Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Gerry and Kate McCann: who do you sue?

Baroness Buscombe: said the PCC had held 'numerous discussions internally' about the McCann case

The Guardian 24/02/10

"Baroness Buscombe, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, today defended the regulator's failure to launch an inquiry into press coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007.

Buscombe, who took up her role in April last year, was speaking after the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee criticised the PCC for staying silent for 10 months after McCann went missing while newspapers were apparently breaching its code of practice.

"In any other industry suffering such a collective breakdown ... any regulator worth its salt would have instigated an inquiry," the MPs said in their report. "It is an indictment on the PCC's record, that it signally failed to do so."

But Buscombe said the PCC had been constrained to act because the McCann family had not made a formal complaint to the watchdog about newspaper coverage.

The McCanns instead took legal action that resulted in a £550,000 payout from Express Newspapers, a private settlement with Associated Newspapers and an apology from the News of the World.

"It's very important to put it in context," Buscombe told The Media Show on BBC Radio 4 today.

"What actually happened was that as soon as the story broke, the PCC was very much in touch with the McCann family and repeatedly offered to help.

"The McCanns and the PCC over the months that followed were in touch and indeed Gerry McCann in this inquiry actually praised the PCC for helping very much in terms of privacy matters relating to their other children."

Buscombe said the PCC had held "numerous discussions internally" about the McCann case.

"The difficulty that it had was that it's very difficult for a self-regulatory body such as ours to actually pre-empt and decide in some ways whether a headline or statements that are being made are something that we should be tackling without proper engagement of the complainants."

The important points I would extract from the above article are:

1) As a self-regulatory body, the PCC was constrained from acting without formal complaints from the McCanns.

2) The PCC offered to help the McCanns.

3) Instead of accepting PCC assistance, and making formal complaints, the McCanns launched legal action and were awarded £550,000 as an out of court settlement from the Express Group.

The problem is, I guess, that making formal complaints and possibly extracting retraction and apologies via that route does not net any cash! Just let the newspapers get on with it and then sue them! Good little money-spinner there!

And talking about just letting them get on with it and then suing them, why did the McCanns wait so long to sue Gonçalo Amaral over the alleged defamation in his book, "The Truth of the Lie."? This book was published at the end of July 2008, yet it wasn't until May 2009 that the McCanns stated their intention to sue.

"The parents of Madeleine McCann are to sue former Portuguese police detective Goncalo Amaral for defamation.

Kate and Gerry McCann are taking action over "unfounded and grossly defamatory claims", their spokesman said." BBC 17/05/09

The McCanns decided on the figure of £1 million (£1.2 million Euros) as the sum they wish to claim for defamation against the former PJ police officer.

What they are demanding
£430,000 damages for Madeleine which will be used to continue the search for her.
£215,000 for each parent for the emotional distress the book has caused them. They say they suffer 'permanent anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite, irritability and an indefinable fear'. The writ also says Kate McCann is 'steeped in a deep and serious depression'.
£86,000 for each of their twins Sean and Amelie, who could hear his allegations when they start school in September.

How he made his money
£500,000 from the book which has sold 180,000 copies in Portugal alone.
£430,000 from the extra 150,000 books which have been sold in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Holland.
£100,000 for a TV documentary watched by one in five people in Portugal - 75,000 copies have sold on DVD. The McCann Files

So, it rather looks like the McCanns waited, once again, to take legal action, this time until it appeared that Gonçalo Amaral had made a significant amount of money from his book, and was therefore worth suing. One wonders why the McCanns didn't sue the author of the book A Culpa dos McCann (The McCanns' Guilt.) Manuel Catarino. Never heard of this book, whose publication pre-dates that of Gonçalo Amaral by seven months? Perhaps that's why the author has not been sued! The book didn't sell! He wasn't worth suing!

So, what next? The McCanns have won the next round of their action to have Amaral's book banned. However, at present there is another case in the process of going through the legal channels in Portugal. Robert Murat, the first person to be named arguido in the case, is taking action against Jane Tanner and three others of the McCann friends with whom they went on that fateful holiday to Praia da Luz in May 2007. I await with great interest the result of that case and wonder if and how it might affect the re-opening of the Maddie case and the McCanns attempts to extract money from Dr Amaral.