BBC's Simon Hare threatens "so-called Madeleine Foundation" with legal action after his own failure to produce a fair and balanced programme

From: Simon Hare
Subject: Madeleine Foundation
Date: Wednesday, 1 December, 2010, 13:58


I'm aware you have posted online a number of issues relating to my film. If you have also formed these into a letter to my editor, as previously discussed, they will be addressed. Airing them online in advance is, at best, discourteous, at worst, potentially defamatory. You may already have sent a letter, but I have been working from home due to the weather.

I'm also aware that a number of posts by you and others associated with the so-called Foundation have accused me of lying, deception and unprofessionalism. I treat such allegations very seriously and intend to pass them onto our legal department. As I'm sure you are aware, libel laws apply as equally to forums and message boards as they do to the BBC.

Simon Hare.



Dear Simon

Your comments are noted.

We do have a number of objections to the programme you made.

One of these was the vicious, nasty-sounding voice-over of the words I wrote on a forum after I attended the two sessions of the Department for Culture Media and Sport Select Committee on 10 March 2009. Your film didn't mention by the way that The Madeleine Foundation had made a 50-page written submission to the Committee, which is why we were invited to attend it.

Many people assumed this was my own voice. This was because, contrary to BBC and TV best practice, you did not say, before the words were read out, 'Mr Bennett's words are read out by an actor'.

The most popular Madeleine McCann Forum on the internet is currently 'Missing Madeleine'. To give a flavour of what many people thought on hearing the BBC actor's words, here is one poster's opinion from that forum, reproduced verbatim:

And Hare really rubbed it in the other night with a clip of Tony Bennett's own voice that I'd never heard before from after he sat behind Gerry McCann at the House of Commons. "It was to send out a quiet message. We are looking over his shoulder checking out what he and his team are saying, watching them." It sounded like something out of a horror filmMany others also referred to this clip in your film and said how horrible my voice sounded. This was a deliberate and unfortunately very successful deception perpetrated by the BBC. I naturally had to correct it as soon as I learned that so many peope really thought that that was my actual voice.

I turn now to the subject of allowing Ms Butler to tell several untruths in her wholly false account of the events of 12 August 2009 when we leafleted in Leicestershire.

You will recall that when I learnt that you might be asking Ms Butler to appear in the programme, I wrote this to you:

"I cannot influence your choice of people to appear in your programme - but it was sold to us on the basis that this was an examination of The Madeleine Foundation. and I would seriously question what Ms Butler has to offer to that programme given all that has happened in the past 8 months since she was expelled".

You then replied: "But at the moment I think it's unlikely she will take part in our film as she expressed the belief that I probably 'work for the McCanns'."

Other assurances you gave suggested that you were not intending to use any film of Ms Butler.

Moreover, in discussions with you, you were made fully aware of Ms Butler's entirely false allegations against me, made after she was expelled from membership. Indeed you were at my house the very day Detective Inspector Roe telephoned me and said that Essex Police were no longer going to pursue their enquiries against me.

Not only did the BBC have this clear proof that Ms Butler was capable of outright lying, but you had further concrete proof when she claimed to be doing a 1,000-mile walk across Spain in the height of the summer. It was clear to all observers that this was another deliberate and outright lie with no truth in it, and you will recall that you and I discussed this. She maintained the deception about this 'walk' for weeks and continues to do so to this day.

You were therefore on the clearest possible notice that no reliance could be put on any statement issuing from Ms Butler.

Yet you allowed her to speak without contradiuction about the events of 12 August. Moreover, contrary to your agreement to put to me any controversial points in good time before the programme went out, you gave neither me nor Helene Davies-Green any opportunity to rebut the false statements of Ms Butler (apart from a passing reference to my denying one of Ms Butler's false statemenrts).

Three of us gave you in detail a true and consistent account of that day's events. Yet the BBC decided to allow viewers only to hear the account of Ms Butler, of whose record of having deliberately lied you were fully aware.

I have therefore - again in response to many queries from members, supporters and followers of ours - had to publicly correct her false statements which you transmitted to viewers.

