Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
10 MARCH 2009
Q180 Mr Evans: At any time was any
journalist in a face to face with youalthough you just
said that was rather containedabusive to either you or
Mr McCann: Not so much directly.
I did speak to Christopher Meyer about this in the summer of 2007.
"Reverence" is the wrong word but amongst the UK press
there did seem to be an empathy and they did not want, at least
initially, to unduly upset. That wore off fairly quickly but generally
I felt we were treated quite well. When we came back from the
police station on the first night and I saw the press pack and
the frenzy there, I had the most horrible visions of complete
intrusion, invasion of privacy, and in those first days and weeks
while we stayed on the Ocean Club complex there was an order about
it. We agreed that we did not mind being filmed going about our
normal activity but we were not going to be engaging in giving
stories on a day to day basis. That seemed to work quite well.
Both sides seemed to be quite happy. What we envisaged was that
demand would rapidly tail off which it never quite did really
and that certainly took me by surprise.
Q181 Mr Evans: Did any of them have
your mobile numbers for instance and phone you at odd times or
pester you all the time?
Mr McCann: I have to say it was
remarkably few. My mobile number was known to a proportion of
the journalists. The vast majority called through the media liaison,
whether it be Bell Pottinger with Alex Wilful first of all or
Clarence and his predecessors. I had a few calls. One of them
was phoning to say, "I think what is happening right now
is getting out of hand and you need to try and do something."
It was advice as much as tapping us up. That happened on one or
two occasions and we just directed it back to the media.
Mr Mitchell: One of the problems
was on the ground. Because of judicial secrecy and the police
not being able or willing to say anything publicly, certainly
the British journalists and the Americans to a certain extent
had come to expect a very open attitude from the authorities and,
when they did not get that, they had nowhere to fall back on.
They were not able to do any real investigative digging of their
own or they did not seem particularly inclined to. As a practical
illustration of that, they tended to congregate at one particular
bar which had a pretty lethal combination of free Wi-Fi and alcohol
and that became the news room for the duration of the trip, I
am afraid. They would get the Portuguese press each morning translated
for them with mistranslations occasionally occurring in that as
well. Then, no matter what rubbish, frankly, was appearing in
the Portuguese press from whatever source, they would then come
to me and I would either deny it or try and correct it or say,
"We are just not talking about this today." That was
effectively a balancing of the story and there was no further
effort to pursue any independent journalism as we might recognise
Q182 Mr Evans: Are you suggesting
that some of the stuff that we read in the newspapers was fuelled
Mr Mitchell: I am not suggesting
anything was written in that particular state. I am just trying
to illustrate the point that it was a convivial atmosphere. The
journalists found it easy to work there and I had to go down to
brief them there. Broadcasters tend to hunt in a different pack
from print, so I would have to go down to where the broadcasters
were and talk to them for the day on any agreed messages that
I had agreed with Kate and Gerry. Then the print press would have
different agendas and different deadlines and they tended to congregate
at the bar. I am not saying that in a pejorative sense. I am just
illustrating that as an example of where they were, but that is
what they had to do because they had no other traditional sources
that would normally be available to them. Frankly, because of
that, they did not really push any further.
Q183 Mr Evans: I want to touch on
the distinction, when the information that the media managed to
get one way or another was useful and when it was not, which is
the suggestion almost that information that could only be made
available to the policeonly the police would know it and
yourselvessomehow got out into the media world. Do you
believe therefore that this information was directly leaked to
certain newspapers? Is there any suggestionClarence, maybe
this is one for youthat any British journalists were paying
the police for information that they later used which went against
your best interests?
Mr Mitchell: I have no proof of
that. I cannot prove where any of the leaks came from but you
only have to look at the nature of the stories and the content
within them to make certain presumptions. My situation was dealing
with those leaks once they appeared. Something that was even often
just a suggestion or an allegation, unsourced in the Portuguese
press, by the time it found its way across the Channel, had become
hardened up into fact with an extra scare headline or whatever
on top of it. That is where the real problems started because
these things would end up in the cuttings file and would become
an accepted fact in the story when in fact they were complete
distortions in many cases or entirely untrue in others.
