A German tabloid has apologised for running a false story about Cologne-style sex attacks by migrants.
Police investigated after Bild, the country’s biggest selling newspaper, reported that 900 migrants had attacked women in a Frankfurt shopping district, Fressgass, on New Year’s Eve.
The allegation had echoes of attacks in Cologne the previous year, which fuelled the anti-migrant movement in Germany after the country took in hundreds of thousands of those fleeing war and poverty amid the migration crisis.
Bild published quotes from a woman who claimed she had been sexually assaulted and a man who said his bar had been overrun by people attacking women.
The paper said the attackers had gone to Fressgass after police refused them entry to the city centre.
But the police investigation revealed one of the people interviewed by Bild was not even in Frankfurt at the time.
A police spokesman told Frankfurter Rundschau: “After interviewing the witnesses, guests, and colleagues of the witnesses, we have considerable doubts about the version of events that was presented, so much so that one person who was allegedly affected was not in the city at the time.”
In a statement, the newspaper said: “The Bild editorial team expressly apologises for this inaccurate reporting and the accusations against those concerned...
“This reporting does not correspond in any way to the journalistic standards of Bild.”
When people were initially sceptical of the bar owner’s claims, he had to deny he had political motives, after the German press alleged he had said “Merkel Must Go” and expressed support for Far Right groups on Facebook.
The migrant crisis has energised the Far Right in Germany. Many have used the phrase “Merkel Sommer” to suggest a series of attacks and attempted attacks over the summer were the result of the Chancellor’s acceptance of migrants.
HuffPost Germany’s Sebastian Christ accused Bild of spreading “fake news” with its report and encouraged those who wanted to “fuel hatred for all people who have sought refuge from war and violence in Germany”.
He wrote: “You’ve spread fake news. In doing so, you have not only violated journalistic standards but you’ve also been complicit with the Far Right haters, who are waiting while frothing at the mouth for something for which an asylum seeker somewhere in Germany can be punished.”