The events surrounding the McCanns decision to sue The Express Group
|Front pages of the Daily Express and Daily Star, 19 March 2008
|Click picture to enlarge
First news of action against The Express Group, 05
Private Eye - UK satirical magazine (paper edition)
Richard "Dirty" Desmond called in at the Oscars in LA on his way back from hawking OK! magazine around
Australia, bringing along his top snapper to record the great man rubbing shoulders with Hollywood's finest.
But pressing the flesh with Elton John and other celebrities was not a pleasure he wished to share with his senior sidekick
Martin "Rottweiler" Ellice - who was told to go back to head office in London and deal with the small matter of
his titles being sued by the McCann family for all the rubbish stories they have carried since last year, many of which suggested
- without any justification - that the parents might have killed their own child.
Although Dirty Des's lawyers
offered £250,000 in an attempt to settle quickly, the McCanns declined and insisted on £1m per newspaper - a total
of £4m, covering the daily and Sunday versions of the Express and Star. Outside legal experts consulted by Desmond have
reported back to him: "You're f*cked."
That should, of course, be "Carter-F*cked" - for
Kate and Gerry McCann have indeed turned to Britain's most aggressive libel lawyers in their attempt to stem the flow
of nonsense written about them.
The bad news: The DE pulling their articles was nothing to do with progress in the investigation.
The good news:
The Mcs have hired Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners. For those who don't know, this means they are really desperate.
Sky News confirms plans to sue The Express Group, 07
Madeleine Parents Set To Sue Newspapers Sky News
Sky News reporter Updated:12:18, Friday March 07, 2008
Lawyers for Kate and Gerry McCann are considering taking legal action against British newspapers whose coverage they
feel to have been incorrect and unfair.
Principally they are looking at the publications in The Express Group: The Daily Express, The Sunday Express, The Daily
Star and The Daily Star Sunday.
Clarence Mitchell, the spokesman for the McCann family, confirmed that their lawyers were in discussions, but denied
that any writs had yet been issued.
"It's wrong to say that we're actually suing, but our lawyers have been assessing all articles, in all papers.
"We are extremely unhappy with The Express Group's coverage. We always said it was the worst amongst all the tabloids."
He also added that the figures that have been quoted in the media are wildly speculative and that The Express Group had
made no initial offer for an out-of-court settlement.
Under UK law, the McCanns and their lawyers have a year from the publication of an article to decide whether they wish
to take legal action against its content.
It is thought that in the case of the coverage they are assessing, that year would be up some time in mid-May, and a
decision must be taken by then.
Clarence Mitchell denied the family were taking this action because the Find Madeleine fund was running low.
He said: "Yes, it's true that the fund is roughly half-way spent, but the main thing we require is an apology."
He added that any money won as a result of legal action would go straight back into the fund.
Guardian confirms involvement of Carter Ruck, 07
McCann lawyers warn Express group The Guardian
Friday 7 March 2008 18.58 GMT
acting for Kate and Gerry McCann are considering taking legal action against Express Newspapers over what the couple claim
to be a series of "wildly and grossly defamatory" articles about their missing daughter Madeleine.
McCanns have made official complaints to Richard Desmond's newspaper group about its coverage in the Daily Express, Sunday
Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday through London law firm Carter Ruck, which specialises in high profile libel cases.
They are thought to be particularly upset by the coverage in the Daily Express, which has splashed on a nearly daily
basis on the Madeleine case with what they believe are increasingly lurid stories and headlines.
spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, confirmed that complaints had been made to the newspaper group.
have been instructed to act on behalf of the McCanns to seek redress and discussions are ongoing, but beyond that it would
be inappropriate to speculate on other courses of action," he said.
Adam Tudor, who is acting for the McCanns
at Carter Ruck, added: "I and my firm have been instructed to bring complaints on their behalf and these complaints are
The McCanns' legal moves against Express Newspapers were reported by Private Eye this week,
although Mitchell said the magazine's claim that the McCanns were seeking £4m in damages was "wildly speculative".
He added that any damages won would go back into the Find Madeleine fund, which currently stands at £544,000
- nearly half the £1.2m it started with.
Mitchell said the McCanns were not targeting any one story in particular
but were angry about a series of "wildly and grossly defamatory articles".
It is understood the McCanns
are focussing on Express Newspapers as they believe its newspapers to be "amongst the worst offenders" and want
a full apology and damages as well as costs.
Under UK law, the McCanns and their lawyers have a year from the publication
of an article to decide whether they wish to take legal action against its content.
It is thought that in the case
of the coverage they are assessing, that year would be up some time in mid-May and a decision must be taken by then.
Express Newspapers was contacted by MediaGuardian.co.uk but had not commented by the time of publication.
Journalists forbidden to write about Madeleine, 12
Forbidden to write about Madeleine Jornal de Noticias
12 March 2008
Thanks to Astro for translation
journalists of Express Newspapers, the British media group that holds four tabloids, are forbidden to write about the disappearance
of Madeleine McCann. The editorial decision was made after the parents of the child that has been missing for almost a year
announced that they are preparing to sue the publications over articles that they consider "defamatory and rude".
The prohibition affects all the newspapers of the group - Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star
Sunday - and left the reporters "furious".
They say that the McCanns feel "threatened because we
do not only write what they want to see in print. We also cover the investigation by the Portuguese police", said a source
within the group that was contacted by JN. "The only thing that we want now is that they are forced to respond before
a court, under oath, about the disappearance of their daughter. Maybe then, the public will see the answers to some questions,
namely what happened on the night of May 3", [the source] said.
Kate and Gerry McCann have decided to hire
a reputable law firm in London, that is speacialised in defamation cases. They hope to receive 4 million pounds (over 5,5
million euros), an amount that the spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, assumes that will revert to the Find Madeleine fund.
Timesonline report, 13 March 2008
The Times, March 13 2008
Talk of Kate and Gerry McCann suing Richard Desmond's Daily Express and other newspapers is, for the moment, wide of
the mark. Although nobody is prepared to comment, apparently talk of a demand of £1 million in compensation for alleged defamation
is inaccurate. Indeed, no sums of money have been demanded or offered by either side. The couple want an apology, amid concerns
about a series of what they say have been misleading headlines on as many as 40 stories in the tabloid, so money may not enter
into it - but a writ is not ruled out. Interestingly, however, they clearly believe that the Press Complaints Commission was
not able to help. Instead, the advice used by the McCanns comes from the Carter-Ruck law firm - and if they succeed against
Mr Desmond's titles, other newspapers could be targeted. If money does change hands, it will be destined for the Find Madeleine
Express titles cut back McCann coverage, 13
Express titles cut back McCann coverage Guardian
Thursday March 13 2008
Together with Princess Diana and the weather, the case of missing toddler Madeleine McCann has been one of the Daily
Express's most popular recurring stories. But no longer, it seems.
