Christopher Jefferies, 66, said he was ‘shamelessly vilified’ by the Express and other newspapers and had to change his appearance and live ‘a hole and corner’ existence after police arrested him on suspicion of the murder of Joanne Yeates.

The Express later paid him substantial libel damages along with the Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Daily Star, and The Scotsman. He said his normal life was suspended as he moved from one safe-house to another until police stopped proceedings against him in March this year, adding: ‘The Press set about what can only be described as a witch-hunt. 

'The tabloid Press decided that I was guilty of Miss Yeates’s murder and seemed determined to persuade the public of my guilt. They embarked on a frenzied  campaign to blacken my character by publishing a series of very serious allegations about me which were completely untrue, allegations which were a mixture of smear, innuendo and complete fiction.’

Kate and Gerry McCann, parents of missing Madeleine. The couple told Leveson they had sued Express Newspapers and secured unprecedented front-page apologies in 2008 after two of the group's titles ran stories which included the allegation that they had sold their daughter to pay off debts. Describing that as "nothing short of disgusting", Gerry McCann said he was amazed no one at Express Newspapers, which also paid the couple record damages of £550,000, had lost their job.

He added: "I've seen no journalist or editor brought to account, be it the Express or any other group … they are repeat offenders, they should lose their privilege of practising."

Mr McCann said British newspapers had declared "open season" on them a few months after Madeleine's disappearance in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz in May 2007. It was "crass and insensitive", he argued, to say that because they engaged with the media in an attempt to find their daughter "the press can write whatever they like about you without punishment. There are standards but there are no penalties for not sticking to them. I see front page headlines every day … and I think information is being written and lives are being harmed by these stories and something has to change. The commercial imperative is not acceptable."

The McCanns' evidence is likely to strengthen the argument for a stricter regime of press regulation. Leveson, who was appointed by David Cameron at the height of the phone-hacking crisis, is due to report within a year.

The McCanns painted a disturbing picture of life at the centre of a media scrum. Gerry McCann said: "We expected the storm to calm with the passage of time but it continued day after day. We had anecdotal evidence from the British journalists in Praia da Luz that the story of Madeleine's disappearance had caught the imagination of the British public and was driving sales in the UK. As a result those journalists were under intense pressure from their newsdesks to file more copy."

Photographers camped outside the house, Kate McCann said, frightening their two young children. "There were several occasions where they would bang on the windows. Amelie said to me several times: 'Mummy, I'm scared.'"