An Australian man launched a defamation case against a television station for wrongly identifying him as an alleged suspect in the abduction of four-year-old Cleo Smith, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
Smith was rescued from a stranger’s home on November 3 after she disappeared on October 16 during a camping trip with her family at a campground on Australia’s remote western coast north of Carnarvon, a community of just 5,000 people. Her family lives less than 10 minutes away by car from the house where she was eventually found.
Police charged Terence Kelly with her abduction. Hours after his arrest, Australian broadcast media Seven wrongly published photos of a man named Terrance Flowers, who is also an Aboriginal.
Flowers’ lawyers said that the TV channel had significantly impacted his reputation and character by misrepresenting him as the main suspect in the missing child’s case.
The news organization used four photos from Flowers’ Facebook account and aired them across several broadcasts and published them in social media posts without his consent under image captions such as “Pictured: The man accused of abducting Cleo Smith.”
This was problematic because they were the first images reported to the public of the suspect in the missing child’s case.
The images were “promptly removed” on the same day, Seven said, after they were made aware of the mistake. The next day, Seven issued an apology in broadcasts and online.
“[Mr. Flowers] a new father himself, was in no way connected with Cleo’s abduction and his Facebook photos should not have been used,” the network said.
“The publications by the Seven Network led to Mr. Flowers being made the subject of hate around the nation and the world and resulted in him being hospitalized with a severe panic attack,” his lawyers were quoted as saying by the BBC.
“It is of great concern to Mr. Flowers and his family that a major media company would proceed with a story of this magnitude without being absolutely certain as to its accuracy. The effect of this substantial error has been devastating.”