The First Nations man falsely identified by Channel 7 as the person who abducted four-year-old Cleo Smith says he plans to sue the media network for defamation.
In a video interview with Ngaarda Media via NITV, the Nyamal man says that what happened to him was “not acceptable” and has launched a defamation case against the publication.
“That stuff was not acceptable man, I don’t like that there,” he told the outlet.
“I want to get not just an apology from them. I want them to do their job more seriously and professional[ly].
“I’m going to end up suing them anyway because it’s not the right thing for them to be doing.”
According to Ngaarda Media, the Nyamal man shares the same name as the alleged abductor. Earlier this week, he was wrongly identified on social media after someone used his photos from Facebook and connected him to Cleo Smith’s abduction.
Then, in an article published on Wednesday morning around when Cleo was found alive and well, Channel 7 falsely identified him, claiming that they had revealed pictures of the alleged culprit. That experience reportedly resulted in the Nyamal man removing his social media accounts after being “harassed online due to misinformation”.
In a statement shared with Ngaarda Media, the man’s lawyer Stewart O’Connell said he “find[s] it incredible” that such a major media company could make this kind of error.
“I do personally find it incredible that a major media company would publish a photo of someone connecting them to this particular matter and given how prominent it is in the country and in the world without them being 100% absolutely certain that they had the right person,” he said.
When the wrongly accused man first heard that they had found Cleo on Wednesday, he told his partner and they “were happy for her”. Then, his sister sent him a screenshot of someone using a photo of him in a post related to the alleged person who took the young girl.
“I thought she was lying and I started swearing and said to her, ‘No, that’s not me in it,’” he said.
He then went straight to the police station and spoke with the police who took it down. Later that afternoon, he saw his face on the 7News Brisbane and Sunrise Facebook pages.
“I got upset and then I went back to the police station,” he said.
“I ended up getting more upset and I had a panic attack in the police station so they brought me into hospital.”
When media outlets and Instagram accounts like Aussie Influencer Opinions first slammed Channel 7 for falsely identifying the man, the media network removed the post without an apology. On Thursday, Channel 7 confirmed that they had wrongly identified the man and released a public apology.
“Earlier on Wednesday 7NEWS wrongly showed images of a man that were incorrectly labelled as the person under arrest over the disappearance of Cleo Smith,” the publication shared on its page.
“These were removed promptly, but 7NEWS apologises for the error.”
It’s worth mentioning here that while he was falsely identified because of social media hysteria lead on by him having the same name as the alleged culprit, it’s extremely troubling to hear that one of the largest media networks in the country confused two First Nations men.
You can hear the man’s full story in the heartbreaking interview below.