, visit his son there, or have any unsupervised contact with his son anywhere.

It took more than a year before anyone would even entertain the idea that some error might have been made. At first, Lang, who is black, suspected this wrongful arrest might have been racially-motivated. But the IP address mistakenly entered by law enforcement was registered to his partner, who is white. He then tried to get to the bottom of why police had targeted him in the first place. If anyone wonders why so few complaints against law enforcement result in punishment, here’s part of the answer: the complaint process is unofficially discouraged by officers and staff.

Lang said that before he was able to officially lodge the complaint, an officer called him, questioning his need to complain and asking him whether his arrest had even had any impact upon his life.

GOOD LORD. It’s as if police officers have no idea what life’s like for the people they police. And it’s as though they think all their errors are harmless.

Lang’s complaint, based on the faulty discrimination premise, was rejected. The rejection, however, pointed Lang towards the truth. The arrest order — based on incorrect information — had actually originated more than 100 miles away from Lang’s home, with an entirely different law enforcement agency.

South Yorkshire police’s DI Sean McMahon, who investigated the complaint, wrote that in May 2011, officers had received information from their colleagues in Hertfordshire that they had identified an IP address that had shared more than 100 images of children via peer-to-peer software in April that year. Hertfordshire police had established that the IP address belonged to the account in the name of Lang’s partner.

The letter also pointed out very little investigatory work had been done by Hertfordshire. The police there had little more to go on than an IP address, but felt justified in swearing out a warrant. The raid was conducted by the South Yorkshire police, who at least helpfully suggested in the letter that the information used by Hertfordshire might have been incorrect.

But the point of the letter was to close the investigation of Lang’s complaint. According to South Yorkshire Police, officers had acted in good faith based on information handed to them by another law enforcement agency. There was nothing more it could do for Lang and closed the complaint.

More than three years after his arrest, the Hertfordshire police finally admitted their error.

Hertfordshire police were initially resistant, refusing to speak to Lang’s solicitor before they could talk to Lang himself. Over the phone, he was finally told the circumstances behind his arrest: While requesting details about an IP address linked to indecent images of children from an internet service provider, police had added an extra digit – a single keystroke – by mistake. When the ISP came back with a physical address for the IP address provided, it led police to Lang’s front door. The internet account set up by Lang’s partner just happened to have the wrong IP address at the wrong time.

Lang also managed to obtain this admission of wrongdoing in writing, along with a $60,000 settlement. The bogus charges — still on his record years later — are finally being expunged. While $60,000 seems rather low for turning someone into a de facto pedophile based on erroneous information, Lang’s settlement came with something you’ll never find attached to one here in the United States: an apology and a statement of culpability.

Lang is still waiting for an apology from the agency that raided his house and placed him under arrest. Most likely, that apology will never come. Hertfordshire screwed up its data entry and local officers had no reason to question the information given to them.

But that’s all it takes to derail — if not completely ruin — someone’s life: an extra digit. Predicating arrests solely on IP addresses is only part of the problem. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies all over the world are building massive databases from anything they can lay their hands on. These databases freely intermingle personal data on innocent people with those charged with crimes. A little fat fingering can do a whole lot of damage. Clerical errors may cause law enforcement agencies a little embarrassment and/or a chunk of taxpayers’ cash if a settlement is handed out. That’s nothing compared to the damage done to citizens who find themselves on the receiving end.

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Comments on “Extra Digit Accidentally Typed By Officer Turns UK Man Into A Pedophile”

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TechDescartes (profile) says:

Can I have an extra pillow?

Lang said that before he was able to officially lodge the complaint, an officer called him, questioning his need to complain and asking him whether his arrest had even had any impact upon his life.

No, it was a 5-star arrest. Quite comfortable, actually. 9/10 says I’ll recommend it to friends and family. I’ll leave a review on your Yelp page.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

A Non-Comedy of Errors

In a comedy the officer would have incriminated himself.

Melchett: "Unhappily Blackadder, the Lord High Executioner is dead."

Blackadder: "Oh woe! Murdered of course."

