UPDATED 22.20 ON MARCH 18, 2008
FOUR BRITISH national newspapers are to set to pay damages to the parents of Madeleine McCann after settling a libel case, the BBC reported this evening (Tuesday).
The Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, and Daily Star Sunday are to pay a “substantial” sum and print front-page apologies.
Kate and Gerry McCann’s lawyers said that some of the newspapers’ articles were “grossly defamatory”.
The couple say all the damages will be donated to the Find Madeleine fund.
The Daily Express is to carry a full front-page apology in tomorrow (Wednesday’s) paper, while the Star’s apology will take over half its front-page.
The papers are expected to apologise for suggesting Kate and Gerry McCann were involved in their daughter’s disappearance.
The action relates to more than a hundred stories across the four titles, including 42 printed in the Daily Express.
Under the terms of the settlement – at Kate and Gerry McCann’s insistence – Express Newspapers’ barrister will also read out an apology before a judge at the High Court tomorrow.
The Express group has agreed to all the McCanns’ requests. It is also paying all their costs.
The McCanns have promised that the damages will be paid into the “fighting fund” set up to pay for efforts to find their missing daughter.
Media commentator Roy Greenslade told tonight’s BBC 10 o’clock news said that for two national newspapers to carry front-page apologies at the same time was “unprecedented”.
“I think this is an amazing stand-down, u-turn, by the Express newspapers,” he said.
“I think when people realise that more than 100 stories have been complained about as being grossly defamatory, it will annihilate the Express’ readers sense of trust and credibility in their newspaper.”
Media lawyer Paul Gilbert from Finers Stephens Innocent told the BBC the courts encourage early settlement of defamation cases.
“Clearly the Express’ lawyers felt this was a case they should settle without a high-profile trial – which it would be – and as a result have saved considerable costs,” he said.
“It certainly is a warning sign to newspapers in the future, if they’re going to speculate, they’ve got to be very careful about what they speculate about.”
Madeleine, went missing, aged three, in Praia da Luz on May 3 last year.