Phil Hall is one of the people featured in a new documentary series about the disappearance of British child Madeleine Beth McCann, who was just shy of her 4th birthday when she vanished during a family vacation to Portugal on May 3, 2007.
Hall served as a public relations consultant for the McCann family, as Madeleine’s parents were investigated as potential suspects in their daughter’s disappearance.
The eight-part series about the case debuted on Netflix on March 15, 2019. Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were not involved with the project and have spoken out against it. They’ve said they are concerned the documentary could negatively impact the ongoing investigation. The McCann family has always maintained hope that Madeleine, who would now be 16 years old, is still alive.
Here’s what you need to know about Phil Hall.
1. The McCann Family Sought Help From Phil Hall as They Faced Public Pressure in the Months Following Their Daughter’s Disappearance
Kate and Gerry McCann were viewed as suspects early on in the investigation. The family, from central England, was on vacation in Portugal and were staying at a resort called Praia da Luz. They left Madeleine and their twins, Sean and Amelia, asleep in the hotel while they ate dinner at a restaurant around the corner on May 3, 2007.
Gerry McCann said he checked on the children around 9 p.m. and said all three were sleeping soundly. But an hour later, Kate McCann goes to check and realizes Madeleine is gone.
Gerry and Kate McCann initially had help from the British government. During the summer of 2007, their public relations advocate was Justine McGuinness, who was known for having previously run for Parliament. But in September of 2007, police announced that they were investigating Madeleine’s parents as suspects. The family decided to switch their representation in order to better handle the increased public scrutiny.
Hall told the Guardian in September of 2007 that he had been speaking with the McCann family since Madeleine disappeared. He added that he was not accepting payment for his advice.
Police announced in July of 2008 that Kate and Gerry McCann were no longer being investigated as suspects. According to CNN, they also won accepted more than $1 million in damages from two UK newspapers for libel.
2. Phil Hall Moved Into Public Relations in 2005 & is the Chairman of His Own Agency in London
Phil Hall has been a public relations professional since 2005. He founded his own company called “Phil Hall Associates” or PHA Group. He remains the active Chairman and the firm is based in London.
Hall explained his mission for the company on the website: “I wanted to work with passionate people, I wanted to be known for delivering a strategy, not just talking a good game and I wanted the industry to talk about us. I am proud to say our team has achieved all the above and more. They are an award-winning group of people who thrive on deadlines, difficult briefs and high-pressure targets. We know what we do matters to our clients and letting them down is not an option.”
The firm states on its website that it represents clients involved in a wide range of industries, including corporate finance, politics, entertainment and sports.
3. Phil Hall Represented Heather Mills During Her Divorce From Paul McCartney
Phil Hall was already well-known when he launched his public relations firm due to his many years working as a newspaper editor. That notoriety may have helped him land his very first client: Heather Mills, who was married to former Beatle Paul McCartney at the time. They had reportedly met while he was working at Hello magazine. According to the Independent, Hall was asked to help Mills promote a charity.
But within just a few months of representing the couple, Hall found himself on Mills’ side during the start of a nasty divorce battle. He told the Press Gazette in 2015 that he had an awkward phone conversation with McCartney about the fact that he was advising Mills. “Paul called up, said I’m really sorry I can’t hire you because the law firm I’m hiring have got their own PR company. I said don’t worry I’ll look after Heather and he went crazy, shouting down the phone.”
But Hall decided to drop Heather Mills as a client in the fall of 2007, shortly after it was announced that he had been consulting the McCann family. Hall made the decision after Mills participated in TV interviews in which she slammed the media for negative attention she received during her divorce from McCartney. Mills received additional criticism when she compared herself to Kate McCann and Princess Diana.
4. Phil Hall Previously Worked as the Editor of the British Newspaper ‘News of the World,’ Which Shut Down in 2011 Amidst a Hacking Scandal
Phil Hall was the top man at the News of the World newspaper for five years. He served as its editor from 1995 until 2000. At the time, the newspaper had a daily circulation of more than 4 million.
News of the World shut down in 2011 due to a major privacy scandal. It was discovered that reporters had been hacking the cellphones of politicians, celebrities, and even the phones of murder victims.
Hall addressed the controversy during the Leveson Inquiry in 2011; it was a hearing to analyze the business practices of the British media. Hall explained that exclusive stories did not always guarantee increased readership. He also said that pressure to deliver the “big story” was no excuse for the hacking that had occurred.
In 2012 testimony to the inquiry, Hall explained that the newspaper had not engaged in hacking while he was at the helm. He cited court evidence that suggested the practice began in 2001; he left the newspaper in May of 2000. Hall added that reporters were at times encouraged to use private investigators on major stories. “Private detectives have always been used by newspapers I have worked on. Reporters are primarily trained writers and do not possess the skill to trace people, discover their backgrounds, find friends or associates who might have helped with our inquiries, other than through the basic door knocking approach… My instruction to the news and features editors was that private detectives could be used when they were investigating stories with a strong public interest defence.”
5. Phil Hall Began His Journalism Career in 1974 & Went to ‘Hello’ Magazine After Leaving ‘News of the World’
Phil Hall had more than 30 years of experience as a journalist before he made the switch to public relations in 2005. According to witness testimony that he gave to the Leveson Inquiry, referenced above, Hall began his career in 1974. He first worked at the Sunday People as a reporter.
Hall eventually became a news editor of Sunday People before moving over to the Sunday Express. He joined News of the World in 1993 as a features editor. He was promoted to editor in September of 1995.
Hall stepped down from News of the World in May of 2000. His next move was Hello! magazine. He served as its editor-in-chief for one year. Hall explained he left the magazine to form a publishing company. In early 2003, he served as Director of Editorial Development for the Trinity Mirror. He stayed for two years before quitting to get into public relations.
Hall told the Press Gazette in 2015 that his daily work at the Trinity Mirror was not satisfying and that it helped push him into trying something new. “At Trinity Mirror I wasn’t really doing journalism anymore, it was laying people off and trying to cut budgets. That wasn’t what I set out to do with my life.”