Why so many are still missing ‘Our Maddie’
Mick Hume - 15.10.2013
In Britain, too, some have now started to criticise what they see, with some justification, as the ongoing media ‘circus’ surrounding the case. But they have trouble answering the question: why Madeleine? One shallow attempt at an explanation is to claim it is down to her middle-class professional parents and their media-savvy advisers – ‘Team McCann’ – who have spun the story so successfully. (If that were true, it would hardly be a scandal; if anybody has a reason to remain preoccupied with the case it is of course Kate and Gerry McCann.) Another cheap shot is, inevitably, to blame ‘tabloid sensationalism’ for keeping Madeleine in the headlines. That avoids the fact that the liberal ‘serious’ media has played a central part in promoting the circus from the start, as illustrated by the BBC clearing its schedules and news bulletins to re-promote the story this week. There’s far more going on here than Team McCann’s spinning skills or morbid tabloid sensationalism. That would hardly explain how so many, from Downing Street and Fleet Street to Scotland Yard and across social-media websites, have apparently remained in thrall to the drama all of this time. Madeleine has been turned into a symbol, a sort of metaphor, of several trends in our society and culture. Almost from the first, it was clear to some of us that there were two girls involved here. There was the real Madeleine McCann, the subject of the fruitless police investigation in Portugal. And then there was ‘Our Maddie’, a media creation with a name dreamt up by headline-writers but not recognised by her family. Over time, the imaginary ‘Maddie’ has taken over the story. The latest high-profile Metropolitan Police probe, with its vague theories and probably useless e-fits, looks less like a practical criminal investigation to find out what physically happened to Madeleine than a public-relations exercise, promoted by the BBC, to demonstrate that the British authorities and the public still care about Our Maddie.
This has become an ongoing focus for many in search of some sort of Shared Emotional Experience in the UK today. Ours is an increasingly atomised society, where old common traditions such as patriotism or religion have little hold and it has become rare to feel part of something larger than oneself. As a substitute, over the past two decades we have witnessed periodic national outbreaks of a sense of shared ersatz grief and loss around deaths and tragedies. Most such outbreaks of ‘mourning sickness’ prove fairly short-lived; even the cult of Princess Diana appears to have lost its charm. But, perhaps because of her uncertain fate, ‘Maddie’ has become a peculiarly permanent excuse for indulging in a Shared Emotional Experience. After her disappearance, this led to many thousands of British households putting newspaper posters about the missing Madeleine in their windows, and football crowds and teams displaying her image, in a way that could have nothing to do with the real police investigation. Today it explains why the BBC Crimewatch special, scripted by the Met, was shown in primetime in the UK, not in Portugal.
All of these cultural trends around Maddie have been given shape and strength by the intervention of powerful institutions. The media, from the highbrow BBC to the redtop newspapers, have taken every opportunity to keep the circus on the road, in the hope of making an emotional connection with their audience. The Metropolitan Police, damaged of late by assorted scandals, have seized the chance to turn the Search for Madeleine into an image-polishing PR exercise, a rare opportunity to emphasise their sensitivity and professionalism in contrast to their Portuguese counterparts. The police have been more spinning than spun. Whether they can have any more hope than the Portuguese of solving the case seems almost beside the point. And never far away is the political class, which can see the emotional tragedy of Our Maddie as a chance to unite the nation – something they can no longer achieve with politics or even wars. Thus New Labour prime minister Gordon Brown gave the McCanns government backing from the first, embracing them and helping to set up their widely publicised meeting with Pope Benedict in 2007. And soon after he replaced Brown, Tory prime minister David Cameron effectively ordered the Met to devote their stretched resources to a full-scale re-investigation of the case in Portugal – the sort of political intervention in dictating police priorities that would normally cause a stir, but the Opposition did not want to be seen questioning Cameron here. There can be few who still seriously expect the story of Madeleine to have a happy ending. In fact, with so little practical progress, and so much cultural baggage now attached to the tragedy, there seems little immediate prospect of it having an ending at all.
