The British government’s inquiry into phone hacking continues today with the testimony of British doctors Kate and Gerry McCann, whose tumultuous relationship with the press began after the abduction of their 3-year-old daughter in 2007. The McCanns, like the parents of murdered English schoolgirl Milly Dowler who testified earlier this week, initially turned to the press to aid in the search for Madeleine McCann after she vanished during a family vacation in Portugal. “We had the distinct impression that there was a genuine want to help among journalists,” Gerry McCann told the Leveson inquiry today.
(MORE: The McCann’s Trial by Media)
The McCanns relationship with the press soon soured, however, as the “ferocious appetite” for information about the case led to a steady stream of spurious British reporting drawn from the Portuguese press. Gerry McCann recalled that the Daily Mirror‘s headline “She’s dead” was one of the “most distressing” and “just taken from supposition.”
The McCann’s said that they were “tried by the media,” which cast them as suspects in the case. In 2007, the British paper the Daily Star featured the headline: “Maddy sold by hard-up McCanns.” “The same journalists said we stored her body in a freezer,” said Kate McCann. McCann went on to testify that, after her family returned to the U.K., she was hounded by press photographers who would “spring out from behind a hedge” and bang on her car’s windows, terrifying her two surviving children.
The McCann’s ordeal worsened when the News of the World printed the diaries Kate McCann kept in the weeks following Madeleine’s disappearance, which had been seized by the Portuguese police and likely leaked. ”I felt totally violated,” said Kate McCann. “I’d written these words at the most desperate time of my life. It was my only way of communicating with Madeleine. It made me feel very vulnerable and small. I just couldn’t believe it.”
At the close of the testimony, Gerry McCann said the British press continues to use “made up” sources on a daily basis with impunity. The couple, who were awarded a front-page apology and damages from Express Newspapers in 2008, said such compensation only goes so far. “There are standards but there are no penalties for not sticking to them,” he said. “Lives are being harmed and something needs to change.”