Met Police pays substantial damages to riot Good Samaritan after libelling him in wanted poster

 

A Good Samaritan who helped vulnerable people caught up in the Hackney riots has accepted substantial damages from the Metropolitan Police over a poster it published which suggested that he was involved in the disorder.
 
Leslie Austin, who works in housing services in the east London borough and has held numerous voluntary posts in the community, was commended and thanked by individual police officers on several occasions on the night of 8 August 2011, Mr Justice Tugendhat was told at the High Court on Friday.
 
He escorted a distressed elderly woman past the trouble, ensuring she got home safely, and removed debris from around a bus so the driver could continue on his journey.
 
He also helped people who appeared to be trapped in a building close to which a car had been set alight.
 
But, said Matthew Nicklin QC, in May 2012, Mr Austin was shocked to see his photo on a poster headed "Operation Withern Identity Sought"
provided by the police to local shopkeepers for display.
 
It asked for help in identifying the people pictured, including Mr Austin, who were described as having been "involved in the disorder".
 
Nicklin said: "This was extremely distressing to the claimant. Not only was it false in his case, but he felt his safety to be at risk as there had been revenge attacks following the riots."
 
Austin contacted his local police station to explain his role, which was fully accepted, and he was told that the current posters were due for prompt removal and replacement, Mr Nicklin said.
 
But it was not until 15 June that Mr Austin's picture was removed from the Hackney Police website and a number of posters were found to be still on display in the borough over a further two months.
 
Police had also provided the photos, including that of Austin, to the Hackney Gazette, but they were not published until 7 June.
 
Austin faced considerable and continuing embarrassment and distress and was forced to explain to his employer, local people and shopkeepers that a mistake had been made.
 
Nicklin said that, much to Austin's dismay, the Metropolitan Police initially sought to defend the proceedings but had now accepted that he was seriously libelled by the inclusion of his photo on the posters which remained on display after he was eliminated from inquiries.
 
It had apologised and agreed to pay Austin substantial damages and his legal costs.
 
David Hirst, for the police, said that, as a result of the poster campaign, it had been possible to identify and bring to justice thousands of individuals.
 
After Austin explained his movements and was eliminated from inquiries, the police told the Hackney Gazette that he was a "Good Samaritan" whose public-spirited attitude was outstanding, he added.
 
"The Metropolitan Police 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."
 
Austin was not in court for the hearing, but his solicitor, Tamsin Allen of Bindmans, said he was pleased that the matter had finally been resolved and his reputation vindicated.
 
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