As news comes this week that Gerry and Madeleine McCann’s former lawyer has received a suspended sentence for deliberately flouting legal undertakings not to repeat allegations about the couple, Gerry McCann has called for press control laws.
Mr Justice Tugendhat, in the High Court yesterday, said that the conduct of retired solicitor Tony Bennett was so serious that nothing less than a custodial sentence of three months, suspended for one year, would reflect the harm he had done.
Finding Bennett guilty of contempt of court, the judge said that he was sure that Bennett had intended to allege that the claimants were to be suspected of causing the death of their daughter, disposing of her body, lying about what had happened and covering up what they had done.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said he was satisfied that Bennett was in breach of the undertakings in each of the 13 representative instances before the court, out of 153 publications complained about.
Meanwhile, Dr McCann has called for speedy legislation to implement the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson at the end of his nine-month inquiry.
Maintaining that “Leveson without the law is meaningless”, Dr McCann spoke of the “assault” he and his wife had suffered at the hands of the press when they threw “everything they had” at the couple.
He added that the only reason he and his wife went through the ordeal of giving evidence at the Leveson enquiry was so that no one else would have to suffer as they did.
Other supporters of press legislation were heartened recently when peers unexpectedly passed an amendment to the Defamation Bill to introduce one of Leveson’s key recommendations, which is a simple arbitration service between newspapers and those who feel wronged by them.
Use of the service would be voluntary and form part of the newspaper industry’s own self-regulatory system, but the amendment would allow courts to vary costs and damages depending on whether the service has been used.
MPs and ministers who do not wish to accept the Lords amendment will now have to overturn the planned legislation in the Commons.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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