A man wrongly branded a recidivist paedophile by the Sensible Sentencing Trust - this week slammed by the Privacy Commissioner - has spoken out about the "shocking" and "devastating" error.

The hardline law and order advocates were labelled "negligent and cavalier" by the Privacy Commissioner after wrongly posting the innocent man's photograph next to the details of a convicted paedophile on its website.

The actual paedophile has multiple convictions in New Zealand and overseas for sexual offending against girls and boys and has served time in prison.

The man whose photograph was posted shares the same first and last name as the offender - but that's where the similarities end.


The trust's online offender database listed the innocent man's photograph alongside the paedophile for almost two years.

The man - who the Herald has agreed not to name to protect his privacy, family and business - recalled when he learned about the database entry.

"One of my customers actually told me I wasn't welcome back in his area anymore," he said.

"I said 'whoa, what's going on?' and he directed me to the website where there was a photo of me against some other guy's name."

"It's definitely not me - I was pretty bloody shocked.

"All I can say is, if you've ever been gutted - that's what it feels like… It blows you away."

The man initially had no idea how to handle the situation.

"I was thinking 'what the hell do I do?'" he said.

"I made contact with the SST and got put onto the guy that manages the database.

"They had a pretty bad attitude about it - they basically told me 'we're all volunteers, we get it wrong sometimes'."

The man then sought advice from the police who suggested he take the matter to the Privacy Commissioner.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards. NZ Herald photograph
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards. NZ Herald photograph

Earlier this week Commissioner John Edwards confirmed an investigation had been completed.

He lambasted the SST, founded by Garth McVicar, and said it was important for New Zealanders to be aware of the breach to warn them of the trust's "continuously negligent, cavalier, and dangerous approach to privacy".

During the investigation the trust said a member of the public submitted the man's photo before a volunteer uploaded it to the database - but without taking any steps to verify its accuracy.

The trust admitted it did not know who submitted the photo or who uploaded it, while also confessing its volunteers were not provided with privacy training.

This disclosure came despite a 2014 assurance from the trust - following an earlier breach - to provide relevant personnel with privacy training.

Edwards found the SST clearly harmed the man with its actions, who was the victim of social media abuse and afraid his tarnished reputation would damage his business.

The database page with the man's photo received just 574 unique views over the two years, but someone who saw the picture posted it to school and community Facebook groups.

That person called the man a threat to children.

Edwards said the man took "a lot of effort" to try and resolve the matter - contacting schools and community groups, as well as NetSafe.

His business was also affected.

"The man described how this incident humiliated him and his family, affecting their dignity and injuring their feelings. He recounted his feelings of fear and anger and described this situation as an 'emotional nightmare'," said Edwards.

In response to the investigation, the Sensible Sentencing Trust acknowledged the mistake and deactivated its database.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust's online offender database listed the man's picture with the description of a convicted paedophile with a similar name for almost two years. Photo / File
The Sensible Sentencing Trust's online offender database listed the man's picture with the description of a convicted paedophile with a similar name for almost two years. Photo / File

The trust also called some of the man's clients, published a notice in a local school's newsletter, and offered to hold a public meeting to correct the mistake.

The database has been deactivated and will be checked thoroughly.

The Privacy Commissioner will now refer the man's complaint to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings after he and the Sensible Sentencing Trust were unable to reach a settlement.

The man hoped the tribunal would be able to resolve the issue.

"It's pretty devastating," he said.

"Paedophiles are the lowest of the low and being publicly named as a convicted paedophile… how the hell can they do this to someone?"

The man said the situation had been extremely stressful - and had impacted on his wife and son.

"The onus has been on us to clear it up - it's hard enough running a business as is it without having the stress of something like this that we have to deal with as well," he said.

"There's a fear that somebody may recognise you in the photo - the possibility of violence against you, or abuse.

"You don't know where it's going to come from or when.

"You're walking around the supermarket looking away from people and if somebody gives you a funny glance you think 'have they seen that picture?'

"It's been quite hard."

The man feared what other material was inaccurate on the SST site.

"What else have they got on there that's incorrect?

"They are hiding behind the breach saying volunteers do the work - volunteers or not, when you're dealing with something as serious as this you've got to be making sure you are getting the facts straight.

"It's not good enough.

The Privacy Commissioner said the man made a reasonable request to the SST for financial compensation to settle the complaint.

"The Sensible Sentencing Trust said it was unable to meet the proposed figure and offered a significantly lower amount," he said.

"It's very disappointing that – having previously been found in breach and agreeing as part of a settlement to improve its compliance – the Sensible Sentencing Trust has failed to meet its obligations, at the cost of an innocent man's reputation and peace of mind."

He said this time an innocent man was implicated for a terrible crime, his reputation tarnished and potentially put at risk of violence.