Matt Baggott

At the time Baggott said he wrote two letters to the press calling for 'restraint'

Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

The former chief constable of Leicestershire police, now chief constable of the police service of Northern Ireland, today said that "speculation" in the UK press did "hinder" the inquiry into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

The inquiry was told that the Leicestershire force, covering the McCann's local area, was "asked to co-ordinate the UK response to assist the Portuguese enquiry".

In evidence to the Leveson inquiry chief constable Matt Baggott told the court the force received complaints about press behaviour "around disruption to daily life caused by a large media presence".

Baggott said he wrote two letters to "all the prominent editors" calling for "restraint in reporting on the case".

In the letters he wrote he had "been surprised at the reporting of some alleged facts" and was "deeply concerned at the implications".

He added that the reaction was "not hugely positive" given that "speculation continued".

Baggott also told the inquiry "there could have been a greater authority to explain the boundaries of what that press reporting should have been".

"The difficulty was it involved a European dimension as well as a national one. But there could be stronger guidelines and consequences."

He added that the speculation occurring in areas of the press "certainly hindered the inquiries to find and trace Madeleine simply because of the reaction that came from the media speculation".

Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry last year the parents of Madeleine McCann said they were "tried by the media" in the wake of her disappearance.

They also spoke about a "tremendous amount of speculation", with coverage becoming often "exaggerated" and other reports being "simply made up" and "inaccurate, untruthful and incredibly damaging".

Asked what lessons could be learnt from the McCann case, Baggott today said while the inquiry is ongoing "the lesson to be learnt is probably a greater understanding of the complexity and consequences of speculation and loose reporting of facts".

"That is a serious issue for the press to consider", he added.

"I don't think some of this speculation was necessary certainly wasn't practical and it certainly wasn't proportionate.

"... A greater understanding of consequence would have been appropriate."

Speaking more generally about police officers disclosing information he said there is a need for a "balance" to be found "between giving local colleagues the ability to storytell with the right ethical guidance and support, which is entirely appropriate, while making sure the very real issues of the inappropriate use of information, whether that's for personal gain or through gossip still remains under tight control".

"Our relationships with the media probably need to be reasserted based on what the man or woman on the street would think."

He added: "It should be amicable and it should be very friendly, but it should always professional and for a purpose."

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