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˜Good samaritan paid damages in libel claim against the Metropolitan Police

Leslie Austin, a Hackney resident, brought libel proceedings against the Metropolitan police after he was wrongly identified as a rioter.  On 8 August 2011, Mr Austin left his place of work and assisted various vulnerable people that had innocently found themselves caught up in the riots.   He was commended by individual police officers for his assistance on that night.

In May 2012, however, his image appeared on a police poster identifying him as an offender that the police wanted to speak to in connection with offences committed during the riots.  The posters were displayed by local shopkeepers in the area and caused Mr Austin considerable embarrassment.  He duly contacted the police to correct their error and on 1 June 2012 they accepted his explanation.  He was told that the posters would be removed and replaced.

Despite this assurance, Mr Austins picture was not removed from the Hackney police website until 15 June 2012 and posters continued to be displayed in some premises for a further two months.  His image was also included in a publication by the Hackney Gazette on 7 June 2012.  As a result of the continuing publication of his image after he had been eliminated from police enquiries, he issued proceedings against the police in October 2012.  Initially, the Metropolitan Police attempted to defend the proceedings relying on the defences of justification, qualified privilege and/or consent.   However, they later accepted that these defences were only relevant to publication prior to 1 June 2012 when Mr Austin was a suspect.

On 3 May 2013, a statement in Open Court was read out apologising to Mr Austin for the distress caused to him as a result of the error.  The Metropolitan Police are to pay Mr Austin damages and his legal costs.


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