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Express chief Desmond accused of misrepresentation over Madeleine McCann stories

Original Source: MAIL: FRIDAY 13 JANUARY 2012
By Daily Mail Reporter 
Last updated at 9:11 AM on 13th January 2012

Owner of Express Group Newspapers, Richard Desmond, leaves The High Court after giving evidence to The Leveson Inquiry yesterday

Daily Express owner Richard Desmond was yesterday accused of a grotesque misrepresentation of his newspapers’ coverage of the Madeleine McCann case.

Mr Desmond told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that he believed Kate and Gerry McCann were ‘quite happy’ with the coverage for the first four months, until a new legal team advised them to sue.

Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, described his comment as a ‘grotesque characterisation’ of the couple’s feelings, saying: ‘Your paper was accusing the McCanns, on occasion, of having killed their daughter.

‘Are you seriously saying they were sitting there quite happy, rather than entirely anguished by your paper’s bad behaviour?’

Mr and Mrs McCann, both 43, took legal action against Express Group Newspapers for 38 articles in the Daily Express and the Daily Star and their Sunday titles.

The group paid £550,000 in damages to the Find Madeleine Fund and published front page apologies.

Mr Desmond said he believed every national newspaper had written similar articles and insisted his titles were ‘scapegoated’ by the Press Complaints Commission.

‘Once again I do apologise to the McCanns, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but there are views on the McCanns. Of what happened. There are still views on the McCanns of what happened.’

In wide-ranging evidence, Mr Desmond described the Leveson Inquiry as ‘probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to newspapers’ because of its impact on sales.

‘Ethical, I don’t quite know what the word means’ Richard Desmond, owner of Express Group Newspapers

Asked if he was interested in ethical standards in his newspapers, he replied: ‘Ethical, I don’t quite know what the word means.’

In written evidence to the inquiry he said: ‘We are in a business to give readers/viewers what they want to read and watch and as long as it’s legal that is what we aim to do.

‘We don’t talk about ethics or morals because it is a very fine line and everybody’s ethics are different.’

Allegations: Kate and Gerry McCann arriving at the High Court, London, in November to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry


Express Newspapers continued using an enquiry agent for more than five years after he was convicted of illegally accessing personal data. 

The group, publishers of the Daily Express, Daily Star and their Sunday sister titles, was commissioning Steve Whittamore’s company to carry out searches as recently as July 2010, the Leveson inquiry was told. 

Whittamore received a conditional discharge in April 2005. 

Nicole Patterson, head of legal at Express Newspapers, said she could not confirm whether the agent was still working for the Daily Express and Daily Star. 

Asked by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, why they continued to use him, Miss Patterson replied: ‘It’s a matter for the news editor and the editor. It’s not something that’s within my remit, I’m afraid, and I can’t speak for them.’

Mr Desmond said he was interested only in the media as a business, and was not seeking political influence.

He said he felt he had betrayed Tony Blair ‘as a mate’ when the Express’s then editor Peter Hill decided the paper should back the Conservative Party in 2005.

‘I felt he was a good bloke, I thought he was doing a good job, I liked him,’ said Mr Desmond.

‘You know, he came to my house, I went to his house or flat. So I felt bad on a personal level.’

Mr Desmond described the PCC, from which his group withdrew last year, as useless, saying it had failed to provide his editors with guidance on covering the McCann case.

Four other papers, including the Mail, made varying payments to the McCanns.

Last night, McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: ‘The scale and weight of the inaccuracies and unfounded allegations meant that the Express Group as a whole stood out as by far the worst offender.’


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