The statement of Debbie Butler about what happened on the day of leafleting in Leicestershire on 12 August 2009 was false in several respects, namely:

(i)] that she was ‘instructed’ to do anything that day

(ii)] that it was known in advance that the Restaurant and Tea Rooms in Mountsorrel was a place Dr Kate McCann had once visited with Madeleine

(iii) that any of us distributed leaflets there that day

(iv) that she was ‘instructed’ to leaflet the McCanns’ road. The Crescent

(v) that she only did so because Helene’s legs ‘turned to jelly’.

Further, you claimed in writing to us that "...the aims of our film are to examine what the Madeleine Foundation is, who its members are and what it is trying to achieve...I can assure you that I am motivated solely by an interest in examining your campaign in a full and fair manner.''

In our submission the film did not do those things. Your trailer referred to Goncalo Amaral as 'discredited'. Your film said that the theory that Madeleine McCann was found dead in her parents' holiday apartment was also 'discredited'. This left the uninformed viewers with a fait accompli, namely: the detective is discredited, his theory is discredited, therefore members of The Madeleine Foundation and anyone with a contrary view must be wrong and there is no basis for them to continuing to question the McCanns' account of events.

None of the reasons we gave you for believing that the McCanns still have many questions to answer were aired in the film.There was no mention of the alerts to a corpse given by a dog trained by one of the world's top dog handlers. There was no mention of the many contradictions in the evidence and changes of story of the McCanns and their friends, which provide evidence that their stories may not be true. Viewers were not told that we have 500 pages-plus of in-depth analysis of the case on our website.

The viewer was therefore effectively told by you that there was no basis for our view of the case - and that therefore there must be some other motive for our actions. In that context, you allowed Dr Kate McCann two separate opportunities within the film to suggest that we were motivated by a desire to attack a vulnerable family and would then move on to attack another family.

When on 19 October 2010 we heard that the Portuguese Appeal Court had overturned the book ban on Goncalo Amaral's book: 'The Truth About A Lie', we sought written assurances from you that, in the interests of fairness and balance, you would inform viewers that Mr Amaral's book was now back on sale as a result of this Appeal Court ruling.

You replied: "I intend to include the development of the book ban being over-turned in my film".

In the event you chose not to tell viewers that - and you described him as 'discredited' despite the fact that the second highest court in Portugal had just allowed his book to be read again, based on European Convention 'freedom of speech' principles. Whether that was your decision, or you were overruled by your editor and producer, we do not know.

I wish also to refer to the sequence of an MF member hiding behind a lamp-post. As you well know, that member had specifically stated to you beforeahnd that she did not wish to be filmed - and we had your written agreement to that effect. You could have dealt with that issue by simply telling viewers: "Another Madeleine Foundation member was distributing leaflets but did not wish to be filmed". Why did you then try to film her and include that sequence?

Further, you played the song "I don’t care what the people may say’ whilst filming me. What was that meant to convey to the viewer? The only opinion poll ever done in this country, in the Sunday Times, found that 80% of respondents did not believe the McCanns were telling the whole truth. After watching the McCanns appear on a Spanish TV programme, 70% of viewers thought they were lying; only 30% thought they were telling the truth.

As you are well aware, there are many who doubt the McCanns' version of events to a greater or lesser extent. The comments sent recently by members of the public on the subject of Madeleine's disappearence to articles in the online versions of many newspapers make this abundantly clear, quite apart from all the views expressed on the Madeleine McCann discussion forums. It is partly because we do care what the people may say that we write our in-depth articles and publish our leaflets, so that people may gain a better understanding of the case.

Finally, you refer directly to my having accused you of 'lying, deception and unprofessionalism'.

Pretending that it was my voice reading out my internet message and using a deliberately nasty-sounding voice in doing so was a deception on the viewer - as the sort of comments I have referred to above make clear. I do not resile from describing that as a 'deception'.

We were deceived into assuming that you were not going to allow Ms Butler a platform and in deciding to use her you did not offer us the right of reply. I do not say and have not said that that was 'unprofessional'. But others might.

Furthermore, you led us to believe that the un-banning of Amaral's book would be mentioned in the film.

Nowhere have I accused you of lying and I am not aware of a single Madeleine Foundation member who has done so. Clearly hundreds of people have been commenting on the programme on the various Madeleine forums and I am sorry if some have used that word. Their comments are however not our responsibility.

Yours sincerely

Tony Bennett

Comments on our forum here

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