LONDON (Reuters) - The mother of missing youngster Madeleine McCann described on Wednesday how she felt “violated” by the publication of her diary in the News of the World without her permission.
Kate McCann told the Leveson inquiry into media practices and ethics how she had returned from church to discover that the newspaper had virtually printed her diary verbatim from what looked like a Portuguese translation without her knowledge.
“I felt totally violated. You know, I’d written these words and thoughts at the most desperate time in my life,” she said.
“Most people won’t have to experience that and it was my only way of communicating with Madeleine.”
She said it had made her feel “very vulnerable and small.”
Kate McCann and her husband Gerry also told the hearing at London’s High Court how after their young daughter went missing during a family holiday in Portugal in 2007 media coverage quickly became speculative and sinister.
“I desperately wanted to shout out, ‘it’s not true, it’s not true’ but it’s your voice against the powerful media, you know, it just doesn’t hold weight.”
The McCanns have brought successful actions against a series of newspapers, including Express Newspapers titles which had to pay out a substantial sum in libel damages relating to articles that falsely suggested the couple were involved in her death.
“TOO EASY TO HACK”
The Leveson inquiry, set up in July and expected to last a year, has given celebrities and others featured on newspaper front pages a chance to throw a light on how these stories were obtained and the impact they have had on their lives.
Earlier in the day, Mark Lewis, the lawyer who helped bring down the News of the World in July over the phone-hacking scandal, said he felt sorry for the paper’s readers because the problem was more widespread than one newspaper.
Lewis, who represented the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, suggested the reason the News of the World, part of News Corp’s British newspaper arm, had been caught out was because its private detective had made notes about his hacking and had kept evidence.
“In a way I feel sorry for the News of the World, or certainly the News of the World readers, because it was a much more widespread practice than just one newspaper,” Lewis said.
“The fact that evidence doesn’t exist in written form doesn’t mean to say that the crime didn’t happen.”
The discovery that Dowler’s mobile phone had been hacked into while she was still missing shocked the nation and broadened a scandal that up until that point had largely involved celebrities and politicians.
James Murdoch resigned on Wednesday from the boards of the publishing units within News Corp’s British newspaper arm, regulatory filings showed.
Rival titles have benefited from its demise, including the mid-market Daily Mail and its sister Mail on Sunday.
Earlier this week, actor Hugh Grant, star of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” told the hearing he suspected the Mail on Sunday newspaper of having hacked into his phone messages, something it strongly denied.
The paper’s publishing group Daily Mail & General Trust said on Wednesday, as it announced underlying 2011 sales were up 3 percent to 1.99 billion pounds, that it had not engaged in illegal newsgathering, to the best of the editor-in-chief’s knowledge.
Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry, presided over by senior judge Brian Leveson, Lewis said reporters had found it too easy to hack into mobile phones.
“I mean, journalists found it too easy to do,” he said.
“I don’t think they necessarily thought of it as any worse -- certainly at the beginning -- than driving at 35 mph in a 30 mph zone.”
Private investigator Mulcaire and former News of the World’s royal reporter Clive Goodman were jailed in 2007 for plotting to unlawfully intercept voicemail messages.
The inquiry also heard on Wednesday from Sheryl Gascoigne, former wife of England football star Paul Gascoigne, who was subject to intense press attention in the 1990s.
She described how she would crawl on her hands and knees, even though her arm was in a sling, to avoid photographers snapping her in her home.
The inquiry will make recommendations likely to have a lasting impact on the press, leading to a shake-up of the current system of self-regulation, or a tightening of the rules.
Additional reporting by Li-mei Hoang