Following the threat of legal action from Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry over what their spokesman Clarence Mitchell
described as a series of "wildly and grossly defamatory" articles, the paper, together with its Express Newspapers stablemates
the Sunday Express, the Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, has removed all references to the missing girl from its website
The Daily Express - the most prolific paper in covering the McCann case - has also notably toned down its print coverage
over the past few weeks. The paper has not splashed on Madeleine McCann for well over a fortnight. Prior to that, she was
regularly the lead story.
It is thought the threat of legal action by the McCanns has forced the Express Newspapers titles to scale back their
Mitchell confirmed to MediaGuardian.co.uk last week that the McCanns had instructed leading libel law firm Carter-Ruck
to push for a settlement with Express Newspapers, although he dismissed as "wildly speculative" reports that the couple wanted
Readers searching for stories on Madeleine on both the Daily Express and Daily Star websites will struggle to find any
mention, with both sites reporting zero articles on their search services despite publishing hundreds since she disappeared
in Portugal in May last year.
Despite the removal of references to Madeleine, she remains one of the most popular online search requests among both
titles' readers, taking up five of the top nine searches listed on the Express website, including the top three. Princess
Diana comes fourth.
On the Daily Star's website, four of the 15 top searches listed are about Madeleine.
A spokesman for Express Newspapers declined to comment on the removal of the articles from the company's websites.
An email from the Daily Express online editor, Geoff Marsh, quoted on the website anorak.co.uk, said: "For operational
reasons, some articles previously available on express.co.uk have been temporarily removed. I'm afraid I can't go into any
Carter-Ruck partner Adam Tudor, who is representing the McCanns, told MediaGuardian.co.uk last week that the complaints
against Express Newspapers were ongoing.
However, it is thought the case could be settled imminently.
Roy Greenslade delighted at McCanns action, 13
McCanns take on the Express at last Guardian
March 13, 2008 11:43 AM
I am delighted that the McCann family has begun to get to grips with the scandalous story-telling in the Express titles
following the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. It is all very well being obsessed by a story - that can often be of value
- but to publish, day after day, contradictory and speculative articles based on anonymous sources and laced with innuendo
is a disgrace.
Whatever opinions people hold about Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry, it is beyond dispute that the Daily and Sunday
Express have published articles that were so offensive it was obvious that the McCanns could not let them pass.
I am not prejudging whether they can be deemed libellous. But no rational person who has read them on a regular basis,
as I have done since May last year, can regard them as anything other than inappropriate, no more than speculation dressed
up as fact.
Express editors have relied on that ignoble convention of using 'single quotes' in headlines to publish virtually anything,
sometimes attributed merely to "police" and sometimes to unnamed sources. In so doing, they have gradually heaped suspicion
on the McCanns. Here's a random selection of front pages:
'We can prove parents did it' - Portuguese police.
Kate faces ten years in jail - now parents could be charged with abandoning their children
'Syringe found in Madeleine's apartment'
Madeline was 'killed by sleeping pills' - sensational new claim
'Find body or McCanns will escape' - Portuguese prosecutor (allegedly) to police
McCanns 'are hiding a big secret' - speculation by John Stalker
'McCanns or a friend must be to blame' - interview with a waiter
Parents' car hid a corpse - Portuguese police again
McCann friends to be named as 'suspects' - (they were not)
70% don't believe McCanns - a splash based on Spanish TV phone vote
Many of these stories were followed a day later with articles carrying denials. But the drip-drip-drip damage of the
negative splash headlines was surely more influential.
I am certain that some of the anti-McCann hysteria from those self-appointed busybodies who rage against the family stems
from the prejudicial reporting in the Express titles. I have no hard evidence for that claim, of course. But I have hunch
it's truer than many Express articles on Madeleine.
Edgar Forbes argues that McCanns have right to sue, 14 March 2008
Paying the price of press speculation Guardian
Friday March 14 2008
The press don't like to be silenced, but the threat of legal action by the McCanns against the Daily Express has done just
that. Having flooded its front pages with headlines about the McCanns and their missing daughter Madeleine for the past 10
months, the Express has been forced to beat a retreat. Its expansive online archive on the McCanns has also been taken down.
The fact that it could be facing a legal bill bigger than the profits generated by its headlines may have got the paper
running scared, though reports suggesting the McCanns are suing the paper for £4m have been dismissed as "wildly speculative".
But whatever figure is currently on the table, is it right that the McCanns should sue the press? Absolutely. Having engaged
the media to support their search, the McCanns couldn't expect to be shielded from its spotlight. And it was perhaps no surprise
the early empathy gave way to a more sceptical tone. But what followed was some of the wildest speculation witnessed in recent
criminal investigations. Never has so little fact produced so many headlines.
While much of the media coverage over the past 10 months has been as unhelpful as it has been inaccurate, some of it has
been downright outrageous. The fact that Kate and Gerry McCann left Madeleine unattended and launched a media campaign does
not lessen their right not to be defamed; the media must still take responsibility for its actions and coverage. The McCanns'
spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, says they have been "grievously wronged" by much of the coverage, notably by the Express.
It is understood that libel specialists Carter Ruck are assessing over 40 separate headlines and articles from Express
Newspapers that are all potentially defamatory of the McCanns. All it takes is one defamatory headline to trigger a legal
action but in this case there could be dozens, and the lawyers will be looking at the sum total of the coverage to assess
the level of the damage.
So the Express is right to be scared. It's no excuse to say that a grossly inaccurate story it ran came from a similarly
unfounded report in the Portuguese press. In libel there is a well-established rule of repetition: repeating someone else's
libel is still a libel. And each separate headline or story will trigger liability for libel in its own right. Take them together
and while £4m may be steep, a high six-figure sum may not be unrealistic.
It is likely both sides will want to settle. Failure to do so would mean a high court battle that would provide plenty
of publicity and involve a jury, who would probably put a high price on the damage done by peddling speculation on the front
Recent libel rulings have made it clear that the courts will look at the overall context of a story, how it was put together
and the neutrality or otherwise of the reporting. Adopting as fact something that one cannot prove to be true is not necessarily
neutral but arguably irresponsible or biased reporting.
Be it the Express or any other media outlet, it is not right that the McCanns as subjects or the public as readers should
be exposed to irresponsible journalism. This case will hopefully provide a marker to help shape the way the media approaches
speculation-led coverage in the future.
· Edgar Forbes is a media law and reputational risk consultant
BBC breaks news that damages are to be paid, 18 March 2008
Damages due over McCann stories BBC News
By Richard Bilton
BBC News special
Last Updated: Tuesday,
18 March 2008, 22:02 GMT
Four newspapers are set to pay damages to the parents of Madeleine McCann, after settling a
libel case, the BBC has learned.
The Daily and Sunday Express, along with the Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday are to pay a
"substantial" sum and print front-page apologies.
Kate and Gerry McCann's lawyers said that some of the newspapers' articles were "grossly defamatory".
The couple say all the damages will be donated to the Find Madeleine fund.
