Monday

Kate and Gerry McCann versus Tony Bennett's committal to prison

MCCANNS v BENNETT - The committal to prison trial will take place for 1 or 2 days, sometime in April or later


By Tony Bennett, Secretary Madeleine Foundation

As a result of a letter from Carter-Ruck dated 13 January and received by me on Friday after I returned from a short holiday, I can now confirm that the ‘Committal Hearing’ where the McCanns are seeking to have me committed to prison, fined, or have my assets seized (and all three are possible in a serious contempt case) will not now take place on 8 February.

The McCanns asked for the date of 8 February to be used for a Directions/Procedure hearing called a ‘Case Management Hearing’, to which I agreed as I need a lot more time to prepare my defence.

Mr James Tipp, Deputy Court Manager and Court Co-ordinator, has agreed and in an e-mail to Carter-Ruck also dated 13 January, he wrote:

“The committal hearing on the 8th February 2012 will now be listed for a two hour directions hearing as requested [by Carter-Ruck]”.

THE DRAFT ORDER

Carter-Ruck have drafted the Order they would like the Court to grant. It provides as follows:


  • I must file my reply no later than 4pm on 22 February
  • The McCanns to have a chance to reply by 21 March
  • The McCanns’ committal-to-prison application be heard after 10 April
  • The trial to be fixed for either 1 or 2 days
  • ‘Costs in the case’.

I am likely to seek to change those proposed directions, if only to seek a great deal more time to prepare my defence. The McCanns on their own admission began together with Carter-Ruck to prepare their Committal application back in June. They served it to me, unannounced, six months later, by two men in a limousine on 1 December, in a box containing five thick Lever Arch files and 2,000 pages of argument and evidence.

LEGAL ADVICE AND COSTS

For the record, I have taken the advice of a local Solicitor who advised that the terms of the undertaking I was forced to give in November 2009 were unusually wide and there were good grounds for them at least to be varied.

He did advise that I should be legally represented if at all possible, but after making enquiries via solicitors and the Legal Services Commission who run the Legal Aid scheme, no Legal Aid is possible to anyone who has savings over £8,000, which I have. He then quoted me figures for advising and said that in view of the many complexities and unusual features of this case, he would need to seek a written Opinion from an experienced barrister. Because of the sheer amount of material which the McCanns have placed before the court, and the need for both the solicitor and barrister to read and consider all the documentation, plus look up and apply all relevant law and case precedent, the cost of being advised alone would run to a 5-figure sum.

My solicitor is not one of the very few solicitors who has what are called ‘rights of audience’ in the Royal Courts of Justice, which means that if I wish to be represented in court, this would mean I would again have to hire a barrister. Again, I have been advised that if you include court attendance on say 3 days of both barrister and solicitor and possibly solicitor’s clerk myself, and dealing with all the preparation of the case, correspondence with the court and Carter-Ruck, preparing Witness Statements, Skeleton Arguments of the case and so on and so forth, the whole bill for legal representation alone would cost potentially tens of thousands of pounds, money I just haven’t got.

I therefore have to struggle on, on my own and unaided, on what feels like a very unequal contest indeed.

The main bone of contention for the McCanns is the opinions I have given on this very forum and on the Madeleine Foundation website.

They accept that I have adhered strictly to the undertakings I gave (1) to close our former website, (2) not to sell or distribute the ‘60 Reasons’ booklet and (3) not to sell or distribute the ‘10 Reasons’ leaflet, the only exception to that being the sale of a book to a photojournalist, Mike Gunnill, who under the name of Michael Sangerte insisted that he needed a physical copy of the book ‘for the purposes of historical research’ - after I had initially refused to sell him a book.

THE HEARING ON 8 FEBRUARY - WILL I BE ENTIRELY ON MY OWN?

I have asked via a unit called the Masters Support Unit at the High Court if the hearing on 8 February will be in open court or in chambers, and have also asked if I could bring a relative or a friend to take notes at the hearing. I got a very short note back saying that all the answers are in a book called ‘Civil Court Practice’, otherwise known as the ‘White Book’, which I could buy from a legal bookshop. Even to get that answer took four e-mails dated 23 and 30 December and 5 and 20 January. I am still trying to find out if anyone is allowed to accompany me to the hearing.

