Margaret and James Watson told the inquiry that after their daughter, Diane, was murdered in 1991 inaccurate press reporting implying that she bore some responsibility for her own death contributed to the suicide of their fifteen-year-old son, Alan. When his body was found he had copies of the articles in his hand.

Margaret Watson said: ‘I’m afraid that all just became too much for Alan. And I don’t blame him because I can understand. So the journalists in this country kicking on about the chilling effect if you do away with the Press Complaints Commission – which you have to do away with – that if you do away with the Press Complaints Commission it will have a chilling effect on journalists. What about the deadly effect it has on the victims and misreporting, the malicious lies, the malicious falsehoods? Just because a person’s deceased, you can write what you want, and they certainly did it.’

Asked about an article published on the day Alan was buried, she replied: ‘I thought at least they would leave us alone for Alan’s funeral. They took away his respect, they took away his dignity, and the very day that we were laying our son to rest . . . If you say that’s good journalism, if any journalist thinks that’s good, God forgive you, because I won’t.’

After three year old Madeleine McCann disappeared on holiday in Portugal in 2007, the tabloid press published a series of contradictory, incorrect and upsetting stories about her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, and their friends. In a sample period between September 2007 and February 2008 the papers had between them published 110 articles, many of them on their front pages, suggesting among other things that the couple had murdered their own daughter, disposed of the body and then engaged in a series of further deceptions on the police and the public. Some articles also cast doubt on the relationship between the couple, on their morality and on the genuineness of their religious faith.

On top of this, the News of the World editor, Colin Myler, once bullied the McCanns into giving an interview they did not want to give on the grounds that they owed a debt to the paper for publicizing their case. Later, he published long extracts from Kate McCann’s personal diary, claiming the paper had permission when it did not. Kate McCann described to the Leveson Inquiry the sense of violation she felt as she read her private thoughts in the tabloid. And she described the anxiety that goes with knowing that her younger children can still, today, see repeated on internet websites the lies conjured up by the newspapers that have since apologised.

The former Daily Telegraph editor Max Hastings wrote: ‘I hang my head in shame at what our trade, as well as the Portuguese police, has made of the McCann story.’ In August 2007 Gerry McCann spoke in a televised interview about ‘huge amounts written with no substance’ and ‘absolutely wild speculation’. And the couple, through lawyers, repeatedly appealed to papers to check things more carefully. Yet no investigation was carried out and no journalists were punished. Asked by MPs who at the Express papers had been reprimanded, editor Peter Hill replied: ‘I reprimanded myself, because I was responsible.’

In July 2008 the McCanns sued Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail and (at that time) the Evening Standard, in relation to eighty-five articles. As Gerry McCann later explained to the Leveson Inquiry: ‘The complaint was resolved with the payment of a substantial donation to be used in the search for Madeleine, and the publication of an apology by the Evening Standard. While the Daily Mail agreed to carry a number of free adverts (or appeals for information) on behalf of the Find Madeleine campaign in their contintental editions, they were not willing to publish an apology. The Mail resisted on the basis that they had published a number of articles which were supportive of us which they believed largely balanced the articles reporting allegations and suspicions about us.’ In other words, he said that the Mail did not deny publishing allegations and suspicions it could not justify. The industry paid out probably more than £2 million in damages to a dozen people because it had published an astonishing tally of more than 300 libels against them over a period of nine months. And, as Gerry McCann pointed out, many other libels – probably hundreds more – went unprosecuted.

Around New Year of 2010/11 retired teacher Christopher Jefferies was arrested in Bristol on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates, but released without charge. He was found entirely innocent when another man confessed to the murder. But for the three days that followed his arrest he was monstered by the press. Even when Joanna Yeates’s grieving boyfriend, Greg Reardon, lent his support to Jefferies and challenged the morality of the press, the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Mirror and Sunday Express chose not to mention this fact to their readers. He was ‘weird’, ‘creepy’, ‘lewd’, ‘a loner’ and ‘obsessed by death’, according to the Sun. One day the paper reported he was a homosexual and the next that he had stalked a blonde woman. For the Daily Mirror he was a gay, dirty, eccentric peeping Tom and a friend of paedophiles. The Mail called him ‘Mr Strange’ and ‘Wizard’, wrote that he introduced pupils to macabre books and alleged that he had deserted his dying mother. The Star and the Express and the Sunday papers followed similar lines.

