Friday, 29 February 2008
It’s now 124 days since Madeleine McCann disappeared. Our correspondent charts a story that became global, lurid and often invented – and hears how the McCanns learnt to think positively after imagining the darkest scenarios and suffering uncontrollable grief
This is the story that has preoccupied at least two nations and elicited sympathy around the world. It is now 124 days old and has been told thousands of times in millions of words. Yet the story has only one fact: on the evening of May 3, a three-year-old child, Madeleine McCann, disappeared from the bedroom where she slept. We may think we know more than that, but we don’t, and no matter how often the story is repeated and the sole fact is spun, all we are reading is speculation. Or slurs and lies. There have been plenty of those, too, because when the media run out of facts and speculation, their more unscrupulous exponents resort to invention.
It’s not pretty. A story that was always tragic and has yet to have any kind of resolution, let alone a happy ending, is being treated with the abandon more normally meted out to soap opera characters or to those who elect to engage with the manufactured world of reality TV. The difference is that Madeleine is neither fictional nor a wannabe star, and neither are her parents, Gerry and Kate, who, you will note, don’t need a surname any more. We know them that well, or we think we do. Note, too, that referring to them as Gerry and Kate breaks the convention of referring to them as Kate and Gerry: when feeding the masses a tale of heartbreak the distraught mother is a more emotive presence than an anguished father.
There is no doubt that Madeleine’s disappearance – and what has happened since – raises important questions about how we can best protect our children from those who wish them harm, about the obligations of the media, and about our responses to the pain of people we don’t know. During the past three weeks I’ve examined these questions in Praia da Luz, the sunny whitewashed family idyll on the Algarve where I met the McCanns, and elsewhere.
As everyone is acutely aware, the reason we know so little about Madeleine’s disappearance is because she was abducted in Portugal, where the segredo de justiça law prevents the police from putting information about a criminal investigation in the public domain. Had Madeleine disappeared in Britain or the US, this would not have happened. Given that the Portuguese police admit that after four months they still have no idea where she is, or whether she is alive or dead, the first question has to be whether the lack of information is merely frustrating, and especially so for her parents, or whether it has impeded her safe recovery.
Neil Thompson has 30 years of police experience, latterly as a detective superintendent in charge of operations for the UK’s National Crime Squad. Now the director of security at red24, a private security company, he does not support the Portuguese tactic. “If a child is abducted for sexual exploitation or murder, no information is unhelpful,” he says bleakly. “In the UK you would release information to the media and the public that could help the situation, and keep back anything that might compromise the investigation, or frighten the perpetrator into harming the child. It’s a balancing act. Your priority is to get the victim back alive, arresting the perpetrator is lower down the scale. A no-information rule means that you’re working in the dark.
“The first two to three hours are vital. The first officer at the scene secures it and calls in detectives. A good officer has a nose for these things, and you have a process that tells you when a child has not wandered off. You set up road blocks, you check ports, you check intelligence – has anyone tried to snatch a child in the area? Can anyone describe a car? All that is fed into an incident room and analysed and the senior information officer decides what to release to the public. In the UK police can get a newsflash out straight away to TV and radio so you’ve got thousands of eyes and ears right at the beginning and you tell the public what you want them to look for. If you do that 24 or 48 hours later it loses impact.”
We don’t know exactly when Madeline was reported missing, and I am told that none of the published timelines relating to May 3 are accurate. I have also learned that the Portuguese response system is slow and unwieldy. The McCanns’ call to the police was received in Portimão, a 30-minute drive away, and the practice is for a local officer to attend the scene to assess whether a crime has been committed and whether to call for help. Police officers drove to apartment 5A at the Ocean Club where the McCanns were staying, then referred the case to the Policia Judiciaria in Portimão. Thus vital time was lost immediately after Madeleine’s disappearance – when it was imperative that the investigation should become active.
“You’re only as good as your expertise,” Thompson says. “If you’re in a country that hasn’t got a lot of serious crime and the training hasn’t gone into major investigations, you make mistakes and lose evidence.” Abductions are rare but not random, he adds. “Most child abductions are planned; it’s not a burglar who finds a child and takes it. Paedophiles go to places where there are children, such as Disney World. Whatever this abductor’s motive, he has been in the vicinity, he knows that there are children in this complex and that when people are on holiday they’re relaxed, and don’t think about risk. He will know the area and will have planned what he is going to do with the child. If he’s going to keep the child in a secure room, he will have been careful not to alert shopkeepers by buying food he wouldn’t normally buy. If a child is going to be sold for exploitation, in this case the unprecedented scale of the publicity has given the abductor a problem because he has an item that is readily identifiable all over the world and can’t be passed on.”
Those who specialise in tracing missing children acknowledge that publicity can unnerve a perpetrator, but insist that it is key and does save lives. “We know the public helps us to find missing children and it’s up to law enforcement officers on each case to make the call as to what they tell the public,” says Nancy McBride, the national safety director at the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has recovered 110,276 (just over 86 per cent) of the 127,737 children reported missing to it since 1984. “There’s always a risk, but it’s worth it. We never give up, we never close a case until we know what’s happened to a child.”
In seeking publicity, the McCanns had the clear objective of finding their daughter. What they did not envisage was that interest would spread, as Gerry puts it, like a forest fire, and that 150 journalists would suddenly descend on Praia da Luz, excited by the prospect of a story of a pretty child with attractive parents who are also middle class and intelligent – and far away from the stereotypical image of an inadequate single mother who might carelessly mislay a child and who certainly couldn’t afford to visit this aspirational resort. Add to that the parents’ status as doctors, people who save lives, yet who leave their children, Madeleine and her two-year-old twin siblings, without adult supervision in an apartment while they eat at a tapas bar a 52-second walk away, and the chattering classes are simultaneously full of sympathy and hooked.
When you first see apartment 5A you are struck by its exposed location. On the ground floor of a five-storey block, it is on a street corner and, like most of the Ocean Club apartments, not part of the gated section that houses the tapas bar and crèche. It would be easy to observe from different viewpoints, and perhaps to notice that this family had a regular pattern of behaviour in the evening, putting their children to bed, slipping across to the tapas bar and checking on them regularly.
But these are observations made with the benefit of bitter hindsight. Before Madeleine became a household name, no one thought like that on holiday, especially in an English-speaking resort so sedate that it doesn’t even have facilities for teenagers. In late April the weather is pleasant, the beach is a five-minute walk away and you’re there to relax and have fun. “It’s a quiet, safe resort,” says Gerry when we meet in a borrowed flat. “The distance from the apartment to the restaurant was 50 yards. We dined in the open-air bit and you can actually see the veranda of the apartment. It’s difficult because if you are [at home] cutting grass in the back with the mower, and that takes me about half an hour, and the children are upstairs in a bedroom, you’d never bat an eyelid. That’s similar to how we felt. We’ve been unfortunately proved wrong, out of the blue. It’s shattered everything.”
“Everyone I know who had been to Portugal with their children said it was very family friendly, and it did feel like that,” says Kate. “If I’d had to think for one second about it, it wouldn’t have happened. I never even had to think like that, to make the decision. It felt so safe that I didn’t even have to – I mean, I don’t think we took a risk. If I put the children in the car the chances of having an accident would be greater than somebody coming in, breaking into your apartment and lifting a child out of her bed. But you never think, I shouldn’t put the children in the car.”
This is the first time that the McCanns have confirmed that the apartment was broken into. This information does not compromise Madeleine’s safety, and rules out one of the numerous red herring theories that the police have explored, that Madeleine wandered away on her own. There is no logic in withholding it from the public.
“I have no doubt in my mind that she was taken by somebody from the room,” says Kate. “We don’t know if it was one person, two, or if it was a group of people, but I know she was taken.”
“There’s still hope because we don’t know who’s taken her, we don’t know where they’ve taken her and we certainly don’t know where she is,” says Gerry. “The first time I spoke to Ernie Allen, the chief executive of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the States, he said what I wanted to hear, and they’ve got enough experience of getting children back after long periods of time still to remain hopeful, and their own experience is that the younger the child, the less likelihood of serious harm. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not blinkered. The scenario that everyone thinks about is that a paedophile took her to abuse her and if that is the situation then statistically the chances are they would kill her. But we don’t know that and that’s the difficulty we’re dealing with. There are a range of scenarios and we want every single avenue explored because they’re all pretty rare. That doesn’t mean they should be represented in front page headlines as if all of them are likely, because they’re not.”
Does the Portuguese insistence that no information can be given about the investigation have any advantages? “For us, not having any information is very difficult,” Kate replies. “For us as parents it’s beneficial having information. We know that from our own jobs – the main complaint from patients’ families is lack of communication and not being informed. It’s detrimental.”
