Meeting started at 10.30am ended at 12.07pm
Press standards, privacy and libel Witnesses
1. Peter Hill, Editor, Daily Express
Audio Only - Transcript to Follow
From Journalism.co.uk: "We had every reason to believe it was a genuine line at that time": Express editor defends McCann coverage
By Judith Townend
The Daily Express 'did libel' the parents of Madeleine McCann, but the paper believed the stories were true at time of publication, its editor has said.
The paper subsequently published a front-page apology and Express Newspapers paid the couple £550,000 in damages last year for untrue allegations about the McCanns involvement in their daughter's disappearance in 2007.
"I do not print stories which I believe to be untrue. That is not what I do," Hill told the House of Commons select committee investigating press standards, libel and privacy, on Tuesday morning.
"We had every reason to believe it was a genuine line at that time."
The Express' coverage relied on leaked reports from the Portuguese police, which were legally prohibited from giving official comments, to the country's media, said Hill.
"We did our best to check up on these things, but of course it wasn't very easy to do so (...) We always put the stories to Mr and Mrs McCann's PR team," he said.
The team managing media enquiries on behalf of Gerry and Kate McCann did not always respond to the paper's calls, after the couple had been named as suspects by the Portuguese police.
After the McCanns complained about 38 Daily Express headlines, via their lawyers Carter-Ruck, the nature of British libel law prevented Hill from defending the case in court, he said.
The case was settled out of court, as he would not have been able to defend it in the name of 'public interest', as defined by British law, and it would have been 'unthinkable' to drag Mr and Mrs McCann through the courts, Hill said.
Public interest, in that 'very strict' sense, he said, 'means something that is of general concern to the well-being and safety - or whatever it is - of the public'.
"This was a matter which involved a family (...) This was not in the public interest, and could not be described as that," he added.
"[But] there was an insatiable clamour for information about what was going on; this was the question [Madeleine's location] everybody in the whole country (...) wanted to know.
"We were getting 10,000 messages a day, comments from people, nothing like this had ever been seen (...) It was quite clear to me this is what the readers wanted to read about it.
"[At] the time we had no reason to believe we were not telling the truth. You've got to understand this was the only show around at that time."
The Daily Express' coverage of the McCann case was not in 'isolation', added Hill, who said he was 'surprised' when the McCanns sued his paper 'only at that time'.
Hill said that he understood the McCanns had now also settled with two other newspaper groups, and one television station.
Suggestions that he should resign as editor over this case were 'ridiculous', he said: "If editors had to resign after every time a libel action was issued against them, there would be no newspaper editors."
Defending the current self-regulatory system for the UK press, Hill claimed that if the McCanns had complained via the PCC, he would have considered the paper's coverage very carefully.
From PressGazette.co.uk: "Daily Express editor defends Madeleine McCann stories"*
By Paul McNally
Daily Express editor Peter Hill has rejected claims that his paper was one of the "worst offenders" in its coverage of the Madeleine McCann disappearance.
Appearing before the media select committee in parliament this morning, Hill also dismissed suggestions that he should have resigned following the publisher's libel payout to Kate and Gerry McCann.
The McCanns accepted £550,000 from Express Newspapers last summer over more than 100 defamatory articles in the Daily Express, Daily Star and their Sunday sister titles.
When he gave evidence to the committee last month, Gerry McCann said the Express titles were "the worst offenders by some distance" and added that suing them for libel was "a very easy decision".
But Hill today defended his paper's coverage. Asked whether he should have resigned, he replied: "If editors had to resign every time there was a libel action against them, there wouldn't be any editors."
He said the Express was right to give prominence to a story that everyone in Britain was talking about.
"There was an insatiable clamour for information about what was going on," he told MPs.
"We pursued every possible lead, we sent teams all over Europe and North Africa to follow sightings. We did make genuine efforts to find Madeleine."
He said that while he accepted the paper had not told the truth about the McCanns on a number of occasions, he said that the material was not published maliciously and he questioned why Express Newspapers had been singled out.
"They still could sue any newspaper at all," Hill told the committee. "I was a bit surprised that we were the only newspaper."
Hill acknowledged that putting Madeleine McCann on the front page of the Express increased circulation "by many thousand", but he added: "It was clear that this is what readers wanted to read about."
Asked by MP Philip Davies whether the Express "were milking the story", Hill replied: "I do not accept that at all."
In an earlier session with MPs, Gerry McCann claimed journalists "blatantly made up" stories in the pursuit of sales.
Hill said he had never put pressure on reporters in Portugal to provide a story for the paper when there was nothing new to report.
Committee chairman John Whittingdale asked him: "So the accusation that your paper was so desperate to increase sales that you were seeking out and, if necessary, fabricating Madeleine McCann stories you completely reject?"
Hill replied: "Completely reject. This is not the way people work. People don't think that way."
Express Newspapers made three separate libel payouts last year over the Madeleine McCann story.
As well as the £550,000 paid to the girl's parents, the group was named alongside Associated Newspapers, Mirror Group and News Group Newspapers in a libel claim by Robert Murat, the British expatriate falsely linked to Madeleine’s disappearance. He won £600,000 in damages.
Express Newspapers also paid out to the so-called "tapas seven" - the group of friends staying in the Algarve holiday resort of Praia da Luiz in 2007 when the three-year-old girl disappeared.