In statement in open court [pdf] read before Mr Justice Warby yesterday, 24 October 2018, Newsquest Media Group, the publishers of the Argus Newspaper in Brighton, apologised to a Libyan man arrested after the Manchester bombing pilot over an article alleging that he was an ISIS sympathiser who had publicly mourned the death of an ISIS leader.
The claimant, Alaedeen Sicri, is a qualified pilot who, in May 2017 was living in West Sussex. Whilst training to be a pilot he ran an online business to assist individuals in Libya to make online purchase from companies such as Ebay or Amazon. His details were also on a Facebook page used by many Libyans for currency exchange.
On 23 May 2017 there was a terrorist attack in the Manchester Arena in which twenty-three people were killed, including the attacker, Salman Abedi. Shortly after the attack the terrorist group, ISIS, claimed responsibility for it. A total of 22 people were arrested in connection with the attack within three weeks, including Mr Sicri.
Mr Sicri had nothing whatever to do with the attack and had no connection or affiliation with the bomber or other terrorists. He cooperated fully with the police and was released without charge. Mr Sicri’s arrest was reported in a number of media outlets. The police did not make any public statement referring to the fact that Mr Sicri had been arrested, and did not issue any details about his arrest.
Mr Sicri was told that the reason for his arrest was that his number was telephoned by Salman Abedi a day or so before the attack in Manchester. Mr Abedi had rung his number because he wanted to transfer some money to Libya and that he had obtained Mr Sicri’s number from a publicly available source. Mr Sicri told Mr Abedi that he was not able to assist and put the phone down when he became suspicious of a scam.
On 31 May 2017 there was an article about Mr Sicri in The Argus newspaper in Brighton. The article suggested that Mr Sicri, was an ISIS supporter who had publicly mourned the death of an ISIS leader in Libya by posting a picture of the Libyan flag when news broke of that ISIS leader’s death in a US air attack, together with a message of respect for the dead leader on his Facebook page.
The defendant accepted that these allegations are false and defamatory. Mr Sicri is not, and has never been, a supporter of ISIS. Mr Sicri had nothing to do with the attack in Manchester. He is opposed in the strongest possible terms to all violence done by ISIS, including the Paris and Manchester attacks. He has never supported the ISIS leader referred to in the article published in The Argus, (or any other ISIS leader). The publication of these false and defamatory allegations by the Defendant has caused Mr Sicri very great distress, anxiety and damage to his reputation.
The publisher agreed to join a Statement in Open Court to publicly apologise to Mr Sicri; to pay him a substantial sum in compensation and his legal costs; The Argus published a suitable correction and apology and has undertaken not to publish these allegations or any similar allegations again.
Mr Sicri’s solicitor, Tamsin Allen of Bindmans LLP said
“In May 2017 a completely innocent young man was publicly identified as being connected to the Manchester bombing and then accused of being an ISIS supporter. He is pleased that these false allegations have been withdrawn, but his case illustrates the damage that can be done by newspapers identifying people at an early stage in an criminal investigation before the facts are clear. The facts here are that Mr Sicri had absolutely nothing to do with the bombing but his life has been catastrophically damaged by the press naming him after he was arrested. Further claims will follow”.