Requête et Exécution
Marisa Rodrigues [Reporter/Voice Over] - The first diligences requested by the English authorities are concluded, and the inspectors of the Judiciary Police in the Algarve await for new indications. The diligences were requested in the rogatory letter and are entirely part of the investigation that is taking place in England. Witnesses were heard, a new film was made of the reconstruction of the events that took place in the night of May 3, 2007, and some leads which sustain the thesis of abduction were followed, not excluding the hypothesis of death.
It is now known that there are other probable suspects to whom the English police wishes to get hold of: those are three men of gipsy ethnicity that were seen roaming around the resort of Praia da Luz [four months] before the disappearance and the driver of a white van, where there would be a child similar to the English girl.
Albeit without having reached objective results, the English investigation, ordered by the British prime minister David Cameron, in the field is ahead of the Portuguese especially because it has been going on for five months.
Here, the process archived in 2008 was reopened last Thursday, it still is in Portimão's court, without a team of PJ inspectors entrusted to the process. Only after that step will the guidelines of the investigation be defined, and the diligences to be carried out set, all under secrecy of justice.
The investigations taking place in Portugal and in England are independent, but have in common the fact that Kate and Gerry are not considered suspects of the disappearance of their daughter. TVI knows, that both, at this stage and until certainties exist, are not searching for a body but for the answers to two questions: What happened and where is Madeleine McCann.
David Elstein - 05.11.2013
The October edition of Crimewatch, focussing on the case of Madeleine McCann, featured new photofits of a potential suspect - only, they weren't new. According to the Sunday Times, they had been repressed by the McCanns themselves. The failure of the BBC to report this is extraordinary.
The newly released photofit in the Maddy McCann case
For nearly thirty years, Crimewatch has been a regular part of the schedule of the BBC’s main channel, BBC1. By using video reconstructions of unsolved crimes, and accepting help and advice from the UK’s police forces, it has contributed to the conviction of over one hundred major criminals, including murderers and rapists.
These days, Crimewatch no longer has a monthly slot, but it can still pull in a large audience. The October 14th edition, including a 25-minute report on the mysterious disappearance of 3-year-old Madeleine McCann during a family holiday in Portugal six years ago, attracted over 6.5 million viewers, along with a mass of publicity before and after transmission. The occasion of the programme was the decision by Scotland Yard to present the main findings of its renewed efforts – involving a 37-strong investigative team – to find the child, prompted by an assurance given by Prime Minister David Cameron to Madeleine’s parents, Gerry and Kate, that the closing of the Portuguese investigation into the case would not be allowed to be the final word.
The programme item was curiously inept. Real footage of the McCann family was constantly intercut with shots of (not very) lookalikes: confusing and distracting at the same time. Towards the end, there was reference to a search for a number of long-haired men who had been seen hanging around the apartment block in the holiday resort: yet the only video the “reconstruction” managed to offer was of several men with close-cropped heads. ;) Much of the publicity the programme attracted centred on new electronic photofits that featured prominently in the programme. They had been generated in the course of interviews with an Irish family, the Smiths, who had also been on holiday in the Praia da Luz resort where the McCanns and some friends of theirs had gathered in April 2007.
Attentive viewers might have been puzzled as to how the Irish witnesses were able to provide such detailed images, six years after the event. We were not told. The interview with the detective leading the Scotland Yard inquiry did not touch on the subject. The next day, October 15th, the Daily Express – part of the newspaper group owned by Richard Desmond which has paid out over half a million pounds to the McCanns in compensation for libellous stories about Madeleine’s disappearance – noted that these photofits were actually five years old, but had never been released publicly.
On October 27th, we learned more. The Sunday Times claimed that the photofits had actually been compiled in 2008 by a team of private investigators hired by the Find Madeleine Fund, which had been set up by the McCanns. The investigation had cost £500,000, and had been led by Henri Exton, a former head of MI5 undercover operations. But the company Exton had worked for, Oakley International, had fallen out with the McCanns. Ostensibly, the dispute was over money, but the McCanns also imposed a ban on any publicising of the contents of the Exton report. According to the Sunday Times, it had contained criticisms of the evidence provided by the friends of the McCanns, and by the McCanns themselves, even raising the possibility that Madeleine might have died after wandering out of the family’s rented apartment through unsecured doors.