Of course the McCanns’ bid for information from the public, unsupported by details of the abduction, had already been hamstrung by the investigation’s slow start. There was also a language barrier. They now have phone access to a police officer who speaks English, but contact is variable, they say. You sense that they are often in situations where they would like to be forthright, but are obliged to keep their thoughts to themselves. “It is frustrating,” says Kate. “The whole situation makes you angry, that’s part of the whole grief that something like this has happened to Madeleine and to us. They’re all normal emotions and sometimes you do just want to explode.”
The McCanns sit on a sofa, Kate bone-thin – although I am told that she is very fit – extremely shy and modest, Gerry composed and easier to read. At the beginning of our interview Kate holds Madeleine’s pink toy cat in one hand and clutches her husband’s with the other. Kate’s face looks so tense and agonised that you might think that she was about to be tortured, and she seems to shrink into herself.
But as the hour passes she relaxes, takes her hand out of her husband’s and even laughs at some of the absurdities of their situation, recalling a day on the beach when she was on the phone to a friend and suddenly found herself being covered in kisses by a group of Portuguese matrons. Were this couple not wrapped up in this extraordinary event they would be unremarkable, the husband an assured man who likes to be in control, the wife a family-orientated mother who enjoys her job and still has friends from when she was 4.
Both are from working-class backgrounds: Gerry is the youngest of five children of an Irish matriarch and her joiner husband who brought up their family in Dumbarton, near Glasgow; Kate the only child of a Liverpool joiner and a civil servant. They met as junior doctors in Glasgow 12 years ago, got together as they travelled in New Zealand and she trained as an anaesthetist before retraining as a GP because, as two hospital doctors, they rarely saw each other.
In the immediate aftermath of Madeleine’s disappearance the McCanns found solace in their Catholic faith and were grateful for the warmth and care that greeted them at the Nossa Senhora da Luz church, a tiny, beautiful and peaceful sanctuary that forms a focal point for the community. “I felt cosseted,” Gerry says. “We felt so fragile and vulnerable. People kept saying ‘you’ll get her back’. It was what we needed to hear because we just had the blackest and darkest thoughts in the first 24, 36 hours, as if Madeleine had died. It was almost uncontrollable grief.
“The psychologist who came out to help us [Alan Pike from the Centre for Crisis Psychology in Skipton] was very good at turning our thought processes away from speculation. OK, there’s probabilities, but you don’t know that and he was very good at challenging the negatives. He was very much, ‘You will feel better after each thing that you take control of, even simple things’. We were surrounded by the Ambassador, the consul, PR crisis management, police, and he was saying ‘The decisions are yours’.”
“All these people we were meeting had to be there, and I felt so out of control and I found it quite scary,” says Kate. “I felt as if I’d been pushed into another world. Alan was saying, ‘There are little things you can take control of’.”
“For example,” says Gerry, “if you are asked ‘Do you want a cup of tea?,’ instead of saying ‘Mmm’, make a positive decision. Decide what you want. That combination of the Church, the community and the psychology helped very quickly. We agreed to interact because we thought it would probably help the search and it would be easier than hiding. Stay in the dark and you’re an enigma. There wasn’t anything to hide and in the first few weeks we were shown a lot of respect.”
The launch of the Find Madeleine campaign brought them more respect for their organisational skills. Friends and family rallied, a strategy was worked out, the media were fed pictures and quotes, and big businesses, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Beckham and numerous unknown individuals responded with support and donations. This money – the fund now stands at more than £1 million – enabled them to appoint a campaign manager and to publicise Madeleine’s disappearance by visiting other countries. With the possible exception of their blessing by the Pope at the Vatican, which was the brainwave of a tabloid newspaper and seemed to contradict the McCanns’ status as ordinary people, they were beyond reproach as campaigners, particularly as they began to engage with agencies that have expertise in recovering missing children. The story rolled along nicely, filling more front pages than any other event since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, though not because the McCanns were managing the media, but because there was increasing evidence that Madeleine sells papers.
Then things started to go wrong. By the end of the second week of August, when the McCanns marked the 100th day since Madeleine’s disappearance by launching a YouTube initiative to help to find missing children, the Portuguese media had suggested that the McCanns could have killed their daughter, and the British press was not shy about repeating and even revelling in the “monstrous slurs”. Coincidentally that was the week I first visited Praia da Luz: there were nine television satellite trucks, each with a noisy generator, on the road outside apartment 5A, and the Portuguese crews were threatening to move outside the McCanns’ rented villa and had to be pacified with an interview. The Ocean Club asked the McCanns to stop bringing the twins to the kids’ club because other guests had complained about the media presence, and a couple of chain-smoking security men appeared outside reception. Praia da Luz, once a sardine-fishing community, now a manufactured resort with a reputation for guaranteeing uneventful and sunny family holidays, was becoming ugly.
The solicitor of Robert Murat, the only person to have been named by police as a suspect in the Madeleine investigation, didn’t help matters when he announced that business in Praia da Luz was suffering and that people there wanted “those bloody McCanns to go home”. However strong a news line this was, it wasn’t entirely true. Some shopkeepers continued to display posters appealing for information about Madeleine, others spoke tactfully about their sympathy for the McCanns. “It’s not that we want the McCanns to go home, it’s just that we want the bad feeling to go away,” said one café owner, who declined to be named. “Last year you had to book three weeks ahead to get in here in the evening, now you don’t need to book. Praia da Luz has become the place where you lose your children. It’s terribly sad, and it’s terrible for the McCanns.”
Something else was happening, too, that wasn’t entirely edifying. At the church a steady stream of Portuguese worshippers and tourists approached the shrine to Madeleine to the left of the altar, and many were devout and respectful. Others nipped in to take a quick picture of the shrine and left without a bow of the head; after all, it’s not every year that you go on holiday and find yourself in the presence of a moment so big that it is being recorded by television cameras.
Outside Robert Murat’s home, which could not be seen from the road because of a deep and dense hedge, a Portuguese tourist checked with me that she had the right house, then stuffed herself into the hedge to get a proper look. (She was obviously not the first to do so, as sections of the hedge are now dying.) A hundred yards away sight-seers posed for photographs alongside the television crews positioned with 5A in the background.
On a seat overlooking the beach, Martin Payne, a well-meaning hairdresser from Stratford-upon-Avon, displayed an intriguing mixture of sympathy and fascination. He had just spotted Gerry in his Renault Scenic (which was more than I had at this stage; the McCanns are impossible to get near unless their campaign manager vets and approves you) and was happy to volunteer every known fact about the McCanns, and to speculate, in detail, on what might have happened to Madeleine.
“You’ve been reading too many books, Martin,” said his wife. “I feel the same way that I felt when Princes Diana was killed,” Martin said. “Such a loss to a lovely family. We want to have a conclusion to this.”
When I suggest to the McCanns that some of the interest in them borders on the prurient, they seem to be unaware of it. At church they register the crowd outside as kindly support, and don’t notice those on the fringes who are there just to spot them. In other contexts their unsought fame appals them. “We feel totally exposed, as though we have been stripped bare,” says Kate.
They tend not to pick up the more sickly nuances within the press, because they don’t read it; instead the campaign team (which consists of the full-time lobbyist the McCanns hired after the fund was set up, plus two other part-timers who ensure seven-day-a-week cover to field the innumerable media inquiries) shows them what they need to see, including translations of Portuguese coverage. And as they demonstrated last week with the announcement that they are to take legal action against the Portuguese newspaper Tal e Qual, for its allegation that they killed Madeleine with an overdose of sedatives, they will no longer tolerate lurid claims that defame them.
“We had no illusions that we could control the media,” says Gerry. “The way that information has got out has been handled incredibly badly, without a doubt. It’s almost as though some people are thinking out loud. It’s all very well to have a potential scenario but that shouldn’t necessarily be written up as if there is evidence to support it. I think this has been handled very irresponsibly by a number of people. We don’t believe there is any evidence to support any of the deluded headlines, and the police have made that clear.”
“There are times when you just want to shout out ‘That’s wrong’, because I think we’ve been done injustice in a lot of ways,” says Kate.
“There’s a blacker picture painted than what is true,” says Gerry, “whether it is how much we were drinking, which was a gross exaggeration, or how often we were checking. We know what we did and we are very responsible. It’s bad enough for us to have to deal with the fact that someone saw an opportunity – to then have elements sneering at your behaviour and making it look much worse than it was. It’s difficult because a lot of untruths, half truths and blatant lies have been published. It was published that we had 14 bottles of wine.”
“In an hour between us,” interjects Kate. “I’d have been impressed with that in my student days. Not only that, they qualify it by saying eight bottles of red and six of white, as though it gives it more credibility. You just want to scream.”
Where do the Portuguese media get their information? Brendan de Beer, the editor of the English language Portugal News, is the only journalist to have spoken at length to Chief Inspector Olegário Sousa, the spokesman for the PolÍcia Judiciária on the Madeleine investigation. Sousa, who has 20 years’ service and has previously focused on crimes relating to works of art, armed robberies and car-jacking, suggested that some information is being inadvertently leaked by officers at informal lunches with friends. De Beer is more specific and suggests that some of the more incongruous claims are no more than gossip.
