Robert Murat has received a whopping £550k for the smears, innuendo and general "He's a bit funny so he must've done it" bullshit journalism aimed at him last summer.
Murat suffered from two factors: firstly, he seemed a little unorthodox and he lived with his mum; secondly, he was in the wrong place in the wrong time. Oh and thirdly, so-called journalists behaved in an utterly disgraceful and appallingly unprofessional manner, ratcheting up the smears and accusations despite the fact there was no evidence - other than supposition - to link him with the crime.
Murat's lifestyle came under intense scrutiny, as did his alibi. Where did the papers find all these 'new witnesses' who claimed to see him, except by the over-generous use of the company chequebook? Was there another agenda at work or was it a simple and blinkered whispering campaign against someone who appeared to be socially awkward, just as had happened before with Colin Stagg? Who might have benefited from the attention being aimed at him?
Previously, I had questioned whether Murat would get the same treatment as Kate 'n' Gerry McCann. I still wonder whether Murat would have found anyone to take on his case, had the McCanns not been so successful. I can't deny that I am surprised by today's development.
Expat Robert Murat has settled a claim for damages over allegations in 11 UK newspapers that he was involved in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
Eleven newspapers. Eleven. Did a pack mentality develop over the hounding of Murat? Did papers think they were safe, because all the others were doing it and seemingly getting away with it? But how could eleven newspapers get it so wrong? How could they be so wide of the mark when it came to the facts? What the hell happened to create such hysteria?
In their April statement, his lawyers named the Sun, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Daily Mail, London Evening Standard, Metro, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, News of the World and the Scotsman.
Not really too many surprises in there, are there? If you'd asked me to name the eleven without knowing, I think I'd have got 10. We shouldn't forget the reason why Murat was targeted in the first place, either. That, too, came from a member of Her Majesty's Press:
Police searched the nearby villa where he lived with his mother after Sunday Mirror journalist Lori Campbell spoke to the British Embassy and the police about Mr Murat.
Campbell said Murat reminded her of Ian Huntley. And that was that. That was all it took for a chain of events to unfold that ruined a man's life. If I said Lori Campbell reminded me of Myra Hindley, would that get the rozzers round her gaff and ruining her life? But then she isn't a 'one-eyed oddball' (copyright The Sun), so she can blissfully carry on with her life and award-winning career, perhaps without a single worry about the devastation she's brought to another human being. Such is the life of the modern journalist: be the story; win the prize; forget the consequences.
If there had been any evidence on Murat, fair enough. If there had been any reason to suspect he had been involved, then fine, it would be understandable. But there wasn't. The hyenas circled around his family and friends and former lovers, looking for evidence of sexual strangeness or an unhealthy interest in kids. They found nothing unusual, but with such vast resources aimed at a target, they had to come up with something to keep the story motoring along: whispers, innuendo and suspicion.
And now, the apology and a few grand to say sorry for having implicated a man in child abduction, despite no evidence. Was the McCann apology a turning point? Perhaps it was, then. Perhaps I was wrong. If the likes of Robert Murat can take on Big Press and win, then maybe there's hope; maybe the less well off, the more vulnerable, the unfashionable, the less sympathetic characters, the victims of media bullying can finally get a chance to answer back. This is what libel's all about, after all.
Perhaps the libel playing field is evening out, though I won't be holding my breath: for two disturbing developments show how libel is still being used by the rich and powerful to clamp down on free speech. The first is News International trying to silence Media Lens as the campaign for war in Iran intensifies; the second is Schillings threatening Craig Murray for writing about Tim Spicer's mercenary army.
That a news organisation should use libel to stop free speech is breathtakingly disgraceful and hypocritical. The same news organisation whose newspapers didn't give a shit about the truth when it came to flogging stories about Robert Murat.