LONDON -- The headline, splashed across the front page of The Daily Express on Wednesday, could not have been clearer or more jarring. "Kate and Gerry McCann: Sorry," it said.
The paper indeed had something to be sorry about. In the ensuing article, it admitted that much of its coverage of the case of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann, who disappeared during a family vacation in Portugal last May, was dead wrong. Especially the part where it repeatedly accused Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry, of murdering her and then covering up their crime.
"We acknowledge that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this theory and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance," the paper said. It added, "Kate and Gerry, we are truly sorry to have added to your distress."
The apology came as the paper settled a libel case brought by the McCanns, physicians from Leicester, England, who said they had sued after unsuccessfully urging The Express and its sister papers, The Daily Star, The Sunday Star and The Sunday Express, "to show greater restraint in their reporting." As part of the deal, the newspapers also agreed to read the apology aloud in court and to pay £550,000, or about $1,092,000, in damages, which will be contributed to a fund to help find Madeleine.
The apology and the payment represented a shocking U-turn. For months, papers from the Express Newspapers group used shady, innuendo-laced information, interviews with unidentified sources and leaps of logic to promote a disturbing theory: that Mr. and Mrs. McCann had killed their daughter, disposed of her body and then cynically pretended to be distraught about her death.
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