Since the three-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished from a holiday villa in Portugal in May 2007, her parents have been accused of everything from selling their child to hiding her body in a freezer. Yesterday at the High Court, the "national scandal" of Kate and Gerry McCann's trial by the tabloid press was emotionally retraced.
The couple told the Leveson Inquiry about the accusations, lies, inaccuracies, baseless headlines and virtual blackmail that have characterised coverage of their daughter's disappearance. Dr Gerry McCann attempted to deliver a clinical analysis of two parents who tried always to remain focused on getting their daughter back. But for his wife, reliving events in Portugal looked and sounded like a painful ordeal. She told the inquiry of one night in Praia da Luz when, just as she was about to go to bed, her husband learnt of a headline on the front page of the Daily Mirror. "She's dead," the paper claimed.
No one in Portugal knew for sure if Madeleine was alive or had been killed. There were no facts. It was all supposition. "It was incredible," Dr McCann told a hushed inquiry room.
He said even after they had started a campaign to find Madeleine, he felt powerless to stop untrue and baseless stories. "We were being tried by the media and couldn't defend ourselves. They were risking our chances of ever finding Madeleine."
Ms McCann said she felt the relentless coverage was "stopping their chances" of finding Madeleine.
The fantasy headlines kept coming: stories about a "corpse" in a car the McCanns had hired after Madeleine went missing; other stories pointed to an "orgy" at the villa. Dr McCann described their effect as bringing "untold stress". He described a Daily Star headline that read "Maddy sold by hard-up McCanns" as "nothing short of disgusting". In September 2008 the News of the World had another surprise for Ms McCann. A friend told her she had seen her diary in the paper. Ms McCann said: "When I read it was there, in its entirety, I felt totally violated. It was written just after Madeleine went missing and was my only way of communicating with her."
Dr McCann called for an inquiry to establish how the NOTW got hold of the private diary.