Back in 2011, Nigel Lang was a regular family man living in England with his partner and their son. He worked a fulfilling job and seemed to have the world at his fingertips.
But in July of that year, Lang’s world was turned upside down. He was accused of a crime that he did not commit and was powerless to prevent what happened next. Events that took place over the coming days, weeks, months and years, eventually cost him more than just his sanity, but his freedom as well…
Who is Nigel Lang?
At the time of the incident, Lang, 44 lived with his partner and their 2-year-old son in a home in Sheffield of South Yorkshire, England. Lang worked as a drug recovery worker, helping troubled teenagers, many of whom were victims of sexual abuse. As for Lang’s partner, she worked as a chartered accountant, which is an important fact to note for later on.
In July 2011, on a Saturday morning, Nigel Lang was at home with his family when he heard a knock at his door. He opened it to find a man and two women there asking if he lived at the address. When he said he did, one of the women, who then identified herself as a police officer, told Lang and his partner that he was going to be arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. Lang couldn’t believe what was happening…
He felt like he was being shot in in the chest with a double-barreled shotgun. Police seized the desktop and laptop computers in his home and brought Lang to the police station. There, he was questioned for the next four hours. Lang was asked if he wanted a lawyer and while he initially denied it, he eventually took them up on their offer: just in case. Police went on to accuse Lang of a heinous crime: possessing disturbing and indecent images of children.
Lang felt like his world was slowly caving in, Those four hours in the hot seat felt like days. Even though he was eventually released on bail, the damage had already been done. Police told Lang that while information was being gathered on the case, he would be forced to adhere to strict conditions. These conditions, he soon learned, would negatively affect his entire life and devastate his family…
While Lang was being questioned, social services had visited his partner at home to conduct a “safeguarding assessment” to make sure his home was a safe environment for his own son. It was determined that Lang would no longer be able to live at the family home anymore. He couldn’t even visit his son or have any unsupervised contact with him at all. Lang was heartbroken by the news and it only got worse from there. He was suspended immediately from his job as a drug recovery worker the moment he informed his employer of what happened.
Lang was initially told it would take between three to six months to complete searches on the computers seized from his house. This meant spending months away from his home and family. However, due to pressure from his workplace and the overzealous Sheffield city council, police completed their investigation in three weeks and came back with a verdict that was just as alarming as the initial accusation…
After an exhaustive search and weeks of waiting, Lang was finally contacted by the authorities once again. It was determined that nothing was found on Lang’s computers. He was free to collect them and free to go home. Lang was completely innocent, just as he had always maintained.
In the three weeks he was away, Lang lived with his mother. Yet even with his name cleared, he felt that his reputation “was in tatters”, There was still a huge shadow looming over him and the battle to clear his name and find out what had happened to him was only just beginning. Things were about to get a lot worse…
The summer of 2011 when Lang was arrested was a time of heightened public awareness over child abuse. This was due in part to some rather intense media coverage of a number of high-profile cases involving celebrities. Of course, this only made his situation that much worse for a man who had previously worked closely with young people.
The people who knew Lang well, like his best friends, knew he didn’t do it. But, the people who didn’t know him well, became a bit funny around him. Lang became afraid to take his son to nursery school or even go out in public. It got so bad that eventually he became a recluse and sank into a deep depression…
Lang’s relationships with his wife suffered as well. Not only was she just as humiliated as he was by the situation, but now she had to look after their son while Lang got ahold of himself. He was wracked with guilt over what was happening and its affect on his family. Lang’s young son was just as affected, he didn’t understand why his father had disappeared and why, when he returned, he was so different than he had been before.
“I was accused of the thing that I most despised,” explained Lang afterwards. “The most horrific thing is that your life is turned upside down. There’s just no hope,” he continued. “We might have had more kids, but with all that was happening that just went out the window.” In June 2012, almost one year after his arrest, Lang still had no idea why he had been arrested, so he contacted South Yorkshire police to find out why this had all happened to him…
Lang admitted that at the time of the arrest, he wasn’t exactly computer savvy or even computer literate for that matter. All he used the computer for was to listen to music on YouTube. They’d only just gotten internet in their home a few months beforehand. In fact, when the police interviewed him and asked about his browsers, his response was an impassioned “‘What the &*#@ is a browser?’ he said. ‘Do you mean Google?’”
The police still wouldn’t tell him what he had that led them to his door with such egregious allegations. With no real idea of what led police to his door, Lang lodged a formal complaint. He asserted that the police were institutionally racist and sexist because the home internet account was registered in the name of his partner, who is white, but that she was never asked about the images. It was a bold position to take…
In effect, Lang believed that police targeted him for no other reason than that he was black. But, before Lang was able to officially lodge the complaint, an officer called him questioning his need to complain. His complaint was rejected in a letter which for the first time revealed where the information that led to his arrest came from: a police department 100 miles away. DI Sean McMahon, who investigated the complaint wrote in May 2011 that officers at South Yorkshire had received information from their colleagues in Hertfordshire that they had identified an IP address that had shared more than 100 images of children via peer-to-peer software in April that year.
Hertfordshire police then established that the IP address belonged to the account in the name of Lang’s wife. The letter to Lang concluded with: “There is no evidence that the arresting officer acted in a discriminatory manner.” As if to add insult to injury, DI McMahon eventually gave Lang a more succinct version in person saying that what he had been arrested for was “a white man’s disease. Still, huge questions remained…
Your Name Is Everything
When Lang contacted DI McMahon again demanding answers, he was dealt another devastating blow. Lang learned that despite his innocence, his arrest for possessing and distributing indecent images of children, and his DNA, was still on file! “I went in there wanting answers,” recalls Lang “but I came out with the biggest fear of my life…When something happens to you that isn’t your fault it consumes you… your name is everything.” This new information played a huge part in effectively ending his career in August of 2013.
“The Phone Call”
With the new information that the South Yorkshire police were not behind the investigation, Lang’s lawyer reinstated the investigation. Finally, after months of uncertainty, Lang was given a real answer. While requesting details about an IP address linked to indecent images of children from an internet service provider, police had added an extra digit – a single keystroke – by mistake. When the ISP came back with a physical address for the IP address provided, it led police to Lang’s front door. His life had been ruined because of a single digit…
On April 5, 2014, Lang received a letter from Hertfordshire constabulary apologizing for what happened to him and accepting responsibility for the mistake. “I am in the process of reviewing all databases to ensure there is no record of your arrest which could result in disclosure to any future employers. I will update you once this has been completed. Again Mr Lang, I cannot convey enough, how sorry I am the impact of this mistake has had on your life.” It was a bittersweet moment for Lang, who had lost so much. “How can policemen not write down numbers?”
A New Start
Last October, police paid Lang £60,000 in compensation, two years after they finally said sorry and removed the wrongful arrest from his record. Now, at age 49, Lang is finally looking to restart his life. He described the past six years as, “the hardest fight of my life…people told me not to talk about this, but it’s been kind of therapeutic.” After all of this Lang laughed and said: “If you don’t laugh, you cry.”