Wednesday, March 19, 2008

McCanns receive £550,000 libel pay-out

The parents of Madeleine McCann have accepted £550,000 in libel damages over "utterly false and defamatory" claims that they were responsible for her death.

Kate and Gerry McCann were not at London's High Court for the settlement of their action against Express Newspapers.

Their solicitor-advocate, Adam Tudor, told Mr Justice Eady that all the money would be donated to the fund established to assist with the search for the four-year-old, who disappeared from Praia da Luz, Portugal, in May last year.

The McCanns also received front-page apologies from the Daily Express and Daily Star which said: "Kate and Gerry, we are truly sorry to have added to your distress."

Two more apologies will follow in the Sunday versions of the papers.

The McCanns sued the papers over more than 100 articles that appeared in print over ten months. Their lawyers have refused to rule out taking further action against media groups.

Mr and Mrs McCann said they are pleased Express Newspapers, which owns all four titles, had admitted the "utter falsity" of the articles. Their spokesman Clarence Mitchell said his clients felt the group were the "worst offenders" out of the British press.

He said: "A number of headlines, for instance, sometimes hardened up speculation and allegation into fact. Also very libellous statements and claims in Portugal, again unproven, were repeated, which is of course a libel in itself.

"They felt that this was a sustained run of defamation from the group as a whole.

"And as a result, when they consulted lawyers Carter-Ruck, (they) confirmed that these were many numerous instances of grossly defamatory articles."

Mr Tudor said the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday - which have a combined circulation of several million copies as well as a substantial online readership - published more than 100 articles which were seriously defamatory of the couple.

He said: "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 headlines.

"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."

The statement on the front page of the Express says the newspaper takes the "unprecedented step" of making the apology on its front page.

It reads: "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.

"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."

The Daily Star publishes a similarly-worded apology.