Madeleine McCann: Robert Murat, Newspapers Escape And Libel
MADDIE WATCH – Anorak’s at-a-glance guide to press coverage of Madeleine McCann
ROBERT Murat has won libel actions against Sky, The Daily Express, The Sunday Express, The Daily Star, The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard, The Metro, The Daily Mirror, The News of the World, The Sun and The Scotsman.
His case against the media was due to be heard tomorrow, but he has reached a settlement out of court.
You can read a round-up of the matter here, an search for “Robert Murat” on Anorak, which has been highlighting the media campaign againt the expat for over a year.
This settlement saves the media fighting a battle they had no chance of winning and legal fees. The cost is about £50,000-a-head, which is something of a bargain.
And how have these papers responded to the news? With an apology?
THE SCOTSMAN: “Murat’s £½m damages in Madeleine case”
The Scotsman has already apologised to Mr Murat and paid his legal costs for that part of his complaint. It now feels able to report on the latest development.
The paper reminds its readers: “He is still an official suspect – or arguido – in Portugal.” But he’s no Ian Huntley.
Anorak can find no similar apology in any other organ, but if you do see one please let us know. For now the Scotsman is the only paper to take it on the chin (Surely limit damage? – Ed).
The other papers – those not involved in the matter – do report on Murat’s victory:
Robert Murat, an official suspect in the Madeleine McCann case, has settled his libel action against a number of British newspapers over claims he was involved in her disappearance.
ROY GREENSLADE: “A small price for the press to pay for irresponsible behaviour
Eleven newspapers libelled Robert Murat. Unfortunately, it will take more than a £50,000 penalty to deter them in future…
The reason for the capitulation of 11 newspapers before the case reached court are very clear. All have very expensive legal teams and were advised by their separate batteries of lawyers that they had no hope of winning. Indeed, they might well end up paying out much more in terms of legal fees and, more tentatively, might also suffer from a loss of credibility among their audiences too (not that the credibility of most of the 11 is that high anyway).
Greenslade gets a dig in early.
The facts of the matter are unarguable. Murat was libelled. Not once, but many times over. Scores of reports, and many headlines too, defamed him. Like Kate and Gerry McCann, he was often treated not as a suspect by papers but as a culprit.
How did they fall into the trap of publishing so many wild and inaccurate stories in the aftermath of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance?
Question asked, question answered:
I think there are three clear reasons. First, it happened overseas. Editors and reporters appeared to think that the overriding rule – the one based on that long-held British judicial precedent that regards everyone as innocent until proven guilty – was no longer relevant because it was a Portuguese case.
Second, the level of competition among all these newspapers meant that they outbid each other in an attempt to attract readers by printing ever more lurid allegations against the people supposedly connected to the girl’s disappearance. Many of the stories, culled from anonymous sources (and, quite possibly, no sources at all) were utterly irresponsible and, most certainly, unprovable.
Papers were also competing against 24-hour news on TV and radio. Therefore they felt under pressure to get new angles on a story which has only ever had a couple of facts: a child vanished; the police named one man as a suspect – on the thinnest of evidence; the police later named the McCanns as suspects. Everything else was speculation.
Third, and this goes to the heart of the problem, these papers have been pushing at the boundaries of the British contempt rule for years. More is published about British crime suspects in advance of their being charged (and sometimes afterwards) than was ever the case 20 years ago. Why? Because they have got away with it. In very, very rare cases only have papers suffered for breaking the rules.
Lawyers for Robert Murat, who owns a villa 150 yards from the flat where Madeleine went missing while on holiday with her family in Portugal, confirmed yesterday that he had settled his claim for defamation against at least eight papers.
A spokeswoman for Sky said the TV station was not involved in the current settlement and has not been served papers by Mr Murat’s lawyers.
Sky has reported the news.
Sky’s involvements is unclear.
A spokeswoman for Murat’s law firm, Simons Muirhead & Burton, says to one and all:
“Robert Murat is due in court for the settlement hearing at 10am on Thursday, after which it’s expected either he or his legal representative will give a statement to the press.”