Gerry McCann calls on MPs to redeem themselves by reforming press

Exclusive interview: Father of missing girl criticises Cameron’s rejection of proposal for legal underpinning
  • @martin_hickman

MPs have a chance to “redeem themselves” by implementing Lord Leveson’s recommendations on the press, a victim of gutter journalism, Gerry McCann, said today as he lamented the response of the Prime Minister to the judge’s proposals.

Urging David Cameron to adopt Lord Leveson’s call for law to underpin a new press regulator, Mr McCann, whose daughter Madeleine went missing in Portugal five years ago, said that politicians should remember they are accountable to the public.

Lord Leveson’s report criticised Labour and Conservative prime ministers for being too close to editors and proprietors. Within hours of its publication, Mr Cameron sided with newspaper groups by saying that he feared a new press law could lead to political interference in freedom of expression.

“I was surprised, I suppose, that we had an immediate reaction from the Prime Minister saying that statute crosses some sort of Rubicon, because I personally quite strongly disagree with that,” Mr McCann told The Independent. “I don’t think we’re dropping off the end of a cliff by underpinning the regulator.

“Lord Leveson’s report is crystal clear about this: if there isn’t legislation to underpin the regulator, then it will fall to pieces. He says it’s essential. He is also crystal clear that this is not statutory regulation of the press, therefore I don’t understand why the Prime Minister has said what he has.”

Mr Cameron promised the victims of unethical journalism that he would implement Lord Leveson’s findings providing they were not “bonkers”.

“I don’t think anyone has suggested the report is bonkers,” Mr McCann, a member of the Hacked Off campaign group, said.

“The politicians have now actually got a bit of a chance to redeem themselves. It’s the public outcry that has led to this and the Prime Minister and all the other MPs are elected and accountable to the public, and I think they have to consider them along with the victims of the press.”

Following their daughter’s disappearance, Mr McCann and his wife, Kate, were vilified and maligned by false and sensationalist newspaper stories which suggested wrongly that they were somehow culpable.

With reluctance, Mr McCann, a cardiologist, talked about the impact of the coverage.

”It feels like you’re in the eye of the storm,“ he said. “You’ve got all these people coming at you from all sides. You don’t want to show your face anywhere. It’s unbelievably stressful.

“Kate documented in her book that it’s not just having photographers and media outside your door; it’s putting the television on at night and there are headlines saying things about your daughter as you’re about to go to bed.

“It’s very difficult unless you’ve been in that situation. But everybody knows what it’s like when you lose a child momentarily in a supermarket and you think the worst. Most people can imagine being photographed by tens and hundreds of journalists outside your door.

“Our case has probably helped people understand how bad it is; and how it can be for so long, with so little truth.”