The parents of missing Madeleine McCann have won £55,000 in libel damages from the Sunday Times over a story which suggested that they had kept evidence from authorities investigating their daughter’s disappearance.
Kate and Gerry McCann – who said they would be giving the award to two charities – took action over a front-page article by the newspaper’s Insight team which appeared in October last year.
The story falsely alleged that the couple and Madeleine’s Fund had kept crucial evidence – primarily consisting of “e-fits” obtained by private investigators - secret from investigating authorities.
The solicitors, law firm Carter-Ruck, said in a statement: “The Sunday Times’ allegations were completely false.
“As the newspaper now accepts, there is no question of the McCanns having sought to suppress any evidence: indeed, all the material collated by the private investigators had been provided to the relevant Portuguese and Leicestershire police four years earlier.
“The private investigators’ report (including the e-fits) was also provided to the Metropolitan Police in 2011 shortly after the Met commenced its review into Madeleine’s disappearance.”
The law firm added that the Sunday Times had also agreed to pay the McCanns’ legal costs.
As the settlement was announced, the couple issued a statement in which they criticised what they said was the “continued failure of the UK newspaper industry to put their house in order”.
The statement said the false allegations over which they had sued were “made at a time when the Sunday Times was proclaiming that press abuse was at an end and there was no need for the independent regulation proposed by Leveson a year previously”.
Mr McCann said that “the newspaper’s behaviour typified all that was wrong with journalistic practices”.
He said the newspaper:
* Did not give the couple any proper opportunity to comment on the allegations before they were published, withheld important parts of the allegations, and chose not to publish “key parts” of the couple’s response;
* Published the allegations although it was on express notice that they were false;
* Gave such a “half-baked, inadequate response” to the couple’s attempt to resolve the issue by writing to the editor that they had no option but to instruct lawyers to take action.
The couple’s statement said: “The Sunday Times has behaved disgracefully. There is no sign of any ’post-Leveson’ improvement in the behaviour of newspapers like this.
“Despite the history of admitted libel in respect of my family by so many newspapers, the Sunday Times still felt able to print an indefensible front page story last year and then force us to instruct lawyers – and even to start court proceedings – before it behaved reasonably.
“But the damage to reputation and to feelings has been done, and the Sunday Times can sit back (and) enjoy its sales boost based on lies and abuse.
“This is exactly why Parliament and Lord Justice Leveson called for truly effective independent self-regulation of newspapers – to protect ordinary members of the public from this sort of abuse.
“It is also why the provision of low-cost arbitration for libel and privacy claims is so important. We were able to use our lawyers, Carter-Ruck, who were willing to back our complaint and who agree to act on a ’no-win, no-fee’ basis - but even that form of access to justice is under threat.”
The couple went on: “It is why the latest industry poodle, Ipso, which the Times editor was allowed to help appoint, does not even have the power to insist on its members providing arbitration that Leveson required.”
It was, the couple added, time to remind newspaper owners that if they continued to reject Leveson then it would be “imposed on them to protect the public and public interest journalism”.