Kate and Gerry McCann singled out Express Newspapers as the ‘worst offenders’for publishing sensationalist articles about their daughter’s disappearance in 2007.
‘They were by no means the only offenders,’Gerry McCann told the Leveson Inquiry today, ‘but they were certainly the worst”.
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In March 2008, Express Newspapers – which includes the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star on Sunday – agreed to pay £500,000 in libel damages to the Madeleine fund.
It followed a series of ‘grossly libellous’headlines that included ‘Maddie Mum orgy fury’and “Madeleine – McCanns are main suspects say police”.
In a witness statement submitted to the inquiry today, Gerry McCann said the couple’s media adviser Clarence Mitchell held an interview with then editor Peter Hill in late 2007 to discuss the coverage.
Hill reportedly acknowledged that ‘some of their headlines had overstepped the mark’and said they would be ‘more careful to check the accuracy of their reporting in the future”.
But the meeting did not have the ‘desired effect”, the coupled claimed, and ‘variations of the same malicious and damaging stories would appear over and over”.
Gerry McCann said he presumed the decision to keep publishing the stories was done ‘on a purely commercial basis”.
He cited evidence that Hill gave to the Culture Select Committee in 2009 when he admitted that ‘[these stories] certainly increased the circulation of the Daily Express by many thousands on those days without a doubt”.
At the beginning of 2008 they decided to sue.
‘For a number of reasons we initially confined this complaint to the Express Group who we considered to be the worst offenders,’said Gerry McCann.
‘Other considerations included not wanting to alienate the whole of Fleet Street when we still wanted to be able to put our message across when necessary and to continue to publicise the search for Madeleine.’
After the complaint the couple noticed that ‘the whole tone of press coverage about us – both in Express Newspapers and publications elsewhere – changed.
‘In essence, the reporting became far more responsible and balanced, and we did not see a return to the wildly misleading headlines which had been published about us in late 2007 and early 2008″.
In an interview with Press Gazette following his departure from the Express, Hill voiced his regret over coverage of the Madeleine McCann disappearance.
“The fact of the matter is that the McCanns could have sued any of the British media,” he said”. All the British media went crazy about the story because it was such an amazing story.
“You could say that all the media had to some extent fallen for the leaks that were put out by the Portuguese police and the Portuguese authorities.
“While I regret that we printed those hurtful things about the McCanns – it was not done with any malice at all.
“As you see from the recent Beckham case, in the United States there would have been no case for libel because there was no question of malice.”
The couple later sued Associated Newspapers over allegedly libellous articles that appeared in both the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard, which it then owned.
Today they admitted they were ‘totally unprepared’for the ‘intensity of the media focus’after Madeleine went missing in May 20007.
While coverage was initially supportive the tone began to change in September when they were given ‘arguido’status by the PolÃcia JudiciÃ¡ria.
This meant they were ”persons of interest’ and were entitled to legal representation which was not the case for ‘witnesses'”, but the media ‘interpreted it as meaning we were formal suspects in the police investigation”, the couple said.
This triggered a ‘sustained, inaccurate and malicious’series of headlines including the Evening Standard splash: ‘Police believed mother killed Maddy’on the day they were declared arguidos.