Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Spot the troll

Mirror columnist Carole Malone, appearing on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007

On the evening of Saturday 4 October 2014, the Mirror posted to its website an article by star columnist Carole Malone.

It was titled:

'Madeleine McCann internet trolls are devoid of humanity – much like the people who abducted her.'

In it, she wrote about Brenda Leyland who, unbeknown to Malone, had earlier that day been found dead, alone, in a hotel room after being stalked on global tv by SkyNews and then named by the Daily Mail and others.

Here’s what Malone wrote of Mrs Leyland, a woman she’d never met:

She looks like a perfectly respectable woman. But of course she isn’t.

She’s a cowardly bully who hides behind her smart front door and spews her bile in secret because she doesn’t have the guts to do it in public.

She thinks she’s entitled to threaten, hound and bully the innocent. Is that because her own life is so lonely, so miserable, so poisoned that she wants others to suffer the same? Or is she just a twisted, fecked-up bitch who gets her kicks from hurting people?

Brenda’s ‘crime’ – it’s unlikely the CPS will pass an opinion on that now she’s dead - had been to post her views on the McCanns in a little-visited outpost of twitter called #mccann.

Malone’s own opinions were written, of course, for a national newspaper and its website.

Let’s play a little game. We’ll call it “Spot the troll”.

See if you can identify who wrote the following. Was it:

A: ‘Cowardly bully’ Brenda Leyland, or
B: ‘Perfectly respectable’ Carole Malone

1. Eating a Mars bar when you're dieting is a mistake. Leaving three little kids alone in an unlocked apartment while you go eating and drinking with your mates is irresponsible.

2. (The McCanns) never seem to miss an opportunity to court publicity when they need to raise money.

3. Is Gerry McCann right to take money from newspapers he claims have caused his family distress?

4. (The McCanns' press spokesman) Clarence Mitchell.. looks shiftier than your average car salesman.

5. Three kids under the age of four alone in an apartment is a disaster waiting to happen-however you cut it. They could have set themselves alight.

6. Had she actually acted a bit more maternal she would never have left her three kids alone in an unlocked room while she went out to have dinner.

7. God forgive me for thinking this, but there have been times this week when I've been angered by Kate and Gerry McCann.

8. I've been watching the two of them jogging on the beach and thinking: "What the hell are they doing."

9. Yes, the police have made stupid mistakes. But then so did Kate and Gerry by leaving their children alone in an unlocked apartment for five nights in a row while they went out eating and drinking with friends.

10. If these people have nothing to hide, if they really DO want to help find Maddie, why haven't they already hauled their backsides back to Portugal?

How did you get on?

Every single quote, of course, was taken from columns by Carole Malone in the News of the World and Sunday Mirror in 2007 and 2008.

But in the middle of this mass of outraged ranting, Malone has something important to say.

In the News of the World on 4 May 2008, in an article titled ‘I wept for Kate but still blame her', she wrote:          

We can't NOT say what we think when the McCanns continue to ask for publicity and money to help find their little girl. They got us involved and they have to accept that we might have an opinion about what they did.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Information wants to be free

... as @winnower1 sensibly pointed out earlier today on twitter.

It's hard to disagree with that sentiment when applied to information received as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

Readers will note no difference between the information recorded in the previous blogpost from the redacted document seen by this blog and the images now posted here.

Premature Ejaculation?

At Scotland Yard, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood met with us at the outset, spoke frankly, but made it clear that he and his colleagues could not favour us – or any part of the media community – over any other parties.

- A Note on Sources in 'Looking for Madeleine' by Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan

According to a Metropolitan Police document seen by this blog, DCI Andy Redwood and another unnamed MPS Detective Inspector met with Anthony Summers and Rubby (sic) Swan at 1200 on Friday 15th February 2013.

The Incident Message notes that the authors:

".. are researching a book on Madeleine with the knowledge of Mr and Mrs MCCANN and our contact details were supplied by them."

The message states, in bold type:

"It was made absolutely clear that any approach to nominals in this case would be detrimental to our objective of building up a productive working relationship with the Portuguese. Our clear priority is to find out what happened to Madeleine and nothing should distract from that."

It goes on to say:

"Absolutely no “off the record” comments or other information were made/given. They were politely advised that all the information is in the public domain via the PJ files on the internet, and whilst we understood the interest and value in such a book that would extend to telling the story of this investigative review, their time would be best spent getting up to speed on the available files and forming their own opinion on it."

