Newspaper wrong to name Libyan suspect in Manchester bombing

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A judgment made today by the UK’s Royal Courts of Justice awards damages to a Libyan man who was arrested in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing. The man had been named as a suspect by a newspaper, and the ruling sets a precedent for holding the media accountable for identifying suspects from their own sources.

In Alaedeen Sicri v Associated Newspapers Limited, Mr Justice Warby ordered the MailOnline to pay damages totalling £83,000 to a Libyan man whom it named as the subject of a police statement about an arrest following the 2017 attack. Alaedeen Sicri was eventually released without charge.

According to the judgment, Sicri was identified by several newspapers following a police press release that a 23-year-old man had been held in Shoreham-by-Sea. Sicri brought an action against the Mail for breach of confidence and misuse of private information. He claimed as a result aggravated damages and special damages to compensate for his financial loss.

Justice Warby found that Sicri had a right to assume that the newspaper had violated his right not to be identified and had no sufficient justification for doing so. The decision to publish was “not a bespoke exercise of considered editorial judgment” and was rather “an automated or knee-jerk process”, Justice Warby explained. The claim was not significantly weakened by the fact that other media had also identified Sicri: “The fact that information was published by the Guardian does not establish that it was known to the world at large,” the judge observed.

Dismissing as “entirely misconceived” an argument that publication is justified on the basis of open justice, Justice Warby said it was impossible to draw any meaningful analogy with what takes place in court: “The court is exercising the judicial power of the state, determining rights and obligations; its workings need to be transparent and open to scrutiny and criticism.” He added, “That specific and hallowed rationale plainly cannot be transposed wholesale to any local event of public importance.”

Sicri was awarded general damages of £50,000 to compensate for the wrongful disclosure and special damages of £33,000 for financial losses caused by the wrongful act.