Madeleine's father appeals for end to 'wild speculation'

Gerry McCann announces family's plans to scale down media campaign and criticises press for misreporting
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The Independent Online

Gerry McCann, whose campaign to find his missing daughter Madeleine has generated unprecedented TV and newspaper coverage – and lurid speculation – around the world, yesterday called a press conference to appeal for more restraint, less speculation and reduced press coverage of their search. He announced that the family planned to scale down media campaigning and that he planned to return to his job as a heart specialist in "some degraded fashion".

Stung by some of the more adverse coverage that has focused on him and his wife, Kate, in recent weeks, Mr McCann told the Edinburgh Television Festival that they had no control of the media explosion that followed their daughter's disappearance from a holiday apartment in the Algarve three months ago. "Wild speculation" was being presented as fact, he complained, appealing for less reporting in future.

"Even early on, there was saturation coverage with nothing to report," he said. "There were commercial decisions made about filling column inches and time on television."

Claiming that he and his wife no longer read newspapers or watch TV reports about the disappearance 115 days ago, he said free speech laws in Portugal meant that speculation could be published. "In Portugal, free speech is protected, and we have been told if someone says 'a source' [to justify a report], you cannot do much about it ... Something would be reported in the Portuguese press from an unknown source, the next day it would be in the British press, giving it credibility – they were fuelling each other."

Journalists should be scrupulous about facts: "There is a responsibility on journalists and producers to present facts, or make it clear when they are talking about speculation. It should not be presented as news. There's a huge amount of speculation that ends up being dressed up as fact."

He described the toll this took on the family. "The extent of the coverage and the way it has been held up as a front page story, we never predicted. I don't think it is necessary, bombarding people on a daily basis with Madeleine's image. We don't expect it. The news stories and campaign were one, and now they are very much different, and we have tried to withdraw."

Mr McCann said he could not judge if another missing child would get the same coverage and that he and his wife were not controlling the agenda. He also said that if any evidence had been found to implicate them, the police would have acted. "If there is any evidence, they have to declare [people] as suspects by law."

Kirsty Wark, who presented the session, said: "It is hard to think of a story that has had so much coverage for so long, with so few facts." The campaign has involved celebrities from David Beckham to JK Rowling and a well-publicised meeting with the Pope – which McCann said would have been offered to anyone in their situation.

He said that the first reports came from relatives, while they felt that if they did not co-operate with photographs, they would be "hounded". "There wasn't a decision to do something in terms of publicity. We were just phoning relatives to let them know what had happened, asking them to pray for Madeleine. Our relatives were as traumatised as we were and wanted to do something."

They spent the next day searching the streets. "When we came back, the first reporter was outside the apartment and it snowballed from there."

Mr McCann planned to fly back out to Portugal yesterday before preparing to return to the UK: "The difficulty we have is emotionally leaving Portugal as a family of four when we came as a family of five."