Monday, 23 June 2014

Rebekah, Kate, Gerry and Cash

    Rebekah Brooks and Kate & Gerry McCann at the Leveson Inquiry in 2011.

  • News International revealed that in April 2011 News of the World paid out £21k ‘reward’ to McCanns’ company
  • Cash had been donated in 2007 by readers to paper’s appeal as reward for information leading to safe return of Madeleine
  • If unclaimed, reward was to have been paid to three children’s charities
  • Madeleine’s Fund directors will not confirm payment

So who approved the payout of the cash to the McCanns’ company, Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd? And why?

Those questions were first put to News International in September 2011. 

But the company wouldn’t say.

In November 2011, a press officer wrote:

(I am unable).. to explain why these funds were paid out.. in April 2011 given that those staff involved in the decision have now left the business following the closure of the News of the World.

In December 2012, a News International executive wrote:

In April, 2011, after a considerable length of time had passed and taking into account the circumstances of the McCann family, it was agreed by senior executives at the News of the World that the £21,257.32 should be paid to Madeline's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned.

In July 2013, the same executive added:

This decision would have been approved at the time by the senior executives in accordance with the Company's financial approvals process.

However, the company was still unwilling to identify them.

By January 2014, News International had relaunched itself as News UK. The same executive now wrote:

..the decision to transfer the money to Madeline's (sic) Fund in 2011 was made by senior executives at the company at the time who are not currently employed by News UK.  

I have not been able to find any written records relating to the payment..

It is not clear how senior executives at the News of the World operated within the Company’s financial approvals process without leaving any written record.

Was there a clue in the original appeal?

In any matter relating to the reward fund, the Editor’s decision is final, the paper had said.

From January 2007 until the paper closed in July 2011, the editor of the News of the World was Colin Myler.

    Susan Panuccio and Colin Myers at the Leveson Inquiry 

Mr. Myler appeared at the Leveson Inquiry in December 2011. In his Third Witness Statement, he wrote:

The Newspaper was very supportive of Kate and Gerry and their campaign to find their daughter..

We were very happy to undertake a number of things unconditionally. One example of this was the appeal we mounted to raise donations (sic) to the Madeleine campaign fund. This was very successful and raised £1.5m in 48 hours.

The payout, however, was not mentioned.

Mr. Myler did not reply to emails asking him to confirm whether he authorised the reward money payout and which other News International executives were involved in the decision.

In her evidence to Leveson, then News International Group CFO Susan Panuccio stated:

The governance of how funds are used (including ensuring that they are not used for illegal or unethical purposes) is primarily monitored and controlled via the Managing Editor’s Office for each title.

The paper’s Managing Editor in April 2011 was Bill Akers. It has not been possible to contact Mr. Akers for comment.

But what prompted the decision to pay out the money, whoever authorised it?

On April 3 2011, the News of the World noted that Mrs McCann had run a 10k in aid of the charity Missing People. That would be the only appearance either of the McCanns would make in the newspaper that month.

There is nothing in the paper at that time to explain the sudden decision to make the payout, so perhaps the answer lies elsewhere.

When the McCanns appeared before Lord Leveson in November 2011, Mrs McCann was highly critical of the News of the World. She described how she felt “totally violated” after the publication of her personal diaries in 2008.

The McCanns went on to explain how they had negotiated with News International to sell the serialisation rights to Mrs. McCann’s book, which appeared in the Sun and Sunday Times in May 2011.

In his evidence, Mr. McCann told the Inquiry:

.. we had a couple of meetings with the general manager and -- Will Lewis and Rebekah Brooks and others..

In the epilogue to the paperback version of her book, Mrs McCann confirms:

In the spring of 2011, we met a team from News International to hear what they had to offer.

Eventually, they would offer £550,000 for serialisation rights.

News UK confirm this figure, which appears in the accounts for Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd in y/e 30 March 2012 under Restricted Funds.

News UK also wrote:

..the Reward Fund payout was in addition to, separate from and not included, within the payment of £550,000 for serialisation rights to Mrs McCann’s book.

When Rebekah Brooks appeared before the Leveson Inquiry, she was asked by Mr Jay QC about the negotiations. In her answer she said:

… We had been going through a list of issues that Dr McCann and Kate McCann wanted to be assured of before we went forward with the serialisation..

Was the Reward Fund among the issues discussed?

It has not been possible to contact Mrs Brooks. Mr. Lewis referred emails regarding the Reward Fund back to News UK.

News UK say:

..the decision taken to pass the money collected to Madeline's (sic) Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned was the right one, both ethically and morally, taking into account the difficulties and sensitivities surrounding this tragic matter.

But questions remain. If News UK are happy that the correct ethical and moral decisions were made by their senior executives, why won’t they identify them? Why, three years after paying out over £21,000, donated by readers as a reward for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine, have they yet to make any public acknowledgement of the payout or thank those who generously donated? Why didn’t they inform the charities who missed out at the time of the payout?

And if News UK are telling the truth about handing over readers’ cash – and there seems no reason to doubt them – why are the directors of Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd so unwilling to confirm the payment?

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