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McCanns in PR talks with Phil Hall

LONDON - The embattled parents of missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann are talking to Phil Hall, former News of the World editor turned PR man, about handling their media relations.

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The news comes as Gerry and Kate McCann face intense media pressure following their return form Portugal after being officially named as suspects by the Portuguese police in the disappearance of their daughter.

Phil Hall Associates is thought to be one of a number of big-name PR firms being considered by the McCanns, who have been in the spotlight now since their daughter disappeared on May 3.

Hall would replace Justine McGuinness, a former Liberal Democrat candidate, who has worked with the McCanns since June.

Since returning from Portugal at the weekend, the storm surrounding the couple has intensified along with speculation about the fate of Madeleine.

Hall is the former editor of the News of the World and Hello! magazine, who made the switch to PR and has represented a sting of high-profile clients including Heather Mills during the break-up of her marriage to Sir Paul McCartney. He has also represented Millwall and West Ham football clubs.

Hall was editor of the News of the World for five years until 2000, when he was replaced by the current editor Rebekah Wade. He then moved to Hello!, before a stint at the Press Association's contract publishing division and then, in 2003, he joined Trinity Mirror in an editorial development role.

Whoever takes on the McCanns case will have to deal with global media interest. The story has sparked unprecedented media attention, which has turned increasingly negative in recent days.

In the last week they have been under siege at their home in Rothley in Leicestershire, with reporters tracking their every move.

Hall said yesterday that he had been talking to the McCanns, but said he had not been hired.

Prior to McGuinness working with the McCanns, the family had help from the British government, which was headed by former tabloid journalist Sheree Dodd, who was followed by a former BBC news journalist Clarence Mitchell.

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