A retired solicitor who claimed the parents of missing Madeleine McCann covered up her death has been handed a suspended jail term.

Tony Bennett, 65, formerly of Chippingfield, Harlow, but now living in Ongar, was found guilty of contempt of court after breaking legal directions banning him from spreading rumours over the internet about Kate and Gerry McCann, whose three-year-old daughter disappeared from their Portuguese holiday apartment in 2007.

Bennett, a former solicitor and social worker who represented himself in court, has written about the McCanns, criticising them and what they have said since Madeleine went missing.

Judge Michael Tugendhat said Bennett had been responsible for the publishing of several libellous claims that the couple should be suspected of causing their daughter's death. 

Bennett was found to have publicised an online booklet called ‘What Really Happened to Madeleine McCann? 10 key reasons which suggest that she was not abducted.’ 

Sentencing Bennett to three months’ jail, suspended for a year, Mr Justice Tugendhat said: “I am sure that you intended to allege that the claimants are to be suspected of causing the death of their daughter and did in fact dispose of her body, lie about what happened and covered up what they had done.

“The claimants have suffered injury to their reputations and feelings by the repetition of the allegations which you have repeated in breach of your undertakings.

“You were deliberately flouting the undertakings, and the apology that you offered when giving your evidence was insincere.

“I am sure that you appreciated the seriousness of what you were doing, not least because you trained to be a solicitor.”

He added that the McCanns’ aim in bringing the case to court had not been to punish Bennett but to stop him repeating the harmful claims.