A MAN who was twice wrongly branded a sex offender by police has spoken about the devastating effect it has had on his life.

Stephen Parkin's world was turned upside down when a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) search showed that he had been accused of the attempted rape of a 15-year-old girl.

The 56-year-old painter and decorator endured years of whispered innuendo as he fought to clear his name while Durham Constabulary carried out an investigation.

The force has since apologised and compensated Mr Parkin, but the grandfather and father-of-two is still living with the consequences of being labelled a child rapist.

Speaking from the Bishop Auckland area home he shares with his partner Diane Hamer, Mr Parkin said: "My life changed forever in 2009 when I received a call telling me that a CRB check had shown up I had been accused of attempting to rape a 15-year-old girl - I was absolutely devastated.

"The information was passed to Social Services as we were looking to foster [a child] - that false record meant that we weren't able to [go ahead]."

Despite the force's investigation, Mr Parkin was never told what information had been logged against his name or when it had been recorded. However, he was assured the mistake would never occur again.

Yet less than two years later it did happen again - this time involving a different Social Services team, but the same police force.

He said: "I couldn't believe it. Why was it still on my record when they had promised me it would never happen again?

"I was in shock - it felt like it couldn't be a simple clerical error, it felt like someone must have it in for me.

"When people say there is no smoke without fire, it is absolutely devastating for someone like me who has never done anything wrong.

"After it happened again I found it hard to mix with people as they always seemed to be looking at me differently and I couldn't bear to think that people thought I could be a sex offender.

"The compensation that I received will never repair the emotional damage that this has caused to me."

His partner has stood by his side throughout, but said the emotional torment was devastating to see. In addition, not being able to see his grandchildren without supervision while the investigation was conducted was heartbreaking.

"He would go to work, come home and pretty much lock himself away from the world," she said. "Sometimes I didn't know whether he would make it through it all or not, but he is a fighter and it shows how strong he is that he is starting to rebuild his life properly."

As part of the compensation package negotiated by Scott Taylor, of Taylor Goodchild, Mr Parkin receives regular counselling.

Mr Taylor said: "This is a tragic case where an entirely innocent, respectable man has been mistakenly linked to the worst type of offence, not once but twice. Assurances were given by the police when the first error occurred that this would never happen again, but that was not the case.

"Exactly the same thing happened again due to glaring errors by the police.

"Being linked to this type of false information has had a devastating effect on his life. I hope people will now realise he is a good man and this is entirely the fault of the police."

Durham Police last night confirmed that there were no registered sex offenders by the name of Steven Parkin living in the County Durham and Darlington area.

In a statement, Chief Constable, Mike Barton said: “As Chief Constable I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to Mr Parkin and his family for any distress caused by the error made.

"As a direct result of Mr Parkin’s experience, process improvements have been made and lessons learned.

"Every day tens of thousands of pieces of information are handled by my staff and, although it very rarely happens, regrettably, mistakes can be made.

"Since this incident, training and new processes and checks have been put in place and I am confident these changes have reduced the risk of mistakes being made.

"I hope the fact we have learned valuable lessons as a force about the way we manage information is some solace to Mr Parkin as he moves forward with his life. It is important that I mention that the error made has now been rectified and we accept full responsibility for it. We have also ensured Mr Parkin was recompensed for the distress our error has caused.”