I felt violated and utterly worthless -- Kate McCannMaddy's parents said stories were 'untruthful and made-up'
For more than four years they had suffered, often in silence, as the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine was followed by a "sinister" campaign to portray them as her killers.
Threatened with jail if they discussed details of the Portuguese police investigation, Kate and Gerry McCann had "wanted to shout out" the truth to the world, but could not.
Yesterday, at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, the couple finally had the chance to give evidence under oath in public for the first time since Madeleine vanished in Praia da Luz in May 2007.
The McCanns, sitting side by side, began detailing the "long- lasting damage" caused to their family by elements of the media, which had left Mrs McCann feeling "totally worthless" and her husband in disbelief.
For almost an hour Mrs McCann hardly spoke, sometimes putting a comforting hand on her husband's arm as he took the lead in giving evidence.
But the former GP took over when it came to describing what happened when the 'News of the World' "mentally raped" her by printing extracts from her diary, written immediately after Madeleine's disappearance.
She had been at church on Sunday, September 14, 2008, when she received a text from a worker at the nursery attended by the couple's twins saying: "Just seen your diary -- heartbreaking. Hope you are OK."
She said: "It was totally out of the blue. I got a horrible panicky feeling of confusion. I didn't have a clue. I went to look at it online, which was five pages, and got my original handwritten copy out and it was lifted in its entirety and put in the newspaper without my knowledge."
"I felt totally violated," she said. "I had written those words at the most desperate time of my life and it was my only way of communicating with Madeleine.
"There was no respect shown for me as a grieving mother or for my daughter Madeleine and it made me feel very vulnerable and small."
Mrs McCann (43) said that before the article appeared, the couple's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, had received a call from Ian Edmondson, the then news editor of the 'News of the World', who had said the newspaper was going to run a "supportive story" criticising the Portuguese police.
Mr Edmondson, who was arrested earlier this year by detectives investigating phone hacking at the newspaper, made "no mention" of the diary.
"I just recently read through my diary entry at that point in that week," said Mrs McCann, "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." Wearing green and yellow "Find Madeleine" wristbands on their arms, "Doctor and Doctor McCann", as they were referred to by Lord Justice Leveson, occasionally touched each other's hands below the table, and at one point Mr McCann put an arm around his wife's back.
They said that when the media first descended on Praia da Luz, they felt it was "a good thing" for their daughter's picture to appear on front pages.
But with "not much happening" in the investigation and a lack of information from the police, tabloid papers started to print stories that were "untruthful and sometimes made up".
Headlines such as "Police believe mother killed Madeleine" began to appear, based on reports of DNA being found in the couple's hire car, even though, said Mrs McCann, "there was no DNA found".
She said that they had been unable to tell reporters that their stories were not borne out by what the police had shown them, because they were bound by strict laws of judicial secrecy and had been threatened with a two-year prison sentence if they gave away anything.
"We wanted to shout out 'It's not true,' but when it's your voice against the powerful media there's no point," she said. The hearing continues today, when JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, will give evidence. (©Daily Telegraph, London)