LONDON – The parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann have received more than $1 million in damages and profuse apologies from tabloid newspapers for "numerous grotesque" and "defamatory" articles suggesting that they caused their daughter's death.
Kate and Gerry McCann said Wednesday that Express Newspapers has agreed to pay the equivalent of $1.1 million, or £550,000. The couple's lawyer said the money would go into a fund they have set up to help find their daughter.
Express has also been forced to say it's sorry for more than 100 inaccurate articles written about the McCanns, according to Sky News.
Madeleine disappeared last May 3, only a few days before she was to turn 4 years old, from an apartment where her family was staying during a vacation in Praia da Luz, Portugal.
A statement read by the McCanns' public spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, confirmed the group has agreed to give the money to the Find Madeleine Fund, Sky News reported.
The McCanns said the Express newspapers had published "numerous grotesque and grossly defamatory allegations" about them.
In a statement read outside London's High Court by Mitchell, the couple said they still believed their daughter was alive.
"There is absolutely no evidence that Madeleine is dead or has been seriously harmed," they said.
The parents of the cherubic little girl have said they were eating dinner with friends at a restaurant in the resort and left their three children sleeping in the apartment.
The McCanns have tried to fend off criticism that they shouldn't have left the toddlers alone and insisted that they checked on their daughter and her younger twin siblings frequently. At one point when they looked in on the children, they said, Madeleine was gone.
The money paid to the McCanns will be put toward "investigative initiatives" in the search for the tot, Sky reported.
Two of Express' newspapers ran front-page apologies Wednesday for suggesting the couple were responsible for Madeleine's death. Both The Daily Express and The Daily Star front-page headlines on Wednesday read "Kate and Gerry McCann: Sorry."
The pair of newspapers were among those that went furthest in claiming in daily front-page stories that the couple were responsible for their daughter's disappearance.
"We acknowledge that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this theory and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance," the identical apologies read.
Wednesday's Daily Express admitted that it ran a number of articles implying that "the couple caused the death of their missing daughter Madeleine and then covered it up," Sky News reported.
"Kate and Gerry, we are truly sorry to have added to your distress," the Daily Express added. "We assure you that we hope Madeleine will one day be found alive and well and will be restored to her loving family."
Two more front-page mea culpas were expected to follow in the newspapers' sister publications, The Sunday Express and The Sunday Star.
Weeks after the child's disappearance, Portuguese police named her parents as suspects. The couple say they were not involved in their daughter's disappearance, and they have run an international campaign to find her.
They have complained that they are unable to give their version of events because of Portuguese laws limiting what can be said in criminal cases. But in the meantime British media have published sensational stories claiming to be based on leaks, apparently from Portuguese officials.
No one has been charged and Portugal's Justice Minister Alberto Costa said last month that the police investigation into the disappearance was nearing its conclusion.
Speaking on behalf of the couple "in their words," their spokesman Mitchell read from the statement that the newspapers' action was the "only just, proper response" following the couple's complaint, according to Sky News.
"It is fitting the search for Madeleine will benefit from the wrongs that have been committed against us, her parents," the statement read. "Express newspapers rightly acknowledge they ran stories with absolutely no evidence."
The McCanns had repeatedly asked the papers to tone down their coverage.
"The sustained run of defamation by the group caused great distress, not just for Gerry and Kate, but for their family," Mitchell later told Sky News. The negative reports "provided an absolute distraction to the search to find Madeleine."
He confirmed to Sky that the Express group's four papers — the Daily Express, Daily Star and their Sunday counterparts — "had been politely but firmly warned" by representatives of the couple about the articles, in particular the headlines.
Mitchell acknowledged that many papers were guilty of false reporting, but those published by Express had "the worst track record, with a number of headlines seeing libelous statements and false claims repeated."
Public relations expert Max Clifford told Sky News Online that the settlement sends a message to the British publishing community.
"It will send a warning bow across the whole of Fleet Street," Clifford said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.