Madeleine McCann parents 'violated' by UK press

23rd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

The parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann told an inquiry into press standards Wednesday that they felt "violated" by British tabloid newspapers which covered her disappearance in Portugal.

Newspapers questioned Kate and Gerry McCann's innocence based on flimsy facts and suggested they may have sold their daughter, they said, while Rupert Murdoch's News of the World published Kate's diary without her consent.

"There was no respect shown for me as a grieving mother or a human being," Kate McCann, 43, told the judge-led inquiry in London, which is on its third day of hearing evidence from people alleging press harassment.

Madeleine went missing from an apartment in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, a few days before her fourth birthday, as her parents and their friends dined at a restaurant nearby.

She has never been found.

Her parents told the inquiry that initial press interest was helpful, but that a more "sinister" tone began to take over after they were named as formal suspects in the case by Portuguese police five months later.

Gerry McCann, also 43, said leaks from the Portuguese press were treated as facts and then blown out of proportion by the British media.

After their return to Britain surrounded by a "terrifying" media scrum that scared their two youngest children, they said they were subjected to a "disgusting" series of untrue stories.

Headlines which ran in late 2007 and early 2008 about the grieving couple, who are both doctors, included "Maddie sold by hard-up McCanns" and "Maddie mum orgy fury."

On the first anniversary of her disappearance they agreed to an interview in Hello magazine to promote an alert system for missing children, and received an "irate" phone call from then-News of the World editor Colin Myler for not giving an interview to the tabloid.

The News of the World then published transcripts from Kate McCann's diary, which the couple believed were obtained from Portuguese police -- an experience that she said in a statement to the inquiry made her feel "mentally raped."

"I felt totally violated. I had written these words at the most desperate time of my life, and it was my only way of communicating with Madeleine," she said.

They later won a £550,000 ($850,000, 650,000 euros) libel payout from the publisher of the Daily Express and Daily Star tabloids which had doubted their innocence, and also received a payment but not an apology from the publisher of the Daily Mail.

Earlier Wednesday lawyer Mark Lewis, who represents several hacking victims including the parents of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, said the practice was "much more widespread" than just at the News of the World.

He told the inquiry that the News of the World wrongly concluded that Professional Footballers Association (PFA) chairman Gordon Taylor was having an affair after hearing a message on his voicemail.

The message, saying "Thank you for yesterday, you were wonderful", was in fact from a woman thanking Taylor for speaking at her father's funeral.

Murdoch closed the News of the World in July this year.

The hacking inquiry, led by top judge Brian Leveson, was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July. Leveson is due to report next year and could recommend changes to the way Britain's press is regulated.

In a twist, the Guardian newspaper, which led efforts to expose hacking at the News of the World, was forced to apologise to another Murdoch paper, The Sun, on Wednesday.

The Guardian had falsely alleged that the tabloid's reporters doorstepped a lawyer at the inquiry.

Meanwhile Rupert Murdoch's son James has resigned as a director of several newspapers including The Sun and The Times, according to documents which emerged Wednesday.

He will remain overall chairman of News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch's US-based News Corporation media empire.

A source close to News Corp. rejected suggestions that the move leant weight to speculation that the company is planning to sell off its British newspapers.

© 2011 AFP

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