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McCanns say newspapers 'made up' stories about Madeleine

The Leveson Inquiry has been hearing evidence for a third day from people whose lives were affected by the UK press.

Gerry and Kate McCann arriving to give evidence at the Leveson inquiry today.
Gerry and Kate McCann arriving to give evidence at the Leveson inquiry today.
Image: John Phillips/UK Press/Press Association Images

THE PARENTS of missing child Madeleine McCann have spoken of being frightened by photographers while driving with their young children and of how they found press coverage of their daughter’s disappearance moved from fact to supposition.

Addressing the Leveson inquiry on media ethics today, Gerry McCann said that he did not believe their phones were hacked, but that newspapers had simply “made up” stories they published about the investigation and the family.

McCann said that the couple had involved the media soon after her disappearance in the belief it “would be in the best interests of the search for our daughter”.

“We soon realised there was a huge amount of speculation in the news coverage… and we found that to be unhelpful.”

The couple said they felt they had to take legal proceedings over the intensity and consistency of unfounded allegations against them regarding the disappearance of their daughter. He said that after they were successful in their action against the Express Group, there was a notable sea-change in the way the Daily Express covered them, adding that he wished they had taken action earlier.

Gerry McCann said that the Portugeuse police system of dealing with the press is very different to that in the UK, where police know what information they can release and how to deal with journalists. Police in Portugal are prohibited from speaking to the media.

“No respect”

His wife Kate described incidents in which she would be driving with the couple’s young twins and photographers would jump out from behind a hedge or bang on the car windows with their lenses in an effort to get, she supposed, images of her looking frightened or fragile. She also described discovering that the News of the World had published excerpts from her own diary without her knowledge.

“There was absolutely no respect for me as a grieving mother or as a human being, or for my daughter Madeleine,” she said.

She said Portuguese police had taken clothing from the family as well as her diaries, but that they had been returned to her later on the order of a Portuguese judge. They only discovered that the judge had said the police should not have taken it when the police files were released the following summer.

The couple also said that the media had helped them with their appeal and outlined how they decided to grant News International permission to serialise their book after it pledged to back their lobby for a review of Madeleine’s case.

“Ultimately where the media have helped is galvanising the public and having them engage with us and Madeleine,” Gerry McCann said, adding that News Intl’s support for their petition “tipped the balance” in securing a review.

‘Hacking not limited to NOTW’

Earlier today, the inquiry heard evidence from the lawyer Mark Lewis, whose clients include the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and from the ex-wife of former footballer Paul Gascoigne.

Sheryl Gascoigne said she had been pursued by members of the media while heavily pregnant and that false reports about her life made her worry about how new people she met might already have formed preconceptions about her.

She also said that at times she had crawled around in her own house to hide from the press and pretend she wasn’t home.

Lewis told the inquiry that phone hacking was not limited to the News of the World. He claimed that listening in on voice mails was so easy that some journalists saw it as “being no more serious than driving at 35 mph in a 30 mph zone”.

Journalist Tom Roland told the inquiry that he feels that increased regulation on the media would not be detrimental to journalism. He spoke of occasions when working for The Telegraph journalists would become frustrated when defamation lawyers held up their material. However, Roland added that he said this process meant that everything was checked out before publishing. He said that having a lawyer “at your elbow” as a journalist would be a kind of “quality control mechanism”.

Roland also said he had recently discovered that national newspapers had cropped a photograph originally published with his work so that the watermark was removed. He said the publications refused to pay the photographer in question for using their work.

- Additional reporting by the AP

Read more: Steve Coogan claims News of the World writer ‘tricked’ him on affair >

Read more: Hugh Grant names new publication in phone hacking inquiry >

Read: James Murdoch resigns from the boards of Times and Sun >

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