Some of the police detectives involved in the case have spoken off the record, he says, and journalists have contacts within the police just as they do in Britain. “I’ve spoken to a couple of them [police officers], but never to an extent where they told me a syringe had been found in the room or there was blood on the keys of the hire car. That kind of information seems to come from police constables. You get someone who tells something to their wife, they tell their hairdresser, who tells a journalist.
“I think that there’s a lot of invention. A journalist might say to a detective, ‘Do you think Madeleine fell and died and Kate and Gerry got rid of the body?’ Off the record the detective might say ‘It’s possible’, and they write a story based on ‘sources close to the investigation.’ I’d be very surprised if there was any bribery, though a constable does earn only about €600 or €700 a month, so it could happen. The suggestion that the police were closing in on the McCanns . . . I’ve been disappointed by some of the reporting.”
Not that British reporting has been irreproachable. The slurs have been widely dissected, a suspect has been invented by one needy tabloid, and when I rang Paolo Marcilemo, the editor of the Correio da Manhã, which has a reputation for scurrilous reporting, he said that he was no longer giving interviews because the British press has misquoted him.
For the McCanns there is no respite, though they are slowly becoming accustomed to their grief. “They’re not gone, the feelings,” Gerry says. “When we enjoyed ourselves with the kids we had guilt – how could we enjoy ourselves when Madeleine was missing? But it’s so important for the kids that it’s unbridled love and attention for them. I’m definitely much better at doing that now, almost carefree for a lot of the time. Not 100 per cent.”
They will return to their home in Rothley, in the East Midlands, they confirm, and the timing will depend on the police investigation, which is currently in a state of hiatus as the PolÍcia Judiciária waits for the results of British tests on samples taken from the apartment.
Gerry has been home twice, he says, and has been inside the house. “I was pretty anxious about it, but it’s now a comfort. We’ll go back when we’ve done as much as we possibly can for Madeleine. We’re at a point where staying here is not necessarily adding anything to the campaign to find her.”
He has also discussed returning to work with his line manager; he elected to take unpaid leave rather than compassionate leave shortly after Madeleine’s disappearance. As a cardiologist who deals with very sick patients he doesn’t want to return immediately to a full-time schedule of patient care, but plans to focus initially on MRI scans, administration and academic work. “When you’re seeing 12 or 15 patients a day you have to be focused on them and can’t be thinking about what you want to do for missing children in Europe. When I’m occupied and applied it helps, and work eventually will take some of that focus. The fund enables us to make decisions for us and for Madeleine, and not for financial necessity. It’s not paying for any of our accommodation here, but it has covered a lot of expenses for us, and trips, and it helps to provide support for people to come out to help us, flights and things.”
As a part-time GP, Kate’s job is patient-centred, and she has yet to decide whether she will return to it. What they are certain of is that they will continue to campaign for systems to be established to help to recover missing children. Portugal, like Spain and many other European countries, does not have a sex offenders’ register, and as for the UK, although a Child Rescue alert system was launched here last year, relying primarily on speedy contact with the media, it has yet to be tested. Neither does Britain have any reliable statistics on missing children, and this means that the scale of the problem is unknown.
Fortunately, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a system that works, and can be copied. It is based in Virginia, employs 300 people and its success relies on instant media alerts and distribution of fliers, and a high level of training for the professionals involved. Its agenda has always been to make its methods operate globally, and now it has Gerry and Kate McCann on its side. Their determination to be involved in this task is the first sign that something positive, tangible and enduring could come from what has so far been the bewildering and tragic story of Madeleine McCann.
Thursday, 28 February 2008
It was a welcome spring break, a chance to relax at a child-friendly resort in Portugal. Soon Bridget O'Donnell and her partner were making friends with another holidaying family while their three-year-old daughters played together. But then Madeleine McCann went missing and everyone was sucked into a nightmare
Friday December 14 2007
We lay by the members-only pool staring at the sky. Round and round, the helicopters clacked and roared. Their cameras pointed down at us, mocking the walled and gated enclave. Circles rippled out across the pool. It was the morning after Madeleine went.
Six days earlier we had landed at Faro airport. The coach was full of people like us, parents lugging multiple toddler/baby combinations. All of us had risen at dawn, rushed along motorways and hurtled across the sky in search of the modern solution to our exhaustion - the Mark Warner kiddie club. I travelled with my partner Jes, our three-year-old daughter, and our nine-month-old baby son. Praia da Luz was the nearest Mark Warner beach resort and this was the cheapest week of the year - a bargain bucket trip, for a brief lie-down.
Excitedly, we were shown to our apartments. Ours was on the fourth floor, overlooking a family and toddler pool, opposite a restaurant and bar called the Tapas. I worried about the height of the balcony. Should we ask for one on the ground floor? Was I a paranoid parent? Should I make a fuss, or just enjoy the view?
We could see the beach and a big blue sky. We went outside to explore.
We settled in over the following days. There was a warm camaraderie among the parents, a shared happy weariness and deadpan banter. Our children made friends in the kiddie club and at the drop-off, we would joke about the fact that there were 10 blonde three-year-old girls in the group. They were bound to boss around the two boys.
The children went sailing and swimming, played tennis and learned a dance routine for the end-of-week show. Each morning, our daughter ran ahead of us to get to the kiddie club. She was having a wonderful time. Jes signed up for tennis lessons. I read a book. He made friends. I read another book.
The Mark Warner nannies brought the children to the Tapas restaurant to have tea at the end of each day. It was a friendly gathering. The parents would stand and chat by the pool. We talked about the children, about what we did at home. We were hopeful about a change in the weather. We eyed our children as they played. We didn't see anyone watching.
Some of the parents were in a larger group. Most of them worked for the NHS and had met many years before in Leicestershire. Now they lived in different parts of the UK, and this holiday was their opportunity to catch up, to introduce their children, to reunite. They booked a large table every night in the Tapas. We called them "the Doctors". Sometimes we would sit out on our balcony and their laughter would float up around us. One man was the joker. He had a loud Glaswegian accent. He was Gerry McCann. He played tennis with Jes.
One morning, I saw Gerry and his wife Kate on their balcony, chatting to their friends on the path below. Privately I was glad we didn't get their apartment. It was on a corner by the road and people could see in. They were exposed.
In the evenings, babysitting at the resort was a dilemma. "Sit-in" babysitters were available but were expensive and in demand, and Mark Warner blurb advised us to book well in advance. The other option was the babysitting service at the kiddie club, which was a 10-minute walk from the apartment. The children would watch a cartoon together and then be put to bed. You would then wake them, carry them back and put them to bed again in the apartment. After taking our children to dinner a couple of times, we decided on the Wednesday night to try the service at the club.
We had booked a table for two at Tapas and were placed next to the Doctors' regular table. One by one, they started to arrive. The men came first. Gerry McCann started chatting across to Jes about tennis. Gerry was outgoing, a wisecracker, but considerate and kind, and he invited us to join them. We discussed the children. He told us they were leaving theirs sleeping in the apartments. While they chatted on, I ruminated on the pros and cons of this. I admired them, in a way, for not being paranoid parents, but I decided that our apartment was too far off even to contemplate it. Our baby was too young and I would worry about them waking up.
My phone rang as our food arrived; our baby had woken up. I walked the round trip to collect him from the kiddie club, then back to the restaurant. He kept crying and eventually we left our meal unfinished and walked back again to the club to fetch our sleeping daughter. Jes carried her home in a blanket. The next night we stayed in. It was Thursday, May 3.
Earlier that day there had been tennis lessons for the children, with some of the parents watching proudly as their girls ran across the court chasing tennis balls. They took photos. Madeleine must have been there, but I couldn't distinguish her from the others. They all looked the same - all blonde, all pink and pretty.
Jes and Gerry were playing on the next court. Afterwards, we sat by the pool and Gerry and Kate talked enthusiastically to the tennis coach about the following day's tournament. We watched them idly - they had a lot of time for people, they listened. Then Gerry stood up and began showing Kate his new tennis stroke. She looked at him and smiled. "You wouldn't be interested if I talked about my tennis like that," Jes said to me. We watched them some more. Kate was calm, still, quietly beautiful; Gerry was confident, proud, silly, strong. She watched his boyish demonstration with great seriousness and patience. That was the last time I saw them that day. Jes saw Gerry that night.
Our baby would not sleep and at about 8.30pm, Jes took him out for a walk in the buggy to settle him. Gerry was on his way back from checking on his children and the two men stopped to have a chat. They talked about daughters, fathers, families. Gerry was relaxed and friendly. They discussed the babysitting dilemmas at the resort and Gerry said that he and Kate would have stayed in too, if they had not been on holiday in a group. Jes returned to our apartment just before 9.30pm. We ate, drank wine, watched a DVD and then went to bed. On the ground floor, a completely catastrophic event was taking place. On the fourth floor of the next block, we were completely oblivious.
