Lawyer attacks tabloid 'pack-dog' mentality over stories - Press Gazette

Lawyer attacks tabloid 'pack-dog' mentality over stories

Robert Murat’s lawyer has invited the editors of newspapers that libelled Robert Murat to experience first hand the effect on his family of their ‘pack-dog’style attacks.

Louis Charalambous, from Simons Muirhead and Burton, represented Murat in the action which was brought over nearly 100 ‘seriously defamatory’stories.

Eleven tabloid newspapers settled with Murat last week, who won £600,000 over stories which wrongly suggested he was linked to the abduction of missing child Madeleine McCann.

The newspapers, all tabloids, were: The Sun, News of the World, The Daily Mirror, The Sunday Mirror, Daily Star, Daily Record, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Mail, Evening Standard and Metro.

They agreed to pay damages, plus costs, and to print apologies. The Scotsman printed an apology earlier this year and paid no damages.

Two other claimants in the same case, Sergey Malinka and Michaela Walczuch, were awarded apologies and a ‘substantial six-figure settlement’thought to be at least £100,000 each, from the newspapers for other stories which wrongly linked them to Madeleine’s disappearance.

Bad reputation

Charalambous told Press Gazette: ‘Having to capitulate, apologise and pay up is not the end of it. The trust in those titles ebbs away among their combined readership of 15 million.

‘In particular, readers of The Sun, Mirror, Express and Star were told lie after lie about my clients. It brings into question how much more of their paper’s news coverage they can rely on.”

Charalambous criticised the herd mentality of papers following each others’ libellous stories. ‘There was a pack-dog mentality here and my clients and their families were the prey. The children of Robert and Michaela, little girls, one not much older than Madeleine, were hounded and had to go in and out of their homes with coats over their heads.

‘I’d like to invite the editors of the worst of these titles to have tea and cake with them and explain why they let their journalists and photographers harass them. They are now recovering but the effects are long-lasting.”

The lawyer expressed regret that the four newspapers groups’ behaviour may not change as a result of the ruling and said scrapping the Press Complaints Commission could be an answer, to make way for a ‘an Ofcom-type body set up to impose swingeing fines on papers which just don’t give a damn”, he said.

Charalambous suspected that newspapers’ in-house lawyers would have made their objections to the libellous stories, ‘but their voices would have been drowned in the stampede to move the story forward”.

‘Journalistically this was a story without legs: child goes missing, no idea of her fate and foreign coppers not leaking to their trusted hacks in the time-honoured way,’he said.

‘Reporters then developed lines of the story and ‘creatively’ adopted the rubbish coming out of the Portuguese tabloid press.”

Charalambous said that some reporters covering the McCann story helped Murat and were rewarded with interviews.

He added: ‘Libel concerns fly out of the window when it’s a big story – especially in a crime setting – and anything and anyone is fair game.

‘They damage journalism in the process, which is deeply depressing because we have some of the finest journalists in the world here. Private Eye calls it the Street of Shame. Never has that been a more appropriate title than here.”

Not enough money

Max Clifford, who for eight months represented Murat and his family for free, said the pay-out should have been even bigger.

He said: ‘If you think that the McCanns got £500,000 from one newspaper group, he went after 11 newspapers – and they were far more vicious to him than they were to the McCanns.”

He said the Murat case received little publicity compared to the McCanns’ suit against Express Newspapers or Max Mosley’s current battle with NoW because so many different publishers are involved.

‘With the Express, they were one lot so everyone gave them a kicking but because all of them are guilty with Robert Murat you hardly read a thing.

‘If you want people to believe you are innocent you can forget about it. He and his family are going to have to live with this for the rest of their lives.”



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