The Daily Express is to carry a full front-page apology in Wednesday's paper, while the Star's
apology will take over half its front-page.
The papers are expected to apologise for suggesting Kate and Gerry McCann were involved in
their daughter's disappearance.
The action relates to more than 100 stories across the four titles, including 42 printed in
the Daily Express.
Under the terms of the settlement - at Kate and Gerry McCann's insistence
- Express Newspapers' barrister will also read out an apology before a judge at the High Court on Wednesday.
The Express group has agreed to all the McCanns' requests. It is also paying all their costs.
The McCanns have promised that the damages will be paid into the "fighting fund" set up to
pay for efforts to find their missing daughter.
'Trust and credibility'
Media commentator Roy Greenslade said that for two national newspapers to carry front-page
apologies at the same time was "unprecedented".
"I think this is an amazing stand-down, u-turn, by the Express newspapers," he said.
"I think when people realise that more than 100 stories have been complained about as being
grossly defamatory, it will annihilate the Express' readers sense of trust and credibility in their newspaper."
Media lawyer Paul Gilbert from Finers Stephens Innocent said the courts
encourage early settlement of defamation cases.
"Clearly the Express' lawyers felt this was a case they should settle without a high-profile
trial - which it would be - and as a result have saved considerable costs," he said.
"It certainly is a warning sign to newspapers in the future, if they're going to speculate,
they've got to be very careful about what they speculate about."
Madeleine, of Rothley, Leicestershire, went missing, aged three, in Praia da Luz in the Algarve
on 3 May last year.
Tabloids apologise to McCanns, 18 March 2008
|Express Wednesday 19/03/08
Tabloids apologise to McCanns Sky News
Updated: 23:21, Tuesday March 18, 2008
Two British national newspapers have published front page apologies to the parents of missing Madeleine McCann for suggesting
they caused her death and then covered it up.
The Daily Express and Daily Star say there is no evidence to support this theory and that Kate and Gerry McCann are "completely
innocent" of involvement in Madeleine's disappearance.
The apologies came after the McCanns launched a legal action against several papers.
The Express says it was taking "the unprecedented step" of making a front page apology.
"We do so because we accept that a number of articles in the newspaper have suggested the couple caused the death of their
missing daughter Madeleine and then covered it up.
"We trust that the suspicion that has clouded their lives for many months will soon be lifted."
The Express adds: "Kate and Gerry, we are truly sorry to have added to your distress. We assure you that we hope Madeleine
will one day be found alive and well and will be restored to her loving family."
Both papers say they have made a substantial donation to the Madeleine Fund.
Media commentator Kim Fletcher told Sky News: "After the disappearance of Madeleine the Express decided that this story
was a way to sell newspapers.
"So, day after day we would see a story about the McCanns.
"And the problem with that is that if you don't have a story to write you start writing gossip, which was what
was happening, in effect.
"They were writing every bit of speculation from any source. We wondered how long it could go on."
Daily Star/Daily Express apologise to the McCanns, 19
19th March 2008
The Daily Star today makes a wholehearted apology to Kate and
Gerry McCann for stories suggesting the couple were responsible for, or may be responsible for, the death of their daughter
Madeleine and for covering it up.
We now recognise that such a suggestion is absolutely untrue and that Kate and Gerry
are completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance.
As an expression of our regret we have now made a substantial donation to the Madeleine Fund in the hope that it helps
efforts to find her.
We sincerely apologise for any additional distress we have caused the family.
note that, for legal reasons, we have disabled reader comments on this article
Wednesday March 19, 2008
The Daily Express today takes the unprecedented step
of making a front-page apology to Kate and Gerry McCann.
We do so because we accept that a number of articles in the
newspaper have suggested that the couple caused the death of their missing daughter Madeleine and then covered it up.
acknowledge that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this theory and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent of
any involvement in their daughter's disappearance.
We trust that the suspicion that has clouded their lives for many
months will soon be lifted.
As an expression of its regret, the Daily Express has now paid a very substantial sum
into the Madeleine Fund and we promise to do all in our power to help efforts to find her.
Kate and Gerry, we are truly
sorry to have added to your distress.
We assure you that we hope Madeleine will one day be found alive and well and
will be restored to her loving family.
* Please note that, for legal reasons, we have disabled reader comments
on this article
Roy Greenslade says journalism brought into disrepute, 19
Express and Star apologies to McCanns bring all journalism into disrepute Guardian
March 19, 2008 6:00 AM
6am UPDATE: In what amounts to an unprecedented climbdown, four newspapers from a single group - the Daily Express,
Daily Star and their Sunday stablemates - have agreed to publish front page apologies to the parents of missing four-year-old
Madeleine McCann. The Express, here, and the Star, here each carry prominent versions of the apology today.
The paper's lawyers will attend the high court in London this morning to read out formal apologies to Kate and Gerry McCann
in front of Mr Justice Eady. The papers were sued for running more than 100 stories in total that the McCanns deemed to be
The Express group will also pay what are called "very substantial" damages to the McCanns, all of which will go to the
Find Madeleine Fund.
The deal was negotiated without any court hearing having taken place, and the fact that the papers capitulated without
a fight suggests that their legal advisers told them they had no chance of winning if the case went to trial.
I know that The Sun famously carried two front page apologies in the 1980s - to the Queen for running her Christmas address
ahead of time and to Elton John for libelling him - but four papers being compelled to carry the same apology has never happened
Five days ago, when it emerged that the group had removed all its McCann stories from its websites, I gave some examples of the tendentious, and often mendacious, material the Daily Express had been running. Over the weeks and months since May last year, when Madeleine vanished in Portugal, they
added up to a substantial libel on the McCanns.
This was no journalistic accident, but a sustained campaign of vitriol against a grief-stricken family. The stories were
not merely speculative, but laced with innuendo which continually made accusations against the McCanns on the basis of anonymous
sources and without any hard evidence.
Wild claims, often made by unattributed sources to Portuguese newspapers, were then spun even more negatively by the Express
and Star titles. Of course, they were not the only papers to carry prejudicial material, but they were by far the worst.
I am delighted that the papers, owned by the pornographer Richard Desmond, have been forced to humble themselves. I only
wish the McCanns had acted even faster, but no blame should attach to them. Their major concern has, quite naturally, centred
on their missing daughter.
But, taking into account the fact that other papers have also carried inaccurate and inappropriate stories about the McCanns,
it is also a day when many British journalists have cause to hang their heads in shame.
Did the Express titles go to such lengths, eschewing all ethical standards, purely to win sales? If they did, it didn't
show up in their circulation figures because all four titles have lost sales over the past nine months. Or was it, as I suspect,
less calculating, a case of casual cruelty rather than premeditated sales-building? It's hard to know which is worse.
So what should happen now? The resignation of four editors? I somehow doubt that they will go voluntarily and Desmond's
track record suggests that he will not force them to go. Will the Press Complaints Commission do anything? I doubt it. No
formal complaint was made. The McCanns chose the legal option. The PCC will hold its counsel (and, quite possibly, its nose).