At 1am there was a frantic banging on our door. Jes got up to answer. I stayed listening in the dark. I knew it was bad; it could only be bad. I heard male mumbling, then Jes's voice. "You're joking?" he said. It wasn't the words, it was the tone that made me flinch. He came back in to the room. "Gerry's daughter's been abducted," he said. "She ..." I jumped up and went to check our children. They were there. We sat down. We got up again. Weirdly, I did the washing-up. We wondered what to do. Jes had asked if they needed help searching and was told there was nothing he could do; she had been missing for three hours. Jes felt he should go anyway, but I wanted him to stay with us. I was a coward, afraid to be alone with the children - and afraid to be alone with my thoughts.
I once worked as a producer in the BBC crime unit. I directed many reconstructions and spent my second pregnancy producing new investigations for Crimewatch. Detectives would call me daily, detailing their cases, and some stories stay with me still, such as the ones about a girl being snatched from her bath, or her bike, or her garden and then held in the passenger seat, or stuffed in the boot. There was always a vehicle, and the first few hours were crucial to the outcome. Afterwards, they would be dumped naked in an alley, or at a petrol station with a £10 note to "get a cab back to Mummy". They would be found within an hour or two. Sometimes.
From the balcony we could see some figures scratching at the immense darkness with tiny torch lights. Police cars arrived and we thought that they would take control. We lay on the bed but we could not sleep.
The next morning, we made our way to breakfast and met one of the Doctors, the one who had come round in the night. His young daughter looked up at us from her pushchair. There was no news. They had called Sky television - they didn't know what else to do. He turned away and I could see he was going to weep.
People were crying in the restaurant. Mark Warner had handed out letters informing them what had happened in the night, and we all wondered what to do. Mid-sentence, we would drift in to the middle distance. Tears would brim up and recede.
Our daughter asked us about the kiddie club that day. She had been looking forward to their dance show that afternoon. Jes and I looked at each other. My first instinct was that we should not be parted from our children. Of course we shouldn't; we should strap them to us and not let them out of our sight, ever again. But then we thought: how are we going to explain this to our daughter? Or how, if we spent the day in the village, would we avoid repeatedly discussing what had happened in front of her as we met people on the streets? What does a good parent do? Keep the children close or take a deep breath and let them go a little, pretend this was the same as any other day?
We walked towards the kiddie club. No one else was there. We felt awful, such terrible parents for even considering the idea. Then we saw, waiting inside, some of the Mark Warner nannies. They had been up most of the night but had still turned up to work that day. They were intelligent, thoughtful young women and we liked and trusted them. The dance show was cancelled, but they wanted to put on a normal day for the children. Our daughter ran inside and started painting. Then, behind us, another set of parents arrived looking equally washed out. Then another, and another. We decided, in the end, to leave them for two hours. We put their bags on the pegs and saw the one labelled "Madeleine". Heads bent, we walked away, into the guilty glare of the morning sun.
Locals and holidaymakers had started circulating photocopied pictures of Madeleine, while others continued searching the beaches and village apartments. People were talking about what had happened or sat silently, staring blankly. We didn't see any police.
Later, there was a knock on our apartment door and we let the two men in. One was a uniformed Portuguese policeman, the other his translator. The translator had a squint and sweated slightly. He was breathless, perhaps a little excited. We later found out he was Robert Murat. He reminded me of a boy in my class at school who was bullied.
Through Murat we answered a few questions and gave our details, which the policeman wrote down on the back of a bit of paper. No notebook. Then he pointed to the photocopied picture of Madeleine on the table. "Is this your daughter?" he asked. "Er, no," we said. "That's the girl you are meant to be searching for." My heart sank for the McCanns.
As the day drew on, the media and more police arrived and we watched from our balcony as reporters practised their pieces to camera outside the McCanns' apartment. We then went back inside and watched them on the news.
We had to duck under the police tape with the pushchair to buy a pint of milk. We would roll past sniffer dogs, local police, then national police, local journalists, and then international journalists, TV reporters and satellite vans. A hundred pairs of eyes and a dozen cameras silently swivelled as we turned down the bend. We pretended, for the children's sake, that this was nothing unusual. Later on, our daughter saw herself with Daddy on TV. That afternoon we sat by the members-only pool, watching the helicopters watching us. We didn't know what else to do.
Saturday came, our last day. While we waited for the airport coach to pick us up, we gathered round the toddler pool by Tapas, making small talk in front of the children. I watched my baby son and daughter closely, shamefully grateful that I could.
We had not seen the McCanns since Thursday, when suddenly they appeared by the pool. The surreal limbo of the past two days suddenly snapped back into painful, awful realtime. It was a shock: the physical transformation of these two human beings was sickening - I felt it as a physical blow. Kate's back and shoulders, her hands, her mouth had reshaped themselves in to the angular manifestation of a silent scream. I thought I might cry and turned so that she wouldn't see. Gerry was upright, his lips now drawn into a thin, impenetrable line. Some people, including Jes, tried to offer comfort. Some gave them hugs. Some stared at their feet, words eluding them. We all wondered what to do. That was the last time we saw Gerry and Kate.
The rest of us left Praia da Luz together, an isolated Mark Warner group. The coach, the airport, the plane passed quietly. There were no other passengers except us. We arrived at Gatwick in the small hours of an early May morning. No jokes, no banter, just goodbye. Though we did not know it then, those few days in May were going to dominate the rest of our year.
"Did you have a good trip?" asked the cabbie at Gatwick, instantly underlining the conversational dilemma that would occupy the first few weeks: Do we say "Yes, thanks" and move swiftly on? Or divulge the "yes-but-no-but" truth of our "Maddy" experience? Everybody talks about holidays, they make good conversational currency at work, at the hairdresser's, in the playground. Everybody asked about ours. I would pause and take a breath, deciding whether there was enough time for what was to follow. People were genuinely horrified by what had happened to Madeleine and even by what we had been through (though we thought ourselves fortunate). Their humanity was a balm and a comfort to us; we needed to talk about it, chew it over and share it out, to make it a little easier to swallow.
The British police came round shortly after our return. Jes was pleased to give them a statement. The Portuguese police had never asked.
As the summer months rolled by, we thought the story would slowly and sadly ebb away, but instead it flourished and multiplied, and it became almost impossible to talk about any-thing else. Friends came for dinner and we would actively try to steer the conversation on to a different subject, always to return to Madeleine. Others solicited our thoughts by text message after any major twist or turn in the case. Acquaintances discussed us in the context of Madeleine, calling in the middle of their debates to clarify details.
I found some immunity in a strange, guilty happiness. We had returned unscathed to our humdrum family routine, my life was wonderful, my world was safe, I was lucky, I was blessed. The colours in the park were acute and hyper-real and the sun warmed my face.
At the end of June, the first cloud appeared. A Portuguese journalist called Jes's mobile (he had left his number with the Portuguese police). The journalist, who was writing for a magazine called Sol, called Jes incessantly. We both work in television and cannot claim to be green about the media, but this was a new experience. Jes learned this the hard way. Torn between politeness and wanting to get the journalist off the line without actually saying anything, he had to put the phone down, but he had already said too much. Her article pitched the recollections of "Jeremy Wilkins, television producer" against those of the "Tapas Nine", the group of friends, including the McCanns, whom we had nicknamed the Doctors. The piece was published at the end of June. Throughout July, Sol's testimony meant Jes became incorporated into all the Madeleine chronologies. More clouds began to gather - this time above our house.
In August, the doorbell rang. The man was from the Daily Mail. He asked if Jes was in (he wasn't). After he left I spent an anxious evening analysing what I had said, weighing up the possible consequences. The Sol article had brought the Daily Mail; what would happen next? Two days later, the Mail came for Jes again. This time they had computer printout pictures of a bald, heavy-set man seen lurking in some Praia da Luz holiday snaps. The chatroom implication was that the man was Madeleine's abductor. There was talk on the web, the reporter insinuated, that this man might be Jes. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all and then realised he was serious. I looked at the pictures, and it wasn't Jes.
Once, Jes's father looked him up on the internet and found that "Jeremy Wilkins, television producer" was referenced on Google more than 70,000 times. There was talk that he was a "lookout" for Gerry and Kate; there was talk that Jes was orchestrating a reality-TV hoax and Madeleine's disappearance was part of the con; there was talk that the Tapas Nine were all swingers. There was a lot of talk.
In early September, Kate and Gerry became official suspects. Their warm tide of support turned decidedly cool. Had they cruelly conned us all? The public needed to know, and who had seen Gerry at around 9pm on the fateful night? Jes.
Tonight with Trevor McDonald, GMTV, the Sun, the News of the World, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Express, the Evening Standard and the Independent on Sunday began calling. Jes's office stopped putting through calls from people asking to speak to "Jeremy" (only his grandmother calls him that). Some emails told him that he would be "better off" if he spoke to them or he would "regret it" if he didn't, implying that it was in his interest to defend himself - they didn't say what from.