The internal message, for Officers Information and classified as Low Priority, was revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The message also states:

"It was explained that despite agreeing to meet them, we were unable to assist in anyway re their project, even as far as giving them timescale’s for the review’s completion. (This was requested in order that they could tie in the publication of the book to that of our process’s end result.)"

In their book, Summers & Swan write, in July 2014:

"The authors wish to make clear at the outset that, after more than two years studying this controversial case, they have seen not a shred of evidence to indicate that Gerry and Kate McCann, any member of their holiday group, or Robert Murat were at any stage – in May 2007 or subsequently – guilty of malfeasance of any kind in connection with Madeleine McCann’s disappearance or the repercussions that followed."

Three years and three months after they launched their review, now a fully-fledged investigation,  a 37 strong team of Met officers have yet to draw their own final conclusion.

The Met, it seems,  were unable to fall in line with the publisher’s marketing plans.

Can it be that Summers and Swan’s book , described as ‘the definitive account of the Madeleine McCann case’,  came rather too soon?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Looking for Madeleine

Looking for Madeleine, the new book from Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, is released today.

'This book redefines investigative journalism' - asaucesaid

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Gone. But not forgotten.

Findmadeleine.com bills itself as ‘The official site to find Madeleine McCann’.

Whether the website achieves its aim before the combined forces of the Metropolitan Police and the Polícia Judiciária remains to be seen.

But it doesn’t seem capable of looking after even itself.  Some of its pages have gone missing.

Visitors who click on ‘Updates’ are offered a series of 25 blog entries by Kate and Gerry McCann dating from 
23 March 2009 to 11 June 2014.

But until the end of June this year, you could have found another 17 or so entries. Those messages, posted 
between 14 January 2010 and Christmas 2012, have simply disappeared from the site.

Why might that be?

It may, of course, be a simple glitch that will soon be resolved. Alternatively, it may have been a deliberate 
removal of information that may have proved difficult or embarrassing, in retrospect, to explain.

Like the entry for Monday 2 May 2011.

Unlike in the real world, nothing really disappears from the internet. Sites like gerrymccannsblogs.co.uk and 
mccannfiles.com are dedicated to preserving information related to the disappearance of Madeleine.

And, especially for the avoidance of doubt, the Wayback Machine (archive.org.web) is an invaluable tool, 
capturing as it does the content of websites at particular points in time.

Here is a snapshot from findmadeleine.com taken by the Wayback Machine on 4 May 2011:

Here, Kate McCann explains what “an incredibly busy year so far” 2011 had been.

She explains how there had been three fundraising events between January and March. She mentions the money raised - though not how much - and thanks everybody who supported these events.

She writes about the launch of her book on 8 May 2011 , which “poignantly and coincidentally happens to be Madeleine’s 8 th birthday”.

She reiterates her gratitude to supporters “for not forgetting”.

But what she forgets to do is mention anything about the News of the World Reward Fund.

Which seems odd, because in the weeks preceding this update, in April 2011, the News of the World had quietly handed over to Madeleine’s Fund some £21,000 that had been donated by readers in 2007 towards a reward for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine.

Why did Kate McCann not take this opportunity to thank those very readers?

Why, along with the News of the World and News International, did she not want anyone to know about the payment?

Why do the McCanns and their fellow directors of Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd continue to refuse to acknowledge accepting this money?

Did those readers’ donations simply disappear, like lost webpages,  into payments for lawyers, accountants and 
PR men?

Does it look a little greedy, taking £21,000 that should rightly have gone to three children's charities, at precisely the same time the Fund was about to receive another 'donation' of £550,000 from News International for serialisation rights to Mrs McCann's book?

Is that what’s so embarrassing?

Or is it the acknowledgement that cashing in the reward money makes it look like you know your daughter isn’t coming back?

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Follow the money

Collection box at entrance to Ocean Club Tapas Bar in Praia da Luz,
July 2007, with hand-written note from Kate McCann.
So what did happen to the ‘reward money’ donated by News of the World readers in 2007 and handed to the McCanns’ company in April 2011?

One thing is clear: it wasn’t used to search for Madeleine.

News UK have stated that:

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.