Will more readers desert the Express titles? Hopefully. Will people think the less of all newspapers, and of us
journalists. Probably. That's the real sadness. A rogue proprietor and his rogue editors have done further damage to the credibility
of our trade.
Papers paying damages to McCanns, 19 March 2008
Papers paying damages to McCanns BBC News
By Richard Bilton, BBC News special correspondent
Last Updated: Wednesday,
19 March 2008, 07:24 GMT
"Substantial" damages are being paid to the parents of Madeleine McCann
by four newspapers, after they settled a libel case over reports of her disappearance.
The Daily and Sunday Express,
and the Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, are also printing front-page apologies.
They say they were wrong to suggest
the couple, of Rothley, Leicestershire, were responsible for Madeleine's death.
The McCanns say the money will
go to the find Madeleine fund. She went missing in Portugal on 3 May last year.
Madeleine went missing, days before
her fourth birthday, during a family holiday in the resort of Praia da Luz in the Algarve.
Her parents have been named as suspects in the case by Portuguese police but have always
denied any involvement.
The Daily Express and Daily Star both carry front-page apologies in Wednesday's editions
under the headline, "Kate and Gerry McCann: Sorry".
The Express said it accepts that a "number of
articles in the newspaper have suggested that the couple caused the death of their missing daughter Madeleine and then covered
It said acknowledges that there is "no evidence whatsoever" to support the theory and that
Kate and Gerry are "completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance".
similarly-worded statement appears in the Daily Star.
The Star says its is making a "wholehearted apology
to Kate and Gerry McCann for stories suggesting the couple were responsible for, or may be responsible for, the death of their
daughter Madeleine and for covering it up".
Further apologies are expected in the publications' sister
Sunday titles at the weekend.
The action relates to more than 100 stories across the four titles, including 42
printed in the Daily Express.
All four titles are published by the Express Newspapers group, which has agreed to
all the McCanns' requests. It is also paying all their costs.
A spokesman for the company said: "We have
nothing to add to what will be said in court and in our titles."
Under the terms of the settlement - at Kate
and Gerry McCann's insistence - Express Newspapers' barrister will also read out an apology before a judge at the
The McCanns' lawyers said that some of the newspapers' articles were "grossly defamatory".
'Trust and credibility'
Media commentator Roy Greenslade said that for two national
newspapers to carry front-page apologies at the same time was "unprecedented".
"I think this is
an amazing stand-down, u-turn, by the Express newspapers," he said.
"I think when people realise that
more than 100 stories have been complained about as being grossly defamatory, it will annihilate the Express' readers
sense of trust and credibility in their newspaper."
Media lawyer Paul Gilbert from Finers Stephens Innocent
said the courts encourage early settlement of defamation cases.
"Clearly the Express' lawyers felt this
was a case they should settle without a high-profile trial - which it would be - and as a result have saved considerable costs,"
"It certainly is a warning sign to newspapers in the future, if they're going to speculate, they've
got to be very careful about what they speculate about."
Statement in Open Court, 19 March 2008
Statement in Open Court Carter-Ruck
Gerry McCann and Kate McCann and Express Newspapers
19 March 2008
Solicitor-Advocate for the Claimant, Adam Tudor, Carter-Ruck
Lord, in this action I appear for the Claimants, Gerry and Kate McCann.
Mr and Mrs McCann are the parents of three
young children, the eldest of whom, Madeleine, was abducted from the family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal
on 3 May 2007. As the Court will be aware, Madeleine's abduction has given rise to widespread media coverage
both in this jurisdiction and worldwide.
My learned friend, Mr Bacon, appears for Express Newspapers, the Defendant
in this matter, which is the publisher of the Daily Express, the Sunday Express, the Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday.
These newspapers have a combined circulation in the jurisdiction of several million copies, as well as a substantial on-line
From the late summer of 2007 until February 2008, the Defendant newspapers published over one hundred
articles which were seriously defamatory of Mr and Mrs McCann.
The general theme of the articles was to suggest
that Mr and Mrs McCann were responsible for the death of Madeleine or that there were strong or reasonable grounds for so
suspecting and that they had then disposed of her body; and that they had then conspired to cover up their actions, including
by creating "diversions" to divert the police's attention away from evidence which would expose their guilt.
Many of these articles were published on the front pages of the newspapers and on their websites, accompanied by sensational
In addition to the allegations referred to above, the Daily Star published further articles (under the
headlines "MADDIE MUM 'SOLD' HER" and "MADDIE 'SOLD' BY HARD-UP MCCANNS") which sought
to allege that Mr and Mrs McCann had sold their daughter in order to ease their financial burdens. A further article alleged
that Mr and Mrs McCann were involved in "swinging" or wife-swapping orgies.
As the Defendant now acknowledges,
all of these allegations were, and remain, entirely untrue. In particular, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest
that Mr and Mrs McCann were responsible for the death of their daughter or that they were involved in any sort of cover-up,
and there was no basis for Express Newspapers to allege otherwise. Equally, the allegations that Mr and Mrs McCann may
have "sold" Madeleine, and that they are involved in "swinging" or wife-swapping, were entirely baseless.
Naturally, the repeated publication of these utterly false and defamatory allegations has caused untold distress to
Mr and Mrs McCann. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a more serious allegation than to be falsely accused of being responsible
for the death of one's own daughter.
In recognition of the falsity of the allegations made against Mr and Mrs
McCann, Express Newspapers has agreed to publish full apologies on the front pages and on the websites of the Daily Express,
the Sunday Express, the Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday, and to join in the reading of this statement in open Court.
Further, Express Newspapers has agreed to pay Mr and Mrs McCann substantial libel damages, all of which will be donated to
the Fund established to assist with the search for Madeleine. Express Newspapers has also agreed to pay Mr and Mrs McCann's
reasonable legal costs.
Counsel for the Defendant, Stephen Bacon
My Lord, on behalf of the
Defendant, I confirm all that my friend has said.
Express Newspapers regrets publishing these extremely serious,
yet baseless, allegations concerning Mr and Mrs McCann over a sustained period of what will already have been an enormously
distressing time for them, and at a time when they have been trying to focus on finding their daughter.
As an expression
of its regret, Express Newspapers has agreed to publish front-page apologies, acknowledging the falsity of the allegations
and reflecting the fact that they should never have been made. Through me, Express Newspapers wholeheartedly repeats that
apology before the Court today. They profoundly regret the distress which these publications will have caused to Mr
and Mrs McCann. I confirm that Express Newspapers has agreed to make a substantial contribution to the Madeleine Fund,
which we hope will assist in continuing the search for her.
