Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Papers paying damages to McCanns

Daily Express and Daily Star
The McCanns will receive a public apology, read in open court

A newspaper group is paying 550,000 to the parents of Madeleine McCann after it settled a libel case over reports of her disappearance.

Express Newspapers' titles, including the Daily Express, Daily Star and Sunday Express, are also printing front-page apologies.

They say they were wrong to suggest the couple, of Rothley, Leicestershire, were responsible for Madeleine's death.

The McCanns say the money will go to the Find Madeleine campaign.

In a statement read out on behalf of the McCanns at the High Court on Wednesday, they said they were pleased that Express Newspapers had admitted the "utter falsity" of the numerous stories written about them over many months.

Their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, added that the allegations had caused them "great distress".

'Wholehearted apology'

It is understood that the sum donated to the campaign doubles the amount left in the fund.

Madeleine disappeared, days before her fourth birthday, during a family holiday in the resort of Praia da Luz, in the Algarve, on 3 May last year.

Her parents, Kate and Gerry, have been named as suspects in the case by Portuguese police but have always denied any involvement.

Madeleine McCann pictured at Christmas 2006
Madeleine McCann went missing in Portugal in May 2007

The settlement was confirmed at a High Court hearing, although the amount of damages was not formally disclosed.

It came after Wednesday's editions of the Daily Express and Daily Star both carried front-page apologies under the headline, "Kate and Gerry McCann: Sorry".

The Express said it accepted 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".

It also acknowledged there was "no evidence whatsoever" to support that theory.

The paper added that Mr and Mrs McCann are "completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance".

A similarly worded statement appeared in the Daily Star.

The Star said it was making a "wholehearted apology to Kate and Gerry McCann for stories suggesting the couple were responsible for, or may be responsible for, the death of their daughter Madeleine and for covering it up".

Further apologies are expected in the publications' sister Sunday titles at the weekend.

The libel action related to more than 100 stories across the four titles, including 42 printed in the Daily Express.

I think this is an amazing stand-down, u-turn, by the Express newspapers
Media commentator Roy Greenslade

All four titles are published by the Express Newspapers group, which has agreed to all the McCanns' requests. It is also paying all their costs.

A spokesman for the company said: "We have nothing to add to what will be said in court and in our titles."

The McCanns' lawyers said that some of the newspapers' articles were "grossly defamatory".

'Trust and credibility'

Richard Bilton, BBC News special correspondent, said one of the couple's representatives had said the response of the newspaper group was "much more responsible than they were perhaps initially with these articles".

Media commentator Roy Greenslade 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.

Kate and Gerry McCann
The McCanns will receive a public apology, read in open court

"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, said 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."

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Daily Express and the Daily Star apologise

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