Quietly, we began to worry that Jes might be next in line for some imagined blame or accusation. On a Saturday night in September, he received a call: we were on the front page of the News of the World. They had surreptitiously taken photographs of us, outside the house. There were no more details. We went to bed, but we could not sleep. "Maddie: the secret witness," said the headline, "TV boss holds vital clue to the mystery." Unfortunately, Jes does not hold any such vital clues. In November, he inched through the events of that May night with Leicestershire detectives, but he saw nothing suspicious, nothing that would further the investigation.
Throughout all this, I have always believed that Gerry and Kate McCann are innocent. When they were made suspects, when they were booed at, when one woman told me she was "glad" they had "done it" because it meant that her child was safe, I began to write this article - because I was there, and I believe that woman is wrong. There were no drug-fuelled "swingers" on our holiday; instead, there was a bunch of ordinary parents wearing Berghaus and worrying about sleep patterns. Secure in our banality, none of us imagined we were being watched. One group made a disastrous decision; Madeleine was vulnerable and was chosen. But in the face of such desperate audacity, it could have been any one of us.
And when I stroke my daughter's hair, or feel her butterfly lips on my cheek, I do so in the knowledge of what might have been. But our experience is nothing, an irrelevance, next to the McCanns' unimaginable grief. Their lives will always be touched by this darkness, while the true culprit may never be brought to light.
So my heart goes out to them, Gerry and Kate, the couple we remember from our Portuguese holiday. They had a beautiful daughter, Madeleine, who played and danced with ours at the kiddie club. That's who we remember.
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Legal opinion is united on the likelihood of the couple being charged. Criminal lawyers discuss the strength of the case against them
Frances Gibb, Legal Editor of The Times
Victims or villains? The personal views of lawyers this week are as split as those of the general public as to the likely culpability of the couple at the centre of case that is dominating the media.
In legal circles the consensus is that the chances of a successful prosecution being mounted against the McCanns turn almost entirely on the strength of the forensic evidence.
Trial by media is hazardous - not least because it puts at risk a fair trial. Professor Gary Slapper, Director of the Centre for Law, Open University, says: "I think a great iniquity against justice has been done by the confused status of information that has been leaked. A system, like Portugal's, of declining to put any item of police inquiry information whatsoever in the public domain while the case is being considered can be fair - but only if rigidly applied. As soon as there are leaks - as with conflicting information about the DNA in the hire car - you get the worst of both worlds: public evaluation of the case, based on speculations about alleged evidence."
What legal opinion seems united on, however, is the likelihood of the couple being charged. The solicitor adds: "The Portuguese police seem to have a real head of steam up - and they will look very silly, now, if charges are not brought."
So what is the strength of the DNA evidence that apparently forms the mainstay of the case being assembled against the couple? The same lawyer says: "My worry, if I was defending them, is that the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham that is conducting the tests is very good. These guys know what they are doing."
John Cooper, an experienced criminal barrister, agrees. "If - and we can only go on what has been reported, and making the assumption that it is accurate - a quantity of samples of hair were found in the boot of the car then that would be very powerful evidence and they may well have a case to answer."
The DNA experts would also be able to tell, he adds, whether the DNA had been "secondarily transferred" - in other words, it was there because it had been carried on another family member's clothes or had come directly from Madeleine's body.
The finding of a body would obviously be helpful to the prosecution, because from that, the cause of death could be detected and other forensic evidence adduced, he adds. "But many people are convicted of murder or manslaughter without a body ever being found. It is not essential."
Yet even if a prosecution proceeds, criminal lawyers are equally robust in their view - on present knowledge of what evidence exists - that the chances of a conviction are slender. Professor Slapper says: "I think that without some new and incontrovertibly incriminating evidence, culpability will be impossible to determine reliably. Justice was so badly compromised by the authorities at the outset - the late arrival of the police, the failure quickly to seal the area and to alert national and regional offices - that even the slickest subsequent actions cannot retrieve that ground."
The (unnamed) criminal solicitor adds: "When you step back, you see that the scenario being presented here is inherently unlikely. The scene of crime has been contaminated and the fact that there are inconsistencies between witnesses' accounts of timings is entirely normal - you get that in every case."
The defence case, he says, would focus on the passage of time involved, more than three weeks, before the car was hired and DNA could have been present. "This time gap allows for contamination."
Simon Myerson, QC, a criminal barrister in Leeds, says: "There are several important questions to be asked here by any defence team. The first is: if this child's body was in the immediate vicinity for 25 days, why did nobody find it? This is bizarre."
Secondly, he says, was the question of motivation. "I can follow the scenario that one or both killed the child by accident and then covers it up. But to hide a body, and then three weeks later, without showing a sign of it, and with the world's media tracking their every move, for the couple to get the body into a car and get rid of it, then drive back again ... all without anyone seeing it ... it just seems so improbable."
Then there was the question of the cleaning of the car, he adds. If the car was not cleaned, and a body had been in it even for a short while, there should have been considerable DNA recovered. "But if it was cleaned, where is the evidence of that cleaning and how was it done without anyone seeing?"
Finally, a defence lawyer would question why the Portuguese police had allowed the car to be put back together after inspection - so allowing for continuing contamination, he says.
John Cooper adds that the defence could also focus on the "tightly defined period" during which the killing of Madeleine could have occurred and focus on filling any gaps during that time with alibis. "Secondly, there is the question of getting rid of the body and the improbability of doing this without being seen. The defence is entitled to speculate, as the prosecution would do, as to the likelihood of a course of action."
Robert Brown, a criminal defence solicitor, says that he was not convinced by the suggestion that the child had been accidentally killed. "Accidents do happen, but they are pretty rare." Nor is he so far convinced by the DNA evidence. "To what extent could this have been transferred? Scientists say it is a one in a million match - but they often mean: to that person - or his or her close relative. Madeleine's sister could have very similar DNA."
In his view, the suggestion that the couple, while "very much in the public eye", kept a body hidden, then disposed of it while "creating an enormous campaign as a diversionary tactic" did not ring true, he said. "You'd keep your head down and creep off to the woods rather than attract world-wide attention."
And finally what would a judge think? David Pannick, QC, a leading lawyer who sits as a recorder in the Crown Court, sums up the doubts of defence lawyers - at this early stage at least. "On the evidence so far made public, they [the McCanns] have no case to answer. In the English legal system," he adds, "we proceed on the basis of evidence, not speculation."
So do the Portuguese. But the speculation won't stop. The (unnamed) criminal solicitor says: "I think that they are innocent. But they are going to have to prove it."
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
from Sky News
Madeleine McCann's parents have called for French police to let them view video footage of a reported sighting of their missing girl.
The request came as confusion surrounded a claim made by a Dutch tourist that she spotted the four-year-old in the southern French city of Montpellier.
Melissa Fiering, 18, believes she saw Madeleine - missing since she vanished from her family's holiday apartment in Portugal last May - at a service station on Friday.
She is sure it was the Leicestershire youngster because of how the child reacted when her name was called.
Miss Fiering also told a Dutch newspaper she saw a mark in the girl's eye similar to Madeleine's distinctive facial feature.
A man accompanying the child then left the restaurant with her a short time later, the teenager said.
On Wednesday, a French police official said investigators had examined CCTV footage from the restaurant and determined it was not Madeleine.
But on Thursday, a police official in France would only say that the girl caught on camera did not appear to be held against her will.
"These tapes are not very usable," the official told reporters, adding that "nothing can guarantee the result" of even a close study.
Madeleine, from Rothley, disappeared on May 3. Since then there have been several reported sightings of her around Europe and north Africa, all of which have proven to be false leads.
On the latest, Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for her parents, said: "We believe from indications we have received that the child is not Madeleine. However, if this video material is of very poor quality I would hope that the French authorities are certain that the child is not Madeleine before they rule it out.
"Kate and Gerry would still like to view this material if possible in the very near future to be sure themselves."
Montpellier Prosecutor Jean Philippe said the tapes could be turned over to British authorities, which must make a specific demand.
Monday, 25 February 2008
Jan 11 2008
MADELEINE McCann’s grandfather today makes a heartfelt plea for the police, public and media to refocus their attentions on “the most important story” ... the search for the missing four-year-old.
Brian Healy, 68, from Allerton, the father of Kate McCann, believes his beloved grandchild, who has not been seen for 253 days, is in danger of being overlooked amid the daily torrent of spurious stories, speculation and wild rumours.
He also said there is so much he is looking forward to doing with his first grandchild, like running through the water fountains in Liverpool’s Williamson Square. And he pays tribute to the warmhearted people of Liverpool and thanks them for their constant support and good wishes.
Brian says: “There has been so much that has been said and written, much of it untrue and hurtful, but so often it seems to me as if the only really important person in all this has been forgotten – and that’s Madeleine.
“Finding Madeleine should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds – everything else takes the attention away from this and wastes so much time.”
