A decade after Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, our definitive case file looks at trolls, DNA blunders and an intruder with ‘weakness’ for little girls


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    A decade after Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, our definitive case file looks at trolls, DNA blunders and an intruder with ‘weakness’ for little girls Empty A decade after Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, our definitive case file looks at trolls, DNA blunders and an intruder with ‘weakness’ for little girls

    Post  Sykes on Sat Apr 29, 2017 8:23 am

    Maddie - 10 years of agony.

    Exclusive By Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

    Today, Madeleine McCann and her family should be counting down the days to her 14th birthday on May 12.

    Instead, she remains missing.

    Her little brother and sister, twins Sean and Amelie, now 12, know her only by her absence.

    Her mother Kate and father Gerry still grieve — and do so in a glare of publicity.

    Never before has there been such a tsunami of global ­attention, lasting so long, about a vanished child.

    The media descended early, just hours after Kate discovered her daughter was missing from their rented apartment in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz at 10pm on May 3, 2007. Frantic to spread the word and ­worried that the hunt by police was not enough, Kate and Gerry reached out to Sky News, the BBC and ITV.

    Reporters very quickly arrived in their droves.

    It was the internet, though, that ensured the Madeleine story — unlike previous missing child ­stories — would run and run. Within days, a website that would soon be named findmadeleine.com had received 60million hits.

    Madeleine’s image was all over YouTube — and ­everywhere else — with that blonde fringe and those appealing eyes, one featuring an unusual spot on the iris.

    Back in 1932, the abduction and murder of the baby son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh — the first man to fly the Atlantic solo — had attracted global headlines.

    But there had never before been a case as obsessed-over and as dissected as this.

    However, all the noise down the years and all the efforts of multiple police forces, plus the hiring of ­private detectives by Madeleine’s parents, has not found her.

    And while the little girl’s parents have always hoped drumming up publicity around the case would help reveal what happened, it has also brought them further anguish from online attackers.

    Early on, the McCanns were berated for not having been in their apartment — number 5A at the resort’s Ocean Village — with their children at the time ­Madeleine vanished.

    They and the three other ­couples in their holiday group had chosen not to take their kids to the resort’s creche in the evenings.

    Instead, the adults agreed they would dine together at the resort’s tapas restaurant — a walk of just 90 yards from the group’s adjoining flats, taking less than a minute. From there, it would be easy to check on their kids every 15 to 20 minutes or so.

    The McCanns, one of their friends said later, had been the “most strict” of them all about making the checks.

    Despite this, as recently as this year, members of the public have called for the couple to be charged with child neglect.

    The Portuguese prosecutors handling the case, though, long ago rejected the idea.

    The McCanns, they concluded in a report, “could not have foreseen that, in the resort in which they had chosen to spend a brief holiday, they would be placing the lives of any of their children in danger”.

    Kate, who is now 49, and Gerry, 48, had, moreover, “already paid a heavy penalty — Madeleine’s ­disappearance — due to their lack of carefulness”.

    Gerry himself said early on: “No one will ever feel as guilty as we do over the fact that we weren’t with Madeleine at the time.”

    There has also been other, lasting pain — suffering the parents did nothing at all to deserve.

    The notion the McCanns might have had “something to do with” their precious child’s disappearance soon came up publicly and has long been pressed by the first Portuguese chief investigator, Goncalo Amaral.

    Statistics indicate that a parent often does turn out to be responsible when a child is taken or killed.

    But for police to consider such a horrendous possibility, it must be supported by evidence.

    There has never been such ­evidence in the Madeleine case.

    It was a readiness to believe evil of them — and eventually a serious misunderstanding between authorities over DNA findings — that led to the very public implication that the McCanns were guilty at least of ­covering up Madeleine’s death.

    Meanwhile, the internet has been a vehicle for thousands upon ­thousands of poisonous slurs, ­malicious distortions, and downright lies about the child’s parents.

    The vast majority have been — and still are — spewed out either anonymously or using pseudonyms.

    And unlike newspapers, those who snipe anonymously from cyberspace cannot be sued.

    Venom circulated on these sites has included supposed “jokes” about the fate deserved by the McCanns, who are both doctors.

    In a Facebook exchange, a poster we will call Person One suggested someone should “shoot the f***ers”.

    Person Two, a woman, said: “These 2 should burn in hell.”

    Person Three offered to “supply the petrol”.

    And Person Four weighed in to declare readiness to dig out “a box of Swan Vesta” matches.

    Most despicable of all, perhaps, has been the targeting of Madeleine’s younger siblings, the twins — who were just two years old when their big sister vanished.

