We all know that the conditions imposed by a SOPO/SHPO can make it difficult for individuals to live their life in the way they’d like to. Sadly, many people don’t realise that they can also have a significant bearing on when a conviction can become spent. Pierce shares his experience below.
Back in 2007 during my teens, I committed a crime when I was unfortunately in a relationship of genuine affection with another teen who was underage.
Although the CPS were only looking at an 18-month suspended sentence (and my barrister wanted a 12-month suspended sentence) the judge decided to make an example of me and I was given a 50 month prison sentence. This automatically put me on the Sex Offenders Register (SOR) for life. I was also given an indefinite Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO).
On the advice of my solicitor I appealed my sentence which was eventually reduced to 3 years.
I did everything right and everything I was told. I never questioned anything so I wasn’t aware that my SOPO was something different to the SOR and seven years after my sentence ended, I assumed that my conviction was spent.
Fast forward to this year (11 years post sentence) and the company I had been working for was bought out by a large corporate American organisation. They were really keen to do background checks on all members of staff and although I was pretty confident that my conviction was spent, I decided to do my own basic DBS check just to be absolutely sure.
When the certificate arrived it was still showing my conviction. I thought the DBS had made a mistake but after some further research, I realised that SOPO’s have their very own rehabilitation periods and my conviction wouldn’t become spent until my SOPO ended. As mine was indefinite, my conviction would never be spent.
At this point I felt I had no alternative but to disclose my conviction to my boss before the American company ran their checks. He was of course surprised by my disclosure but supportive. However, when the American company received my DBS they were adamant that I should be dismissed even though my offence wasn’t relevant to my job. My boss who I’d known for 3 years fought hard for me to stay and ultimately saved my job. I’m sure he wouldn’t have put his neck on the line for me if I hadn’t disclosed to him.
It wasn’t long after this that I came across the Unlock website. Whilst browsing the site I came across a story of somebody who had successfully challenged his SOPO and had it discharged. And so, following the advice in his article, I decided to try this myself.
If this is the first you’ve ever heard of challenging a SOPO then I thought it would be helpful to put together some tips that I learnt whilst going through the process.
- Try to talk to your PPU/Visor officer to advise them of your intention to challenge your SOPO and ask for their support. I found this really difficult mainly because as a low risk offender I wasn’t visited by the police so I had no idea who to contact. However, I’m sure it’s worth doing if you are in regular contact with your officer.
- Write to the court that imposed the SOPO setting out the reasons why you wish to have it discharged. I explained that I had been out of prison for 11 years and hadn’t been in any trouble since. I had been in a stable relationship for 7 years, I had a good job and was in the process of buying my first home. Having my SOPO discharged would result in my conviction being spent meaning I wouldn’t have to disclose it when applying for a mortgage or if I wanted to apply for a new job in the future.
- Once the court receives your application they contact the police who will consider whether it is necessary to oppose your application. Once the police were aware of my application they contacted me to verify that I was the person making the application and also asking me to do a voluntary polygraph test. I refused to do this on the basis that I have ASD/ADHD, and the process would have been far too stressful for me to go through. Although I appreciated that refusing might not look good, I wanted the police to make this type of decision based on what they knew about me now, not what a test told them. The test would have been done in a police interview setting and would have brought back memories of a crime I committed over 14 years ago. I’m really pleased to say that the police offered no opposition to the discharge of the SOPO, and it went back to the court.
- Your application then goes to a judge who will decide whether it can be dealt with administratively or whether you will be required to attend a court hearing. In my case, I wasn’t required to attend court and I received official notification to say that my SOPO had been discharged.
I wasn’t told whether the changes would come into effect immediately and so I waited a month before applying for my new basic DBS certificate. When it arrived, I was horrified to see that my conviction was still showing, it was still unspent. I understand that this was because although I only had one SOPO it appeared against all three of my charges implying that I had 3 SOPO’s, two of which were still in place.
I raised a dispute with the DBS providing copies of the documentation I’d received from the court.
I had to wait a further month but finally in June 2022 the DBS sent me my basic DBS with the words “None Recorded” under the section headed ‘Convictions’. Imagine how pleased I was to be able to hand my ‘clean’ certificate over to my employer.
Although the process didn’t cost me anything financially, it was long and very stressful. If I hadn’t read that initial story published on the Unlock website, I’d never have applied to have the SOPO discharged, so thank you both for helping me to get my life back on track.
I’ve still got to sign the register for another 13 months and then I can apply to come off that too. If I’m successful I’ll be truly free for the very first time in my adult life.
By Pierce (name changed to protect identity)
- Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
- Information – We have practical self-help information on sexual offences, SOPO’s and SHPO’s
- Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to discharging and varying a SOPO on our online forum.