Kate and Gerry McCann have been the subject of much negative publicity since they were named as suspects by the Portuguese police (Polícia Judiciária) last September. Many unfounded stories have been picked up by the British press from Portuguese papers, but Brian says he was heartened to read an opinion piece which appeared in the leading Lisbon newspaper Diaro de Noticias. It was written by journalist João Miguel Tavares and published on December 11.
The columnist talked of the need for the media in Portugal to “make a serious analysis of its role in the tragedy and activate mechanisms to stop it from behaving again as a ping-pong table throwing too many lies and too little information”.
He also wrote that it was now “as likely that the case will be solved as penguins starting to fly” and referred to the “it will go away” attitude that people in Portugal have, adding: “I suppose this is now also the strategy of the detectives leading this case – let’s keep quiet and soon nobody will remember. And taking into account the way Maddie is being taken away from the papers the tactic seems good. In the PJ (Polícia Judiciária) all they dream about now is the silence of the archives.”
Brian Healy, who believes silence and inactivity are Madeleine’s greatest enemies, says: “There have been some good, positive and helpful stories written about the search for Madeleine, but it seems to be the more sensational and negative stories which get the main headlines. And there have been so many lies written. People say not to read the papers, but you can’t avoid seeing them.
“A lot of people will end up having to hang their heads in shame. I have got so mad reading some of the lies about Kate that I’ve rung up the newspapers concerned, but it doesn’t seem to do any good.
“Some people don’t seem to want to know about the real Kate. She is such a warm and caring person, as well as being intelligent. But you can’t win because people say ‘He would say that, he’s her father.’ But I would love them to be able to spend just one hour in Kate’s company – and I would have loved them to have been able to spend just one hour with Kate, Gerry, Madeleine and the twins.
“For me, there is one photograph which sums up Kate’s family - it’s the black and white photograph which we have on our wall of the five of them. It’s just such a beautiful photograph and it tells its own story.”
Brian adds: “As Madeleine’s grandfather, there are so many things I long to do – for example, I’d love to be able to run through the water fountains with her in Williamson Square.”
Desperate for a breakthrough in the search for Madeleine, but frustrated at the lack of any positive news from Portugal, Brian says: “I’ve never felt so helpless in my life.”
Despite the negativity from various quarters, Brian, and Kate’s mum, Susan, have been bowled over by the response from strangers on the streets of their and Kate’s home city.
Brian says: “We want to thank everyone in Liverpool for their fantastic support and their good wishes – they have been great. We have had so many hugs from people who approach us when we’re out shopping.
“Sue was in town on Saturday and she was getting hugged all the time. These people care about Madeleine and they know what the real story is – that Madeleine has been taken and needs to be found and brought back to her family as quickly as possible.”
For more information about the campaign to find Madeleine McCann, log on to www.findmadeleine.com
Posted by: Mandz
Sunday, 24 February 2008
Last updated at 10:27am on 24th February 2008
Kate and Gerry McCanns face yet another devastating blow after reports emerged last night that Madeleine McCann has been spotted in Britain.
Detectives are said to be launching a major inquiry into the claim that the missing four-year-old was seen by a man in Dorset.
Retired civil servant Alan Cameron alerted police after a Portuguese couple turned up his home in the village of Stratton.
Kate and Gerry McCann face potential heartache with a new sighting of Madeleine. Mr Cameron became suspicious when he saw a girl matching Madeleine's description sitting in the couple's car.
It is the first time a sighting of Madeleine has been reported in Britain since she vanished while on holiday in Portugal last May.
Mr Cameron,66, told the Sunday Express: "They knocked on my door and said they had come to buy the garden furniture I'd put on sale in a local ad."
"Straight away they struck me as odd. The woman said she was Italian but they were speaking fluent Portuguese.
"The man had a few days' growth on his face and was wearing filthy clothes. He told me they ran a language centre in Weymouth but then the woman hit him and told him to be quiet."
Mr Cameron, a former clerk with the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the girl spoke in English and appeared distressed.
"I hear a voice, in perfect, clear English say 'I need to use the toilet'. I could see that she was blonde and four years old."
"I said of course and the woman grabbed her and scooped her under her arm. She didn't allow the girl to walk and deliberately pushed the hood of her jersey over her head. She was sobbing. This little girl was unhappy and she was scared. "I knew straight away it was a face I'd seen in the news. I'm convinced of it."
A spokesman for Dorset police confirmed that inquiries into the sighting were ongoing. The McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said last night that the private detectives in charge of the investigation had been informed.
He said: "There's a lot about this sighting which suggests at the very least that we are talking about an abducted young girl. "We are eagerly awaiting any outcome."
The new reports will cause more fresh heartache for the couple, coming hard on the heels of a suspected sighting of Madeleine in South of France earlier this month. The McCanns urged French police to show them CCTV footage of a suspected sighting of daughter Madeleine in the South of France. Although French police have ruled out the possibility it is the four-year-old her parents want to see the surveillance video from a French diner where a Dutch tourist reported seeing the missing British girl. They refuse give up hope it is her until they have seen the footage and believe it would "put their minds at rest".
There have been several suspected sightings in Europe and North Africa of Madeleine, who vanished from her bed in the Portuguese holiday resort days before her fourth birthday.
Meanwhile detectives from the McCann's private investigators Metado 3 were back in Praia da Luz last night. They were seen studying aerial photos of the area.
The Minister appeared in the Comissão Parlamentar de Assuntos Constitucionais, Direitos, Liberdades e Garantias, the civil and constitutional rights board in Parliament, following a request from democratic MP Nuno Melo. He asked for the government’s reaction to Alípio Ribeiro’s public comments that investigators had been “hasty “in naming Gerry and Kate McCann arguidos.
According to the Justice Minister, the statements did not violate the law of secrecy of justice and had not constrained the investigation. Alberto Costa told the MPs that “if there was any sign of violation of the secrecy of justice, an inquiry would already have been ordered”.
He refuted the claim that the investigation’s credibility had been affected by Alípio Ribeiro’s statements and asked for calm.“We must quietly wait for the result of this investigation and one must not anticipate any outcome before it is ended”, he said.
On their blog on the Find Madeleine website, Gerry and Kate McCann restated that they “will not give up looking” for Madeleine and claimed to be happy with the possibility that “the investigation is nearing a close”, in reaction to the Justice Minister’s public statements.
They said they hoped their “arguido status will be lifted in the near future so that everyone can concentrate on searching for Madeleine”.
Time Dive, the Lagos-based company working with the Madeira lawyer Marcos Aragão, who is convinced Madeleine McCann’s body is in the Arade Dam near Silves, were still waiting for new instructions by the time The Resident went to press.
Martin Salkous, one of the company’s divers, told The Resident they were “expecting to re-start the search operations any moment” and that they were keeping in close contact with the lawyer, who is gathering funds to pay for further diving operations.
Saturday, 23 February 2008
- He changed his sworn statement to the Portuguese police
- He said he was with his girlfriend Michaela Walczuch
- Then changed it it saying he was with his mother all night sitting at the kitchen table.
- He said we went to bed at around 10.30pm and then told the magazine Vanity Fair that he was up until around 01.00am in the kitchen.
- He stated that as he was in bed fast asleep from around 10.30 that night and this is why he didn't hear the furore and noise and commotion going on outside Casa Liliana.
- When did he go to bed? 10.30pm or 01.00am? If it was 01.00am why then did he not hear all the commotion going on outside in the normally quite area of Praia da Luz?
- Why has he given two different time lines?
- He said that he did not use his mobile phone that night.
- Records show that he did use his phone that night, who did he call? Russian Sergy Malinka?
- Murat initially said he did not call Malinka, bu then phone records show that he did call the Russian man.
- Why did Murat lie about talking to Sergy Malinka on the phone?
- Why did Sergy Malinka lie about talking to Murat on the phone.
- Malinka says they are not friends, more like acquaintances, that is fine, but why lie about talking to each other on such a night?
- Was Malinka supplying porn? If so what porn? Sorry but this question needs to be asked and answered and hopefully the Pj have.
- Have Marat's properties been searched and forensically examined?
- Murat's girlfriend herself has an alibi which is in doubt, she says she was in a particular church and she wasn't, she now says she was at another church.
- Murat says he never went out that night of May 3rd
- An increasing number of witnesses have come forward to positively ID him outside the McCann apartment smoking.
- Is he lying again? If he is why?
- If it was not Murat, then who was it? a lookalike?
- Murat has 3 lookalikes all present in PDL that night of May 3rd
- Luis Antonio (Murat's girlfriend's ex!) Payne and Symington.
- Symington is startlingly like Murat and is some kind of relative, yet Symington and Murat deny knowing each other or of each other.
- We are asked to believe that Symington and Murat, related in some way and bizarrely in the same line of business in a tiny place like Praia da Luz, never knew each other! (Sorry don't buy that!)
- Bizarrely again, Murat is said to have a daughter that strongly resembles Madeleine (Another strange coincidence?!)
- Murat was said to have hired a car locally on the Saturday after Madeleine disappeared and that he was in an agitated state.
- Why hire a car when apparently he has 3?
