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21 December 2020

Alaedeen Sicri wins his privacy claim against MailOnline

4 mins

Success in Manchester bombing arrest privacy case

In a judgment handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice today, Mr Justice Warby has awarded substantial damages for misuse of private information to a claimant who was identified by the MailOnline as someone who had been arrested in connection with the Manchester Arena Terrorist attack. 

Mr Sicri was identified by the newspaper, despite the fact that the police had not identified him in press releases about the arrest. Mr Sicri was subsequently released without charge. It was accepted by the police, MailOnline and the Judge that Mr Sicri did not have anything to do with the terrorist attack; he did not know Abedi, or anything about the attack other than what had been broadcast and reported in the media. As a result of the publicity, Mr Sicri was unable to pursue his career as a commercial pilot and he suffered extreme distress and depression. In his judgment, the Judge characterised the intrusion as being of an ‘especially grave nature’ and pointed out that ‘Until the arrest, and the publication of his identity as a suspect, he was a young man of unimpeachable conduct and character, living an ordinary, rather quiet life in a seaside town in Sussex.’

Mr Justice Warby delivered his judgment following a trial in November. He found for Mr Sicri and awarded him substantial damages for the breach of his privacy rights, and compensated him for the cost of having to take action against other publishers to remove the private information from the internet. The Judge found that ‘the reasons that justify the general rule in favour of protection (of the Claimant’s privacy rights) are clear and convincing, and the factors that count in favour of applying that rule in this case are strong.’ Associated Newspapers, publishers of the MailOnline will also have to pay all the costs, estimated at about £1m.

The Judge held that Mr Sicri had a right to expect that the MailOnline would not publish his identity as the man arrested on suspicion of involvement in the Manchester Arena bombing. The MailOnline had violated that right and it had no, or no sufficient public interest justification for identifying Mr Sicri. The fact that other newspapers later identified Mr Sicri did not mean that the MailOnline was not liable.

The Judge accepted what Mr Sicri said at trial, and criticised the MailOnline journalists’ evidence finding that it was justification with hindsight and that they had not thought about Mr Sicri’s privacy rights at the time they published the article identifying him. The Judge considered that MailOnline journalists made a decision ‘driven by competitive considerations, or herd instinct’ rather than proper consideration of Mr Sicri’s rights.

Mr Sicri was represented by Tamsin Allen of Bindmans LLP, with Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sara Mansoori, both of Matrix Chambers. 

Tamsin Allen said: 

This is an important judgment which makes it clear beyond question that arrested people have a right to privacy, and the media may not identify arrested people unless there are special circumstances. The decision is a really significant development in privacy law which will be welcomed by all those who are concerned by the media’s lack of respect for individual rights in reporting on criminal investigations. As the Judge said, it is not for the media to determine the right balance between privacy rights and freedom of expression – that is a matter of law.

Alaedeen Sicri said:

I am delighted that at last I can repair some of the damage done by the MailOnline. The arrest was an error and my name should never have been made public by the press. I was 23 at the time of the publication and had just finished training as a pilot, but the publicity ended my career. I strongly believe that the media should follow police guidance and not publish the names of people arrested in case they are, like me, innocent of any crime.

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