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Hackney hero wins payout from police after being put on ‘Wanted’ poster

PUBLISHED: 19:06 03 May 2013 | UPDATED: 19:06 03 May 2013

PA Archive/Press Association Images

A “good samaritan” who helped vulnerable people caught up in the Hackney riots received a payout from the Metropolitan Police after his photo appeared on a wanted list of suspected rioters.

During the night of August 8, 2011, Leslie Austin, who works in housing services in the borough and has held numerous voluntary posts in the community, escorted a distressed elderly woman past the trouble to ensure she got home safely and removed debris from around a bus so the driver could continue his journey.

London’s High Court also heard yesterday that he helped people who appeared to be trapped in a building close to which a car had been set alight.

Following his actions, he was commended and thanked by individual police officers on several occasions.

He was therefore shocked to see his photo on a poster headed ‘Operation Withern Identity Sought’ provided by the police to local shopkeepers for display last May.

The posters asked for help in identifying the people pictured who were described as having been “involved in the disorder”.

His barrister Matthew Nicklin QC 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.”

Mr Nicklin told Mr Justice Tugendhat that Mr Austin contacted his local police station to explain his role, which was fully accepted, and was informed that the current posters were due for prompt removal and replacement.

The photos, including that of Mr Austin, were provided by the police to the Hackney Gazette and were published by the paper at their request on June 7.

It was not until June 15 that Mr Austin’s picture was removed from the Hackney Police website.

After the police told the Hackney Gazette, the paper published a story explaining the police’s error on June 21.

However, a number of posters were found to be on display in the borough for a further two months.

The court heard that Mr 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.

Mr Nicklin said that, much to Mr 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 apologised and agreed to pay Mr Austin substantial damages and his legal costs.

David Hirst, of the Met Police, said: “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.”

Mr Austin was not in court 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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