Response To The Disappearance of Madeleine Mc Cann - Libel Actions

Libel Actions

The McCanns announced on 31 August that they were suing the Portuguese tabloid Tal & Qual for libel. The newspaper reported that the "police believe" that the McCanns killed Madeleine, suggesting she may have died in an accident or from a drugs overdose. The McCanns' lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, said the couple's image had been "dragged through the dirt" by "character-assassinating, tabloid-style" news reports, adding that the press "has engaged in a horrific exercise in scandal-mongering, replete with rumours and lurid commentaries...to sell more TV time and newspaper space to advertisers". The police stressed that the McCanns were not suspects.

Tal & Qual stood by the story. The journalist who wrote the article, Catarina Vaz Guerreiro, said "I can't reveal my source, but I have complete trust in them. I strongly believe that the person that gave us this information is telling the truth." The paper ceased publication after 28 September 2007, because of a drop in circulation.

The ASFIC's (Associação Sindical dos Funcionários de Investigação Criminal da Polícia Judiciária) General Secretary, Carlos Garcia, declared on 10 August 2007 that the union representing the PJ intended to take legal action against those British journalists who had accused Portuguese police officers of forging evidence. He stated that, at the beginning of the investigation, a joint working group had been created with the British police, and that they had been working in close cooperation. Thus when the Portuguese police is criticised, so too is the British police. He claimed that the number of abductions resulting in murder was a decisive factor that determined the different methods of investigation adopted by the two forces.

In March 2008, the McCanns launched a libel suit against the Daily Express and its sister newspaper, the Daily Star, as well as their Sunday equivalents, following the newspapers' coverage of the case. The action concerned more than 100 stories across the four newspapers, which accused the McCanns of causing Madeleine's death and then covering it up. One immediate consequence of the action was that Express Newspapers pulled all references to Madeleine from its websites. In a settlement reached at the High Court of Justice, the newspapers agreed to run a front-page apology to the McCanns on 19 March 2008, publish another apology on the front pages of the Sunday editions of 23 March and make a statement of apology at the High Court. Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade said it was "unprecedented" for four major newspapers to offer front-page apologies, but also said that it was more than warranted given that the papers had committed "a substantial libel" that shamed the entire British press.

In its apology, the Express stated 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." The McCanns also accepted £550,000 ($1.1 million) damages and costs. They promised to pay the damages into Madeleine’s Fund.

Robert Murat instigated defamation proceedings against Sky News and 11 British newspapers, in April 2008. He used London solicitors Simons Muirhead & Burton on a conditional fee agreement. The first paper to settle was The Scotsman who published an apology on 15 May but paid no damages. The newspaper groups Associated Newspapers, Express Newspapers, MGN Limited and News Group Newspapers settled with Murat, on 17 July, for a £600,000 payout. They also issued a public apology in the High Court. BSkyB also paid him damages in a separate libel case. Sergey Malinka, and Murat's girlfriend Michaela Walczuch, accepted more than £100,000 each.

The friends of the McCanns, known as the Tapas Seven, were awarded around £375,000 in damages and secured printed apologies from Express Newspapers. The friends have donated the settlement monies to the Fund. The apologies, printed in both the Daily Express and Daily Star, said "In articles ... we suggested that the holiday companions of Kate and Gerry McCann might have covered up the true facts concerning Madeleine McCann's disappearance and/or misled the authorities investigating her disappearance. We also reported speculation that ... Dr Russell O'Brien, was suspected of involvement with Madeleine's abduction. We now accept that these suggestions should never have been made and were completely untrue. ..."

The McCanns applied for an injunction, on 8 December 2009, prohibiting sale of the book, written by Gonçalo Amaral, Maddie, a Verdade da Mentira (Maddie, the Truth of the Lie), and launched a libel suit against Amaral.

Read more about this topic:  Response To The Disappearance Of Madeleine Mc Cann

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