Friday, 23 July 2010

The Madeleine Foundation's response to Carter-Ruck


This letter, reproduced below, is the Madeleine Foundation's response to a communication from Carter-Ruck on behalf of their clients, Kate and Gerry McCann. The communication from Carter-Ruck can be read on a previous post on this blog.

6 St. Andrew Street

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Your ref: Stevie Loughrey


Dear Sirs

re: Your clients Dr Gerald and Dr Kate McCann - Your letter of 16 July

This letter follows my responses to your e-mail of 15 July by telephone from
Bournemouth on Friday 16 July at 10.28am and again at 1.28pm and my e-mail to you dated 19 July (reproduced below) and timed at 7.36am.

Further actions following receipt of your letter

In addition to the actions mentioned in my previous e-mail that we have already taken in response to your letter of 15 July, we have made several further changes to the material on our website concerning Mr Gonçalo Amaral, Gonçalo Amaral Day etc. In specific response to the demands you made about our leaflet, The Madeleine Foundation has decided in addition not to distribute this leaflet any further nor print further copies of it. Several thousand copies had already been distributed in the weeks leading up to Saturday 17 July which we termed ‘Gonçalo Amaral Awareness Day’.

The claims of breaches of my undertakings given on 13 November 2009

I have carefully studied your letter.

You claim that: “We have advised our clients [the McCanns] that your conduct represented a number of clear breaches of your undertaking to the court…it is clear that on a number of occasions you have breached [your] undertaking…there can be no doubt whatsoever that notwithstanding your undertakings, you remain intent upon continuing to allege at every available opportunity that there are strong grounds to suspect our clients of being responsible for the death of their daughter, and of conspiring to cover it up”.

In support of this claim, your letter refers specifically to the following six matters only:

  1. My letter to Theresa May, Home Secretary, dated 4 July 2010, a copy of which you and your clients have clearly seen
  2. A posting on a thread on a forum now called ‘The complete mystery of Madeleine McCann’, run by a Mrs Jill Havern. The title of this forum was I understand named after your clients’ Chief Public Relations Officer, Mr Clarence Mitchell, himself referred to the disappearance of Madeleine as ‘a complete mystery’ in a Channel 4 TV interview in March this year
  3. The contents of The Madeleine Foundation’s recent leaflet: ‘Your Questions Answered About Gonçalo Amaral’, of which you claim “…readers of this publication will have understood it to mean that here are indeed strong grounds to support Amaral’s suspicions that Madeleine McCann died in our clients’ care and that they subsequently conspired to cover up her death…”
  4. An internet posting by me on a forum, said to have been made at 1.03am on 12 July which you said “…would lead readers to have understood that Amarals’ theory is correct and that our clients did indeed conspire to cover up the death of their daughter. This theory is, however, completely untruehe sees as the truth [my underlining] about… Madeleine…” [your underlining] and simply does not withstand proper scrutiny’. You based this on my words that “Amaral…has sacrificed the rest of his career to bring us what
  5. Allegedly ‘hiding behind’ quotes or purported quotes from other people ‘when publishing outrageous slurs of our clients’ (although you do not cite a single example in your letter)
  6. The video recording: ‘Madeleine McCann: The 48 Police Questions Kate McCann Refused to Answer’.

You do not give particulars of any other alleged breaches of my undertakings.

You also in the penultimate paragraph of your letter advised that any individual ‘linked to’ The Madeleine Foundation’ who ‘disseminates serious falsehoods’ about your clients places her/himself at risk of being pursued for ‘appropriate legal relief’.

On page 3 of your letter, you made four demands. I respond as follows:

Demand 1. The Madeleine Foundation has agreed not to republish ‘Your Questions Answered About Gonçalo Amaral’ nor to authorise anyone else to republish it. We shall not be making any further distribution of the leaflet.

Demand 2. The downloadable version of ‘Your Questions Answered About Gonçalo Amaral’ was removed on 18 July from The Madeleine Foundation website as a result of your request. The non-downloadable version has also been removed from our website since your letter. Other material about Gonçalo Amaral remains on our website though in view of the undertaking I gave to the court we do not on The Madeleine Foundation website link to his book nor indeed to the documentary he made, although as you must know, many other forums and blogs do so.