Solicitor-Advocate for the Claimant, Adam Tudor,
My Lord, in all the circumstances, Mr and Mrs McCann's object in bringing these proceedings
has been achieved.
on behalf of the Claimants
on behalf of the Defendant
McCann payout confirmed at £550,000, 19 March 2008
McCann payout confirmed at £550,000 Guardian
|Daily Express: published a front page apology to the McCanns
Wednesday 19 March 2008 10.35 GMT
Desmond's Express Newspapers has paid £550,000 in damages to Gerry and Kate McCann after apologising for a string
of articles in its titles alleging they were responsible for their daughter Madeleine's death.
The Daily Express
and the Daily Star, owned by Richard Desmond, both took the unprecedented step of publishing front page apologies to the McCanns
today - and have paid a the sum into the Madeleine Fund.
Express Newspapers has also paid legal costs to the McCanns.
A full apology by Express Newspapers and statement from Clarence Mitchell, the McCann's spokeman, was heard at
10am today in the high court in London. Mitchell confirmed the figure paid in damages outside court.
been speculation earlier this month that the McCanns had been seeking £4m, although this was dismissed Mitchell as "wildly
The Daily Express said on its front page today that it was publishing an apology because it
accepted that "a number of the articles in the newspaper have suggested that the couple caused the death of their daughter
Madeleine and then covered it up".
The paper acknowledged that there was "no evidence whatsoever to support
this theory" and that the McCanns were "completely innocent". The Daily Star said that it was apologising "wholeheartedly".
Today's apology and payout follows the threat of legal action, through London law firm Carter-Ruck, over
what Mitchell described as a series of "wildly and grossly defamatory" articles about Madeleine.
Newspapers titles cut back on their coverage of Madeleine and the McCanns after talks with Carter Ruck began earlier this
month and removed all references to the missing girl from its website search engine.
Express Group pays £550,000 and apologises in High Court, 19
Express Group pays £550,000 to McCanns and apologises for smear articles Timesonline
March 19, 2008
The owners of the Express group of newspapers today apologised in the High Court and agreed to pay £550,000 compensation
to Kate and Gerry McCann over inaccurate stories accusing them of being involved in their daughter Madeleine's abduction.
Following the publication of unprecedented front-page articles saying sorry to the couple today, the Daily Express and
the Daily Star said that they had agreed to pay a sum to the couple's official Find Madeleine fund by way of compensation.
Their apologies came after lawyers for the couple began legal proceedings against Express Newspapers over more than 100
articles published in the group’s daily and Sunday papers. The Sunday Express and Daily Star Sunday are also expected
to publish separate apologies this weekend.
In a statement made outside the High Court, Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for the McCanns, said Kate and Gerry were pleased
that the Express group had admitted the "utter falsity" and "grotesque" nature of the articles.
"In this case, a certain newspaper group overstepped the mark on numerous occasions. We tried to tell them. That did
not happen, it did not stop," Mr Mitchell said.
"Kate and Gerry took this action with a heavy heart, because a marker of sorts had to be put down."
The offending pieces had appeared after Portuguese detectives last September named the couple as "arguidos", or official
suspects, in the disappearance of their daughter on holiday in the Algarve in May last year. The McCanns' legal team claimed,
however, that the tone of coverage in question implied they may have been involved, and that this was defamatory.
Both newspapers ran prominent pieces at the top of their front pages today, headlined "Kate and Gerry McCann: Sorry".
The Express apology read: "The Daily Express today takes the unprecedented step of making a front-page apology to Kate
and Gerry McCann.
"We do so because we accept that a number of articles in the newspaper have suggested that the couple caused the death
of their missing daughter Madeleine and then covered it up.
"We acknowledge that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this theory, and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent
of any involvement in their daughter’s disappearance.
"We trust that the suspicion that has clouded their lives for many months will soon be lifted."
It concluded with a direct address to the couple: "Kate and Gerry, we are truly sorry to have added to your distress.
"We assure you that we hope Madeleine will one day be found alive and well, and will be restored to her loving family."
The statement in the Daily Star was similarly worded, saying that the newspaper had decided to make a "wholehearted apology
to Kate and Gerry McCann for stories suggesting the couple were responsible for, or may be responsible for, the death of their
daughter Madeleine and for covering it up".
It added: "We now recognise that such a suggestion is absolutely untrue and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent
of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance."
Some media commentators today suggested that the coverage had been the result of journalists in the Algarve being ordered
by their newsdesks to find a story with nothing to go on but speculation after Madeleine's disappearance.
Max Clifford, the publicist, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is a lot of journalists out in Portugal that have
got no facts and are being told: 'We have got to have something because we have not got a story,' so rumours and nonsense
are being given to us as facts."
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "Part of the problem seems to have been that it (Madeleine's
disappearance) was made for speculation and these newspapers have fallen into that trap."
Kate and Gerry Statement Express Newspapers, 19
Kate and Gerry Statement Express Newspapers FindMadeleine.com
Date Released: 19/03/2008 11:00:00
We are pleased that Express Newspapers have today admitted the utter falsity
of the numerous grotesque and grossly defamatory allegations that their titles published about us on a sustained basis over
The exceptional publication of these apologies, together with today’s statement of full apology
in open Court before Mr Justice Eady, was the only just and proper response by Express Newspapers following our complaint.
We also wish to place on record our thanks to Adam Tudor, from Carter Ruck. Today’s result simply could not have been
achieved without him
Express Newspapers, rightly acknowledge that we are innocent of all allegations that we may have
been involved in Madeleine’s abduction and WE would like to reiterate that there is absolutely no evidence that Madeleine
is dead or has been seriously harmed.
We embarked on this course of action reluctantly, indeed with a heavy heart,
as we did not wish the pursuit of it to become a distraction from our sole aim – finding Madeleine. Indeed, as long
ago as last autumn our lawyers approached Express Newspapers and urged them to show greater restraint in their reporting –
requests which went utterly unheeded.
The distress all this has caused members of our wider family, at a time of great
emotional turmoil for them, was also a major factor in our action. Their pain over the loss of Madeleine has been compounded
by having to witness the irresponsible and libellous reporting that we have successfully challenged today.
As a part
of our settlement, Express Newspapers have also agreed to donate £550,000 to the Fund that was established to help find Madeleine.
We feel it is entirely appropriate that the search for Madeleine will now benefit directly out of the wrongs committed against
us as her parents.
We hope that the Portuguese authorities lift our arguido status in the very near future so that
everyone can focus on finding our beautiful little girl, Madeleine.”
Clarence Mitchell reads out McCanns' statement, 19
Mar 19, 2008
Apology And Damages Over Madeleine
Kate and Gerry McCann have accepted a High Court apology and damages from Express Newspapers for suggesting they were
responsible for the disappearance of their daughter, Madeleine. Their spokesman Clarence Mitchell read a statement outside
A Very Quick But Very Costly Settlement, 19 March 2008
A Very Quick But Very Costly Settlement Sky News
1:37pm UK, Wednesday March 19, 2008
and Gerry McCann have received libel damages from Express Newspapers for suggesting they were involved in the death of their
daughter Madeleine.Sky News reporter Katie Stallard was at the High Court where
the settlement took place:
|The McCanns in London last year
Sitting in Court 13 of the High Court, the press benches are packed. The clerk opens the jury box to make
room for more.
