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Case of Larry – Two conditional discharges first causing problems 40 years later

Larry only became aware that he had two offences on his record when he reached the age of 60 and needed an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check to volunteer with his son’s choir.

When he was 16, Larry was convicted of possession of marijuana and received a one year conditional discharge. He wasn’t a habitual drug taker but had been arrested whilst he was making a purchase from a dealer that the police had been looking to trap.

A couple of years later whilst he was a student, Larry received a further one year conditional discharge for theft after taking an item of food from a warehouse where he was working part-time as a shelf stacker.

After graduating, Larry went on to work very successfully for over 40 years in the private sector and has had a completely clean record since his last conviction.

When he went to court decades ago, Larry’s solicitor had explained to him that a conditional discharge was not classed as a conviction (it would only be dealt with in this way if it was breached) and would have little impact on him. So he wasn’t concerned when he was asked to have a DBS check carried out by his son’s choir and even less so when he read that certain convictions would be eligible for filtering after 11 years.

When he received his DBS certificate showing the two convictions he immediately contacted our helpline. We unfortunately had to explain to Larry that, for the purposes of filtering at least, a conditional discharge is dealt with as a conviction and, for it to be eligible for filtering, there must only be one listed. Therefore, in Larry’s case his offences would always be disclosed on standard and enhanced DBS checks as the system stands.

As the choir had made it clear that they required a ‘clean’ DBS certificate, and because Larry did not want to cause his son any unnecessary embarrassment, he did not pursue his application with them.

Larry stated:

“When you look at my record, it’s dreadful. But I was never the drug taking thief that it suggests – I was a young person who made a couple of silly mistakes. But it’s harder than you would ever believe to correct the impression this record creates, even though no one apart from me knows or should care about what happened over forty years ago”.

Knowing that these convictions will appear on a DBS certificate has had a huge impact on Larry. He has stopped applying for positions that require these types of check as he believes that he will never be offered a role in an organisation that does them and also, he finds it difficult to explain the mistakes he made as a juvenile.

Although grateful that the Government have introduced a system of filtering, Larry doesn’t believe that it goes far enough. He said:

“We have lost faith in the capacity of people to learn from their mistakes and to change for the better. The present system is preventing people like me from participating”.

Commenting on Larry’s experience, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock said:

“Why on earth is our criminal record disclosure system holding people like Larry back? Two conditional discharges from over 40 years ago have no bearing whatsoever on the type of person someone is today. The fact that some organisation still insist on “clean” checks is a further damning indictment on today’s risk-averse world, but people like Larry shouldn’t even be put in this position in the first place – it’s disproportionate for the current system to continue to disclose these types of offences and it needs to change”.


Notes about this case

  1. This case relates to Unlock’s policy work on challenging the DBS ‘filtering’ process.
  2. We have practical guidance on disclosing criminal records to employers.
  3. Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
  4. Other policy cases are listed here.

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