Demand 3. The YouTube video you refer to which went live on 13 July was removed by YouTube as you already know on 16 July. We have no plans to republish it on YouTube or elsewhere. Having said that, we do not accept that to reproduce what the Portuguese Police have themselves published as the official record of the questions they asked Dr Kate McCann can possibly be construed as ‘libellous’, especially since these have been in the public domain for almost two years and, so far as I am aware, your clients have made no challenge to date as to their authenticity. The BBC website carries exactly the same list of 48 questions that your client refused to answer; it can easily be found in its archive for 2008

Demand 4. I have endeavoured at all times to draw a distinction between the information which Mr Amaral gives in ‘The Truth About A Lie’ about his investigation and the deductions he makes from that information. For example, in explaining the ‘Gonçalo Amaral Support Project’, we wrote this: Why is G.A.S.P. needed? ANSWER: Before giving you the details, why did we set up our new campaign on behalf of Mr Amaral? Our reasons include: The fact that without his book, A Verdade da Mentira (‘The Truth About A Lie’) there is much important information [my underlining] surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann that otherwise we would not know”. To give one example, in one chapter of his book, Mr Amaral explains how your clients’ friend Jane Tanner on the afternoon of Sunday 13 May came to identify Robert Murat as the man wearing mustard chinos she said she’d seen carrying a child at around 9.15am on Thursday 3 May, the night Madeleine was reported missing. These and other facts, we say, are important to an understanding of the case, whether Mr Amaral is right, or mistaken, in his views on what really happened to Madeleine.

To give a second example, Mr Amaral explains how, when he was re-interviewed by police on 10 and 11 July 2007, Mr Murat gave a very different story about his movements from 1 to 4 May 2007 inclusive than he did when first taken in for questioning on 14 May. We are advised that there can be no ban on reasonable discussion of these and other important facts in Mr Amaral’s book. His theory is another matter.

I am happy to repeat my undertakings given previously to the court. In particular, in the light of your e-mail, I will refrain from suggesting that Mr Amaral’s suspicions about your client may be correct, whilst at the same time we are advised that to continue reasonable discussion of the information he has provided us is not libellous.

So far as Mr Amaral is concerned, it must also be remembered that your clients’ libel action against him has not yet been heard. It could well be that the Portuguese libel court will not uphold your clients’ allegation of libel. He has just as much right to defend himself against what he sees as lies and smears against him in the British media (and to have people in Portugal, the U.K. and elsewhere support him), as your clients have a similar right to defend themselves against what they claim is libel.

In your clients’ case, they appear to have been able to call on the services of your firm with regularity. As your clients have but one wage-earner, it seems reasonably clear that your fees must be being paid from other sources, possibly unnamed benefactors (such payments would of course be liable to be declared to the Inland Revenue as income). One assumes that the donations made by the general public to the Find Madeleine Fund are not being used since we recall statements by your clients and their Chief Public Relations Officer that those donations would not be used to fund lawyers’ fees and court costs etc. Mr Amaral is in a very different and difficult financial position. There does not appear therefore to be an ‘equality of arms’ in the current libel action against Mr Amaral although this principle is now enshrined in British civil litigation. That is another reason behind our support for him.

Furthermore, the legal advice I have received is that neither myself nor anyone else can be prohibited by a libel court or otherwise from reporting on and making reasonable comment on information in the public domain, and especially so given that this information comes specifically from police sources. I give two examples. The interim report of Inspector Tavares de Almeida, dated 10 September 2007, gives an accurate summary of the police investigation up to that point. It has been published. It can therefore be commented on, both by those who disagree with what he says, and those who agree.

Similarly, in the interlocutory hearing in your clients’ libel action in Lisbon in January 2010, the Public Ministry Prosecutor, Magalhães e Menezes, who made the decision to archive the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, was quoted by the press as saying: “The death thesis is the most likely one to explain Madeleine McCann’s disappearance”. Furthermore, Inspector Tavares de Almeida, who was actively involved in the investigation, was quoted in the same hearing as saying: “Gonçalo Amaral does not usurp the conclusions of the investigation; his conclusions come from investigation itself”.

