London riots hero who was put on police wanted poster wins damages

Housing worker who helped victims to safety came close to losing his job after officers’ error

A hero of the Hackney riots who helped distressed and confused victims to safety has been awarded libel damages after his face was put on a police wanted poster.

Leslie Austin, a council housing worker, was commended and thanked by several police officers for his actions during the riots on 8 August 2011, but later saw his face pictured on a poster seeking to identify people "involved in the disorder".

In the High Court today he was awarded damages for libel by the Metropolitan Police. The size of the award was kept secret, though he was understood to have been seeking up to £50,000.

Publication of his photograph had caused him considerable and repeated embarrassment and distress and on several occasions he had to explain to his employers, shopkeepers and local people that it was a mistake.

He came close to losing his job with his employers demanding evidence of his innocence. A letter had to be written by police assuring his employers that he was not a suspect.

The wanted poster, headed "Operation Withern Identity Sought", was put up in shops in East London and Mr Austin saw one in May 2012. He complained to the police who promised that they were about to be taken down, but they remained up until June 15. On June 7 the Hackney gazette featured his photograph as one of the suspected rioters sought by police despite Mr Austin having been assured he had been eliminated from inquiries.

"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," said Matthew Nicklin QC.

During the riots Mr Austin spotted a terrified woman clutching a baby in a building close to a burning car and he dashed in to escort them to safety before, despite thickening smoke making breathing difficult, going back into the premises to check if anyone else needed help.

Earlier he had seen one of his elderly clients caught between the police lines and the rioters. He helped her get past the trouble and took her home.

In documents filed as part of the case it was stated that polce had thanked him for his actions on the night of the riot: "On three separate occasions police officers thanked him for his assistance."

Later, when the confusion over the wanted posters was raised, he was publicly praised by the police. "The public-spirited attitude of this member of the public is outstanding and I apologise on behalf of the Met for any distress caused," said Detective Sergeant Ian Coleman.

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. The police have apologised to Mr Austin.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "As soon as we were made aware that Mr Austin had not been involved in the disorder, but had in fact been trying to assist those caught up in it, we took steps to remove all of these posters and images from circulation, though we did not do so effectively enough."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015