The McCanns' spokesman Clarence Mitchell arrives. Lawyers shuffle along the benches. Papers
are arranged and re-arranged. Silence descends.
"All rise," calls the court clerk.
Mr Justice Eady enters, bespectacled and robed, he takes his place at the bench.
The case of McCann and McCann
versus Express Newspapers is called.
Adam Tudor - solicitor advocate for the McCanns - stands up.
Lord, in this action I appear for the claimants, Gerry and Kate McCann.
"From the late summer of 2007 until
February 2008, the defendant newspapers published over one hundred articles which were seriously defamatory of Mr and Mrs
"The general theme of the articles was to suggest that Mr and Mrs McCann were responsible for the
death of Madeleine or that there were strong or reasonable grounds for so suspecting and that they had then disposed of her
body, and that they had then conspired to cover up their actions, including by creating "diversions" to divert the
police's attention away from evidence which would expose their guilt."
"Naturally, the repeated publication
of these utterly false and defamatory allegations has caused untold distress to Mr and Mrs McCann.
it is difficult to conceive of a more serious allegation than to be falsely accused of being responsible for the death of
one's own daughter."
Mr Mitchell sits quietly with head bowed at the front of the court throughout.
Stephen Bacon - counsel for the defendant - stands.
"My Lord," he begins, "on behalf of
the defendant, I confirm all that my friend has said."
He goes on: "Express Newspapers regrets publishing
these extremely serious, yet baseless, allegations concerning Mr and Mrs McCann over a sustained period of what will already
have been an enormously distressing time for them, and at a time when they have been trying to focus on finding their daughter.
"They profoundly regret the distress which these publications will have caused to Mr and Mrs McCann.
"I confirm that Express Newspapers has agreed to make a substantial contribution to the Madeleine Fund, which we hope
will assist in continuing the search for her."
Standing for the final time, the McCanns' solicitor says:
"My Lord, in all these circumstances Mr and Mrs McCanns' object in bringing these proceedings has been achieved."
The judge nodded. The case was finished. The court moved on to other business.
The whole process took less
than three minutes.
For the newspapers footing the bill it will have felt a lot longer.
Board of Madeleine's Fund release statement, 19
Date Released: 19/03/2008 20:52:00
"The directors of Madeleine’s Fund welcome the settlement of Gerry and
Kate’s complaint against Express Newspapers, in particular the front page apologies for the grossly defamatory stories
that were consistently published in recent months and the agreement reached on substantial damages.
It has been a
great additional burden for Gerry and Kate to be repeatedly vilified in sections of the press. Such coverage was also a diversion
for our campaign to find Madeleine.
We hope that such public apologies will not only bring some comfort to Gerry and
Kate, but that they will re-emphasise the need for a renewed focus on the campaign.
The £550,000 damages from Express
Newspapers will now be used fully within the stated spirit and aims of Madeleine’s Fund.
The purpose of the
Fund is to support Gerry and Kate specifically in the search for Madeleine and her abductor(s).
The Fund will, therefore,
continue to work to gather information to assist them in achieving their aim of bringing Madeleine home. We would, once again,
urge any member of the public who still feels they may have useful information to come forward with it without delay."
McCanns welcome front page apologies and damages, 19
McCanns welcome front-page apologies and £550,000
damages for libel by Daily Express and Daily Star Daily Mail
By VANESSA ALLEN
at 22:23pm on 19th March 2008
Kate and Gerry McCann's anguish over their daughter's disappearance
was compounded by "grotesque" claims that they killed her, they said yesterday.
They spoke out as four
national newspapers paid £550,000 collectively in damages and offered front-page apologies for a series of more than
100 articles suggesting the couple had caused their daughter Madeleine's death and then covered it up.
Daily Express, the Daily Star and their sister Sunday papers - the Sunday Express and the Daily Star Sunday - which have a
combined circulation of several million copies as well as a substantial online readership,had been sued for libel.
The newspapers decided not to contest the libel action in the courts, and agreed to all requests from the McCanns.
In front of Mr Justice Eady at the High Court yesterday, lawyers for the group apologised for "sensational" headlines
including "Maddie Mum 'Sold' Her" and articles alleging the couple were involved in "swinging"
or wife-swapping orgies.
Mr and Mrs McCann, of Rothley, Leicestershire, said they were forced to act in order to
silence repeated claims that they were involved in the disappearance of Madeleine.
They said: "We are pleased
that Express Newspapers have admitted the utter falsity of the numerous grotesque and grossly defamatory allegations that
their titles published about us on a sustained basis over many months.
"Express Newspapers rightly acknowledge
that we are innocent of all allegations that we may have been involved in Madeleine's abduction.
like to reiterate that there is absolutely no evidence that Madeleine is dead or has been seriously harmed.
distress all this has caused members of our wider family, at a time of great emotional turmoil for them, was also a major
factor in our action.
"Their pain over the loss of Madeleine has been compounded by having to witness the
irresponsible and libellous reporting that we have successfully challenged."
The £550,000 damages were
paid to the Find Madeleine fund at the request of the McCanns and doubles the amount left in the dwindling fund, which experienced
a slowing down in donations after the McCanns were named as formal suspects by Portuguese police in September.
costs estimated to top £50,000 were also paid by the newspaper group.
Express lawyer Stephen Bacon said:
"Express Newspapers regrets publishing these extremely serious, yet baseless, allegations concerning Mr and Mrs McCann."
Media lawyer Paul Gilbert, from the firm Finers Stephens Innocent, said: "Clearly the Express's lawyers felt
this was a case they should settle without a high-profile trial and as a result have saved considerable costs.
certainly is a warning sign to newspapers in the future - if they're going to speculate, they've got to be very careful
about what they speculate about."
Matthew Parris considers the position of Robert Murat, 20
If you are able to hire good lawyers, you may clear your name. But if you can't...
March 20, 2008 (appeared online March 19, 2008)
Like (I imagine) many newspaper readers inexpert on the law of libel, I was not so much surprised that the Express has
just been forced to apologise to and compensate Kate and Gerry McCann as I was surprised the British press so carelessly published
defamatory attacks on them in the first place. Whatever questions may be raised (and I have raised some) about this couple's
judgment in hiring professional PR, with all the massive and relentless publicity this has led to, the McCanns were in the
end always going to emerge with at least their honour intact.
Not so their neighbour in Praia da Luz, poor Robert Murat, against whom (like the McCanns) there has never been a shred
of evidence, but who has had to watch silently as his character was pulled apart by the British press. Gagged (as an arguido,
like the McCanns) from making any public statement, and with no media spokesman (as the McCanns have) to organise responses
on his behalf, Mr Murat has been silent witness to the very public destruction of his reputation.