Jefferies has said that his arrest and his treatment in the press left him feeling that his real identity had been torn away and another entirely false one foisted upon him. He said: ‘I don’t think it would be too strong a word to say that it was a kind of rape that had taken place.’ But he added that whatever he felt, it had been worse for his friends and family: one relative spoke of feeling as though she had aged 100 years in the few days when Jefferies was under attack.

Jefferies sued. The result, again, was a collective apology in court, this time by the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Record, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Star and the Scotsman, and an admission that the published allegations had been entirely untrue. The damages were reported to have been around £500,000. The Mirror and the Sun were later also prosecuted by the attorney general under the Contempt of Court Act and fined £68,000 between them.

After the Hillsborough Stadium disaster of April 1989, in which ninety-six people died, the Sun alleged on its front page that drunken Liverpool fans picked the pockets of the dead and urinated on them, and that they attacked rescue workers. It wasn’t true and it caused such outrage in Liverpool that to this day many in the city will not touch the paper. Earlier this year, twenty-three years after the disaster, the Sun published an apology on their front page following the end of the inquiry into the conduct.

38 Responses to “LIES”

  1. dorothy marshall

    I do support Hugh Grant’s views on the scandal of the tabloids’ phone tapping, and their hostile reporting on innocent people.

  2. Victoria Raftery

    Our story is a blip compared to the ones outlined above but it it illustrates that this sort of mis-reporting is endemic at local news level as well as national. At approximately noon on Monday 21st July 2003, my father suffered a fatal heart attack whilst driving on the A38 near Derby. Eye-witnesses said he managed to steer the car into a lay-by. By the time paramedics arrived on the scene, he was pronounced dead. At 4pm that day, my mother and I were identifying his body at Derby Royal Infirmary. At 8am the next morning, we were visted by a reporter from the Matlock Mercury who wanted to interview my mother for Dad’s details – his full name, his date of birth, his job etc. I had stand my ground, in my night clothes, at my parents’ front door at eight o’clock in the morning to try and prevent him from pushing his way into the house: we just did not want to talk to the paper and told him this repeatedly. My father had not been dead 24 hours. The hack turned up again later that day – we answered the door expecting it to be the funeral director. The news item published in the Matlock Mercury that Thursday was sensationalist to say the least – ignore the mis-spelling of surnames, the deliberate filling-in of ‘facts’: apparently, my father had had suffered a horrendous car crash and died as a result of his injuries.
    So now put yourself in my mother’s shoes: her husband went to get the car serviced one July Monday morning and didn’t return. She’s in shock. We’ve contacted family members and close friends. But she hasn’t got round to lettting local acqaintances know. So this is what hits them in the face when they open up the pages of the Matlock Mercury that day. My mother was further traumatised by this.
    The (female) editor’s response when I sent a letter of complaint? If facts were wrong, it was our fault for not co-operating with the newspaper.
    Is this the spawning ground for our next generation of journalists? Is this their training ground? I have two children, one in secondary education and one still in primary – I would be ashamed if I thought they were earning their living this way. Our press needs to stop chasing the dollar.