- He had been hanging around the investigation from day one trying to discover from the local guard (GNR) whom he is familiar with, or from journalists what was happening in the investigation.
- He offered and was in fact used to translate between witnesses and the PJ
Please fell free to add anymore that I may have forgotten.
By LUCY BALLINGER - More by this author » Last updated at 23:31pm on 22nd February 2008
Hooray Gonc's going to court.
The detective who originally led the hunt for Madeleine McCann will sensationally face trial over his conduct in another missing child case.
Chief Inspector Goncalo Amaral - who was in charge of the Madeleine case when her parents were made the prime suspects - will appear in court accused of covering up the torture of a suspect during questioning in the other case.
Amaral, 48, will stand trial along with four other officers - three of whom are alleged to have attacked Leonor Cipriano, whose nine-year-old daughter Joana vanished in 2004.
The little girl disappeared from her home in Figueira, 11 kilometres from Praia da Luz where Madeleine was abducted last May.
Cipriano, 36, confessed to her murder and was jailed, along with her brother Joao, even though Joana's body was never found.
She claims to have admitted it after almost 48 hours interrogation. She later retracted her statement and claimed the confession had been beaten out of her.
A photograph of Cipriano's face covered in bruises following her police interview emerged last year.
Police claimed she had been injured after throwing herself down the stairs at the police station.
An inquiry was launched into the allegations and yesterday a judge ruled the five officers allegedly involved will face charges in court.
Amaral was in charge of the hunt for Madeleine when Kate and Gerry McCann were declared official suspects in their daughter's disappearance last September. He was sacked from the investigation just weeks later following an outburst in which he attacked the British authorities.
Missing Madeleine McCann: Amaral was in charge of the case of the missing girl when her parents were made suspects
The father-of-three had attracted criticism from the early days of the inquiry as it was claimed he frequently went for three-hour boozy lunches and had ignored most of the 252 possible sightings and tip-offs in the case.
Yesterday McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell refused to talk about Amaral's impending trial.
He said: "It is a matter for him and the judicial authorities in Portugal."
The officers who will face charges of torture are Chief Inspector Leonel Marques, who has since retired, Inspector Pereira Cristovao, who has taken early retirement and Inspector Paulo Bom. They are all accused of torture.
Inspector Antonio Cardosa is accused of falsifying a document and Amaral is accused of false testimony.
Amaral's lawyer Dr António Cabrita said: "I can confirm that the Prosecuting Counsel has decided that all five officers will go to trial.
"I don't know if my client will be charged for either or both of the crimes already indicated or whether for some other crime. All I know at the moment is that he will be tried.
"Clearly the prosecuting counsel was and is of the opinion that there is enough indication to charge my client. Indication is enough to take him to trial but once he is in court that is not enough for a conviction. In court one has to have evidence without any reasonable doubt.
"If all the higher ranking officials were responsible for what their officers working under them do, although I don't know what they did or did not do, then the whole country would be up in court."
The development comes in the week a Dutch student reported seeing Madeleine at a service station in Montpellier in the South of France.
Melissa Fiering, 18, said she called out to the girl, who bore a "striking resemblance" to the missing British youngster - and had a distinctive fleck in her right eye.
But French police sources said the girl definitely was not Madeleine, and that they had tracked down the little girl at the restaurant who is said to have been travelling with a relative.
Friday, 22 February 2008
1) Why and who put Goncalo Amaral in charge of the Madeleine McCann case when he was already heavily embroiled in controversy over the case of missing Joana Cipriano's mother Leona? They must have known he was an arguido himself, yet they allowed this. He should have been suspended while he was answering these charges.
2) When did they actually stop looking for Madeleine and on whose orders did they stop looking for her?
It appears that The Portuguese police have been branded "Keystone Cops" by British officers who are said to be shocked at their appalling blunders. Detectives from Leicestershire are said to be horrified that clues which could have led to the tot's abductors have probably been lost forever.
The British cops, drafted in to review the three-month investigation, were stunned by the "incompetence, inaccuracy and crass inefficiency" they found.
A source close to the team said the officers had been "tearing their hair out in frustration and disbelief" at basic errors which have hindered the search for four-year-old Maddie.
He told The People: "The Portuguese investigation has been a total shambles. Our guys were left shaking their heads at every turn asking: 'Why the hell did they do that...why didn't they do this?' "They are shocked, disappointed and p***** off by what they've found because basic procedures were not followed.
The McCanns' apartment was scrubbed out and occupied by new tenants only five weeks after Madeleine disappeared and the inquiry was supposedly still highly active. When our guys arrived after 13 weeks they had to go back to square one - except square one had been trampled over with size 11 boots."
The Portuguese investigators came under fire within hours of Maddie's disappearance in Praia da Luz on May 3 for failing to seal off the area, start house-to-house enquiries and alert border guards.
There was no lockdown
1 LOCAL police failed to "lock down" and seal off the Mark Warner Ocean Club resort immediately after Madeleine was reported missing at 10pm on May 3.
Her parents were certain that she had been snatched and told officers straight away.
But police, under "Inspector Clueless" Guilhermino Encarnacao, seemed convinced the tot had simply wandered off.
They did not set up roadblocks which just may have snared the abductors.
House to house
2 COPS' failure to accept they had an abduction on their hands meant they did not launch an immediate search of nearby holiday flats and villas or question locals.
House-to-house enquiries started two days later and most of the 500 properties were not visited until after any kidnapper had been given ample time to flee.
3 BORDER officials should have been told of Maddie's disappearance without delay. A kidnapper could have driven to the Spanish frontier from Praia da Luz in less than an hour. But police only alerted staff at the border 12 hours later.
4 COASTGUARDS and maritime police were not alerted for 14 hours. If cops thought Maddie had wandered off, a search of the nearby beach and sea should have been an obvious and vital move.
There is a also a marina less than 10 minutes' drive from the McCanns' flat, providing an escape route for an abductor. More than 10 boats left before maritime police were warned.
5 THE first police appeal for a suspect did not come until 22 days after Maddie vanished.
Cops later said in Portuguese they were seeking a 170cms (5ft 7ins) man but muddled the conversion and said in English he was 5ft 10ins tall.
At one stage police were showing six different E-fit images to local people and one artist's impression was a simple outline said to be "like an egg with hair on."
Cuddle Cat 'clue'
6 MUM Kate McCann was convinced Maddie had not just wandered off because the tot's favourite soft toy Cuddle Cat was still in the room where she slept with twins Sean and Amelie, two.
Police did not take the toy for forensic tests even though an abductor may have touched it.
Kate was seen clutching it 24 hours later at a press conference and has since washed it as it was dirty and covered in suntan lotion.
British experts say Cuddle Cat should have been sealed in a plastic bag then tested.
The most minute drop of sweat or a single skin cell could have revealed the DNA of Madeleine's kidnapper.
7 A MASSIVE search party should have been organised by police at first light the morning after Maddie disappeared. Instead just 150 police took part in the first searches and they were poorly organised and random.
8 A FULL list of other guests at the Ocean Club resort ought to have been compiled by police with the help of staff within hours of the tot's disappearance.
But they did not get the information until almost 48 hours later - and a day AFTER many potential witnesses had returned home at the end of their holidays. Staff were only quizzed 60 hours later.
9 A DIRECT appeal to the abductor is usually considered vital in the first hours of a kidnapping. Police seek advice from psychologists to carefully word any plea. But it was Madeleine's parents Gerry and Kate who made the public appeal themselves. There was not even a Portuguese police officer at the couple's press conference.
Stranger's DNA found
10 DETECTIVES revealed on June 1 that they had found the DNA of a stranger in the McCanns' apartment.
But they could not check if it was from a known paedophile as Portugal does not have a computerised DNA database of perverts.
The DNA did not match the profile of suspect Robert Murat.
11 THE area immediately surrounding the McCanns' holiday apartment was never properly sealed off by police - even though vital clues are often discovered at such a scene.
People were allowed to walk on the flat's front porch 24 hours after Maddie disappeared. There were no fingertip searches and police sniffer dogs were not brought in until large crowds had gathered in the area, confusing any valuable scent. Mark Williams- Thomas, a highly experienced former British detective who travelled to the resort, called it "the worst preserved crime scene I have ever seen".
The original searches did not find the blood in Madeleine's bedroom and her parents' room.
Specialist sniffer dogs and ultra-violet lights were not used. Staggeringly, police gave the go-ahead for the flat to be occupied again although enquiries were continuing.
And by the time the British team checked the apartment it had already been thoroughly cleaned.
12 DETAILS of the pyjamas Maddie was wearing should have been released straight away.
Anyone who saw her would probably have recalled the distinctive pink Eeyore nightwear.
But officers repeatedly refused to issue a description and it was left to her parents to give details an astonishing four days later.
13 IMAGES from CCTV cameras on the main A22 motorway leading out of Praia da Luz towards Spain were not checked.
14 SUSPECT Robert Murat's home was raided by police who seized his computers.
When they found names and four-digit numbers on a spreadsheet they were convinced they had unearthed "encrypted codes for a paedophile ring."
