A man wrongly identified by Seven Network as having been taken into custody over the abduction of four-year-old Cleo Smith in Australia is bringing defamation proceedings against the station.

Terrance Flowers, an Aboriginal man who lives in the Western Australian town of Karratha, was mistakenly identified by 7News as a suspect in the case in broadcasts, an online article, a Tweet and a Facebook post on 3 November.

Mr Flowers uses his mother’s maiden name, Kelly, on Facebook. The man actually arrested at the time was Terence Darrell Kelly, who has since been charged over the abduction.

On 16 November, lawyers for Mr Flowers filed a statement of claim in the Western Australian Supreme Court, alleging that the 27-year-old has “been gravely injured in his character and reputation, and has suffered substantial hurt, distress and embarrassment and has and will continue to suffer loss and damage”.

The statement of claim contends that Seven Network took photographs from Mr Flowers’ Facebook page without his consent and published them as part of its broadcast and social media coverage.

In a statement, the law firm representing Mr Flowers said that the publication of his name and photograph led to him, “…becoming the subject of hate and derision around the nation and the world and resulted in his hospitalisation with a severe panic attack”.

7News was alerted to the mistake on the day the publications went out. It apologised online and on air that night, saying that images of Mr Flowers had been “removed promptly”.

Because Western Australia has yet to enact reforms to defamation laws agreed at the national level, Mr Flowers’ lawyers have been able to file his case sooner than is possible in many other Australian states. The reforms require a “concerns notice” to be sent before proceedings are filed and give the prospective defendant 28 days to respond with an offer to make amends.

This is not the first time the media have been accused of accidental defamation by wrongly using the images of innocent persons in stories. In July 2020 the Guardian was forced to apologise after an article referring to repugnant comments made by grime artist Wiley was accompanied by an image of fellow grime pioneer, Kano. Somewhat ironically, the article was titled, “Tackling racism on social media is just the tip of the iceberg”.

And in the last few days, footballers Édouard Mendy and Ferland Mendy have complained about media outlets using their images in reports concerning Manchester City defender, Benjamin Mendy, who is currently facing six counts of rape and one of sexual assault (allegations, it is understood, he denies).