  3. Ally Gibson

    I have been following this story over the last 18 months or so and am totally appalled and stunned at the treatment people have received at the hands of the press. I do not care what wing of politics is involved with this, as some things in life are just apolitical, for this is simply, just, wrong. I thought we lived in a civilised society – how wrong can you be. My heart goes out to all those affected by this pathetic and truly awful excuse for journalism, for everybody has a right to privacy – plain and simple. My God all of this pain and upset caused for what? Power? Money? How much power and money do these press owners need for crying out loud! As the saying goes – if you are not part of the problem you are part of the solution and after todays display by the PM in the Commons, I certainly know which part Mr Cameron supports. I think that what you are doing is outstanding and I wish you all the luck in the world in pursuing your aims, for the more voices that are heard the louder the message becomes.
    A Gibson

    • Oldlongdog

      Yes, Cameron’s comments so far are like listening to a third-rate management consultant. He has evaded saying anything of substance yet his intention to maintain the status quo is abundantly clear. Both Leveson and the general public have made it clear that regulation outside the influence of the Press and of politicians is necessary to prevent these abuses from continuing but how can this happen if it needs politicians to make the decision? Labour and the Lib-Dems have sensed the public mood but we cannot allow the government to ‘kick this into the long grass’ and delay the public’s choice until the next election. Pressure must be brought to bear immediately on Cameron. I suggest that if we don’t have a clear timetable for effective action to implement the Leveson report within ten days then public demonstrations are in order.

  4. James Goodsell

    It’s obvious that there’s an unhealthy relationship between poloticians, the press and the police. This must end. Murdoch wanted the tories to remove OFCOM, and it was one of their first policies. Thank god that diidn’t happen. Reposses all of Murdochs properties and have him extrodited for trial. The Mail, The Express, The Mirror all GUILTY.

  5. John Lillywhite

    The dead MUST NOT be denied the protection of libel laws. Too many Journos are cowards and Parasites. Also they are quite incompetent, which I agree is small change,
    We the Public MUST FIGHT them and WIN.
    We cannot rely on Politicians and Lawyers, too many of the are no better than the Scum of the Press. Don’t forget to include TV Journos

  6. Thomas

    I am sure David Cameron is (looking forward to working closely with the press) on this issue and it will be resolved in due course.
    He has put himself in a position that will ensure his demise no matter which way he decides to play it. he will be destroyed either by the public or the press.
    No less than he deserves in my opinion after the way he defended Brookes & Coulson

    • Dan

      Then you clearly believe the distorted characterisation in the Press of the aims of Hacked Off. Try reading the facts and thinking for yourself instead of regurgitating what Paul Dacre tells you.

    • Thomas

      you may well get your wish, as Mr Cameron has sent his buddies off to come up with yet another plan that does not include regulation. They will no doubt get their way as it would appear that behind the smoke and mirrors the decision has already been made, I would not put money on Cameron being re-elected though no matter how much help he gets from his newspaper buddies, he is beyond forgiveness on this issue.


  7. Frank Hucclecote

    A morally bankrupt society cannot afford a free press. Those in authority seem to have abandoned the moral compass for the sat nav of self interest. Wise politicians keep the press at arms length and sup(per) – if they must – with long spoons, at a different table, in a different restaurant!

  8. Tim

    Following the leveson enquiry and subsequent back tracking by mr Cameron who was backed by a certain press baron and is friends with press editors is it any wonder he now wants to pretend none of this has ever happened?

  9. Graham Hutton

    How many times do we give the Press a chance to regulate themselves? No more- it must be backed by law

  10. Simon Atkinson

    Get yourself a copy of Private Eye and read ‘Streets of Shame’ to fully understand the full and ongoing behaviour of Fleet Street…..
    It makes me feel sick to think these papers making capital from the death of children, these people have no moral compass and must be stopped.

  11. Sarah

    And it isn’t just individuals who are harmed by the press, but groups of people who don’t belong to their gang such as women, ethnic minorities, those on benefits, the disabled.

    One concrete example of the chilling effect this has is that women’s groups tell us that the sexist rape myths peddled by the media are directly responsible for forming juries opinions about victims and are a major cause of non-convictions.

    The press say they don’t need statutory regulation because the laws already exist to stop abuses. But there’s no law against stereotyping and demonising women because unlike other factors, sex is not in the anti-hate legislation of this country.

    As a woman, I feel suffocated by the way the press and wider media presents us, at times indirectly incities hartred and violence against us and denies us any genuine right to reply because they control all the main channels of communication. That doesn’t feel like freedom of speech, it feels like exploitation and aggression running rampant.