According to documents at Companies House,  income to Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd in year ended March 31 2012, the period covering the April 2011 transfer, totalled £856,393.

That financial year, for the first time in the five-year reporting history of the company, income was split into Restricted and Unrestricted Funds.

This is a common practice among charities. Typically, a donor will request that the money given is used to support a particular aspect of the charity’s activities.

But Madeleine’s Fund isn’t a charity. It is a limited company.

Income under Restricted Funds is shown as £550,000, precisely the figure paid by News International for serialisation rights to Mrs McCann’s book.

On p8 of the accounts, it is noted:

Following the publication of Kate McCann’s book, ‘Madeleine: Our daughter’s disappearance and the continuing search for her’, £550,000 was donated  for the direct costs of the search for, and the investigation into the disappearance of, Madeleine.

No explanation is offered in the accounts as to why it was deemed necessary to make this distinction.

Given that the ‘reward money’ does not appear within Restricted Funds, it can only have been accounted for within Unrestricted Funds.

It must form part of the £306,393 income other than that from News International’s serialisations rights payment.

Which, of course, means it could be used for expenditure other than direct costs of the search for Madeleine.

In year ended March 31 2012, that expenditure amounted to £272,764.

How did the Fund spend so much money in one year on costs other than directly searching for Madeleine?

The Fund’s website, findmadeleine.com, claims it operates to “the highest standards of transparency and accountability” but in reality, as the company’s accounts note, “the financial statements have been prepared in accordance with the special provisions relating to companies subject to the small companies regime within Part 15 of the Companies Act 2006 and in accordance with the Financial Reporting Standard for Smaller Entities (effective April 2008)”.

In practice, this means the Fund is required to offer much less information on its activities than it would if it was indeed a charity.

Here’s how that Unrestricted Funds expenditure of £272,764 is broken down within the published accounts:

Merchandising and Campaign Costs                        242,727
Administration Expenses                                            24,909
Tax on surplus on ordinary activities                            5,128

But what are those first two figures paying for?

According to the Director’s Report for that year, the Fund:

-       continued to pay for a 24 hour, 7 days a week telephone line to receive and capture information provided by the general public worldwide

-       provided part-time administrative support to aid the investigation and campaign to find Madeleine (campaign coordinator and media liaison)

-       facilitated complete hand over of all material relating to Madeleine’s abduction held by the Fund to the MPS

-       supported a small investigation team, including a Portuguese speaker to lead a private search for Madeleine. Since March 2012, private investigation of lines of enquiry has been suspended whilst the MPS review progresses. The private investigation team employed by the Fund continue to cooperate and work with the Metropolitan Police force as and when necessary.

-       continued to fund the awareness-raising campaign to ensure that Madeleine is not forgotten and to encourage the general public to remain vigilant. This has included the running of the Find Madeleine website (www.findmadeleine.com)

-       continued to fund and work in partnership with a specialist Portuguese communications agency to ensure that our message is communicates as widely and accurately as possible in Portugal.

The accounts offer us no guidance, but it might be reasonable to assume that those first four activities were met from Restricted Funds - where expenditure in that year amounted to an additional £234,086 - in that they appear to be directly related to ‘the search for Madeleine’.

(Alternatively, the ‘part-time administrative support’ may form part of the £24,909 Administration Expenses, met from Unrestricted Funds. The Fund doesn’t say.)

But how did the Fund spend nearly a quarter of a million pounds on Merchandising and Campaign Costs?


Perhaps some clues to the expenditure can be found back in 2008, when the Fund published its first set of accounts, covering May 2007  to March 2008.

Then it had offered, quite reasonably, a breakdown of its expenditure:

Extract from accounts of Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd
for year ending 31 March 2008.

That breakdown showed that of the £815k total expenditure, just £250k, a curiously round number, had been spent on ‘Search fees’.

Nearly £82k had been spent on ‘Awareness’, perhaps advertising costs. Over £37k had been spent on a rudimentary website.

£123k had been spent on Campaign Management, fees to PR professionals.

£26k had been spent on Media Monitoring, which Wikipedia notes as ‘a beneficial tool to evaluate the efforts and progress of a PR firm.’

But perhaps most surprising of all were some of the other costs identified.

Legal fees and expenses amounted to over £111k. What these legal fees covered remains unclear, but what they didn’t cover were legal fees associated with the constitution of the Fund itself. Those amounted to an additional £68k.

