Victims of the rumour mill ?
David James Smith, Steven Swinford and Richard Woods
After a dramatic twist, are the Portuguese police close to solving the most extraordinary disappearance of recent years?
As Gerry McCann emerged from Portimão police station at midnight on Friday, he stared unblinkingly into the distance while his lawyer read out a statement. The consultant cardiologist, said the lawyer, had just joined his wife as a prime suspect in the death of his daughter, Madeleine, who went missing four months ago.
Beneath his unflinching exterior, Gerry was in a state of turmoil and fury. "We are being absolutely stitched up by the Portuguese police," he had told a friend after his wife Kate had earlier been named a suspect after hours of interrogation. "We are completely f*****, we should have seen this coming weeks ago and gone back to Britain."
Barely six days earlier the McCanns had been preparing to do just that: to end their vigil in Portugal and return home to Rothley in Leicestershire. They had informed the police who had reacted calmly enough. (1)
Detectives had warned their lawyer that the McCanns might be made arguidos - suspects - in the investigation, but had emphasised that it would be a purely "technical" move. The status would give the McCanns greater rights in interviews. (2)
The couple were going to need them. Kate was the first to be summoned and on Thursday was questioned for 11 hours. Drained and exhausted she left the police station at 12.55am, only to be back for a further five hours of questioning on Friday, before which she was named an arguida (the feminine form).
The archaic procedures made her grilling all the more arduous. Instead of taping the interviews, an officer took hand-written notes in Portuguese of Kate's comments, which were then translated back into English at regular intervals for her approval. (3)
The police have said nothing publicly about the evidence they are reported to have. But according to friends of the McCanns who spoke to them after their interviews, the police told Kate they had found "bodily fluids" in a Renault Scenic car hired by the McCanns.
The police implied the forensic traces had come from Madeleine - yet the McCanns had only hired the car 25 days after their daughter disappeared. The implication was clear: Madeleine had died and the McCanns had later used the car to dispose of her body.
The police added that a sniffer dog brought in from South Yorkshire police to help with the inquiry had detected the "scent of a corpse". During questioning they repeatedly played footage of sniffer dogs becoming animated around the Renault Scenic. They are also said to have found Madeleine’s DNA on items of clothing bought by Kate after her daughter’s disappearance. (4) The police declared that the elements were enough to make them believe that Madeleine was dead and to make Kate a suspect. They even offered her a deal: if she confessed to killing her daughter accidentally, she would receive a "lenient sentence" of just "two to three years". (5)
After all the weeks of grief and pressure, it might have been too much for some to bear. Kate, although worried sick, stayed strong. "How dare you," she told the police. "How dare you use blackmail to get me to confess to something I didn’t do." Gerry returned distressed and tired. His sister Philomena McCann, who spoke to him after his interrogation, said: "He’s adamant that he’s done nothing wrong. Every question he was asked, he answered. Gerry didn’t seem particularly worried. He’s more concerned that the investigation seems to have moved away from finding Madeleine alive." She added: "Kate and Gerry have not been charged. They are free to leave Portugal, which is what I would want them to do - because I am sick of seeing them persecuted in this shameful manner." (6)
This weekend their fate hangs in the balance. A source at Britain's Forensic Science Service said that the whole edifice of suspicion against the McCanns may rest on sand. Forensic samples, he cautioned, may have been too small or too contaminated to prove anything. A senior British police source said he was astonished by the decision to accuse Kate of killing her daughter just on the basis of the forensic tests. "It sounds over the top. What we do is to get an independent review of the forensic evidence and bring someone in from the outside. You independently review what is going on and you certainly don’t make an arrest off the top of one specific piece of evidence," he said. On the other hand, a Portuguese newspaper yesterday claimed that Kate is accused of homicide, negligence and "preventing the corpse from being found". Reports also claimed that police sources said Kate is mentally unstable, displayed "aggression" and has been using her right to remain silent. The Portuguese authorities are considering whether to suspend the McCanns’ passports - and the police may yet lay charges. (7)
To appreciate the McCanns' extraordinary predicament, you have to go back to the night in question, Thursday, May 3, and in particular the three hours between when Madeleine was last seen by a nonfamily member and when she was reported missing. What happened in this period is regarded by police as the key to solving the mystery. After a series of interviews in Praia da Luz in recent weeks, The Sunday Times has established new details of what happened that night and how the police inquiry took its dramatic twist this weekend.
