Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
28 APRIL 2009
Q640 Paul Farrelly: I find that quite
surprising given the number of stories you have published and
that your papers would also be available in Portugal.
Mr Hill: Why would I? All I know
is what was appearing in the Portuguese press and on Portuguese
television and it seems to me that there were no restrictions
whatsoever at the time. I have since heard that Portugal does
have a press law but there was certainly no evidence of it being
in operation at the time.
Q641 Paul Farrelly: That speaks for
Mr Hill: Yes.
Q642 Paul Farrelly: Your submission
asserts that the McCann case was unique but we have heard evidence
that actually it is pretty much the tip of the iceberg and exposes
a culture which is commonplace in the British tabloid press. How
do you respond to that?
Mr Hill: I would say that I have
never ever come upon a series of events anything like this particular
case. I absolutely believe that it was unique in every sense of
that word. No-one can recall anything like this ever. Here you
had a successful professional couple on holiday with their family
and their friends, an absolute nightmare thing happens, their
daughter disappears and of course we have no idea still, absolutely
no idea what happened to Madeleine. We do not know whether she
was kidnapped or simply disappeared; no-one knows. This in itself
was a tremendous thing that happened. On top of that, immediately
Mr and Mrs McCann orchestrated the most brilliant public relations
campaign, a professional public relations team was hired, they
flew in a private jet to have an audience with the Pope, they
themselvesthis is not a criticism because who would not
have done thiscourted publicity as much as they possibly
could day after day and we responded to that. The newspapers and
the media did have a genuine wish to help to find Madeleine. Everybody
wanted to know what had happened to Madeleine and people hoped
and prayed she would be found. This in itself was an extraordinary
thing to happen; it had never been seen before and it came at
a time when, unlike in the Lindbergh case when really the newspapers
were all there were, television is such a pervasive part of life;
but not just television, also the internet was at that time starting
to be a most astonishing phenomenon. Since then it has grown and
grown and grown and now there is so much information on the internet
that it is like a wild place. On top of that, if that were not
enough, out of the blue Mr and Mrs McCann, this perfectly respectable
couple, were accused of being responsible by the Portuguese police
and, not only that, named officially as suspects and questioned
repeatedly by the Portuguese police. How can anybody pretend this
was anything but the most extraordinary, extraordinary chain of
events? If anyone can say this was just another story, it is absolute
nonsense to pretend that. Nothing like this has ever been seen
Q643 Paul Farrelly: Have you therefore
not done anything at the Daily Express to make sure that
this sort of thing never happens again?
Mr Hill: Yes, we are very, very
careful. As a matter of fact, in my 10 and a half years as a newspaper
editor, I have had very, very few complaints against me. We have
averaged about seven complaints to the Press Complaints Commission
per year and I think pretty much all of them have been settled,
apart from perhaps only one. I do not think there have been any
major law suits against the newspaper that I was operating at
that time. No, this was a unique case, an absolutely unique case
without a doubt and I think any of my colleagues would certainly
Q644 Paul Farrelly: Has anyone been
reprimanded, disciplined, sacked, demoted at the Express
over what happened with the McCanns?
Mr Hill: I have reprimanded myself
because I was responsible.
Q645 Paul Farrelly: How far did your
self-reprimands go? Piers Morgan lost his job after the fake pictures
and Andrew Coulson lost his job after the Clive Goodman affair.
Did you offer to resign?
Mr Hill: Certainly not. If editors
had to resign every time there was a libel action against them,
there would be no editors.
Q646 Paul Farrelly: So it was just
the libel action.
Mr Hill: Yes, it was a libel action.
Q647 Paul Farrelly: Just a libel
action, there was nothing else to consider about the way the Express
reported the affair.
Mr Hill: If I were to have to
resign over this particular affair, then every other newspaper
editor in Britain would have to resign because everybody did it.
The Chairman of the BBC would have to resign and all the directors.