Q184 Mr Evans: In those instances
where the information was true, was the source originally Portuguese
newspaper and then transferred after translation into British
papers or did now and again some stuff that only the police and
yourselves knew get into British newspapers first?
Mr McCann: As far as I could see,
almost all of the information available had arisen within Portugal
first. Without knowing the intricate dealings of what happens
around the police station and what is on and off the record, clearly
someone else within Portugal has been quoted as saying that judicial
secrecy is a bit like the speeding law. Everyone knows there is
a law but no one sticks to it. It was not me who said it but there
is that element. There is a cultural difference and obviously
we do not speak the language. With hindsight, we only really started
paying attention more to the Portuguese press when we realised
what was happening. I know in your submissions there are a lot
of elements about the digitisation of media and also the globalisation
of it. Clearly, this is a very strong example of where you have
media very quickly feeding off each other and the day after it
would be front page headlines and in the UK press there would
be a front page headline of what was a tiny little story. There
was this positive reinforcement: The Times of London has
carried it; that means it is true. That was quoted on more than
Mr Mitchell: We would see things
appearing in the Portuguese press get misreported in Britain and
get misreported again back in Portugal. It was just this circle
of lunacy at times.
Mr Tudor: In order to be sure
about that you would have to do a line by line comparison of all
of the Portuguese articles and all of the UK articles. We do not
know the answer directly but I am pretty sure that the overwhelming
majority of the allegations that appeared here had been sourced
from the Portuguese media, first and foremost, rather than direct
Q185 Paul Farrelly: I want to move
to the PCC but before that I want to establish what the legal
situation of the reporting was in Portugal. Irrespective of press
standards and libel, when a potential criminal investigation is
run in the UK there are laws of contempt. The Portuguese police
leaking is clearly reprehensible but they are not the only police
force to do it. When it came to the case of the care home in Jersey
recently, it went to a different level where police were making
statements that could be reported with impunity but the press
was not sceptical about them. We do not have this arguido category
here. Often we have people helping the police with their inquiries.
In Portugal were both the UK and the Portuguese press in any way
breaking Portuguese laws of contempt in any of the reporting?
This is perhaps one for Mr Tudor.
Mr Tudor: I would not bank on
it. I am not a Portuguese lawyer and I am not a criminal lawyer.
I do not know is the short answer. So far as I am aware, there
was no intervention by the Portuguese authorities along the lines
of contempt in the way that you might expect to have seen here.
Mr McCann: This is my first hand
knowledge from discussions rather than knowledge of Portuguese
law but clearly within Portugal there has been a balance going
on between laws, many of which date back to them being a Fascist
government and subsequently a Communist one. Freedom of speech
is perhaps more freely enshrined there and yet we have this judicial
secrecy which, in many cases, does not function the way it should.
There is this element where the press there is potentially much
less well regulated, to use that in the loosest context, than
it is in the UK. I believe in terms of the legal situation, if
a police officer gave information which was known to be on the
file and only on the file relevant to it then technically I believe
that is probably correct.
Q186 Paul Farrelly: Have you ever
speculated as to how this might have developed had Madeleine disappeared
in Britain and what the difference might have been in the press
Mr McCann: Speaking to law enforcement
over here and in the US, obviously in Portugal and other organisations
involved in child welfare and missing children, usually, certainly
within this country, the senior investigating officer and the
police force responsible have a media strategy. They give information
which they want out there and that takes away the vacuum to some
extent. In many countries that is the way it works.
Q187 Paul Farrelly: Have you had
any sense from talking to law enforcement officers here that,
had the media started on the trail that they followed leading
to the completely made up and damaging stories, the police here
might have stepped in and warned the media to calm it down?
