Newspaper 'scapegoated' over McCann disappearance
THE owner of the 'Daily Express' and 'Daily Star' claimed yesterday that his newspapers were "scapegoated" for their coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance.
Richard Desmond told the Leveson Inquiry that his titles were "the only honest ones and straightforward ones" for the way they printed a front-page apology to the missing girl's parents and paid them £550,000 (€658,000) in a libel settlement.
He hit out at a former head of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) for criticising 'Daily Express' editor Peter Hill over the paper's reporting of the case in more than 100 articles.
"Every paper was doing the same thing, which is why every paper or most papers paid money to the McCanns. Only we were scapegoated by the ex-chairman of the PCC," he said.
Mr Desmond, who bought Express Newspapers in 2000, apologised to Kate and Gerry McCann Mr Desmond suggested that the McCanns were content with his papers' coverage of Madeleine's disappearance as it helped the search for the girl.
Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, described this as a "grotesque" characterisation, adding: "Your paper was accusing the McCanns on occasion of having killed their daughter.
"Are you seriously saying that they were sitting there quite happy, rather than entirely anguished by your paper's bad behaviour?"
Mr Desmond replied: "I do apologise to the McCanns. I am very sorry for the thing and I am very sorry that we got it wrong."
The businessman was scathing about the phone-hacking scandal: "It's ridiculous the amount of money, time, expense etc etc etc we're all putting in to look at this, that and the other, when these companies have committed criminal acts and should be prosecuted."
Mr Desmond said the only thing that attracted him to being a newspaper owner was the business opportunity.
Asked what interest he took in ethical constraints, he said: "Ethical? I don't quite know what the word means."
The media baron made a number of digs at his rival the 'Daily Mail', which he described as the "Daily Malicious".
Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns' spokesman, said after the hearing: "The portrayal of his newspaper's coverage and the effect that it had on Kate and Gerry is not something that they or I recognise at all.
"For Mr Desmond to claim that Kate and Gerry were happy with his newspaper's coverage, well, they weren't."