A retired solicitor who published claims that Madeleine McCann’s parents caused her death has been given a suspended jail sentence.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said 65-year-old Tony Bennett deliberately flouted legal undertakings, given in November 2009, not to repeat allegations about the couple. He said his conduct was so serious that nothing less than a custodial sentence of three months suspended for one year would reflect the harm he had done.
Finding Bennett guilty of contempt of court, Tugendhat said: “I am sure that he intended to allege that the claimants are to be suspected of causing the death of their daughter, and did in fact dispose of her body, lie about what happened and covered up what they had done.”
The London high court judge said he was satisfied that Bennett, of Harlow, Essex, was in breach of the undertakings in each of the 13 representative instances before the court – out of 153 publications complained of. He was not asked to make findings in relation to the other alleged breaches.
He said: “It is essential for the rule of law that injunctions and court orders be obeyed. It can’t be an answer that the person who is giving an undertaking or subject to an injunction can ignore it with impunity while it is in force.”
Bennett, who was ordered to pay the costs of the litigation, apologised to the court. He said: “I recognise the distress I have caused on a number of occasions to the claimants. I would like to apologise to them for that distress.”
The judge said Gerry and Kate McCann, who did not attend court, had suffered injury to their reputations and feelings, and had resorted to legal action not to punish Bennett but to put a stop to his repeated conduct.
He agreed with lawyers for the McCanns that Bennett had played “cat and mouse” with them by complying with the undertakings some of the time. “He was testing them with false or disingenuous assurances and demands for explanations to which, as a member of the public with no responsibility for law enforcement, he was not entitled.”
Which just goes to prove that you can libel some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time….especially not when you have signed an undertaking not to do so at any time…
Those who believe that the Internet is some sort of wild west would be well advised to take notice. Last time I heard a figure for the costs in this matter, it was somewhere in the region of £288,000.
As is well known, I have a long history with this man, his propensity for libel has had to be curtailed by me on several occasions. Hopefully he will shut up now.