But the list was simply a family tree giving the names and birth dates of the estate agent's relatives.
Portuguese police bungled their search of Murat's garden.
They did not clear bushes and shrubs - British officers later ordered gardeners to hack away the undergrowth.
They then made a thorough search and inserted probes into the ground to seek any trace of human remains.
Portuguese officers also searched a guest house run by Murat's aunt in nearby Burgao.
They hacked at the concrete-hard ground with picks until it dawned on them that the area had not been disturbed in years.
15 COPS last week said they were looking at a new suspect - a British man who returned a hire car to Faro airport two days after Maddie vanished.
The vehicle had a child seat in the back but no child. Car rental staff alerted police, whose interest was fired when they found the customers were James and Charlotte Gorrod - who had been on holiday in Praia da Luz and knew friends of the McCanns.
But the innocent couple were never questioned. The hire firm had failed to notice the Gorrods had their two-year-old son with them all along. But police leaked word of a "new lead" to Portuguese reporters.
16 DETECTIVES wasted time following up tip-offs from psychics and cranks.
Two weeks after Maddie vanished a local medium claimed she had "zoned-in" on map co-ordinates pinpointing a well in which Maddie was being hidden. She said the little girl was still alive.
Portuguese Cops threw a stone down the well to test the bizarre tip-off - without thinking of the injury to Maddie if she had been there
Please feel free to add anything I may have missed as I would like to make a more comprehensive list.
- Now almost 10 months on we now as much now as the day Madeleine went missing. Isn't it time the PJ stopped looking for the easy way out and stopped trying to scapegoat Kate and Gerry and actually admitted they have nothing?
- No DNA
- No Evidence
- No Clues
Thursday, 21 February 2008
Gerry and Kate McCann may face legal action
Gerry and Kate McCann did not ask permission to use the picture of a missing five-year-old on a publicity poster for Madeleine, it's been claimed. They should not have featured Spaniard Mari Luz's image, her father Juan Jose Cortes said. He may now take legal action against the couple, from Rothley in Leicestershire. The McCanns printed thousands of the posters for a Valentine's Day campaign.
A spokesman apologised but said he thought permission was given. Mari vanished last month in Huelva, Spain – 200km (120 miles) from Praia da Luz, where Maddie went missing in May.
Mr Cortes said: 'They are two distinct cases, two different countries and two lines of investigation.'
Meanwhile, Portuguese police union chief Carlos Anjos said the investigating force is weighed down by bureaucracy and few resources.
Sunday, 10 February 2008
I think it was Tinkerbell who was not too sure of the crime scene and I have found the B.B.C. Panorama description and video excellent so enclose the link :-
It shows the front of the Apartment which has hardly been discussed, and where Gerry & friend stood talking, when Jane Tanner came out and the person carrying the child walked away from the front door area. I find it all very illuminating having not looked at it for a while now. Would be very interested in your thoughts and opinions please.
Kate and Gerry McCann's private detectives are charging the Find Madeleine fund £50,000 a month in expenses, it was revealed yesterday.
The costs charged by Spanish agency Metodo 3, appointed in September to find the missing girl, are on top of its £8,000 monthly fee - which is paid by one of the couple's wealthy supporters.
Metodo 3's expenses are the biggest single cost to the fund, which collected £1.2million in donations, but is expected to run dry within months.
It was previously thought that the agency was hired for a flat monthly fee of £50,000.
But it agreed £8,000 a month, plus unlimited expenses to take on the case, which has boosted its profile.
If its "operational costs" top £50,000 the excess is met by the McCanns' wealthy backers, such as double glazing tycoon Brian Kennedy. He is to review Metodo 3's six-month contract before it expires next month.
The couple's spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the agency was "doing valuable work on the ground".
He added: '"The £50,000 is for legitimate operational costs, having people scattered around different countries.
"The fund contributes £50,000 a month of publicly donated money because it's money to help find her. We feel that's proper use of that money."
From the Daily Mail
Sunday, 3 February 2008
Act in haste, repent at leisure"
This is what the man is actually thinking, you do not come out with comments like those if you do not think it. The very fact that he chose those words indicates, that he knows the PJ have very ,very little or most likely absolutely no evidence against McCann's, if they did have all this DNA and other evidence he would not be making that statement, why would he? No need to. The PJ have no evidence, they have no DNA evidence and now it is clear they have no case.
What we saw in this man Alipio Ribeiro was a man trying to distance himself from what is about to emerge, this is the start of the PJ doing what they know they have to do to free the McCann's from suspect status.Why else would he say that he has *no* control over who is made arguido and he cannot order that arguido status to be lifted? What he is saying here is that, I had nothing to do with the McCann's being made arguidos and I had nothing to do with their arguido status remaining, or being recently extended. This puts the decision to make them arguidos firmly on the shoulders of the man already kicked off of this case, Police Chief Goncalo Amaral. It puts the decision to keep them arguidos on the shoulders of the incumbent Paulo Rebelo and it takes the blame off of himself, Alipio Ribeiro. This is him trying to keep his job.
Something has happened behind the scenes to bring this about, why else would Alipio Ribeiro head of Portugal's police suddenly give an interview on this case? He has said precious little about it so far, so why now? I think possibly one of two things may have happened, or quite possibly both. The Portuguese government has lost patience and asked just what is going on in this case, it is embarrassing Portugal in the eyes of the world. The PJ blamed the British government for stalling on these rogatory letters and the British government do not even have them and then it emergese that they have not even left the Portuguese Attorney General's office, so on a diplomatic level, I think questions are now being asked about this investigation.
Perhaps the Portuguese government requested a full account on the state of this investigation. Whatever it is, these rogatory letters and the failure of the Portuguese Attorney General's department to undertake the drafting and delivery of these letters has probably set off a chain of events.
I think this is one cock up too many for Portugal and one leak too many by the PJ.
They have overplayed their hand and now its time for their cards to be put on the table. The Portuguese government know this, Alipio Ribeiro knows this and now the PJ know it and the Portuguese public had to be prepared for what is coming and this is the start of it.
This is not going to be pretty. Questions are now going to be asked as the world's eyes are once again trained on Portugal, this time even the PJ will be unable to hide behind their secrecy laws. The world now knows the McCann's were made arguidos too quickly/hastily/rapidly and the spotlight will once again fall on the man whose incompetence reduced this investigation to a farce and whose incompetence saw the failure to implement the basic measures in a search for any missing child, it falls onto the man whose ego got in the way of his job (once again) and now looks set to take the blame for all the PJ failings, even those that happened after he was dismissed from this case and that man is going to be made a scapegoat, that man is no other than Goncalo Amaral.
All roads lead to Goncalo Amaral it appears.
Had this man waited just a few more days, then it is extremely doubtful that the McCann's would have been made arguida and arguido, something already admitted by the Portuguese Attorney General himself. Goncalo Amaral decided in his own infinite wisdom and based on no evidence, other than a couple of dogs sniffing around, that the McCann's were guilty and so set off this disgraceful chain of events and made the suffering of the loss of their daughter infinitely worse than it need have been.
The evidence that Goncalo Amaral allegedly and aggressively waved in the face of Gerry McCann in that police station back in September, where he said we have evidence you harmed your little daughter, turns out to be nothing but the dubious report of two sniffer dogs, no wonder when Gerry McCann broke down and cried and pleaded to be shown this evidence, Goncalo Amaral declined. At the centre of this storm is one little girl, Madeleine, and the heartbreaking realisation that since early on in this investigation, police had given up searching for her, she has been very badly let down, if she was let down once by her parents, she has been let down repeatedly by the PJ and also by all those that saw it as some kind of warped sense of duty to jump on the blame bandwagon and start crazily pointing the finger at her parents, accusing them of the most dreadful and heinous crimes.
It is now time for this bandwagon to stop rolling and for people to disembark and some common sense and decency to be urgently injected into this failed investigation, for Madeleine's sake, this should happen now *not* later.
(1) The child is apparently under the age of 18-yrs-old;
(2) There is reasonable belief that the child has been kidnapped or abducted;
(3) There is reasonable belief that the child is in imminent danger of serious harm or death; (4) There is sufficient information available to enable the public to assist the police in locating the child
How much of this was actually met in the early days of the Madeleine investigation? The authorising officer in the UK (IN Madeleine’s case the PJ) would have allowed for a circulation of an alert to all the media outlets the individual force has agreements with, which will contain some or all of the following:
- Description of the child
- Scanned photo of the child
- Details of location and nature of the offence
- Description of the offender(s) CCTV/photo of the offender(s)
By comparison to this, the PJ didn't even get a photograph of Madeleine released until day 4 of the of the investigation.The McCann's it appears had been left tp get on with this themselves and they played it the way they thought they should, if the Pj wanted it played differently, they should not have left them alone to try and aorganise the media side of this search themselves.