A RETIRED lawyer from Harlow is facing the threat of a jail sentence for contempt of court following his latest run-in with the parents of missing Madeleine McCann.
Tony Bennett (65), of Chippingfield, Old Harlow, has been accused of multiple breaches of formal undertakings he signed in November 2009 in which he agreed to stop making allegations that Madeleine’s parents – Kate and Gerry McCann – were involved in covering up their daughter’s death in 2007.
Three–year-old Madeleine went missing in May 2007 from an apartment complex in Praia da Luz, Portugal, where her parents had been holidaying with friends.
The McCanns believe their daughter was kidnapped and have mounted a high-profile campaign in a bid to find her. But despite widespread investigations by both the Portugeuse and British police, she has never been found.
In 2008 Mr Bennett published a controversial book – What Really Happened to Madeleine McCann – in which he made a number of allegations relating to the case
Last Wednesday lawyers acting for the McCanns went to the High Court in London to argue that Mr Bennett had persisted in spreading false allegations against them both online and in print and as a result they were now seeking his imprisonment – or other punishment – for alleged contempt of court.
For his part, Mr Bennett is asking the court to vary the undertakings he gave in 2009 so he can publish what he claims is "credible evidence" that Madeleine died in the holiday apartment, that her parents have covered this up and have lied about matters connected to her reported disappearance.
The court heard the McCanns denied there was any truth in any of the allegations which Mr Bennett "wishes to be free to make" and argued that his continued publication of "numerous grave and actionable libels" against them amounted to harassment.
Mr Justice Tugendhat underlined the vital importance of court orders and undertakings being obeyed and directed that the couple’s case against Mr Bennett should be heard "as soon as practicable".
Speaking to the Star this week, Mr Bennett vowed to fight for his right to free speech and said he believed he had "valid" arguments for his defence.
"Britain’s libel laws are so oppressive that I had no alternative but to agree to the terms of the formal undertakings set out by the McCanns’ lawyers in November 2009," he said.
"Of the 16 undertakings I signed there are only three which I am alleged to have broken. I want to make it absolutely clear that I have never claimed the McCanns killed or were responsible for Madeleine’s death."
He added: "I believe that in a country where freedom of speech is valued so highly I should have the right to publish what I believe to be credible evidence about what happened to Madeleine."