    During the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, an unpixelated photograph of them was posted on an anti-McCann Facebook page.

    This year, also on Facebook, ­someone posted a note purporting to be from one of the twins, saying that Madeleine’s body had been left “to rot” by their parents.

    The note has not been removed, despite repeated calls for the likes of Facebook and Twitter to see that sort of bile is taken down, along with all terrorism-related posts.

    In 2015, Twitter’s then-CEO Dick Costolo declared himself ashamed of his company and promised to “start kicking these people off right and left”. Nothing effective has happened.

    Every day, the online abuse ­continues to pour in for the McCanns, who live in Rothley, Leics.

    This is despite there being ­absolutely no evidence in the voluminous Portuguese police files on this case to suggest that Madeleine’s parents were in any way criminally responsible for their daughter’s disappearance. Or anything to suggest the couple have sought to cover anything up.

    Those sort of accusations are totally unsupported by the facts.

    One after the other, both British and Portuguese officials have stated that they are not considered suspects.

    But despite online hounding, the McCanns have never been afraid to step forward again, into what they know will lead to a hail of Twitter abuse, to find their beloved daughter.

    In April 2011, Kate published a book about her daughter’s disappearance and the next month — following an open letter to then-Prime Minister David Cameron on the The Sun’s front page — Scotland Yard was ordered to review the case.

    The review became a fresh ­investigation, coordinated with a new Portuguese police team, which led to a new forensic search of the resort in 2014 and to ongoing inquiries which continue to this day.

    Last month further funds were authorised. According to some ­newspapers, detectives are confident “the net is closing in” on an unnamed individual.

    But press and television reporters, hurrying to Portugal to follow up, found nothing to back that assertion.

    So are the police really any closer to knowing what happened to ­Madeleine McCann ten years ago?

    Those actually working on the case have long been tight-lipped but what can we learn from the hard evidence?

    Fingerprints taken in Apartment 5A were identifiable with only two known individuals, Kate McCann and one of the first policemen on the scene. Thirteen other prints were described as “unusable”.

    Of the more than 100 hair samplings collected, some were linked to those with a legitimate reason to be in the apartment. Seventeen matched no known person.

    A stain suspected at first to be semen turned out to be made by the saliva of a child of a family that had previously stayed in 5A.

    And then there was the behaviour of specialist police dogs, trained to sniff out human blood and remains — which began a sequence of events that led to a crucial mistake.

    The dogs alerted handlers to ­potential traces in Apartment 5A and also in the McCanns’ rental car, which they hired three weeks after Madeleine disappeared.

    Numerous DNA samples from the places the dogs had reacted to were then sent off to the UK’s Forensic Science Service in Birmingham.

    There, forensic scientist John Lowe analysed the samples and found that while there were components of Madeleine’s DNA in two of the ­samples, these components were in no way unique to the little girl.

    In fact, he wrote in his report: “Elements of Madeleine’s profile are also present in the profiles of many of the ­scientists here in Birmingham, myself included.”

    The Portuguese police summary of Lowe’s report, however, omitted this note of caution. It made the DNA results sound clear cut — and damning for the McCanns.

    The police instantly declared the McCanns “arguidos” — or official ­suspects. It came four months to the day after their daughter vanished.

    The couple were interrogated for hours and there were leaks to the local media that the investigation was “now centred on the McCann family and their group”.

    The theory was that Madeleine had died in the apartment, possibly as a result of an accident, and her parents had concealed her body.

    Two eminent forensic experts we consulted agreed with John Lowe that the samples from Apartment 5A did not indicate Madeleine or anyone else suffered injury there.

    It was never even scientifically established that any of the samples taken were in fact blood.

    Available forensic reports, said Dr Maureen Smyth, former director of DNA for Ireland’s forensic science service, add up to “a whole lot of nothing”. Eventually, in mid-2008, the McCanns’ arguido status was lifted — but the sniping has never ceased.

    Meanwhile, in the to-and-fro of speculation about what happened to Madeleine, few today pause to consider the least sinister possible solution to the mystery.

    Had the three-year-old perhaps simply woken and wandered off?

    That is what the McCanns’ friends first assumed as they hurried out to search for her and what the first policemen on the scene thought.

    Friends say Madeleine was “full of beans”, even “very adventurous”.

    On waking in the night at home in England, she would sometimes make her way into her parents’ bedroom.

    In Praia da Luz, knowing that her parents were eating just yards away across the pool, could she have attempted a night-time adventure to go to see them?

    Then, having left Apartment 5A and her sleeping two-year-old twin siblings, did she lose her way in the dark?

