JOINT STATEMENT BY DEBBIE BUTLER (CHAIRMAN) AND TONY BENNETT (SECRETARY) ON LEGAL LETTERS RECEIVED FROM CARTER-RUCK
Released 7.00pm. Thursday 17 September 2009
On 1 and 2 September in the post Debbie Butler and Tony Bennett received legal letters from Carter-Ruck, sent by staff working under the direction of Adam Tudor, Partner. As most of you will know, Carter-Ruck is universally acknowledged as the leading and most expensive firm of libel lawyers in the country and successfully obtained nearly £1 million in libel damages against various British media and newspapers on behalf of the McCanns and their ‘Tapas 7’ friends during the early part of 2008.
Both of us have received letters making the following six key demands:
1) To permanently take down our website at www.madeleinefoundation.org
2) To deliver up to Carter-Ruck all outstanding copies of the booklet “What Really Happened to Madeleine McCann? - 60 Reasons which suggest that she was not abducted”
3) To deliver up to Carter-Ruck all outstanding copies of the leaflet: “What Really Happened to Madeleine McCann? - 10 Key Reasons which suggest that she was not abducted”
4) To erase all electronic copies of both the booklet and the leaflet
5) To use our best endeavours to remove all allegedly defamatory postings by either of us on any website, forum or blog, and
6) To permanently cease from making any further allegedly defamatory statements about the McCanns.
The nature of the alleged defamation is that we have publicly suggested that Madeleine McCann died in the McCanns’ holiday apartment in Praia da Luz and that the parents bear at least a degree of responsibility for her death. In this respect we adopt the conclusions of Goncalo Amaral in his best-selling book published last year, ‘The Truth About The Lie”.
In addition, Tony Bennett received a separate legal letter in relation to postings he made about Brian and Patrick Kennedy on the now-defunct 3Arguidos website in July this year.
We cannot hide the fact that these letters and how to react to them have created some uncertainty and pressure as we decide how to reply. We are taking legal advice on what are clearly highly complex legal issues.
This pressure was increased when on Tuesday 15 September we received further legal letters from Carter-Ruck informing us for the first time that under something called the ‘Pre-action Protocol for Defamation’ we were expected to reply in full to their demands within 14 days. They have now insisted that unless we reply in full to all letters by tomorrow (Friday 18 September 2009) they will immediately instruct a barrister to draw up a libel writ.
It may be recalled that on 27 October 2008, Debbie Butler as Chairman of The Madeleine Foundation wrote to the McCanns themselves, Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns Chief Public Relations Officer, Carter-Ruck themselves and two of the McCanns’ many other lawyers, offering to withdraw or amend any statement we had made on our website in our ‘30 Reasons’ article or that was in our forthcoming book, ‘60 Reasons’ (which we published on 7 December 2008) that they could demonstrate to be untrue. No reply has ever been received to any of those five letters, until the letters we received on 1 and 2 September.
We regard it as wholly disproportionate to demand replies from us within 14 days when these letters did not arrive until 310 days after we wrote to them on 27 October 2008 - and we have said so in no uncertain terms.
We are consulting with lawyers and until we have received their advice which could include having to seek a barrister’s opinion, we cannot yet say how we will respond.
It is against this background that Debbie and Tony jointly admit to a misunderstanding between them during the course of 15 September which led to Debbie posting a notice on a Madeleine forum that she would not be working with The Madeleine Foundation ‘until further notice’. That misunderstanding has now been fully cleared up and we remain united in our commitment to the work of The Madeleine Foundation. Debbie will remain as Chairman and Tony as Secretary. We both wish to say sorry to our members and supporters who were troubled at the news that Debbie might be leaving and at the same time thank all of you who have been kind enough over the past two days to send us messages of goodwill and encouragement.
At the same time, Tony Bennett, having received appropriate legal advice, has already replied, earlier today, to the legal letter received by Carter-Ruck on behalf of Brian and Patrick Kennedy. Accompanying this statement is Tony’s on-the-record reply to that letter.
We should just like to add this. Any fees incurred for legal advice will be met personally by ourselves and the funds in The Madeleine Foundation’s bank account will not be used.
Our plans continue with our meetings in Cardiff on 3 October, south Manchester on 14 November, and of course our 2nd International Conference in the East Midlands on 27 & 28 February 2010.
Debbie Butler and Tony Bennett