Everybody concerned at Sky Television and other TV stations would
also have to resign. It is not a suggestion that makes any sense
at all. I have not noticed members of the Government resigning
over anything, so I think it somewhat ridiculous for you to suggest
to me that I should resign. Has the Home Secretary resigned over
abusing the parliamentary expenses system? Has the Prime Minister
resigned for destroying the British economy? No. This was an unfortunate
thing to have happened and I have apologised for it, which is
more than most politicians have ever done. I have apologised on
the front page; I apologised genuinely and sincerely but it is
ridiculous to suggest that I should resign for it.
Q648 Paul Farrelly: With respect,
they have not suggested that a family in effect murdered their
own daughter without being professional enough as an editor to
check out what Portuguese press law was?
Mr Hill: What have Portuguese
press laws got to do with it?
Q649 Paul Farrelly: Whether your
reporting was actually breaking the law or not.
Mr Hill: If I was breaking the
law, then every other media outlet in Portugal was breaking the
Q650 Paul Farrelly: And that is a
Mr Hill: And every other newspaper
that might have had a single copy go to Portugal was breaking
the law. In that case yes, technically everybody was breaking
the law, but I tell you this was the most astonishing chain of
events which simply had to be reported; it simply had to be reported.
We did not report this maliciously and our concern was genuinely
to help to find Madeleine McCann. By the way, that continued all
the time Mr and Mrs McCann were suspects because during that time
we did not only carry stories which were making accusations against
Mr and Mrs McCann, we carried many, many reports on continuing
the hunt for Madeleine McCann. You are trying to present this
as being a completely one-sided thing but it was not that. This
entire phenomenon changed all the time. It was the most astonishing
Q651 Chairman: You said that this
story was unique.
Mr Hill: Yes.
Q652 Chairman: And that you had never
known anything like it in your lifetime.
Mr Hill: No.
Q653 Chairman: May I point to another
example where your paper, day after day, carried stories which
actually were completely untrue but which nevertheless I believe
increased your circulation and that is the stories about the death
of Princess Diana.
Mr Hill: We did not believe the
stories were untrue.
Q654 Chairman: But you believe that
now. You do not believe that Princess Diana was murdered or that
there was a conspiracy by the security services or that senior
members of the royal family were involved.
Mr Hill: The inquest on Princess
Diana, for me, was pretty much the end of the matter. I think
you will find that after the inquest we published hardly any,
if any, reports or stories, about Princess Diana. Up to that time
it was a similar situation but not as intense a situation as the
McCanns. Our readers were absolutely avid for news about the death
of Princess Diana because there certainly was a theory that Princess
Diana might have been murdered.
Q655 Chairman: So you take the same
view of the headlines that you printed about Princess Diana's
death that at the time they were completely justified and that
they genuinely did reflect reports you were getting that actually
this was a conspiracy by the security services.
Mr Hill: That it might have been
a conspiracy by the security forces. Yes, of course we believed
it. I do not print stories that I believe to be untrue; that is
not what I do.
Q656 Chairman: The difference is
that in the McCann case you rightly say that you were acting alongside
almost every other newspaper. In the Princess Diana case you were
not. It was the Daily Express really which had an obsession
with the story which no other paper really followed.
Mr Hill: It is not a crime to
have an obsession.
Q657 Chairman: Was it not driven
Mr Hill: No; not at all.
Q658 Chairman: Your decision to run
Diana stories day after day was not to boost your circulation.
Mr Hill: Everything you do in
a sense is calculated to sell the newspapers. I do not go out
of my way every day to put on the most boring story I can find
so that nobody will buy the newspaper. That is not what I do.
I try to find a story which I think will be the most interesting
story for my readers and hopefully for the readers of other newspapers,
so that if they see my headline and my picture on the front page
they think they will buy my newspaper because it looks interesting.
That is my job; that is what I do.
Q659 Chairman: But are we not verging
slightly towards the sort of Daily Star type of approach
of saying Elvis has been found on the moon because that is interesting.
Mr Hill: That was not the Daily
Star that did that. I used to be the editor of the Daily
Star and I did not run that story.