Over the years, the McCanns have issued seven different photofits, including one provided by their friend Jane Tanner, who thought she saw a man carrying a child at about 9.15 on the evening Madeleine disappeared. Exton discounted this sighting, and thought the Smith sighting, at about 10 pm, was the most significant. Yet the McCanns, despite passionately pursuing the quest to find their lost child, chose never to issue the Smith photofit. The Scotland Yard team has now satisfied itself that the Tanner sighting can be excluded, agrees that the 10 pm timeline is the correct one and regards the Smith photofit as the most promising lead: five years after the McCanns themselves suppressed all this information, according to the Sunday Times.
Whatever their reasons for doing so, the McCanns are not accountable to the public, despite Gerry’s regular lectures on how the press in general should behave,
On sait que pour les donneurs de leçon est implicite le "faites ce que je dis et non ce que je fais".
and why a Royal Charter version of the Leveson recommendations is needed to keep newspapers honest and straightforward in their reporting.
The story in the Sunday Times also indicated that the Exton report included a section in which the father of the Smith family, Martin Smith, noted that his observation of how Gerry McCann used to carry
Ce n'était pas la position, c'était la manière inconfortable de porter, le manque de symbiose entre l'homme et l'enfant.
He does not think the man actually was Gerry, Martin S a déclaré que l'homme pouvait être GMC, à 60-80% but it is not hard to work out why the leader of the Portuguese inquiry concluded that the McCanns were implicated in the disappearance. The McCanns are suing him for libel, and both the Portuguese police and Scotland Yard are satisfied they had no part in the disappearance, but fear of inciting more press speculation in the UK may explain the decision to suppress the entire Oakley report. Clarence Mitchell a bien essayé d'en convaincre la presse, mais, non, un procureur de la république n'est pas habilité à délivrer des certificats d'innocence. Le MP a 1) déclaré que la nature du crime était indéterminée, ce qui excluait toute accusation et 2) qu'il classait l'affaire faute d'éléments de preuve à charge.
It is hard to believe that the Crimewatch team was ignorant of this history. It would have been incredibly unprofessional of them not even to ask how and when Scotland Yard had obtained the “new” photofits. The programme referred to the Irish family, and a “fresh” investigation, but the absence of any reference to “new” photofits strongly suggests that Crimewatch knew the background perfectly well. Does this matter? Crimewatch occupies an uneasy space between entertainment and information. Its brief is undoubtedly one of public service, but it is not in the business of journalism. No journalist would go out of his way to mislead the public in the way this edition of Crimewatch managed to do.
The essence of Crimewatch is complicity: close co-operation with the police and the purported victims of crime, to the point of eliminating anything awkward that might get in the way of that joint endeavour. The Sunday Times quoted a source close to the McCanns as saying that release of the original Oakley investigation might have distracted the public from their objective of finding their child. Yet the bottom line of this story is that the parents deliberately withheld, for five years, the photofits that Scotland Yard now says are the most important evidence in the search for the supposed culprits. For any journalist, that would have been at least as important a fact to reveal to the public as the photofits themselves. Yet the most important area of journalism in the UK – the BBC, which accounts for over 60% of all news consumption – has remained silent on the revelations in the Sunday Times. Even the BBC website, with over 900 stories related to the disappearance over the years, has not found room for that startling information (though you can find links to the Daily Star’s website, which repeated much of the Sunday Times material on October 28th). It would be dismaying if some kind of misguided loyalty to the non-journalists at Crimewatch was inhibiting the 8,000 BBC staff who work in its news division.
It is, of course, just possible that Crimewatch was itself duped by the McCanns: but I doubt it. Instead, the editor chose to join the McCanns in trying to dupe the public. Neither option shows the BBC in a good light. Whatever the failings over the two Newsnight items – the untransmitted one on Jimmy Savile, the transmitted one that libelled Lord McAlpine – no-one can argue that there was any definite intention to mislead the public. Sadly, the same cannot be said of October’s Crimewatch.