The Daily Star has issued a lengthy and unreserved apology to Rockstar Games after claiming last week the Scottish developer was working on a Grand Theft Auto game inspired by the crimes and subsequent manhunt of Raoul Moat. The British tabloid, owned by Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell Media, admitted it had made no attempt to check the veracity of the story before publication and had not attempted to contact Rockstar. It has also agreed to pay "a substantial amount in damages," which the developer has said it is to donate to charity. Moat had shot dead the partner of an ex-girlfriend, injured several others, and eventually shot himself during a police standoff after a lengthy manhunt.
The Star had claimed that GTA Rothbury was in development on the basis of a mocked-up cover showing scenes from the police manhunt for Moat. It did not attempt to contact Rockstar to verify that the cover was genuine or that any such plans existed, admitting it "made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication." It also expressed outrage that such a game was in development, running quotes from the grandmother of one of Moat's victims suggesting the games was "blood money,” and “beyond belief.”
The story, which first appeared last Wednesday, has now been removed from the Daily Star's Web site, and the paper has undertaken not to repeat the claims again. The URL of the story now instead points to the paper's standard 404 page, which invites readers to "check out the babes section" via a banner tactfully placed across a topless model's chest. In an apology published on Saturday, the paper said, "It is now accepted that there were never any plans by Rockstar Games to publish such a game and that the story was false. We apologise for publishing the story using a mock-up of the game cover, our own comments on the matter and soliciting critical comments from a grieving family member."
The Star has made a number of corrections and public apologies for misleading or fictitious stories this year. One of the more notable was to its readers for the headline "Terror as Plane hits Ash Cloud" using a mocked-up photo the day airspace reopened after the Eyjafjallajokull eruption earlier this year. It has also issued apologies to celebrities, including Peaches Geldof--for giving the false impression that she was a prostitute--and to other public figures such as Matt Lucas and Heather Mills for publishing false or misleading stories about them. The Daily Star's owner, Richard Desmond, agreed last week to acquire the UK's smallest terrestrial network, Channel 5, from its German owners RTL.