Google: Class search results as journalism so we can dodge Right To Be Forgotten

High Court hears hair-raising claim from ads behemoth


Here's what we're not allowed to tell you

NT1 himself, a businessman, took the stand to give evidence. He wore a neat dark suit with a broadly striped tie and a well-cared-for pair of shoes.

Most of what was asked, and talked about at length, concerned the precise details of NT1’s early career and the inner workings of Alpha, things we are prohibited from telling you*. We can say, however, that in the early 1990s, during the height of Alpha’s public prominence, it made an application to join a trade association.

“The trade association unanimously rejected your company’s application for membership. Do you recall?” White asked NT1. “I don’t recall that,” he responded, blaming the passage of time for dimming his memory.

NT1 blamed a director of Alpha for public statements made by it to the press. We cannot name this man either but shall refer to him as Mr Fitzgerald. He was NT1's co-defendant at his trial.

“[Alpha] was still sending out brochures incorrectly claiming it was a full member of [a trade association] and [a consumer group], even though they wouldn’t have you as a member. Do you recall that?” asked White.

“I have no recollection of this article, after 26 years,” replied NT1.

“Mr Fitzgerald was blaming this on a large print run,” said White, reading from a 1990s national newspaper article about Alpha which quoted Fitzgerald.

“I can’t possibly comment,” said NT1.

Even the judge himself weighed in, while NT1 was being asked about a sanction handed to Alpha by a regulator.

“You've told me so far you didn’t engage with the process,” said Mr Justice Warby. “Was any part of your thinking, in failing to engage with the process, a recognition that there were some justified criticisms in there?”

“Yes, my lord,” replied NT1.

The main thrust of Google’s questioning was intended to show that, instead of what NT1 claimed about his having been a relatively minor businessman, he was the principal of a large undertaking which had a significant effect on a number of people and companies. Sums of millions of pounds were mentioned in relation to Alpha’s revenues and profits. At one stage it entered liquidation after a court application was made “to scrutinise the provenance of a substantial sum which Alpha’s solicitors had put up to enable Alpha’s creditors to be paid and allow Alpha to come out of liquidation.”

In what could be interpreted as a crude attempt to divert public attention from this case, yesterday Google released an updated version of its Transparency Report.

The case, NT1 v Google Inc, being heard in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, continues. In around two weeks, a very closely related case, NT2 v Google, will be heard in the same court. ®

Lawnote*

A widely drawn reporting restriction order obtained by NT1 means we cannot name him, or say where he lives, or even tell you precisely what he did in the 1990s to receive a criminal conviction for false accounting. We cannot say anything specific about the “controversial property company” that he “had an interest in”, though we can say that its activities brought about sustained interest from the press and state authorities alike during a large part of the 1990s – attention that ultimately led to NT1’s criminal conviction.

We are able to say that its business model was “a sometimes controversial business of offering services and credit to consumers and companies in connection with properties.”

“He is, I don’t think this is disputed, not a public figure, in the sense of, he’s not someone who occupies or has ever occupied any public office,” said Tomlinson, NT1’s barrister.

We cannot tell you anything about the other criminal offence “involving serious dishonesty” that prosecutors wanted to charge NT1 with but ultimately did not pursue. Neither can we tell you why they didn’t proceed with that charge. We cannot tell you which judge sentenced him, for how long he was sent down, or even which court found him guilty.

Neither can we refer to the Court of Appeal judgement – in theory, a public document – which threw out his doomed effort to clear his name. We can’t even link to “contemporaneous news reports on the Claimant’s conviction”, or name the book that referred to his crime and the circumstances in which it was committed. The terms of the reporting restriction order that NT1 obtained even prohibit us from linking to his own blog, despite the fact he appears to have deleted it since obtaining the order.

Mr Justice Nicklin, the High Court judge who granted the order, observed: “If [NT1] was named … reports of the case would lead to the publication again of the very information which they argue should be allowed to be ‘forgotten’. In other words, without reporting restrictions, the claimants would destroy, by the legal proceedings, that which they seek, by those proceedings, to protect.”

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