Melchett: "No, oddly enough no. They usually are, but this one just got careless one night and signed his name on the wrong dotted line. They came for him while he slept."

  • Blackadder II
charlie sewell says:

cops greatest violator of the bill of rights!

cops are the greatest violators of the bill of rights which identifies the duties and obligations of federal and state employees to the people. they take a fidelity oath to the constitution and the bill of rights. from the news it is obvious cops have do not understand what a fidelity oath means nor have they read the bill of rights with intent. they believe because attorneys doing business as legislators write laws that violate the bill of rights they can do it. the nazis at the Nuremberg trials thought the same thing. most cops i have seen in action are thugs in blue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It took the police three weeks to establish that there were no illegal images on the computer, after which, no further action was taken.

The problem from then on stems from the fact that, in the UK, having been arrested, or even questioned, can be used against you, even if you have never been convicted, or even charged. If applying to work with children, you would have to provide a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) report, which in this case, would say that he had been arrested and investigated for sharing child abuse images, which would make him effectively unemployable. He would also be required to disclose his arrest to his current employer.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The linked article stated that it took 3 weeks (usually 3-6 months, but they got a hurry-up) and he was released and charges dropped after that because there was no evidence of child-porn.

However, the long-term impact still existed, he worked as a counselor for abused teens – often sexual abuse. Therefore there was a cloud over him in this job as the police had informed his employer of the arrest. The arrest was public record, and therefore employers, especially those whose work was to do with children, counselors, teachers and so on – which is what his job was – would find that record in a police background check of him.

Not to mention that because of the arrest, social services got involved, and their records would have that he was arrested for child-porn, which could impact any future interactions that involved social services.

Beyond the initial mistake, another big issue here was that he never should have been arrested and charged in the first place.

The appropriate procedure is to serve a search warrant, take possession of any materials, examine them, and after the examination make a decision on whether he should be arrested or not. Which in this case would have been a ‘not’.

It was completely inappropriate for the police to have sought out an arrest warrant prior to completing and reviewing the results of a search warrant.

If he had never been arrested, most of the issues caused would not have arisen, as it was because of the arrest that the follow-on issues occurred.

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Re: PLX

In England & Wales, as soon as it became a police matter regarding a suspicion of child abuse, an entry would be made on the Police Local Exchange regarding his suitability of working with children. This database isn’t necessarily facts based, it’s more geared towards police intelligence. It came into existence in 2005, an outcome of the Bichard inquiry into the Soham murders.


Once on there, he’d have zero chance of working with Children (POCA) or vulnerable adults (POVA). Records can be expunged, but it requires the police force in question to be aware of errors, which in this case was made by an entirely different force.

Sadly, the UK police operate outside the jurisdiction of the UK’s Information Commissioner. A mistake in my opinion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is much much worse than you think. If you follow the link to the article you find things like this.

“but she was never asked about the images. Her smartphone – Lang did not have a smartphone at the time – was also not seized.”

“Lang said that when he met McMahon in person at a police station at the end of June, after receiving this letter, the DI gave him a much more succinct version, saying what he had been arrested for was “a white man’s disease”.”

So yeah, interestingly enough we have some serious profiling. Both gender and racial, but apparently that’s ok because……. I have no clue honestly why that is viewed as ok…

ECA (profile) says:


Lets ask a question…
the IP was entered Wrong, and the person subscribed to that account WAS NOT HIM..

Anyone wonder about this? they didnt Check for the OWNER of the Address from the IP..

Another point.
SAMPLE the Pictures. Iv seen a person send Family kids pictures, and a a few had Naked kids playing, and it was CLASSED as CHILD NUDITY, and the person was taken to court.

Another point.
Wandering the net in the past was Bad, as the average computer ALWAYS had porn on it..from popup, and backdoors, and soforth..
EVEN NOW, wondering the net, WITHOUT protection IS NOT good.

ECA (profile) says:


Another point.
With all the back doors from Software..Do we have any Privacy? Can you REALLY prove a person DID IT, and it wasnt installed on the computer from a REMOTE..
It would be a Great idea to HIDE porn on others computers, IN THE BACKGROUND, IN TEMP FILES, IN TRASH CANS.. And pull the data off as it was requested. ZOMBIE machines around the world..

