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'My life will be scarred forever' - former Maddie suspect

PUBLISHED: 16:46 05 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:04 07 July 2010

The former Norfolk car salesman named as a suspect by police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann said during a Cambridge University debate last night that his "life will be scarred forever" by the tabloid reporting of "inaccurate and hurtful stories".

The former Norfolk car salesman named as a suspect by police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann said during a Cambridge University debate last night that his “life will be scarred forever” by the tabloid reporting of “inaccurate and hurtful stories”.

Robert Murat, who is in his mid-30s and lived in Hockering, near Dereham, before moving to Portugal to become a property developer, was listed as an official suspect in the hunt for three-year-old Madeleine, who disappeared while on holiday with her parents in Praia da Luz in May 2007.

Detectives later lifted his 'arguido' status and Mr Murat, who was living with his mother in Praia da Luz at the time, accepted damages from a number of newspaper groups and a television company.

He criticised British newspapers having proposed the motion “This house believes tabloids do more harm than good” during the debate at the Cambridge Union Society.

He said: “There was never a shred of evidence that I was in any way involved despite eight months of lurid headlines.

“But could the acres of newsprint devoted to publishing inaccurate and hurtful stories about me have been put to better use in finding Madeleine?

“I have dwelt on that a lot, agonised about it and the fact is we'll never know.”

He said he felt like “a fox being pursued by a pack of hounds” and added: “Often I felt like I was somewhere between a Kafka novel and the Will Smith movie Enemy Of The State.”

Mr Murat explained that after Madeleine disappeared, he, like other locals, felt a natural urge to help.

He said since he was fluent in English and Portuguese he “pitched in” by helping police translate British witnesses' statements.

He became a suspect after one particular tabloid journalist approached police to convince them that he was acting suspiciously.

Police responded by deciding that he should be interviewed.

“The tabloids, from that moment onwards, went into overdrive,” he said. “The sinister part of this story is that it was all part of an effort by the tabloids to portray me as a central character in a lurid freak show of their own invention.

“The official case files, when they were finally released late last year, put a lie to each and every one of these libels. But they had appeared nonetheless.

“To my personal cost, I now know what the maxim 'never let the truth get in the way of a good story' really means.

“So are the tabloids a force for good? In my experience, no. A force for harm? Sadly, yes. My own life will be scarred forever.”

His lawyer, Louis Charalambous, said Mr Murat accepted the invitation to propose the motion as it represented “the most favourable forum within which he could personally and once and for all, set the record straight about his experience at the hands of the British tabloids”.

He added: “He has chosen this as his sole and only opportunity to share these experiences and the plight of victims of the press pack.”

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