Administering the Fund cost another £36k in ‘Fund professional fees’, £13k for ‘Auditors’ remuneration’ and £7k ‘Accountancy fees’.


That would be the only occasion on which the Fund would offer any breakdown of its expenditure. For the next five years, it simply restricted itself to one figure for Merchandise and Campaign Costs, another for Administration expenses and a third for Tax.

It would perhaps be wrong to compare the breakdown of expenditure in 2007/08 to that in 2011/12.

But it seems unlikely that News of the World readers who, in 2007, had given their cash as a reward for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine - and had been told that, in the event of the reward not being claimed, it would be paid instead to three children’s charities - ever envisaged that their donations would be used to pay lawyers, auditors, accountants and PR guys.

And with not a word of thanks, this time, from Kate and Gerry McCann.

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?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

No stone left unturned?

Visitors to findmadeleine.com, the website of Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned, who wish to learn more about the Fund, may click on the link marked ‘About Us’.

Here they can read:

Leaving No Stone Unturned Limited (is) a not-for-profit company, aka Madeleine's Fund, which has been established to find Madeleine McCann, support her family and bring her abductors to justice. The Fund is following best practice governance procedures as set out in the Good Governance Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector. The directors of the company are Brian Kennedy, Michael Linnett, Edward Smethurst, Jon Corner, Kate McCann & Gerry McCann. They have appropriate legal, business and charitable experience. An experienced Fund Administrator has been appointed to ensure the highest standards of transparency and accountability. This should enable the Directors to maintain an appropriate governance distance in the day-to-day operations of the Fund.

After News International had revealed that, in April 2011, over £21,000 collected from News of the World readers as a reward “for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine” had instead been paid out to Madeleine’s Fund, a series of questions were put to representatives of the Fund in an attempt to confirm what had happened to the money.

Clarence Mitchell, official spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, was asked by email what had happened to the News of the World Reward Fund. He did not reply.

Two emails to the Find Madeleine website received only an automated response:

Thank you for contacting the Find Madeleine Campaign. Your email will be read by a member of our campaign team. Please understand that we receive a large volume of emails and as a result you may not necessarily receive any further contact from us.

A third email to the site’s Webmaster eventually produced a reply:

Sorry, I do not know the answer to your question. 

Sent from my iPad

It was at this point, in early December 2013, that Dr. Gerry McCann was asked what had happened to the News of the World Reward Fund. He replied:

That is something you will need to take up with News International.

My understanding is that the reward was made up of pledges.

This reply contradicted the information previously given by News International, so two further emails were sent to Dr. McCann, explaining News International’s position. He did not reply.

Two further directors of Madeleine's Fund were then approached.

Jon Corner is  CEO of The Landing, a media facilities company at Salford Quays which, according to Visit Salford, is “a totally new facility at the heart of MediaCityUK where SMEs and micro-businesses can work alongside large media and technology organisations to drive product efficiency and develop new industry processes.”

According to his own website, Edward Smethurst is an “Award Winning Manchester Solicitor... In March 2012, Edward won the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award at the Manchester Legal Awards 2012, which recognised his contribution to the legal industry in addition to his charitable work that includes being Chairman of the Madeleine McCann Fund and a trustee of Cancer Research UK.”

Both directors were asked whether the News of the World Reward cash had been paid into the Madeleine’s Fund. How much? When? And had the transfer had been a subject of discussion at any board meeting of Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd.?

Mr. Corner did not reply.

Mr. Smethurst passed the enquiry to the Fund Secretary, whose name we are not releasing at this time.

(This was, it seemed, the experienced Fund Administrator who had been appointed to ensure the highest standards of transparency and accountability.)

Early in January 2014, the Secretary wrote:

I confirm that the Fund does not hold any reward money for finding Madeleine. The income received in the year to which you refer was from donations.

Once more,  this was at odds with the information given by News International.

The Secretary was further asked to confirm or deny if any payment other than the £550,000 for serialisation of Mrs. McCann's book was made by News International to the Fund in April 2011.

The Secretary replied:

I am sorry but I am not authorised to respond further. 

In mid-January 2014, the same request was put to Mr. Smethurst.

The reply came, instead, from the Secretary:

In light of the fact that the Board is inundated with requests for information and we publish our accounts that are independently audited and publicly available, the Board is not prepared to enter into answering individual queries. We are sorry that we are not able to be of further help.

