Page last updated at 19:53 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Madeleine 'treated as commodity'

Gerry McCann: 'Coverage could have destroyed our family'

Madeleine McCann was treated as a "commodity" by the UK press, her father Gerry has told MPs.

Some reports about the missing girl had been "embellished" or even made up, the culture, media and sport select committee was told.

Papers had, without evidence, published stories suggesting Madeleine was dead, which could have stopped people looking for her, Mr McCann said.

Madeleine, of Rothley, Leicestershire, vanished in Portugal in May 2007.

This happened shortly before her fourth birthday.

Prosecutors initially placed "arguido" - or formal suspect - status on Mr McCann and his wife Kate but this was lifted in July last year when the case was shelved as detectives stopped actively searching for the youngster.

'Incredibly upsetting'

Mr McCann told the MPs: "Although elements of the media coverage have undoubtedly been helpful in the ongoing search for Madeleine, our family have been the focus of some of the most sensationalist, untruthful, irresponsible and damaging reporting in the history of the press.

"If it were not for the love and tremendous support of our family, friends and the general public, this disgraceful conduct - particularly in the tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves - may have resulted in the complete destruction of our family."

He said: "To be thrust from being on holiday one minute into the middle of an international media storm, and how to cope with that, was very, very difficult."

He said the media were much more interested in writing about him and his wife - what he called the "Kate and Gerry show" - than about the search for Madeleine.

Mr McCann also said: "To see a front-page headline insinuating that you were involved in your own daughter's disappearance, it was incredibly, unbelievably upsetting."

Gerry McCann is the latest witness to appear before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee during their investigation into "press standards, privacy and libel".

Asked about the coverage of his daughter's disappearance, Mr McCann said: "We saw pressure particularly on journalists to produce stories when really there was nothing much to report."

He added: "Madeleine was made a commodity and profits were to be made."

Mr McCann said there had to be "some degree of control" over reporting, because newspapers had "the potential to ruin people's lives".

Didn't watch broadcasts

He told the MPs that immediately after the disappearance the media had shown a "desire to try to help get facts that would lead to Madeleine's whereabouts".

But he added: "Much of the content in the first few days was highly speculative. It was not at all helpful to us.

"We fairly quickly decided for our own benefit not to watch the broadcasts or, indeed, to read the newspapers."

Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann went missing in May 2007 in Portugal

Coverage had become more "damaging" after the couple were named "arguidos", he added.

Mr McCann was also critical of many of the contributors to newspaper - and other website - chatrooms.

He said many had "too much time on their hands", adding: "I feel very sorry for those people who a need to do that [write abusive and unsubstantiated comments] and there's something clearly missing in those lives."

The McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, told the committee there had been a "churning upon churning of inaccuracy" by the media.

The police in Portugal made less use of public appeals to gain evidence than those in the UK, Mr McCann said, which had created a "difficult situation" for the family.

Madeleine's parents, the friends who were with them on the holiday and one-time suspect Robert Murat have all won apologies and pay-outs from newspapers.

But Mr McCann said: "I can't say that the damage that's been done has been reversed."

He told the committee his lawyers had advised him and his wife against going through the Press Complaints Commission with their concerns - they took legal action instead.

Madeleine was almost four years old when she disappeared from a holiday flat in Praia da Luz, in the Algarve, on 3 May 2007.

The committee is holding an inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel. Earlier on Tuesday it heard from international motor racing boss Max Mosley.

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