  12. Michael

    What concerns me as much as the behavior of the tabloids is the fact that so many people blindly believe what they read in the newspapers.

  13. Isabelle Stuart

    The press, in it’s current state, is not free. It is owned by big business. This business and it’s relationship with government is truly terrifying. Our “free press” is destroying our civil liberties and we are paying them to do it. I don’t know if I’m going to sign the petition yet but keep up the good work, you have my attention.

  14. Philip Hilliam

    Do you not think that if there was a real commitment by the press to regulate themselves they might have started doing something in the eighteen months that this enquiry has been on-going?

    • Dan

      Exactly! On the very day that Cameron took delivery of his advance copy of Leveson, News Group Newspapers settled a libel action brought by Louis Walsh for 500,000 euros. News Group Newspapers accepted that the allegations it had published were “totally without foundation”.

  15. Andrew Heenan

    These stories highlight the difference between “Freedom of the Press” and “Free Speech”.

    Freedom of the press allows rhe Sun to sensationalise, exploit victims, vulnerable people and D-List celebrities – all legal.

    Freedom of the press allows the Daily Mail to distort, take out of context and peddle xenophobic fear – all legal

    Freedom of the press allows the Daily Telegraph to act as the newsletter of the Tory party – all legal.

    Implementing Leverson would not instantly remedy these issues, but could curb excesses.

    Nothing in Leverson would threaten free speech, which thrives on the Internet and elsewhere – but in the press, is interpreted as freedom to promote the owner’s commercial agenda.

  16. Terry Clark

    I support freedom of the press. I do not support the protection of people who use that freedom irresponsibly.

    Freedom of expression has a price – it is the duty of the informant, be that newspaper, t.v., radio or social media, to check that what they publish is accurate and truthful. If not the informant should be dealt with as a criminal by using the full force of law not some in-house wrist slapper who may well move in their circles and fall under their influence.

  17. Don Atkinson

    The Government has commissioned yet another enquiry into the massive failings of the press. This we’re told is the seventh in my lifetime. A huge amount of money has been spent on taking evidence frrom the press themselves, press barons, celebrities, ordinary individuals who happen to been the subject of lurid stories in the papers, politicians and others with an interest in the subject. Lord Leveson has spent over a year presiding over the enquiry and he has produced an enormous report with considered recommendations. It seems that Cameron is going to do nothing with this report if he can get away with it.
    This is just not good enough ! The Government is there to serve the people of this country. Leveson represented us and it behoves Cameron to implement the findings in the whole report – after all he said he would.

  18. David Whitehead

    When the editors were reminded by David Cameron and Maria Miller that they must not AGAIN overstep the mark they agreed that they wouldn’t and that statutory underpinning to ensure compliance was not necessary. Meanwhile at a meeting with Chris Grayling, the Minister of Justice, representatives of “SawnoffsRus” promised not to rob any more banks.

  19. Tony Pollock

    Neither “Freedom of Speech”, nor a “Free Press”, amount to liberty to say or print whatever you wish. Likewise “In the Public Interest” is very far from “Of interest to the public”. Hence following defamation, affordable access to legal action for everyone, along with penalties which could seriously damage a publishers business, should be established.
    Incidentally, doesn’t Mr Cameron realise that the Rubicon of which he spins, was itself a shallow river of already muddied water, which only a really gutsy leader with vision could cross?

  20. Dave

    I’m sure everyone has been delighted by the arrest of Max Clifford. If he ends up being charged and convicted, this will be another prime example of someone sanctimoniously claiming to hold others to account for their sexual (mis-conduct) while being exposed as a total hypocrite himself. Dealing with journalists and editors over tabloid excess, fabrication and invention was only ever half the problem; Max Clifford is the other half of the problem with the nauseating effluvia that flows continually between his office and the red tops.