    There was danger less than 200 yards away, just down the street.

    Men working on drains there had opened a trench between four and six feet deep. A manhole was open.

    The morning after Madeleine’s ­disappearance, two long-time British residents, John Ballinger and Rex Morgan, both separately told police officers that Madeleine might have fallen in.

    The engineer and foreman in charge of the roadworks in Praia da Luz, though, would claim later that they and the police had checked the ditch for any sign of Madeleine and found nothing.

    In any case, Gerry and Kate McCann have long since rejected the notion that their daughter left 5A of her own volition.

    To think that, Kate reasoned, you would have to accept that the ­youngster, not yet quite four years old, had opened and closed a curtain, a sliding glass door and a little gate opening on to the road.

    Kate has also said consistently that when she came back to find her daughter gone, the window in the kids’ bedroom was open, the shutters were raised and the curtains open.

    Officer Jose Maria Roque, the first policeman on the scene, also noticed that the shutters were slightly open.

    That may indicate an intruder had been in the room.

    Around 9.15pm to 9.20pm, about 40 minutes before Madeleine was noticed missing, the McCanns’ friend Jane Tanner had seen a man crossing the road beside 5A carrying a child.

    The child was wearing pyjamas. The top had been perhaps pink, the trousers light-coloured with a floral pattern. That sounded very close to the Eeyore-patterned pyjamas from Marks & Spencer that Madeleine had been wearing.

    Had Tanner, without realising it, seen Madeleine being carried away by an abductor?

    An alternative sighting, made about 45 minutes later and just a few ­minutes’ walk away, would also trigger all sorts of speculation.

    A tourist, Martin Smith, along with other members of his family, had seen a man carrying a child wearing “white or light-pink” pyjamas.

    Had they glimpsed someone stealing away with Madeleine? Was this a second glimpse of the same man?

    Or were one or both of the ­incidents, as Tanner and the Smiths assumed at the time, merely ­encounters with an innocent father carrying his child home to bed?

    Years later, a father did tell British police that he had carried his child home across the street near 5A at around the relevant time.

    Who can say though, that — ­minutes earlier or minutes later — Tanner did not see another man, an abductor, making off with Madeleine?

    It is impossible to say whether ­Tanner, or indeed the Smith family, saw an innocent man, or different innocent men, making their way along the street.

    One or both of them may have seen an abductor.

    At 6am the following ­day, some five miles away and while it was still dark, motorist George Brooks saw a man and a woman carrying a child.

    What he thought odd — and this was apparently before he knew anything about Madeleine’s disappearance — was that they “looked extremely disturbed when I caught them in my headlights”.

    He thought at the time they looked “very suspicious”. He called the police when he got home.

    It is not clear, though, if any action was taken at the time. Like other seemingly relevant “sightings”, the information led nowhere. Other leads, frustratingly, may or may not be the key to the mystery.

    In the first months of 2007, there had been an epidemic of break-ins in Praia da Luz, many of them targeting the homes of expats.

    In the weeks before Madeleine ­vanished there had been three in the very block the McCanns and their friends were to use.

    Just before they arrived for their seven-night spring holiday, a burglar had been surprised in the act of robbing the flat directly above Apartment 5A.

    During another break-in elsewhere in the resort, a sleeping child had been disturbed just before their parents came in.

    There was something else. In the two weeks before Madeleine vanished, a man — either alone or with a ­companion — had called to the doors of several homes and apartments claiming to be a charity worker ­collecting for a nearby orphanage.

    There had been one such caller, days before the McCanns arrived, at Apartment 5A. Research establishes that the orphanage did not exist. The visitors were clearly lying about ­collecting for needy youngsters.

    Were they just small-time conmen or would-be burglars casing the joint? Or did one of the men, at least, have a more sinister purpose?

    Between 2002 and 2010, both before and after Madeleine vanished, there were no less than 28 incidents of that more sinister, disturbing type, a ­Scotland Yard source told us.

    Not all the female victims were very young. Some had been teenagers or young women, but there still were similarities.

    Once, according to the McCanns’ detectives, a man had tried to abduct a young girl.

    The incidents had occurred within about 40 miles of Praia da Luz.

    And in each case the targets had been properties in which British ­families were staying.

    One chilling incident, in 2006, had occurred at the very resort where the McCanns later stayed. The intruder had taken nothing, merely stood staring into a child’s travel cot.

    The previous year, also in Praia da Luz, a ten-year-old had been ­sexually assaulted.

    There had been six occasions in which an intruder had been interrupted before he could do anything that he may have been planning on.