New meaning to REVENGE PORN..
Install Porn from remote and report it..

ECA (profile) says:

Re: SPAM and mail boxes

The old mail box..
Ever wonder how MUCH data could be gathered by MAIL??
In the old days a mail got GOT FILLED..
Even when many companies were RELATED to each other.
And in Many cases its NOT the company sending OUT the adverts, its Another company..They have the DATA, and get info from the company on WHO ordered, and WHAT was ordered.
All of a sudden you are getting MORE mail based on your purchases..

Even NOW, with google.
Go shop around Amazon and newegg…THEN goto face book, and watch the adverts CHANGE to what you were looking at..

The INTERNET is not a display device..
IT SENDS DATA to your computer TO DISPLAY..that DATA can be anything. It can be DISPLAYED or NOT DISPLAYED..
You can load up a persons machine with TONS of CRAP/DATA/HIDDEN DATA..

Ninja (profile) says:

Settlement? SETTLEMENT? Look, my life was ruined. I don’t want a lousy settlement. I want the responsible to pay as dearly as I did, I want the money to be as much as I could not earn and will possibly not earn anymore because of this. This should end in some serious consequences for those responsible for the error and for not double checking AND at least 20 years worth of his annual earnings.

I keep saying the abuses will keep happening if people are not punished accordingly.

Chuck says:

Re: Re:

If we’re really trying to make this an “eye for an eye” type scenario, then he isn’t owed any money. Instead, they should just flag the cop who made the typo as a pedophile, fire him, and let HIM live with that “honest mistake” for 5 years.

But restitution isn’t about revenge, it’s an attempt – often in vain, but still – to make a victim whole again. I agree that the cops have to start suffering real, meaningful consequences when they mess up, but restitution is an entirely different thing built for an entirely different purpose.

That said, the real crime here was an arrest based on nothing more than an IP address. Right or wrong, an IP is much like eyewitness testimony – a useful clue, but not direct or concrete evidence of anything whatsoever.

An IP should never justify more than a search warrant, period. It’s barely a reliable enough indicator to justify even that.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So they treat and IP address like a person.
Ignore the person it actually points to.
Decide a penis is guilt.
Destroy a mans life.
Try to make him think its not that bad.
(Which sounds to me like if you make waves for us, we can do so much worse.)
Finally kick the dirt and hum & haw about how maybe sorta kinda they made a tiny oopsie.
People will remember the news stories proclaiming him a threat to society, so he should get the apology in writing & have it laminated so every time he gets that look he can show them that the police got it wrong & branded him.

No checking of the mistyped address.
No evidence found supporting allegations.
But still they had to keep after him.
And somewhere during all of this, someone trading in CP kept doing their thing because they were sure they had the right guy, leaving everyone worse off.
Stellar Job.

AL (profile) says:

Wrong IP? What happened to the right one?

Hold on. Missing in all of this is what happened to the right IP. The one where the digit wasn’t incorrectly made.

When was the mistake actually found? How long did it take? Was it followed up? At what stage in this mans life was there actual knowledge that a mistake had been made? Why wasn’t that followed up with Nigel immediately?

There are a lot more questions for Nigel to ask, and for the police to answer

Violated (profile) says:


I can’t imagine a worse case. Just imagine his GF screaming at him “Stay away from my kid you f**king pedophile or I will f**king kill you!”.

At least he has a clear wrongful arrest case. An IP alone is not evidence enough. Also why did they not suspect his GF when women can be pedophiles also? Without his confession or direct hard evidence there is simply no arrest justification.

Anonymous Coward says:

The bogus charges — still on his record years later — are finally being expunged.

Will that do any good? Such an arrest in the US will ruin your life. Even when it is "expunged", it is only removed from the top level "official" records. There will be many lower level government and private records that it will have been copied to and never be removed from. And these records are not hard for potential employers, landlords and others to find. Try having a good life being unemployable and homeless for the rest of your life.

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