Mr Tudor: Or the Attorney General
even, yes. I have always taken the view from a non-criminal, legal
perspective that if this "incident" had happened here
there is no way you would have had this nature of coverage. It
would have been substantially different and the newspapers would
have been considerably more careful. Incidentally, even though
this did take place in Portugal, it is important that you know
if you did not know already that at the very least in October
2007 Leicestershire Police did indeed issue a missive to the media
asking them to be a bit more careful about how they were going
about this. Even though it was overseas, the nature of the reporting
was obviously an issue which as I understand it was of concern
to Leicestershire Police as well.
Q188 Paul Farrelly: This brings us
neatly to press standards. There has been criticism of the Press
Complaints Commission that they were not proactive. They stood
by and did not invoke their own inquiry. They have said in evidence
to us, defending that position, that to have done so would have
been an impertinence to the McCanns. Would you have felt it an
impertinence to you had the Press Complaints Commission in respect
of press standards been more proactive and said, "Hold on,
this is not the way a responsible press behaves"?
Mr McCann: No, I would not have
found it impertinent. I certainly would have been open to dialogue
if it was felt to be within the remit of the PCC. Having also
read their evidence, they are claiming it is not within their
remit. Aspects with the PCC have been helpful in terms of protecting
privacy particularly for our twins, which was a major concern
for us. They were continuing to be photographed and we wanted
that stopped. Very quickly that was taken up by the press and
broadcasters within the UK. We are thankful for that. There was
also help in removing photographers from outside our drive after
what we felt was a very over long period, when news had really
gone quite quiet and we were still being subjected to camera lenses
up against our car with the twins in the back, which was inappropriate.
In terms of the defamatory and libellous stories, clearly the
advice from both the PCC and our legal advisers was that the PCC
was not the route.
Q189 Paul Farrelly: You have described
some of the interaction you had with the PCC. Did you consider
making an official complaint to the PCC that they were publishing
stories about you on the basis of no evidence at all and indeed
about Mr Murat as well whose life was also destroyed?
Mr McCann: In terms of the defamatory
stories on that specific point, we were advised that legal redress
was the way to address that issue.
Q190 Paul Farrelly: You were advised
by the PCC?
Mr McCann: I had an informal conversation
that was directed to me, yes.
Q191 Paul Farrelly: Can you tell
us who you had the conversation with?
Mr McCann: It was with the then
chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer.
Q192 Paul Farrelly: There was no
willingness to take up the issues around you therefore as a matter
of press standards?
Mr McCann: At the time and on
reading their submission, they say it is a very clear division
between libel, for which there is legal redress, and when we spoke
to Adam for Carter Ruck he also strongly advised us that if we
wanted a stop put to it then legal redress was the way to go.
Q193 Paul Farrelly: There are wider
issues: your personal safety and the ability to try and find your
daughter. It was much wider than libel behaviour.
Mr McCann: Absolutely. From Kate's
and my point of view, taking the legal route was a last resort.
You are right. I think there is a gap there currently in the regulation.
A complaint for example about stories which are about an invasion
of privacy is always retrospective and the damage has often been
done. There has to be some degree of control, I believe, or deterrent
to publishing untrue and particularly damaging stories where they
have the potential to ruin people's lives.
Q194 Paul Farrelly: The fact that
newspaper editors, including The Daily Express Editor,
Peter Hill, were on the board of the PCC at the timewhat
sort of view did that leave with you as to how the Press Complaints
Mr McCann: It did cause me concern.
We were in a dispute with them. Although ultimately they thankfully
decided to settle before taking it on to court, they did not just
roll over and say, "Oh, sorry." There was quite a bit
of correspondence and we had to produce quite a bit of evidence.
I did think it was surprising that an editor of a paper which
had so flagrantly libelled us with the most devastating stories
could hold a position on the board of the PCC.