    A British resident told us about one of the incidents. Two friends of hers, parents of girls aged eight and 11, had learned what happened only when the children woke them.

    According to the girls, the man had come in and got into bed with their younger daughter.

    The eight-year-old girl asked: “Is that you, Daddy?” He said: “Yes.”

    But she knew it was not her father.

    The older girl then woke up and saw what was happening. The man got up and walked out of the room.

    Our source said the man had not actually done anything but it had been “bizarre”.

    This intruder had apparently worn a surgical mask on his face and had cloth around his feet — possibly to avoid leaving footprints.

    And in the Yard’s only public comment on these incidents, a spokesman said descriptions also suggested the intruder had dark, unkempt hair, was tanned and had “a funny smell”.

    The man — if it was the same man — sometimes went bare-chested when he entered houses. He spoke English slowly, with a foreign accent.

    Perhaps, our Yard source told us “there is a burglar, a thief, who’s also got a weakness for this sort of thing”.

    The source added: “There’s potential here. If we find that a single person is responsible for a number, if not all, of the events, then who knows? That man may have been responsible for Madeleine McCann’s disappearance.”

    Our research took us to a further sinister episode, which may link the sexual-intrusion scenario to that of the phoney orphanage collectors.

    Right before Madeleine disappeared — the witness could not recall the precise day — a “scruffy-looking” man who claimed to represent the non-existent orphanage called at the house of a British woman.

    She felt very uncomfortable because, while talking to her, he appeared to be staring past her at her three-year-old daughter.

    A couple of hours later, the woman saw him again, waiting at the end of the road.

    And the following day, when she was coming downstairs, having left her three-year-old downstairs for a minute or two, she glimpsed a man in the living room with her child.

    He left rapidly, but she thought he was the supposed charity collector.

    Even then, she had feared for her daughter’s safety.

    A British police source has said the Madeleine case has “the hallmarks of a pre-planned abduction”.

    If that is what it was, it might explain a perplexing circumstance.

    All through the commotion of the night the little girl vanished, her twin brother and sister slept on. One of the McCanns’ holiday companions noted: “It seemed weird. They didn’t so much as blink.” Later, their mum wondered whether they could have been drugged by an abductor. Might a drug have been used both on the twins and on Madeleine? Perhaps.

    One after another, medical experts we consulted say chloroform could have been the sedative of choice.

    It can be administered on a cloth and works fast. But unless the person knows what they are doing, sedatives can be dangerous — even fatal.

    A pre-planned abduction, police have also said, would “undoubtedly have involved reconnaissance”.

    Other leads aside, there are strong indications that a man was specifically watching the McCanns’ apartment in the four days before Madeleine disappeared.

    A young British schoolgirl, Tasmin Sillence, told police days later of having twice seen a man hanging around — his eyes seemingly fixed on Apartment 5A. The girl, then aged 12, noticed because she knew the flat very well. It had once belonged to her grandmother and she had even lived there for a time.

    The first time she saw the man, four days before the disappearance, he had appeared to be “staring intently at the balcony” of the ­apartment where the McCanns had been staying since April 28.

    Two days later, at noon, he was gazing either at the apartment or at those adjacent to it.

    Another witness, an English tourist who asked not to be identified, gave similar testimony about a man who seemed to be “watching” the flat.

    Late in the afternoon of the very day of the disappearance, Carole Tranmer — the niece of the woman living directly above 5A — was ­sitting on the terrace when she noticed a man behaving oddly.

    Tranmer, who used to work as a secretary at Windsor Castle, watched from above as he “came out . . .  looked to one side and the other . . . and walked very quickly below us”.

    The man opened and closed the little gate that gave 5A access to the street as though he was “ensuring it did not make a noise”.

    He moved “stealthily, as if he did not want anyone to know he was coming and going . . . it looked very strange to me”.

    The testimony of those who saw a man watching 5A and the stories of bogus “charity ­collection” both, separately, suggest criminal intent.

    Indeed, Scotland Yard long ago came to think Madeleine’s disappearance was the result of a “criminal act by a stranger”. Sex offenders, local and expatriate, have been investigated in vain.

    But British and Portuguese investigations continue.

    Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said this week they are following “a small remaining number of critical lines of inquiry”. He continued: “We’ve got some thoughts on what the most likely explanation might be.

    “Ourselves and the Portugese are doing a critical piece of work and we don’t want to spoil it by putting titbits out about it publicly.”

    Meanwhile, her parents wait.

    Kate said last year: “We go to bed every night with the agonising feeling that, just maybe, tomorrow we will find something to lead us back to Madeleine.

    “We will never give up.”


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