Name mix-up leads to financial nightmare

STEVE DOWNES Wanted for a crime he never committed - it sounds like a tale from a novel. But for Norwich businessman John Irving it became a frightening four-year reality which saw him detained by US officials, placed on the Interpol computer and blacklisted by credit agencies.

STEVE DOWNES

Wanted for a crime he never committed…

It sounds like a tale from a novel.

But for Norwich businessman John Irving it became a frightening four-year reality which saw him detained by US officials, placed on the Interpol computer and blacklisted by credit agencies.

The 52-year-old, who lives in a four-bedroom home in Recorder Road, shares the same name and age as Dr John Irving, the Hampshire-based oil trader who was arrested earlier this month and faces extradition to the US after allegations he helped pay millions of dollar to Saddam Hussein's regime when he worked for the American oil trading firm bayoil.

Dr Irving, who denies the allegations, could face a 62-year jail term after his indictment.

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But Mr Irving hopes the arrest could finally mark the end of his problems.

The men have not met but have been linked through a series of “bizarre errors” which last year saw the Norfolk man detained by US immigration officials for two hours after arriving from Canada with his wife Jill.

“They were incredibly polite, but it was pretty grim. I felt hemmed in. It was all a bit menacing. They typed my name into a computer and the screen started glowing red. They started asking me if I worked in the oil industry. I just couldn't understand what was going on.”

The problem surfaced when Mr Irving was refused a mortgage by the Halifax in 2003.

“When I applied the Halifax said I hadn't declared I had a financial interest in a house in Basingstoke,” he said.

A credit reference report revealed that his name had been erroneously linked to his namesake by both American Express and Bank of England.

“There's been a series of bizarre errors. I've always had a feeling something must have been going on, because every time we broke the link it came back again.

“I couldn't understand how on earth my information appeared on the US systems,” he said. “I think what happened is because we became linked when the UK authorities were asked by the US to conduct research my details were then passed on. From that they have also been passed on to the Interpol systems.

“I'm John D H Irving and he's John D N. My date of birth is 10/10/54 and if you reverse one of those figures you have his,” he added.

Mr Irving says the mix up has cost him nearly £50,000 and he is now pressing for compensation from the firms involved after winning a ruling from the Information Commissioner over the issue.

“It's been a huge strain and it's caused me all sorts of grief. It's the financial damage that's been done. I've ended up with a sub price mortgage where interest rates are in excess of 10pc.”

He also had to cancel a rugby trip with one of his sons to South Africa.

“I was advised by the Foreign Office and my lawyers not to go abroad,” he added. “It's taken me ages to get anything out of the Americans, they didn't want to know.

“First I had to prove I wasn't wanted in the UK with the help of Norfolk Police's data protection unit, who have been extremely helpful. Then we were able to go Interpol.

“I am hoping that Dr Irving's arrest will help clear my name.

“I'm living proof of the potential for these people to wreck havoc with your personal finances. We rely on banks and credit institutions to look after our money, but it's got to the stage where you can't trust them to look after our information either.”