British journalists covering the disappearance of Madeleine McCann were “lazy” and “distorted” stories, according to the spokesman for parents Kate and Gerry McCann.
Clarence Mitchell told the Society of Editors conference the hunger among the press pack in the resort of Praia da Luiz resulted in “99 per cent” of the stories he was asked to comment on being based on “totally inaccurate lies”.
“The British press out there in Portugal were lazy,” he said. “The Portuguese police hid behind the law of judicial secrecy saying they weren’t able to comment on or off the record. That didn’t stop lots of information from police files finding its way into the Portuguese press.
“When the British press made enquiries, they came up against a stone wall. So they resorted to sitting in the local bar which had the lethal combination of free wi-fi and alcohol and that was their newsroom.”
Mitchell said the British reporters in Portugal were under extraordinary pressure to come up with fresh angles on the story each day.
“I had certain reporters almost in tears some mornings saying: If you don’t give me a front page splash by 4pm, I’m going to get fired,” he said.
“Things that were allegations or suggestions in the Portuguese press were hardened up into absolute fact when they crossed the Channel.”
In March, Express Newspapers paid £550,000 in damages to the McCanns over a series of defamatory stories about their daughter’s disappearance.
“[Her disappearance] caused immense pain and to have this ladled on top of them did not help,” Mitchell said.
He added: “They feel the media are important partners in the search for Madeleine. We’ve only taken action when [reporting] hasn’t reached those basic standards.”