Hackney housing services worker, Leslie Austin, has successfully sued the Metropolitan Police over a published poster that wrongly suggested he was involved in disorder during the 2011 riots, but the High Court heard he was commended and thanked by individual police officers on several occasions for helping vulnerable people caught up in the violence.
He accepted substantial damages for libel which was announced during a statement of settlement and apology at the London High Court before Mr Justice Tugendhat Friday May 3.
On the night of August 8 2011 he escorted a distressed elderly woman past the trouble getting her home safely, removed debris from the road blocking a bus, and helped people trapped in a building adjacent to a vehicle that was on fire.
The lawyer for the Metropolitan Police, David Hirst, said they “are sorry that the steps taken to remove and replace the posters from local shops proved inadequate to correct the position, that Mr Austin’s image was not promptly removed from the police website and that they failed to ensure that Mr Austin’s image was not published in the Hackney Gazette.
“It is accepted that these failures have caused damage to the claimant’s reputation and have caused him much distress and great concern,” added Mr Hirst.
The court heard that the libel was made worse by the fact that the image indicating he had been involved in disorder remained on the Hackney police website, was released to local media and was still present in distributed posters after it was established he was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.
As a result of the legal action police forces all over the country have tightened their policy on releasing mug-shots caught on CCTV and other forms of media surveillance during high profile public disorder inquiries.
Images are released on the understanding that they are contemporaneous to an inquiry, that the police seek only to identify and talk to people featured, and that it is expected the media remove from publication and distribution images following identification and explanation.
Where an individual is exonerated all forces have been made aware of the need to publicly declare: “We are satisfied that the man/woman shown was not involved in criminality and he/she has not been arrested.”