The Aboriginal man wrongly identified by 7News as the abductor of 4-year-old Cleo Smith is pursuing legal action against the network.

On Wednesday, 7News claimed Terrance Flowers, also known by his mother’s name Kelly, kidnapped the child.

By Thursday, his name and photograph were published in social media newsfeed across the country and internationally.

Facebook post featuring images of Terrance Flowers. Photo Supplied Facebook.

Flowers was visiting his child at Karratha hospital when his sister called to tell him about the initial post.

“My sister rang me and told me they’ve got my photo up for the person who took the girl,” he told Ngaarda Media.

The first post made to social media was removed after Flower’s visited Karratha Police Station.

However, not long after, 7News had shared the misinformation to social media platforms.

“We seen it up on Channel 7 and Sunrise page. I got upset and went back into the police station,” he said.

“I ended up getting more upset and I had a panic attack in the police station.”

Flowers told Ngaarda Media he was “really upset” and needed medical attention.

“I got really upset yesterday. It put me in a state where I had to come into the hospital. They gave me drugs just to calm me down,” he said.

“That stuff is not acceptable.

“What they did was go straight on Facebook. The first person they seen got through my photos and uploaded on social media, and spread it around, not just in Australia, this is worldwide.”

On Wednesday night 7News issued an apology. The media network posted the apology to their website, they did not publish it to social media.

“Earlier on Wednesday 7NEWS wrongly showed images of a man that were incorrectly labelled as the person under arrest over disappearance of Cleo Smith,” they said.

“These were removed promptly, but 7NEWS apologises for the error.”

On Friday, it was announced that Flower is pursuing legal action against the network for defamation.

Flowers and his family will be represented by Sydney-based law firm O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors.

In a statement, the law firm said the Seven Network were issued a Concerns Notice on Thursday afternoon, which requested a “comprehensive public apology and compensation”.

“The publications by the Seven Network led to Mr. Kelly/Flowers being made the subject of hate and derision around the nation and the world and resulted in him being hospitalised with a severe panic attack,” it read.

“It is of great concern to our client and his family that the Seven Network would proceed with a story of this magnitude without being absolutely certain as to its accuracy.”

O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors described the impact on Flowers and his family as “devastating”.

Whilst acknowledging they would be making no further comment at this time, the law firm did note that it wasn’t the first time they’ve been involved in an instance where “media have wrongly used the images of innocent persons in a story, but it is certainly the worst”.

“It is also not the first matter O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors has had against Channel Seven involving the inappropriate use of images depicting Aboriginal persons,” they continued.

“In 2017 O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors initiated action against the Seven Network for improperly using footage of Aboriginal persons, filmed for a health campaign in a remote community, as a backdrop to a panel discussion about the abuse, neglect and assault of children.”

In January of 2020 the network settled said defamation claim and issued a public apology to the Yirrkala community who were pictured.

O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors have requested that the public respect the privacy of Flowers and his family during the proceedings and noted they “aim to achieve justice for Mr. Kelly/Flowers”.

By Rachael Knowles