I do not know that Robert Murat is innocent. I do not know that Kate and Gerry McCann are innocent. I do not know that
the Angel Gabriel, or my Aunty Dolly, are innocent. I know only that we have no evidence for the guilt of any of these people.
Due process and common decency forbid us from suggesting otherwise.
I devoted a Saturday column in The Times last summer to the plight of Mr Murat, suffering death by a thousand innuendos
in British newspapers, and being spun into some kind of “one-eyed” “weirdo” “loner” and
obvious suspect - when nobody who knew him, including even his now-separated wife, describes him unkindly.
Unlike the McCanns, who will be remembered as innocent, Mr Murat's possible fate could be that if and when those close
to the case officially declare he was uninvolved, the media, bored by the story, will simply saunter away and stop writing
about him, leaving on the battlefield, bayoneted by their reports, a man with his name forever associated in the public mind
with something unspeakable - the world having forgotten that no evidence for this was ever produced.
You need deep pockets to risk hiring the top-flight libel lawyers. I dislike our laws of defamation: only theoretically
open (like the Ritz, as someone once remarked) to all. But if any libel victim ever deserved a remedy in law it is Robert
Murat. Should the system serve Gerry and Kate McCann but prove unable to help Mr Murat, then a serious injustice will have
The legal position explained, 20
By Clare Dyer
Thursday March 20 2008
The quick capitulation by the Daily Express and Star and their Sunday equivalents to libel threats by Gerry and Kate
McCann came from a recognition by the papers that their allegations were baseless and could not be defended in court.
The burden would have been on the newspapers to prove the lurid suggestions they reported - that the couple were responsible
for the death of their child, or had sold her, or were part of a swingers' group - which were floated in an attempt to move
the story on when nothing much was happening.
The days of million-pound libel awards are gone and some libel lawyers reckoned the damages of £550,000 were over the
odds. Nowadays, £250,000 is considered the ceiling for the most serious libels. But the sum is to compensate both McCanns,
£275,000 each, and the papers would have faced massive costs on top if the case had gone to court. Carter-Ruck, the couple's
lawyers, were poised to take it forward under a no-win, no-fee agreement which would have allowed the firm to charge the losing
side a large success fee on top of its normal fees.
David Hooper, a libel lawyer at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, said: "There has not been a case like this since 1988 when
the Sun had to pay £1m to Elton John, with a front page headline Sorry Elton, following a series of 17 homophobic articles
about the singer."
Since the Express and the Star could not prove the truth of the allegations, they have had to pay heavily for raising
question marks about the McCanns' innocence. Had they not settled so early, it could have been even worse: "Although the damages
of £550,000 paid to the McCanns were less, arguably this was a much worse case - 100 articles prominently captioned with Madeleine's
name suggesting, as the Express and Star papers admitted, that the McCanns had caused their daughter's death and then covered
it up," Hooper said.
Newspapers which agree quickly to make an "offer of amends" - to publish a correction and apology and pay damages - can
expect a discount of up to 50% on the sum the libel is worth. But Carter-Ruck are thought to have argued that the Express
newspapers were not entitled to a discount because the articles were published with malice - in the legal sense, knowing that
the allegations were false, or with a reckless indifference to the truth.
Mark Lawson speculates on the true value of false
reporting, 05 March 2008
This apology underlines the true value of false reporting Guardian
The Express Group has said sorry and paid hefty damages over McCann stories. But they still know what sells papers.
Last updated: 07:35, Thursday March 20 2008
At every stage, the story of Madeleine McCann has broken what were assumed to be the rules of newspapers. It seemed impossible
that a disappearance without witnesses or a single plausible new lead could dominate front pages for more than half a year,
but the reporting from Portugal rewrote all known equations of the relationship between events occurring and space allocated.
In recent weeks, when photographs of the hopeful blonde child were finally eclipsed by other stories, most professors
of journalism would have bet that the case would only become newsworthy again on anniversaries, or if Madeleine were proved
decisively alive or dead.
Yet, once again, this case has rewritten the journalistic textbooks. The McCanns have returned to the headlines, not
because of any new report from Portugal, but through the agreement by the Daily Express and Daily Star to publish front-page
apologies and pay £550,000 into the Madeleine Fund over earlier reports - long ago recycled on council tips - which implicated
Kate and Gerry McCann. No ordinary citizen has previously achieved this level of disclaimer and payout without the orders
of a libel jury.
It's true that these two representatives of the red-top press had gone much further than other titles: sometimes seeming
to endorse rather than merely report the apparent suspicions of the Portuguese police, and applying a level of innuendo that
would never have been risked were it an English investigation.
Yet, even while echoing the Express's words that "there is no evidence whatsoever to support the theory" of parental
involvement, it's possible to feel that the capitulation seems curious and premature. While the Express's loose-talk reports
were an example of bad journalistic practice, it is also potentially a regrettable precedent that apologies should be issued
before the absolute conclusion of a story.
One of the worst scars on the record of the British press is the numerous apologies issued to those - such as Robert
Maxwell and Jeffrey Archer - who later proved to be the ones who should be saying sorry. While there is no reason to suppose
that the McCanns will ever provoke such a volte-face, it is hard to see what precisely has caused this backdown at this point.
As so often in the McCann case, the newspaper response appears independent of any significant new event.
The presumable hope of the McCanns is to issue a warning about future reporting of their own or other cases. And, presumably,
when the next wild goose cooked up in Lisbon lands on editors' desks, they will be more careful what they print.
But the circumstances of this case are so particular that they may prove to have little external application. The McCanns
were unfortunate, as English participants in a criminal investigation in Portugal, to fall between two legal systems. If they
had been Portuguese, we would probably never have heard of them; if their daughter had disappeared in England, they would
have benefited from the legal and libel protections that, for example, the relatives of Shannon Matthews now have.
Given that many have applied a class analysis to the McCann and Matthews cases - arguing that two rich middle-class doctors
get more interest from the British press than a dysfunctional working-class clan - it's interesting that no one seems to have
been very worried by the prospect of Madeleine's parents suing, which you might guess would be one of the implied weapons
that well-heeled subjects of news stories have. In fact, would the Matthews family really have wanted the coverage the McCanns
But the paradox is that this apparent capitulation by the paper may be strangely lucrative. Yesterday morning was the
first time in my memory that it has been impossible to buy the Express at newsagents and railway stations at 8am. So either
the usual print-run was reduced through shame or, more likely, a craven apology for false claims, trailed in morning news
bulletins, actually increases sales - a depressing lesson in the state of journalism.
Certainly a publication which put the McCann story on the front page every day for almost six months, but which has recently
lacked suitable new material in this field, was able to resume normal service. And it seems likely that the reaction to the
published apologies - and comment from the McCann or Portuguese police camps about them - will extend the tale's second wind.
Even more cynically, it can be argued that the Express's financial penalty actually represents a reasonable investment.
