The father of Madeleine McCann tells the Leveson inquiry it is “crass and insensitive” to suggest that engaging with the press to search for her should mean it is “open season”.
Gerry McCann said that initially the coverage had been helpful and that in the early stages of the search for their daughter, among journalists there had been a “genuine desire to help us”.
Madeleine disappeared on 3 May 2007 but the McCanns say that by June of that year they began to see a shift in the mood of coverage by the British media.
Mr McCann said after that time, as information on Madeleine began to dry up, media attention moved from a focus on Madeleine to a focus on her parents, becoming “increasingly speculative” with “irresponsible reporting”.
He said this continued for another year.
There was absolutely no respect shown for me as a grieving mother or a human being. Kate McCann
Mr McCann said: “There must have been ‘McCann fury’ on the front page of many newspapers over that summer (…) Unless our phones were hacked, which I don’t think they were, then these were made up, because they were simply not true.
“There is clearly pressure to create a story (…) I don’t think any of the reporting was helpful.”
In response to suggestions that complaints about their treatment at the hands of the press are “hypocritical” Mr McCann told the inquiry it was “crass and insensitive” to suggest that because they sought the media’s help in searching for their daughter it was then “open season” and that the media could then write what it liked “without punishment”.
Citing a series of examples of coverage of Madeleine’s disappearance, Kate McCann highlighted one which reported details of an entry from her private diary. Mrs McCann said the coverage had made her feel “violated”.
“I had written these words at the most desperate time of my life, and it was my only way of communicating with Madeleine. There was absolutely no respect shown for me as a grieving mother or a human being or to my daughter. It made me feel very vulnerable and small, and I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.
She continued: “I just recently read through my diary entries at that point in that week, and I talk about climbing into a hole and not coming out because I just felt so worthless that we had been treated like that.”
Mr McCann, 43, said his wife felt “mentally raped” by the News of the World‘s publication of the journal under the headline: “Kate’s diary: in her own words.”
The inquiry did, however, hear details of the legal action the couple eventually took against Express Newspapers following a series of “untrue” stories.
Mr McCann described legal action as their “last resort” but, he said, “we felt it was our only course of action open to us at that point that would stop it”.
The initial response by Express Newspapers to the couple’s complaint was to suggest they gave an interview to OK! Magazine, which is part of the group, the inquiry heard.
The McCanns had found this idea “pretty breathtaking”, Mr McCann said.
Admitting that the coverage by Express Newspapers had undergone a “dramatic sea-change” following the payment of damages to the couple, he added: “With hindsight, I wish we had taken action earlier.”
But despite the payouts received from several newspapers in the end, there still remained a lack of accountability among individual operators, he claimed.
Earlier in the day, the inquiry had heard from Mark Lewis the solicitor acting for a number of alleged phone hacking victims.
Asked how he would like to see the press regulated, Mr Lewis seemed to suggest that state regulation might not “inexorably lead to” the kind of “Trotskyite, Stalinist, Nazi” model that newspapers warn of.
“That’s how state regulation is portrayed by the newspapers,” he said. “But”, he went on, “parts of the newspaper industry, not all the newspaper industry, were completely unregulated and out of control.
“We can’t go around murdering people, we can’t go around stealing from people, and a certain sector of the press seemed to believe they could do whatever they liked almost as if they were above the law.
“They characterise an attack on that as an attack on freedom of the press.”
On Thursday the inquiry is due to hear from actress Sienna Miller, lawyer Mark Thomson and Harry Potter author JK Rowling.