Monday

Robert Murat holds Cambridge Union spellbound in tabloids debate


A packed Cambridge Union chamber fell utterly silent last week as Robert Murat, the man named as an arguido (formal suspect) in the Madeleine McCann case and later cleared of any involvement, spoke about his experiences in a debate titled “The tabloid press does more harm than good”.

Speaking on a public platform for the first time in his life, Murat described how he had been caught up in a nightmare and, as the world's press closed in on him and helicopters circled over his Portuguese home, he had felt like "a fox pursued by hounds". It was an ordeal that almost destroyed both him and those close to him, he said.

He had initially come forward to help in the search for Madeleine as he was fluent in Portuguese, Murat told the chamber. A journalist for one of the British tabloids had literally "invented" stories that he had been behaving suspiciously. The tabloids went into overdrive with an unstoppable web of lies, one paper offering huge amounts of money to a relative to discredit him.

The press and police focus on Murat as a suspect had constituted "a huge waste" of time and money - resources that might otherwise have been devoted to the search for Madeleine, he argued. His and his family's suffering, though hard to bear, was overshadowed by that of the tragedy experienced by McCanns whose daughter has never been found.

The debate, which brought together some famous names from the media, was notable for emotional highs and lows, as well as some colourful tabloid-style language and plenty of laughter.

Speaking for the motion were Michael White, Associate Editor of the Guardian, Robert Murat and his lawyer Louis Charalambous, and the Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, whose personal life has regularly been splashed across the front pages of the tabloids. Opik contributes a regular column to the Daily Sport - a role he sought to play down, explaining that his relationship with the tabloids stemmed from "their relationship with my relationships".

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