Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 18:47 UK

Madeleine suspect in damages win

Robert Murat
Robert Murat denies any involvement in Madeleine's disappearance

Expat Robert Murat has settled a claim for damages over allegations in 11 UK newspapers that he was involved in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Briton Mr Murat is still an official suspect - or arguido - in Portugal.

He was questioned by police but denied any involvement in the disappearance of Madeleine, who vanished aged three from an Algarve apartment in May last year.

The libel settlement is expected to be about £550,000 and includes an apology. The case will be heard on Thursday.

In a hearing at the High Court in London, the settlement agreed will be confirmed.

In April Mr Murat's lawyers, Simons Muirhead & Burton, said they were pursuing 11 leading British newspapers and Sky TV over allegedly libellous stories.

They named the Sun, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Daily Mail, London Evening Standard, Metro, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, News of the World and the Scotsman.

Profits and sales ruled, rather than principles and ethics
Roy Greenslade
Media commentator

On Tuesday Sky said the TV station was not involved in the current legal action and had not been served any papers by Mr Murat's lawyers.

A spokeswoman for Mr Murat said the settlement and written apology had been agreed with the 11 newspapers.

In March Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry McCann reached a similar libel settlement and got an apology from Express Newspapers for suggesting they were responsible for her death.

Police questioning

Media commentator and journalism professor Roy Greenslade said the case showed newspapers had "lost their heads" over the Madeleine story. He said newspapers needed to be more aware that when crimes happened abroad it did not "relieve them of the normal rules that they should apply".

He added that competition had driven them to "bid each other up" in terms of what they thought they could get away with in their reporting.

"Profits and sales ruled, rather than principles and ethics," he said.

Madeleine McCann
Madeleine disappeared while on holiday with her family

Mr Murat, 34, was questioned by police 11 days after Madeleine went missing from the Praia da Luz resort on 3 May 2007, before being made a formal suspect.

Police searched the nearby villa where he lived with his mother after Sunday Mirror journalist Lori Campbell spoke to the British Embassy and the police about Mr Murat.

The expatriate, who described himself as half-Portuguese, had become known to journalists and told them he had been helping police with translation work during the search.

Last month Mr Murat said he hoped the return of computers seized from him by police signalled they were to drop his status as a formal suspect soon.

He is being vindicated and the newspapers are very clearly saying that they cannot justify what they alleged
Joshua Rozenberg
Legal editor

His mother, Jenny Murat, has always maintained she was with her son at home on the night of Madeleine's disappearance.

Mr Murat is still pursuing cases against the Portuguese press.

Legal editor for the Daily Telegraph Joshua Rozenberg told the BBC the British newspapers were now clearly admitting they could not defend their allegations.

"They realise that this is one of the most damaging things you could say about anybody, and it appears that they have all clubbed together and agreed to settle the libel claim out of court."

Media lawyer Niri Shan, who specialises in defamation, talks about the case

He added: "As far as English law is concerned, he is being vindicated and the newspapers are very clearly saying that they cannot justify what they alleged."

Niri Shan, a media lawyer who specialises in defamation, said Mr Murat's status as a suspect did not justify the allegations published.

"I suspect it won't be too long before that status might be lifted. So I think the newspapers have made a calculated decision to get out of the action early before costs become a major factor in the litigation," he said.

Under Portuguese law someone can remain an official suspect without charge for as long as the investigation is continuing.

Kate and Gerry McCann also remain official suspects in the inquiry.

In their libel settlement the Express Newspapers group paid £550,000 to the Find Madeleine campaign, and the Daily Express and Daily Star issued front-page apologies admitting the stories were inaccurate.





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