  21. W K Fraser

    A newspaper story in several copies of the local papers recently alleged that I had run down a fourteen year old girl when in actual fact she had walked into the side of my car wearing an ipod and earphones in her ears. She had achieved this by walkng from behind vehicles which were passing me in the opposite direction. The injuries were described as a shattered knee cap, coma. broken tibia and fibula etc.. There was no mention of the ipod and earphones but there was an untue allegation that I had said she ran in front of the car while looking at a sat nav. The petition for damages amounting to £300,000 which is now in the Court of Session describes the injuries as a dislocated kneecap and at the mild end of the coma scale.Any statement to such a court has to be supported by medical evidence while articles in newspapers clearly do not. She is fully recovered and was able to walk normally two months after the accident. It is clear that the girl and her parents used the newspapers to create this story to hide the stupidity of what she had done. The case appears to have stalled in the Court of Session and is being contested by the insurance company based on the obvious evidence of the damage to the car. If the newspapers had made enquiries into why we contested the case in the Sheriff Court their story might have been different.

    Had I not had this experience I would probably not be writing this.

    As a society we must insist that newspapers check all their facts before going to print.

  22. David

    Thank goodness for Hacked Off!

    The media powers that be, will cling on to whatever they can. They are entrenched in our society, politics and business landscape. Their aims are solely to make cash. Moral reporters went out of fashion in the 70s.

    In my opinion, Hack Off’s demands are wholly reasonable and indeed pretty tame! A free media is proclaimed, especially by the press, as being a corner stone of democracy and of a transparent society. This self important moral stance belies the truth – that the tabloid media do more harm than good to society. They play a big role in shaping peoples goals, aspirations and in determining social norms. But they have no moral conscious. We have a system now, where journalists and the media have great power, yet their only measure of success is profit, which has zero to do with morals and ethics. It is no wonder that these abuses continue.

    As humans, we love a bit of scandal. We like gossip. And we love smut! Tabloids use this to make money. Furthermore, as curious animals we’re compelled to look. Even if we don’t really want to.

  23. Ian Davies

    I support the Freedom of the Press but they should be accountable for reporting facts not gossip or things made up, self regulation won’t work just as the FSA can’t be trusted with the Banks. Ex-banking employees regulating their former colleagues & employers is open to abuse, this shows to me that an independent regulator without ties to the industry would be best.
    Over the last few years the press have increased hatred of the sick, disabled, terminally ill & unemployed in the UK, they have lied & misreported cases which has led to an increase in Disability Hate Crime.
    Public interest must be the truth not what someone want the papers to report in a biased way.

  24. Susanna

    You could go to Which? the Consumer Association – because we buy papers as consumers. They are selling a product.

  25. Concerned UK

    Why is the disgraced BBC allowed to publish libel and not be subject to the Press Complaints Commission. I have a friend who has been libelled by the website in an article that has been on their website for almost two years. Despite proving to the BBC complaints department and subsequently also proving to the BBC Trust that the article is mendacious and libelous, they refuse to remove the offending libel which is about my friend who is totally innocent. They have published his name and for the last two years it has totally destroyed his reputation and career. Any potential employer or patron for his work who googles his name gets a link right at the top to all the lies published by the website. Who would employ my friend after they read the mendacious and false publications on the website ?

  26. Derek

    This is not just about lack of action on Leveson. It’s also about all the other enquiries and the broken promises made by press barons after each of them. Proper regulation is required and arguments about freedom of the press are a smokescreen: in no way would such regulation impact on whistleblowing or on reporting organisations which have failed to fulfil their duty.

  27. obucari novisad

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  28. Kenny Turner

    Well-done, hacked-off, and thank-you.
    Hopefully we’ll see the end of these thugs, gangsters, con-men and women, tricksters, liars and social reprobates that have blighted British family life for decades. These publications make their own news and fabricate it at their will.

    @ Susanne; Which? Don’t make us all laugh.

  29. W K Fraser

    I wrote a comment on 7th December 2012. In March 2013 the case against me in the Court of Session was abandoned before it got to proof and a month later I started a blog about the whole process including the reports by the newspapers which if you have time you may want to read at


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