These comments were made on oath in a court of law. They cannot easily be dismissed. The legal advice I have received is that anyone is entitled to publish these statements (as the Portuguese press and media have done) and, within reason, comment on them. Similarly, as you will appreciate, the final report of the Policia Judiciara archiving the investigation specifically left on the table the two main theories in the case: (a) that Madeleine was abducted and (b) that Madeleine died in your clients’ apartment.

This incidentally is why I and others have raised perfectly legitimate concerns with the Home Office about the statements that have been made in the press since March about your clients having meetings with the former and current Home Secretaries and their senior civil servants about a possible ‘review’ or ‘re-investigation’ into Madeleine’s disappearance. It appeared to us (we may be wrong) that your clients were seeking to persuade the Home Office to approach an as-yet unnamed British police force to carry out a re-investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance which would have concentrated exclusively on your clients’ assertions that Madeleine was abducted, and would not examine other possibilities.

As I have done in the YouTube video of the ‘48 Portuguese Police Questions’ which your client refused to answer, I will in any comments on the disappearance of Madeleine give due prominence to your clients’ ‘take’ on any matter. In that YouTube video, I refrained from making any comment except to ensure that, right at the beginning, your client’s position was fairly explained, i.e. your client’s right to silence, your client having relied on legal advice in refusing to answer questions, and your client believing the police were wholly wrong to place her under suspicion instead of looking for Madeleine.

The Madeleine Foundation Committee has asked me to point out that under our Constitution, our objects include: “To pursue - in conjunction with others - the truth about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance on 3 May 2007”. The Committee plans to continue to research and analyse all aspects of the disappearance of Madeleine and that includes giving due prominence to all cogent evidence that Madeleine was abducted.

I reproduce my e-mail sent on Monday (19th) below.

Yours faithfully

Anthony Bennett

E-mail sent to Stevie Loughrey of Carter-Ruck 19 July 2010

Dear Sirs,

Both myself and some members of The Madeleine Foundation Committee have now had an opportunity to view your letter.

This follows my telephone call to you from Bournemouth at 10.42am on Friday 16 July and my voicemail message left at 1.28pm the same day, to neither of which you responded.

In response to your letter e-mailed to me at 6.10pm on Thursday 15 July:

(1) The '48 Questions' video with myself reading out the 48 questions that your client Dr. Kate McCann refused to answer on 7 September 2007 does not seem to us to be capable of being construed as libellous. Not only is it merely the reading out of the questions she refused to answer, but I took the specific precaution in the introduction to the video, acting on legal advice, to put your client's point of view, namely:

a) that she had the right to remain silent (under both Portuguese and British law) and was acting on legal advice, and

b) that she believed the Portuguese Police were in error in suspecting her and her husband of any involvement in the disappearance of Madeleine, and were not therefore looking for Madeleine as she believed they should have been.

Your letter asks me to "Remove the video referred to above from YouTube'.

The video was taken down by YouTube during Friday 16 July. Your letter urged us to 'seek legal advice upon this letter...' I am in the process of seeking legal advice and that will include advice on whether that YouTube video is libellous.

(2) You asked for the leaflet about Mr Goncalo Amaral 'to be removed from our website(s)'. The Madeleine Foundation Committee agreed to remove this last night, and where the downloadable version used to be, there is now the following notice:

"On 15th July Carter Ruck asked us to remove this downloadable leaflet on Goncalo Amaral. We have agreed to this request pending receipt of legal advice".

(3) You objected to a paragraph in a posting I made on 4 July this year on a forum run by Jill Havern, at this link.

I have taken immediate action to remove the paragraph you objected to and the following notice now appears on Mrs Havern's forum instead of the offending paragraph:

NOTE: The first sentence of this posting has been removed following legal objections to it raised by Mr Stevie Loughrey of Carter-Ruck in a letter I received from them on 15 July 2010.

(4) In the light of your letter, an urgent review of the content of The Madeleine Foundation website has been undertaken, and last night additional material and links have been removed where there was a doubt in our minds as to whether any material could be construed as libellous.

I shall address the remainder of your letter as soon as practicable and of course after taking the legal advice which you urge me to take in the final sentence of your letter.

Finally, your letter is marked: 'STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL'. I should like to advise you that a vociferous and regular supporter of your client on the internet, namely 'muratfan', whom we believe to be Mr Ian West of Norwich, is boasting that he has read your letter.

Yours faithfully

Tony Bennett