In May 2014, it was put to Mr. Smethurst and the Secretary that, in April 2011, News International transferred the amount of £21,257.32 to Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd. The money had been donated by readers as a reward for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine.

Both were given the opportunity to amend or correct the claim. 

No reply was received.

So what did happen to the News of the World readers’ money?

And what happened to transparency? 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Putting the ‘press’ in suppress

On March 4th 2012, Hacked Off, in its campaign for a free and accountable press,  reviewed on its blog the events of the previous week at the Leveson Inquiry.

The Inquiry had begun Module 2, examining the relationship between the police and the press.

One witness was the Guardian’s Nick Davies, whose revelations over the hacking of Millie Dowler’s phone had led to the demise of the News of the World.

In his evidence he had said:

..material provided from press officers can be inaccurate and “out of step” with the needs of the public, as they are employed to protect the interests of the organisation.

Kate and Gerry McCann are, alongside Chris Jefferies and the Dowler family, very much poster-children for Hacked Off. They are regular headline signators of the group’s campaigning activities.

So it would be interesting to know what they make of the activities of News International’s press office in protecting the interests of the organisation with which they had previously had such a damaging relationship, according to their evidence at the Leveson Inquiry.

On 28 September 2011, a News International press officer had revealed that,  in April 2011,  the News of the World had paid out cash collected by readers as a reward for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine McCann, despite the fact the child was still missing. It had transferred the money to the limited company set up by Kate and Gerry McCann, but hadn’t told its readers.

It had also failed to tell the charities to which it had said it would donate the money if the reward hadn’t been claimed.

The News International press officer had written:

I can confirm that the funds raised by the appeal were donated in April this year (2011) to the official Madeleine Fund and the fund created by News of the World is no longer active.

There was one obvious question which needed to be put News International. How much had been raised by its readers?, it was asked on 29 September 2011.

A couple of days later, the press officer replied:

I am checking with colleagues if we can release that information.

Several weeks passed without reply. The press office was during this period busy with the fallout from the hacking scandal. But perhaps parent company News Corporation could help.

Genie Gevenchak, Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer of News Corporation, based in New York, was approached on 26 October 2011.

The first of nine questions put to Ms Gevenchak was:

How much did News of the World readers contribute to the paper's 'Madeleine Fund' reward appeal?

Ms Gevenchak’s ethics apparently precluded her from replying directly, but it did prompt a reply on 1 November 2011 from the News International press officer in London:

I’m afraid that we didn’t disclose the amount raised by the fund in the paper and nor am I able to explain why those funds were paid out to the charity 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.  
I’m sorry that we are not able to help with more detail.
And that, it seemed, was the end of that.

Except the Leveson Inquiry proved, if not a practical tool for developing a sensible mechanism for curbing the wilder excesses of the press, at least a fountain of information.

After Susan Panuccio, then Chief Financial Officer of NI Group, had appeared before Lord Justice Leveson to explain her role at the organisation, she too was asked, on 18 January 2012, how much News of the World readers had donated.

A week later she replied:

I have asked (News International’s press officer) to respond on my behalf.

Later that day, the press officer wrote:

As you know, we didn’t disclose the amount raised by the fund in the paper nor do we have any obligation to do so. We can confirm that the funds raised by the appeal were donated in April last year to the official Madeleine Fund and that the fund created by News of the World is no longer active.
I’m sorry that we are not able to help with more detail.

And that, it seemed again, was the end of that.

But maybe Nick Davies had been right. Maybe it was just the press officer that was the problem.

In May 2012, the Guardian reported on the appointment of Guto Harri, formerly Boris Johnson’s director of external affairs, as head of News International’s head of communications.

In the report, Harri was quoted as saying:

I would not be joining this company myself if I thought that they condoned, and were actively involved in, any of the practices that they have rightly been condemned for and I cannot think that the people I have met and the man I will be reporting to (Chief Executive, Tom Mockridge) is I think without doubt the person most determined to clean up any lingering odour of bad practices.

Harri was clearly the man to take questions head on. On 1 August 2012, he was asked:

.. in the light of the new era of openness and transparency at News International and your appointment.. Can you please tell me how much money News of the World readers contributed towards the newspaper's Madeleine Fund, account number 52135590? 

