Saturday, 14 January 2012

Richard Desmond and the McCanns

At the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday, there were intriguing exchanges about the McCanns between a clearly unimpressed Robert Jay QC and Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star. Desmond coughed up £550,000 in damages for a relentless barrage of defamatory articles and all his papers published front page apologies which read:

The Daily and Sunday Express have taken the unprecedented step of making a front-page apology to Kate and Gerry McCann.

We did so because we accept that a number of articles in the newspaper have suggested that the couple caused the death of their missing daughter Madeleine and then covered it up.

We acknowledge that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this theory and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance.

We trust that the suspicion that has clouded their lives for many months will soon be lifted.

As an expression of its regret, the Daily Express has now paid a very substantial sum into the Madeleine Fund and we promise to do all in our power to help efforts to find her.

Kate and Gerry, we are truly sorry to have added to your distress.

We assure you that we hope Madeleine will one day be found alive and well and will be restored to her loving family. 

Here's how some of the exchanges went at the Inquiry:

Q. But isn't it fair to say, Mr Desmond, that if you look at the hard facts, I think the McCann litigation involved 38 defamatory articles. It is right, and Mr Ashford has drawn to our attention that there are other newspapers who also perpetrated defamations, but not to the same extent as your papers.

A. Is that -- I'm not sure that's right. I'm not sure that's right at all.

Q. If it's wrong, Mr Sherborne here, who -- the McCanns are his client -- will demonstrate that in due course, but it's certainly my understanding that we're talking about 38 defamatory articles over a four-month period and that your paper was guilty, if I can put it in those terms, of the most egregious and serious defamations, and other papers were guilty of defamations of perhaps less severity in terms of quantity. Do you accept that?

A. Once again, I don't wish to minimise it, right? But four months is -- let me see now, it's 12 weeks?

Q. It's 17 weeks, on my reckoning.

A. 17 weeks, thank you. 17 weeks times 6 -- you have to help me again.

Q. 102, is it, Mr Desmond? I don't know. You're the businessman.

A. Well, I don't know. 102, very good. Is 102.

Q. Yes.

A. And there were 37 --

Q. 38.

A. I'm not trying to win points here, because we did do wrong, but I could say there were more, if there were 102 articles on the McCanns, there were 38 bad ones, then one would say -- and I'm not trying to justify, please, I'm not trying to justify anything, but you could argue there were 65 or 70 good ones.

In other words: yes, we may have accused the McCanns of 'selling their daughter for money and hiding her body in a freezer', but hey, some of our other articles were 'good'.

Yes, you 'could argue' that, although it's hard to see why you'd want to.

Moreover, just because the stories weren't defamatory doesn't make them 'good'.

Desmond continued later:

A. At the end of the day, the McCanns, you know, as I understood it, although I've never met them, were perfectly -- if we ran it for four months, you know, it took them a long time to get involved in a legal dispute with us. They were quite happy, as I understand, in articles being run about their poor daughter, because it kept it on the front page. I think it was only when new lawyers came along, who I think were working on a contingency, that the legal --

Q. I can't --

A. Well, that's the facts. I'm sorry, that is the facts.

Q. Mr Desmond I'm going to interrupt you.

A. I'm sorry, that is the facts.

Q. That must be a grotesque characterisation.

A. I'm sorry, that is the facts.

Q. Your paper was accusing the McCanns on occasion of having killed their daughter. Are you seriously saying that they were sitting there quite happy, rather than entirely anguished by your paper's bad behaviour?

A. I'm sitting here --

Q. Just think about the question before you answer.

A. I'm going to answer your question, and I've already answered it. We ran -- on your suggestion, we've run 102 -- your figure, 102 articles. For four months you say we ran it, right? Nothing happened, to the best of my knowledge, until a new firm of lawyers were instructed, who were on a contingency, that then came in to sue us.

Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for the McCanns, said in response to Desmond's evidence:

"Mr Desmond's memory is apparently doing him a great disservice. For him to suggest that Kate and Gerry were happy with Express Newspapers' coverage, he must be living in a parallel universe." Desmond's portrayal of the McCanns' reaction to his papers' coverage of their daughters' disappearance was "grotesque in the extreme", he added. He said that the coverage, some of which was just "lies", had added to the suffering they endured.

Still, at least Desmond's many apologies to the McCanns sounded genuine. Didn't they?

But once again, please, I do apologise to the McCanns. I'm not trying to -- I am very sorry for -- you know, I am very sorry for the thing and I am very sorry that we got it wrong, but please don't, you know, try and -- every paper was doing the same thing


once again I do apologise to the McCanns, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but there are views on -- there are views on the McCanns of what happened. And there are still views on the McCanns of what happened.

Somehow, ending an apology with 'et cetera, et cetera, et cetera' doesn't suggest it's entirely heartfelt.


  1. Probably one of the most frustrating things I've ever read. Top marks as always, MacGuffin.

  2. Would Desmond pass any "fit and proper person" test if it were applied to newspaper proprietors?

  3. What an idiot. I'm glad he is so obviously unrepentatnt. More fuel for the fire.


    I love that they've gone with a headline that suggests Kate and Gerry McCann are the ones who are sorry.

  5. Most vetting procedures for most job applicants would weed out delusional sociopaths. Desmond would not be allowed a job as a school cleaner or lollipop person. Could we not have slightly higher standards for newspaper proprietors?

  6. So over a third of the articles were negative toward the McCanns, and that's minimal then is it?

    And because the family, who are distraught with the loss of their child, and very busy trying to find her don't immediately take a tabloid newspaper to court, that means that that newspaper cannot have done anything wrong?

    Why do people still buy this paper???

  7. Desmond's defense comes down to this:-

    "The McCanns were quite happy with us suggesting that they had caused the death of their daughter, until a new firm of lawyers came along and told them they could make some money out of the Daily and Sunday Express by taking the papers to court for defamation. And although the McCanns won their case, and were awarded £550,000 in damages, and also a series of front page apologies from our newspapers, this was basically unfair, because other newspapers were also defaming the McCanns and, therefore, why should we have been singled out?

    "Also, although there is not a shred of evidence to support the idea that the McCanns sold their daughter for money, and kept her dead body in a freezer, some crazy/malicious people do hold this view, so what possible reason could there be for us to not print it as a front page story?

    "At the end of the day, I am in the newspaper business, not to educate and inform people, but to make money. And if this means having to appeal to people's worst instincts, then so be it. People don't have to buy my newspapers, it's their choice. I cannot be held responsible. I am merely the servant of Lucifer."


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