Erasing David

The Daily Express

The Express ran this article about the film.

MY QUEST TO DISAPPEAR

By Adrian Lee

ONE day last year David Bond stuffed a few clothes into a backpack, kissed his pregnant wife and baby daughter goodbye and vanished. He hadn’t done anything wrong, run up huge debts, or suffered some sort of mental breakdown.

In an information-obsessed society, where we are increasingly under surveillance and every aspect of our lives is scrutinised by police, the Government and private companies, Bond wanted to conduct an experiment. The 38-year-old film-maker gave only his name and a photograph to a team of private detectives, went on the run and set them the apparently impossible challenge of tracing him within 30 days.

At the outset it seemed the most terrific adventure. Bond, an Oxford graduate, looked forward to living by his wits, outsmarting the investigators, then returning home. However what happened over the next few weeks was to change his approach to life. As the net closed the game took on more sinister overtones and Bond found himself feeling hunted and angry at how much of his life was available to be picked over.

Leaving home in the depths of winter Bond tried to cover his tracks. Instead of using his own car he travelled to Brussels by train, making the booking using a friend’s credit card. It proved to be a wise move. Guessing he would flee abroad the detectives had impersonated their quarry to try to discover his travel plans. They’d contacted airlines, train and ferry companies. At the same time Bond’s birth certificate had been ordered, quite legally, providing  family details such as his parents’ names and occupations.

The investigators figured that Bond would seek sanctuary with relatives and finding up-to-date addresses was straightforward.

As for friends, a quick check of Bond’s Facebook page, which he’d tried unsuccessfully to delete, provided a wealth of leads. The investigators also set up a fake page pretending to be David inviting friends to get in touch. Plenty did.

In fact within a few hours the detectives had built up a full picture of Bond’s life.

They kept his wife Katie, 39, under surveillance knowing that with a two- year-old Ivy and a baby on the way family ties might prove too strong to ignore. A tracking device was attached to his wife’s car, while the homes of close relatives were staked out.

They also rummaged through the family’s bin bags for clues about his identity, such as bank details and scribbled travel plans. The private investigators were confident they would soon get their man. Bond, who has made a docu mentary about his time on the run, continued to work and film. It was not his  intention to simply hide out in a cave
or forest but to try to have some sort of meaningful existence and contact with society.

It meant using a mobile telephone and the internet to access infor mation and send e-mails. Both could provide clues for the hunters about his likely locations. Although Bond tried to pay cash whenever possible, wary of the trail
left by credit cards and ATMs, the investigators were able to discover that he’d been in Belgium after a man filmed their encounter and unexpectedly posted it on the internet.

He was taken aback when the detectives set up a website on which they mapped his route, including a visit to Berlin. They encouraged him to respond so they could follow the path of his e-mails and pinpoint a rough geographical area and sent bogus messages from friends to try to lure him into the open.

Suddenly Bond found himself looking over his shoulder, fearful that he was about to be caught. “I didn’t expect this change in my mentality,” he admits. “I’d been excited but now I felt pressurised. I struggled to sleep. I realised that if I made one serious mistake it could all be over. Gradually I realised it was inevitable they were going to find me.”

At one stage, as the chase took its toll, Bond broke his rule about  staying within society and hid out in South Wales, where he lived rough at night.

“I felt incredibly isolated and alone,” says Bond. “Perhaps I became a bit paranoid. That was the hardest time.
The separation from family was very difficult.”

It proved to be his undoing. Bond’s pregnant wife contacted him to say she was ill. He decided to head back to London so he could accompany Katie to hospital but the detectives were hot on his trail. By again  impersonating Bond and providing Katie’s date of birth to pass a rudimentary security check they persuaded an NHS worker to reveal the time and location of the appointment. They’d guessed that Bond would try to contact his wife and were watching the hospital.

Bond slipped in unnoticed via a back door but he was not to escape so easily. Later in the street the investigators confronted him. Barely half way through his 30-day adventure it was all over.

“Capture was a huge emotional upheaval,” says Bond. “I was shocked that they knew exactly where I was going to be. It was frightening. I felt furious that in such a short period of time they now knew so much about me and my life, much of it freely available.

“In many ways I was naive in the past, quite happily handing over personal details and believing that if I had nothing to hide there was nothing to worry about.”

Knowing that the detectives had access to only a fraction of the information stored about him Bond also contacted government depart- ments, banks, private companies, the supermarket where he held a loyalty card, mobile phone and internet providers. He wanted to know precisely what data was held and how it was used.

The results from 80 different sources were eye-opening. He dis- covered that Amazon alone had 120 pages of information, including personal details of everyone he’d ever sent a gift. Mobile phone and inter- net providers were storing details of every call and website visited.

When he’d complained in the past by telephone to his high street bank about a missing cheque it had beenrecorded on his file that he had been angry. Bond says: “My bank had even logged my mood, which is very subjective. In future it could be used to refuse me a loan. It’s the beginning of psychological profiling of customers.”

The film-maker was also shocked to discover that within 100 yards of his home there were 200 surveillance cameras, in shops and on the streets, monitoring his every move.

“I find it sinister that we are all regarded as potential threats or as criminals,” adds Bond, who now also has one-year-old son Albie.

“What’s most terrifying is how much information about our children is being stored.”

Even the private detectives who tracked Bond want tighter controls. Duncan Mee, co-owner of Cerberus Investigations, says: “The amount of information that is held about individuals has gone too far. In every day life enormous data trails are left. We were able to build a comprehensive picture of David’s life.” But he warns we all share some of the blame: “People are careless and put too much information out there, such as birthdays on social networking sites. It’s all available for public scrutiny.”

Bond’s attempt to erase himself has changed his life. He’s much more cautious about handing over family details, has cut up his loyalty cards and opposes schemes such as a national DNA database  containing everyone’s details. He prefers to shop using small stores rather than big corporations.

He remains deeply patriotic but is deeply worried about the threat to our liberty and privacy posed by surveillance and data gathering carried out in the name of national security and tackling crime. Oh, and he most definitely now uses a shredder.

Erasing David is in cinemas from tomorrow and on More4 on Tuesday May 4 at 10pm.

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