Express Newspapers pays £375k in damages to 'Tapas seven'

LONDON - The seven friends of Kate and Gerry McCann who dined with the couple on the night their daughter Madeleine was taken are to be paid substantial damages by Express Newspapers.

The Daily and Sunday Express and sister paper The Daily Star are all printing apologies to the group who became known as the "tapas seven" in the long-running and intense media coverage surrounding the disappearance of three-year old Madeleine in May last year from Praia da Luz, in the Algarve, Portugal.

Sky News has reported that the seven, Jane Tanner, Russell O'Brien, Fiona and David Payne, Matthew and Rachel Oldfield and Diane Webster, are to be paid a total of £375,000 in damages following a series of articles published in the papers.

The two papers said the payout would be donated to the Find Madeline Fund.

The lengthy 200-word apology appears this morning in the Daily Star and Express on page three and five respectively under the headline "Tapas Seven - an apology". The apology is expected to be repeated in the Sunday Express.

The papers said the apologies related to a series of stories published between July and December 2007, which they admitted were untrue and "should never have been made".

The damages payment is one of a long list that national newspapers have made in the 18 months since Madeleine disappeared.

In March, Express Newspapers paid substantial damages and issued an unprecedented double front-page apology in the Daily Express and Daily Star to Gerry and Kate McCann.

At the time, the McCann's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said the newspaper group's coverage of the couple included "wildly and grossly defamatory articles".

The latest apology by the Richard Desmond-owned titles follows an apology last month by The News of the World, which ran extracts of Kate McCann's diary without her permission.

In July Robert Murat, a suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, accepted a £600,000 damages settlement from 11 UK newspapers.

The full Express and Star apology reads: "In articles published between July and December last year we suggested that the holiday companions of Kate and Gerry McCann might have covered up the true facts concerning Madeleine McCann's disappearance and/or misled the authorities investigating her disappearance.

"We also reported speculation that one member of the group, Dr Russell O'Brien, was suspected of involvement with Madeleine's abduction.

"We now accept that these suggestions should never have been made and were completely untrue.

"We apologise to Jane Tanner, Russell O'Brien, Fiona Payne, David Payne, Matthew Oldfield, Rachael Oldfield and Diane Webster to whom we have agreed to pay substantial damages which they will donate to the Find Madeleine Fund."