My ten years of looking for Madeleine: how the McCann case has dominated my life


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    My ten years of looking for Madeleine: how the McCann case has dominated my life  Empty My ten years of looking for Madeleine: how the McCann case has dominated my life

    Post  Sykes on Tue May 02, 2017 3:45 pm

    Martin Brunt, Sky News Crime Correspondent   2 May 2017 • 11:14am

    I know so much about the story of Madeleine McCann, the heartbreakingly little girl who vanished into thin air.

    In the ten years since she disappeared I’ve spoken to her parents, their friends, the heads of Scotland Yard and the Portuguese police, private investigators, Government ministers and diplomats, witnesses and suspects, the family’s supporters and their trolls.

    In the resort where she went missing I’ve chatted for many hours with residents, expats, taxi drivers, waiters and bar owners. A lot of bar owners.

    But what do I really know? What do I know about the only thing that matters, what happened to three-year-old Madeleine after her parents left her and her two-year-old twin siblings Sean and Amelie sleeping in their rented holiday apartment in Praia da Luz on a breezy, late Spring night 10 years ago on Wednesday?

    The answer, of course, is nothing. There are theories galore and wild speculation, but for all the time and money spent by police, journalists and armchair detectives, nobody has unearthed the slightest proof to explain her fate. For crime reporters, as an unsolved case it stands alone.

    There have been two Portuguese police investigations and Scotland Yard has spent more than £11 million since it began its own inquiry in 2011. In six years the British detectives identified 600 ‘potentially significant’ individuals, all of whom have been ruled out. They have one significant line of enquiry which may or may not provide an answer.

    And that’s why I’m sitting here in an editing room, more baffled and fascinated by the story than I was 10 years ago, putting the final touches to a TV documentary that hopes to shed some light, at least on what’s happened since.

    ‘Madeleine.’ That’s all I have to say to colleagues, friends or family who ask me what I’m working on. I don’t even have to say her surname for them to understand what’s keeping me busy. By her first name, she is so well known as the little girl at the heart of an enduring mystery.

    I’ve been back to Praia da Luz 20 times or more and have struck up friendships with several people. They greet me warmly enough, but they don’t like why I’m there. I don’t think there’s a word for the look on their faces, a mixture of smile and scowl.

    In the absence of facts there’s a vacuum filled by speculation and opinion, more often than not tinged with a lack of sympathy for her parents. That is especially true in Portugal, where I’ve seldom met anyone who cannot get over the hurdle of Kate and Gerry McCann leaving their three  asleep while they dined with friends across the holiday complex. Kate McCann has described tomorrow’s anniversary as ‘a horrible marker of time, stolen time’.

    Nobody can beat up the parents for leaving the children more than the couple do themselves. Long ago they acknowledged they made a mistake, one they have to wake up to each morning.

    Yet, the level of hostility the McCann family continues to attract, mainly on on social media, is dreadful - heaping more misery on their blighted lives. A recent posting on a Facebook page which is devoted to the theory that Madeleine’s body is buried in Praia da Luz carried an apparent photograph of her brother Sean, attributing to him a ‘comment’ in which he criticises his parents.

    One of those behind the posting told me he had contacted Sean’s school in a bizarre attempt to enlist its help in a campaign to retrieve Madeleine’s body. I knew Scotland Yard was aware of the activity, but they appeared to have done nothing about it. I was told it was something they did not want to discuss with me.

    Two months ago someone posted an apparent photograph of the family having lunch in a restaurant. While they were still eating, the picture was put on Twitter, followed by a map and directions to the restaurant along with many vile comments such as ‘Are the kids with them or are they also home alone?’ And ‘Shame they didn’t choke.’ One poster suggested spitting in their food, another wanted to pour beer over them.

    As far as I know, none of the McCanns has ever been physically attacked, but I’ve learned as well as anyone the human impact social media activity can have.

    Three years ago Leicestershire police were sent a dossier of the online anti-McCann hostility, which included death threats. After six months they decided to take no action against anyone.

    I confronted one of the McCann critics, Brenda Leyland, a woman who had Tweeted many nasty comments. She invited me into her home for a chat, though she didn’t want to be interviewed formally. Four days later she took her own life.

    In an interview for our documentary the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he couldn’t understand why police refused to investigate the McCann trolls.

    The former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP), Jim Gamble, described the thousands of online attacks as “a legacy of bile” that would always be there on the Internet to confront Madeleine’s younger twin brother and sister.

    We reveal in the documentary details of a secret report Mr Johnson commissioned from CEOP in 2009 to explore the possibility of Scotland Yard getting involved. It led to the Metropolitan Police reviewing the case in 2011 and then launching their own full investigation two years later.

    The document exposes the early failures of the first Portuguese investigation and the chaos added by many British agencies competing to help. They included the Association of Chief Police Officers, the National Policing Improvement Agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service and others. It led to the Portuguese authorities  accusing Britain of acting like “a colonial power.”

    In turn, says the leaked report, it lead to growing distrust between the McCanns and both Portuguese and UK police. So much so, that when the McCanns later hired a series of private investigators, the couple refused to share the information that was gathered with either force.

    We’ve also spoken to former detective Colin Sutton, who was in the running to head the Scotland Yard investigation before he retired. He says that a senior officer rang and warned him that if he took on the case he would not be able to do everything he wished. He interpreted that as a ban on any formal interview with the McCanns.

    Mr Sutton says that if Scotland Yard really did intend to “re-analyse and re-assess everything, accept nothing”, as Det Chief Insp Andy Redwood told BBC Crimewatch in 2013, it should have interviewed the McCanns under caution at the start, if only to rule them out. Mr Sutton says that from the beginning they did accept something, the abduction theory.

    The Metropolitan Police has confirmed it didn’t formally interview the McCanns because it was satisfied the couple had been ruled out by the initial Portuguese investigation.

    Without that interview, says Mr Sutton, the Scotland Yard inquiry was flawed from the start and so the McCanns have still not had the “proper” investigation Alan Johnson promised them.

    The 10th anniversary has been an excuse for me to contact my fellow hacks who spent many weeks in Praia da Luz in the summer of 2007 to see if they have learned anything more than me.

    So far, despite recent headlines about breakthroughs and new leads, they haven’t. Over the years we have all tried very hard to beat each other to exclusives, sometimes going to extraordinary lengths. I remember turning up one January to discover that three of my rivals had spent Christmas in Praia da Luz and shared a lonely festive lunch in the dimly-lit Fortaleza restaurant with the sound of freezing waves crashing on the rocks below.

    It was a reminder that Madeleine’s disappearance has played such a big part in our lives and, as long as it remained a mystery, we couldn’t let it go.

    There’s talk of a reporters’ reunion, but that would hardly be appropriate. Now, Madeleine’s safe return, wouldn’t that be a cause for celebration for us all?


    Truth is the Daughter of Time

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