Q195 Paul Farrelly: The newspaper
industry of course is adamant that self-regulation works. I would
be interested in your view of that but furthermore it has been
remarked that in any other sphere of life, in any other profession,
in business or in government, if something like this had happened
there would have been an inquiry. Somebody, somewhere, would have
launched an inquiry. We are mounting an inquiry here but we are
not part of the media profession. What does the failure of any
inquiry or any toughening of a code because of what you have been
through say about not only the standards of the press in this
country in your view but also the role of the regulator in upholding
these standards of the media?
Mr McCann: Obviously speaking
from our own experience, we have probably been the most high profile
case or extreme case there has been. I think we do see almost
on a daily basis information published that is damaging, possibly
untruthful and defamatory to people. My own view is that there
has to be some more stringent regulation of that. I will very
much defend freedom of speech but when people's lives are put
in jeopardy by different mechanisms there has to be redress.
Mr Tudor: We had a conversation
about the PCC when Kate and Gerry first came to Carter Ruck. It
was quite a short conversation. The PCC is perceived, to a considerable
extent still correctly, as being wholly media friendly. It lacks
teeth. It cannot award damages. It cannot force apologies. As
soon as there is any dispute of fact between the newspaper and
the victim of the libel, the PCC backs off and says, "This
needs to go to law." To be fair to the PCC, I think they
have accepted and said that the McCanns' case was never going
to be appropriate for the PCC but should have gone to law and
so on. How one views the PCC in this kind of scenario, extreme
or otherwise, is that it can be summed up by the fact that if
you were to ask me how I think The Express would have reacted
if Kate and Gerry McCann had brought a PCC complaint rather than
a Carter Ruck letter, you could probably have felt the sigh of
relief all the way down Fleet Street. Perhaps that gives you a
feel for how it would be perceived. First of all, I am afraid
it would have led The Express to think that relatively
speaking they were off the hook because of the lack of teeth that
the PCC has. Secondly, almost by definition, by going to the PCC
Kate and Gerry would have been tacitly sending out a signal, not
only to The Express, but to the rest of Fleet Street that
they had no appetite to see this through and therefore perhaps
could be fobbed off, as it were. Time and again one comes across
this being the reality of PCC complaints. I am not here to put
the boot into the PCC. I think they have a very important role
to perform. From my experience indirectly of how the McCanns have
dealt with the PCC in relation to the children, harassment and
so on, it certainly has a role to perform, but it is not the sort
of role it is cut out for because of the inherent contradictions
Mr Mitchell: On the practical
aspects of dealing with the press, they were a very substantial
help. Kate and Gerry had photographers outside their driveway
for six months, every day, after they came from Portugal. It was
on the basis that, "We need a today picture", which
was exactly identical to the one six months before. Utter nonsense.
When the PCC made representations formally and at the right levels,
that presence dissipated very quickly. They were a substantial
help on certain practical aspects, but we all knew and the PCC
themselves knew that, given the gravity of the defamations that
were occurring and the sheer volume and scale of it and the unique
nature of this particular situation, really the legal route was
then the only option. With self-regulation, I echo Gerry. Free
speech in a democracy has to stand. Of course it does. With the
changing media landscape now, in the new multi-connected, multi-layered,
multi-platform world we live in, self-regulation is an issue the
press need to address themselves in terms of improving it and
widening it. The whole aspect of the social networking that occurs
now, the readers' comments, their own websitesmany newspaper
groups are now almost broadcasters in their own right and look
like that when you walk into the news room. I am not sure personally
whether self-regulation is keeping up with that advance in technology.