He didn’t reply.

But the News International press officer – yes, that one – did:

Guto passed your message to me. As you know, we didn’t disclose the amount raised by the fund in the paper.

You could try asking the charity and see if they would like to give you more detail.

I’m sorry that we are not able to help.

(Madeleine’s Fund: No Stone Unturned Ltd, of course, is not a charity. It is a limited company.)

News International, though,  appeared to be serious about introducing a new culture. It made a new hiring, a Chief Compliance Officer, said by the Guardian to be part of Rupert Murdoch’s broad internal anti-corruption review.

Rupert Murdoch had, in August 2012, told News Corporation staff:

To continue to be worthy of the trust of our audiences around the world, we all have an affirmative obligation to adhere to the highest standards of ethical behaviour, consistent with our standards of business conduct.

Fair enough. Could the new Chief Compliance Officer help? How much did NotW readers donate to NI's  bank account number 52135590?, an email asked.

The reply came a couple of weeks later, on 12 September 2012:

I apologise for the delay in getting back to you.

I am currently in the process of investigating this matter more fully, and hope to be able to respond to you substantively as soon as I am in a position to do so.

Which was excellent news.

On 2 October 2011, came an update:

I am still investigating this, but will respond to you substantively as soon as I am in a position to do so.

This seemed like an awfully long time to check a bank statement.

By the beginning of December 2011, nothing more had emerged from News International and it had been fifteen months since the press office had been asked what had happened to News of the World Reward Fund.

For some reason, News International was having real difficulty revealing how much money it had taken from the public and given to the McCanns’ Fund.

So the company was asked, once again, how much did the public donate to the News of the World Madeleine Reward Fund in 2007?

This time, the reply came within twenty-four hours. It stated:

In answer to your question, a total of £21,257.32 was received and banked in The Madeline (sic) Fund HSBC Bank Account No 52135590 between May 2007 and November 2007.  No other payments save those relating to this particular appeal were received from readers into this account. 

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 (sic) Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned. This fund is a not-for-profit company which was established to find Madeline (sic) McCann, support her family and bring her abductors to justice.
 See http://www.findmadeleine.com/about_us/madeleines-fund.html for more details about this fund, the directors of the company as well as its objectives.

News International recognises that, in transferring the payments collected in 2007 to the Madeline's (sic) Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned in April 2011, the News of the World may not have strictly complied with the terms under which that money was collected from its readers. The article dated 13 May, 2007 stated under the heading 'How you can add to the reward': 'Should the reward remain unpaid for any reason, the portion made up of readers' donations will be shared equally by children's charities Barnado's, Childline and the NSPCC.'  It was decided, entirely in good faith, that it would be more appropriate, given the circumstances of the McCann family, that the money be transferred to Madeline's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned, as opposed to splitting the donations between the three charities.

We would like to thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.  We are in the process of notifying the three charities of the findings of our investigation into this matter, but feel, on balance, that 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.

The answer, after 15 months of questions,  simply raised more questions, as we shall see.

But at least someone at News International seemed to disagree with the press officer’s notion that, when asked to reveal how much money the public had donated to a fund set up by one of their newspapers, they had no obligation to do so.

Perhaps, as Nick Davies had suggested, the press officers were truly “out of step” with the public.

(More follows)

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Charity begins at home

How you can add to the reward,  p5 News of the World 13 May 2007.

When News International revealed in a September 2011 email that the News of the World had paid out cash, donated by its readers as a Reward for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine McCann, to the limited company Fund set up by her parents in 2007, it raised a number of questions.

Not least among them was what had happened to the charities who had been promised the money in the event of the reward not being paid out.

(The whereabouts of the child are still, sadly, not known.)

In October 2011, each charity was asked three questions:

Had they been consulted before being named as potential recipients in the event of an unpaid reward?

Had they ever been informed how much money the NOTW had raised?

Were they ever told they would no longer be receiving any money from the unclaimed reward fund?

A spokesperson for NSPCC replied:

We can’t identify any direct work we did with NotW on this. It’s possible they just did it without letting us know.

A spokesperson for Barnardo’s wrote:

We can confirm that we have no record of correspondence with the News of the World regarding the Madeleine McCann fund. For any further queries relating to this matter, please contact News International.

But how willing would News International be to share more information?

(More follows)