Sunday Times sued by McCanns over story which wrongly claimed evidence was withheld from police

The parents of missing child Madeleine McCann have sued The Sunday Times for libel over a story which they said gave the impression they had hindered the investigation into her disappearance.

According to publisher News UK the claim has been settled.

Kate and Gerry McCann took issue with a front-page story from last year, which the couple said suggested they had kept "secret from investigating authorities a crucial piece of evidence concerning the disappearance of their daughter".

In addition to the article, which was published on 27 October and remained online until 8 November, the McCanns also made reference to readers' comments left on the article – in High Court papers seen by Press Gazette.

The story, for which the paper apologised on 28 December, said: “The critical new evidence at the centre of Scotland Yard’s search for Madeleine McCann was kept secret for five years after it was presented to her parents by ex-MI5 investigators.”

The title reported that an intelligence report produced for the McCanns contained “crucial E-Fits” of a man who was identified as the prime suspect last year. The paper said that the “McCanns and their advisers sidelined the report and threatened to sue its authors if they divulged its contents”.

The Insight story also quoted a source close to the McCanns as saying that the report was “hyper-critical of the people involved”.

In their claim form, in which they were claiming unspecified damages, the McCanns said that the story was understood to mean that they had hindered "the search for [Madeleine] and the investigation into her disappearance by allowing the trail to go cold".

They said that the story led to them having “suffered serious damage to their reputations and severe embarrassment and distress”.

They also claimed that the paper's Insight team, which wrote the story, had not told their spokesman the full extent of the allegations which were to be made against them.

The McCanns also said that the story did not include several points made to Insight by their spokesman. They said this denied them "a proper opportunity to inform the readers of The Sunday Times of the falsity of the allegations against them".

On 1 November, the couple sent editor Martin Ivens an email headed: “Complaint letter – urgent”.

They said that the email, outlining what was wrong with the story with a “detailed rebuttal”, was responded to by executive editor Bob Tyrer six days later.

The McCanns said in their claim form that he told them “we could have made some facts clearer in the story” and that “we could have published more of your pre-publication statement” but largely rejected their complaint.

They said Tyrer offered them “three limited revisions” to the online article, publication of the statement from their spokesman and “an extremely limited” clarification in the corrections and clarifications column.

On 8 November Gerry McCann wrote back noting his disappointment that the article remained online and he pointed to the readers’ comments below.

The McCanns then consulted lawyers Carter Ruck, who wrote to The Sunday Times on 15 November “with proposed wording for an apology”.

The Sunday Times published the following apology on 28 December:

In articles dated October 27 ("Madeleine clues hidden for 5 years" and "Investigators had E-Fits five years ago", News) we referred to efits which were included in a report prepared by private investigators for the McCanns and the Fund in 2008. We accept that the articles may have been understood to suggest that the McCanns had withheld information from the authorities. This was not the case. We now understand and accept that the efits had been provided to the Portuguese and Leicestershire police by October 2009. We also understand that a copy of the final report including the efits was passed to the Metropolitan police in August 2011, shortly after it commenced its review. We apologise for the distress caused."
 

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