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Having my wings clipped by an old conviction – how my criminal record stopped me travelling with my family

Following an emergency overseas, Helen needed to fly to the Caribbean. However, an old conviction meant that she ended up doing this without her family. Read about the barriers that Helen continues to face due to her criminal record and what she’s planning to do to help not just herself but others in the same situation.


At the end of last year, I was told that one of my family who lives in the Caribbean was extremely ill and had only been given a short amount of time to live. I immediately went online to find the cheapest flight so me and my family could go and see my relative before they died.

After hours of looking, I managed to find a cheap flight which transited in Canada, so I hastily went ahead and booked the tickets.

It was only then that I realised that we would need to apply for Electronic Travel Authorisations (ETA). Having a conviction from 2000 which would never be spent, I knew that if there were going to be any problems it would be my application, so I went ahead and applied first. The question I’d been dreading popped up asking:

Have you ever committed, been arrested for, been charged with or convicted of any criminal offence in any country.”

There was no point in lying, I needed my ETA, so I set out the details of my offence.

The result of this was that I was asked to submit a hideous list of documentation explaining the details of my conviction. As it had happened so long ago, I didn’t have everything to hand and spent two and a half weeks gathering and paying for what was needed and then sent it off.

Imagine my disappointment when I got the reply, telling me that my ETA had been refused. The only option I had was to book another direct flight for myself and let my family travel on the existing one without me. This meant having to spend considerably more money and not being able to get a refund on the flight I’d already booked.

I was gutted and disappointed by this outcome. It truly wasn’t just a matter of the money or even the fact that my husband had to take the children on the plane without me (although I was upset that we couldn’t all travel together), it’s a matter of principle. My conviction was 17 years ago, yet I’m still being punished because of it, even though I’ve totally turned my life around.

For some time now I’ve been thinking about the barriers that people with convictions have to overcome, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can’t stay silent any longer. I now intend to campaign to address and raise awareness of this issue as I know there will be many others out there in the same situation as myself. I want to help them have a voice, and see if positive changes can be made so people with convictions can move on with their lives and leave their past firmly in the past.

By Helen (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Helen’s story demonstrates the barriers that a person with a conviction can face, particularly when trying to travel abroad to certain countries, even though their conviction may be historic. We would always recommend that you obtain your visa before you book your flight, as you could suffer financially if your visa is refused.

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