Short of the coroner in the Diana inquest declaring that the Duke of Edinburgh was behind the wheel of the Fiat Uno that hit
her car, or the princess being found alive on an island with Elvis and Lord Lucan, there has been no story better suited to
the newspaper's editorial strategy - which seems to favour conspiracy theories involving attractive blondes of various ages
- than the McCann case. At £550,000, the 100 or so front pages the missing girl gave them - stabilising circulation during
a difficult period for print media - works out at just over £5,000 a shot.
So, although the climbdown looks like a bad business for journalism, it may actually prove to have been a good business
move. Whatever the McCanns hope, the effect of these unprecedented mea culpas may not be that newspapers look into their consciences
and cringe, but that they look into their accounts and shrug. From the original false stories to the apology for them, unwise
reporting has sold more papers than caution ever would.
Dani Garavelli: End of the paper trial,
22 March 2008
Dani Garavelli: End of the paper trial Scotland on Sunday
Published Date: 23 March 2008
Last Updated: 22 March 2008 8:15 PM
I SUPPOSE news that the McCanns have won front page apologies and half a million pounds in damages for
the relentless battering they received at the hands of tabloid newspapers last summer should be a cause for celebration. No
one who observed the coverage of the case after Kate and Gerry were named arguidos could have any doubt it represented a new
low in British journalism.
It wasn't just the casual cruelty: that was lamentable, but not new. It is evident every
time a story appears mocking Britney Spears' fragile mental health. Nor was it the incredible feeding frenzy. No, it was the
incremental suspension of even the most superficial attempt to back up the stories they carried that made the tabloids' coverage
of the McCann case unprecedented.
As the Portuguese police pointed an accusatory finger at Kate and Gerry, the papers
published damning 'revelations' as if they were the fruits of their journalistic endeavour rather than round-the-watercooler
gossip. So long as someone, somewhere had said it – even if that someone was a blogger regurgitating the thoughts of
other bloggers – it was deemed worthy of publication. The consequence was the repetition of false allegations and a
raft of irreconcilable reports (Maddie was snatched to order/ Maddie died of a drugs overdose/ Maddie woke up and fell down
stairs) on the front pages of rival newspapers on the same day, or in the same newspaper on consecutive days.
kind of scattergun approach may be common in celebrity magazines, but in newspaper reporting of an ongoing police investigation,
it was unheard of. Even amongst reporters, who have a healthy cynicism towards those who stage photo opportunities and then
demand privacy, there was a sense that a line had been crossed; that Kate and Gerry were being subjected to scrutiny much
greater than their open courting of the media justified.
Why then does the Daily Express and its sister papers' self-flagellation
and pay-out not fill me with a sense of justice restored?
Partly because the whole process has been too easy. The tabloids
can express their regret, but there have been no resignations; no one has been held accountable. Partly, too, because the
newspapers' decision not to challenge the action has deprived us of any analysis of how editorial decisions were taken or
what caused the press juggernaut to career out of control.
Since we have no idea which particular articles were the
subject of the libel action, the victory doesn't set out the limits of press freedom either. The Express's apology –
"we accept Kate and Gerry are completely innocent" – is being read by some as an acceptance that any scrutiny of the
couple's behaviour was beyond the pale, but that is clearly not so.
It was perfectly acceptable to question the wisdom
of leaving three toddlers alone in a holiday apartment or to try to assess the strength of the evidence the Portuguese were
acting on when they made Kate and Gerry arguidos. So at what precise point did the Express cross the line? Was it when it
carried conflicting reports of the DNA evidence found in the McCanns' hire car, or when it drew an inference from the fact
Maddie's "cuddle cat" had been washed? Because these issues were never aired in open court, we will never know.
the pay-out does establish is that, when it comes to defamation, justice is only available to those with influence. Many reputations
were maligned in the coverage of the McCann case, Robert Murat's in particular, but who knows if he will ever have the resources
Coverage of two stories over the last few weeks shows newspapers are well aware of this two-tier justice system.
Murdered 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling's mother Fiona found details of a long-spent conviction and photographs of the "ramshackle"
caravan that may or may not be the family home published in an attempt to portray her as feckless and morally culpable of
Scarlett's death in Goa. And then there is Karen Matthews, whose partner Craig has been accused of hitting his stepdaughter
Shannon, although the newspapers involved can't produce a single eyewitness. It seems the lesson editors are learning is not
to stop making unsubstantiated allegations, but to pick their targets more wisely.
Mostly, though, I find the libel
pay-out unsatisfactory because it allows society to offload the blame for the feeding frenzy on the newspaper industry. Everywhere
I went last autumn, conversation was dominated by two topics: the offensive nature of the press coverage; and the likelihood
or otherwise that Kate and Gerry were involved in their daughter's disappearance. The discussion of the latter was informed
by a knowledge of the case more compatible with having devoured every column inch than having staged a boycott.
seem to hold a patrician view of newspaper editors as custodians of public morality when they are in fact businessmen trying
to supply the needs of their market. Of course, they have a duty to uphold the law, but they cannot help but be influenced
by the prevailing mood, and the prevailing mood last autumn was spiteful. Indeed the vitriol heaped on the McCanns by the
Express group paled in comparison to that expressed in internet threads devoted to the subject.
It's a cliche, but
like most cliches, it has a kernel of truth: we get the press we deserve. When we vent our anger at it, we are like those
who, unhappy with what they see in the mirror, lash out at their reflections. So sure, be glad a handful of tabloids got what
was coming to them. But be equally thankful no one but you knows the extent to which you got caught up in all the frenzied
Richard Ingrams - Saga of the McCanns is not yet
over, 22 March 2008
Saturday, 22 March 2008
The libel lawyers Carter-Ruck, famous for their aggressive tactics and huge fees, have won another victory. Only recently
they were in receipt of a £30,000 cheque from the Government for services rendered to the House of Commons Speaker Michael
Martin. This week their clients Kate and Gerry McCann won the jackpot when the Daily Express paid them half a million pounds
for a series of libels concerning their daughter Madeleine. Based on the Speaker case, one can safely assume that the Carter-Ruck
bill of costs will run to six figures at least.
No one can feel too sorry at the thought of Express owner Richmond Desmond, who has made a huge fortune out of pornography,
having to shell out a fraction of his profits to the needy McCanns. All the same, the story is puzzling. The Express was undoubtedly
guilty of libel. But the suggestion that the McCanns might have been in one way or another responsible for their daughter's
death did not originate with the newspaper. It was the Portuguese police who long ago branded the McCanns as suspects. And
officially they remain so. It has never been explained why they were so convinced of the McCanns' guilt when all the facts
seem to point the other way.
But, following this week's libel settlement, there was general agreement that as a result of the Daily Express apology
the McCanns had finally been cleared. But that isn't so. They are still officially labelled arguido, or suspects. The Portuguese
police are even anxious to re-interview the McCanns' friends, the so-called Tapas Nine. So all those who were hoping they
had heard the last of this story are likely to be disappointed.