It is something that they really will need to address in the coming
months and years. It has been said that information travels these
days beyond the speed of thought and I think that does happen
more and more frequently. If the press do not keep their own house
in order, they may run the risk of some other regulatory body
Q196 Janet Anderson: Would it be
fair to say to all three of you that there is an important, valuable
role for the PCC to play but it is very limited? There is a gap
in all of this that needs filling. You said, Gerry, that some
of this irresponsible media coverage has the potential to ruin
people's lives and that is exactly what it can and does do. You
also made the pointMax Mosley in front of us this morning
made a similar pointabout, once this has happened, the
damage has been done. I wanted to ask you two things really. To
what extent were you given advance warning of the kinds of stories
that were going to appear? When you talk about the need for more
stringent regulation, would you favour a privacy law of the kind
that exists in other countries? Do you think the press would be
more responsible if we had that?
Mr McCann: In terms of privacy,
I was certainly concerned about privacy but I do not think in
general we had gross violation of our privacy. We had irritant
elements of it but generally I feel it was respected. Any views
I have on privacy are therefore very personal and I do not think
I should be giving them in front of this Committee as having a
specific experience. In terms of advance notice, I would often
hear Clarence on the phone to journalists expressly telling them
that the information they had was rubbish. It would not stop it
Q197 Janet Anderson: It would still
Mr McCann: Yes.
Mr Mitchell: We expected it to
be published after a while. We just knew it was coming. Normally,
we had a few hours' notice.
Mr McCann: We were talking about
this again this morning. We possibly could have forgiven the furore
around the arguido status at that time. Clearly that is going
to be newsworthy, but when it became abundantly clear to newspapers
that there was not any evidence to back up any allegations then
they were warned. We wrote to them. Two newspapers, The Express
and The London Evening Standard, were put on express notice
that the stories they were running were defamatory. The editors
were all visited personally by our spokesperson, Clarence, and
Justine McGuinness before that, with a criminal lawyer, who told
them that there was no evidence. It did not stop. It was the rehashing
and this ad infinitum aspect that they could reproduce
headlines at will that had no substance that forced us to take
Q198 Janet Anderson: The PCC was
absolutely no help in that at all?
Mr McCann: It was again never
offered in any way. Secondly, in the discussions, we were advised
that they were not the correct vehicle for such complaints.
Mr Tudor: One can only speculate
about what was going on in that regard. The PCC in many respects,
certainly when it comes to libel, is a passive body rather than
a proactive body. That is just a fact, rightly or wrongly. If,
let us say in another world, the PCC had decided to get involved
in Kate and Gerry's predicament at a relatively early stage and
contacted for example the Editor or the journalists at The
Express and any other newspapers that were reporting this
stuff, tried to warn them off and said they understood that there
was a danger that this could be a breach of the factual accuracy
provisions in the PCC code, for example, I anticipate that the
answer to the PCC would have been, "Well, these stories have
all been well sourced. We are standing by our sources. It is a
story of the most colossal public interest. Therefore, we are
carrying on." The result would have been they would have
carried on publishing. You would have ended up exactly back at
square one. I am not saying there should be but there would have
been no interventionist power on the part of the PCC to wade in
and say, "You cannot publish that. You cannot publish this.
You have to redraft that so it does not say this." That is
obviously not what they do and probably not what they are there
for. That would have been the reality of that kind of situation.
Mr Mitchell: When I visited Peter
Hill with Angus McBride from Kingsley Napley, it was really an
informal discussion to say, "Look, this is beginning to get
out of hand. Can we rein it back in before it becomes necessary
to take any action?" There was an acceptance by him on that
day that "some of their headlines had overstepped the mark"
and that they would be more cognisant of that in the future. For
a week or two things did get better but I am afraid there was
the competition and the urge for the front page. Off we went again
and it led to the complaint that was lodged.
Q199 Chairman: The PCC has told us
that on 5 May, two days after Madeleine's disappearance, they
contacted the British Embassy to remind them that the PCC's jurisdiction
extended to journalists working overseas and also to suggest that
the embassy pass on the PCC's details to you. Did that happen
and did you then have any contact with the PCC?
Mr McCann: If it did, it certainly
was lost in the furore of the other information I was bombarded
with at the time. I was not aware of that until I read the submission.