CARTER-RUCK's COSTS

I have raised the question of costs with Carter-Ruck, given the following statement by Dr Kate McCann in her book, ‘madeleine’. On page 287 of that book, she wrote: “Adam Tudor and his colleague Isabel Hudson continue to do a vast amount of work for us, without payment, most of it quietly, behind the scenes”.

Not so in my case, it seems. By way of response, Carter-Ruck have clarified the position so far as claiming costs against me is concerned. This is what they have said:

“In relation to your queries about our clients’ costs, we entered into as fee-paying retainer with our clients in relation to this Contempt of Court application. As previously indicated ,our clients intend (as they are entitled) to seek an Order for the repayment of their costs by you in the event that their application is successful”.

I think I have previously indicated that the McCanns claim I have breached the undertaking I gave the High Court in November 2009 in 149 instances, once by selling a book to Mike Gunnill, and on 148 other occasions by words I have used in postings, articles and leaflets published between January 2010 and August 2011.

SURPRISING CLAIMS OF LIBEL

There are not a few surprising claims of alleged libel.

Alleged breach of undertaking number 148 is described as ‘The 48 Questions video recording created by and featuring the Defendant”. When this was brought to our attention by Carter-Ruck in August, we decided to voluntarily remove that video from YouTube, despite the fact that we could not see how a mere recital of those 48 questions could possibly constitute libel when they consist of a list of questions made public by the Portuguese Police, and are still available to read on the BBC website, and have been published in numerous British and Portuguese newspapers and elsewhere on the internet.

Alleged breach of undertaking number 2 is described as “The Madeleine McCann Case Files, Volume 1, booklet published by the Defendant”. Once again, seeing that this is merely a compilation of a selection of documents made public three years ago by the Portuguese Police, it is hard to see where the libel lies in reproducing them. Furthermore, Carter-Ruck do not specify what parts of that book are said to be libellous. For example, is it possible to view Inspector Tavares de Almedia’s interim report containing the police team’s assessment of what may have happened to Madeleine McCann as ‘libellous’?

I should add here that “The Madeleine McCann Case Files, Volume 1”, was first published by us in late January 2010. The McCanns have made no objection to the publication of this booklet during their occasional correspondence with me during 2010 and 2011 and I confess I was hugely surprised to find that they regarded this as libellous. In their recent letter of 13 January 2012, they say:

“You are continuing to publish some of the publications complained of in our clients’ application against you for Contempt of Court - most notably, by continuing to offer the booklet “The Madeleine McCann Case Files Volume 1’ for sale via your website”.

We honestly cannot see on what grounds the reproduction of e.g. the 48 questions, the interim report of Inspector Tavares de Almeida, the evidence of Martin Grime, the Gaspar statements and excerpts from the lengthy ramblings of Jane Tanner can constitute either libel or a breach of my undertaking.

Therefore our 108-page book remains for sale on our website, price £4 including postage; now may be your last chance to get a copy to give to your relatives, friends an acquaintances before it is banned, like 60 Reasons and 10 Reasons.

A BATTLE - PICKED

On page 290 of ‘madeleine’, Dr Kate McCann writes this:

“We have taken action against one or two websites, but it has proved almost impossible to get this stuff removed from some of them, particularly those hosted in the USA. Friends flag up some of the worst offenders for us, but in the end it comes down to picking your battles”.

Well, I have been well and truly ‘picked’.

I don’t mean this in any way unkindly, but for those of you who can type away your opinions on what really happened to Madeleine McCann without fear of inviting a libel action, think yourselves fortunate. It’s a freedom that might be curtailed later, if I lose this battle and if Lord Leveson has anything to do with changing press freedoms and internet law.

Finally, thanks so much to all of you who say kind things about my stand. They may not stop me going to prison, paying a heavy fine, or losing all my savings and my home, but I assure you they are a solace and a comfort at a time of stress, and I appreciate each and every one of them.

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