The McCanns had travelled to the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz with a group of friends, predominantly doctors like them. Altogether, four families, comprising nine adults and eight children, set out. At the Ocean Club all four families had apartments in Waterside Gardens Block 5, which overlooked one of two pool and restaurant areas on the resort. It was not a gated site and Gerry’s and Kate’s ground floor apartment, 5a, was on a street corner. The group occupied two of the neighbouring apartments, 5b and 5d, and another on the floor above. On the first night, Saturday, April 28, the adults and children all ate together at the Ocean Club’s other location, some 10 minutes away, the Millennium Restaurant and Terrace. But the next night, and for all the nights thereafter, all four families settled the children in their apartments and then walked down to the nearby Tapas restaurant with its open air tables offering a clear line of sight to the apartments, about 50 metres away. You could see the rear of the apartments where french windows opened out of the lounge and kitchen area. (8)
In the McCanns' apartment there was a master bedroom next to the lounge, a bathroom and, furthest away from the Tapas restaurant, at the front, next to the front door, the second bedroom where the three children were put to sleep every night. Each evening the group followed a pattern of giving the children tea together and then playing with them for an hour before putting them to bed. The children, worn out, were soon asleep. For the adults, the evenings were fun, although not excessive, despite some of the more excitable reporting. The Portuguese magazine Sol, for example, claimed 14 bottles of wine were consumed on the night of May 3 - adding the supposedly persuasive details of eight bottles of red and six of white. In fact, according to Gerry, the group had drunk only four bottles; another two stood barely touched on the table. Each set of parents took responsibility for checking on their own children, so there was fairly constant traffic up and down from the table, the parents often crossing paths. Gerry and Kate took turns to check every half hour.
On the evening of May 3, the last moment when Madeleine was definitely seen alive by anybody other than the McCanns was at about 7pm as the group put their children to bed. As the adults dined, Gerry went to check on Madeleine and the twins Sean and Amelie at just after 9pm, perhaps at 9.05pm. He says all the children were safely asleep. As he was returning to the table he encountered Jeremy Wilkins, an English fellow holidaymaker whom Gerry had befriended at the resort’s tennis courts. They chatted for a few minutes in the street outside the McCanns’ apartment. One of the party, Russell O’Brien, was away from the table for much of the evening, caring for his sick child. At about 9.15pm Jane Tanner, his girlfriend, went to their apartment to see how things were. As she did so she passed, right on the street corner by the McCanns’ apartment, a man carrying a child wrapped in a blanket. The man was crossing the road, walking away from the apartment complex. At the time Tanner thought nothing of it; it seemed a perfectly normal spectacle in a family resort. At 9.30pm Kate was due to check on her children, but another of the party, believed to be Matt Oldfield, was getting up from the table to make his own check. Oldfield said he would look in on the McCanns’ children, according to a source close to the McCanns.
When Oldfield reached the corner apartment he entered through the closed but unlocked french windows and checked on the sleeping children. Afterwards, with the terrible agony of hindsight, he could clearly recall seeing the twins lying there, but could not say for sure that he had seen Madeleine. But that was afterwards. The evening went on. O’Brien rejoined the table shortly before 10pm. Not long afterwards Kate got up to make the next check on her three children. The walk must have taken her less than a minute. Madeleine was not in her bed. Left behind was Cuddle Cat, Madeleine’s comfort toy. She was never separated from it, especially at night. According to Kate, the bedroom window was open and the shutter up, yet they had been closed and down when Gerry checked at 9pm. Kate searched the apartment and the area immediately outside. She ran down the hill and into the restaurant, where Gerry recalls her shouting or screaming either "Madeleine has gone. Somebody has taken her" or "Madeleine has gone. Someone has taken her". Other reports suggest she shouted, "They've taken her." Gerry thought "that can’t be right, that can’t be right". He went running up to the apartment with Kate and checked everywhere she had already looked, and made a quick run around the apartment block. (9)
They decided straight away to call the police but had no idea what the emergency numbers were and, anyway, could not speak Portuguese. They asked one of their friends in the group to go down to the main reception, which is manned 24 hours, and call the police. The call was made at 10.14pm or 10.15pm, according to the McCanns. Two officers from the GNR local police arrived at 11.10pm, nearly an hour after the call. They could not speak English and a member of the Ocean Club staff had to translate. (10) The immediate assumption was that Madeleine must have wandered off, but Gerry and Kate were adamant that this could not have happened. Besides there were, apparently, obvious signs that an intruder had been there. What they were, however, is not clear. Apart from the open window and shutter, neither the McCanns nor the police have confirmed any other evidence of a break-in. (11) At midnight the local police called the Policia Judiciaria, the PJ, who investigate serious crimes. The PJ arrived at 1am, according to the McCanns. There was substantial searching involving tourists and locals for some hours. Kate remained in the apartment hoping for news, while Gerry went out and looked. (12) By 3.30am the police had packed it in for the night. The searching was pretty much over. Gerry and Kate were frustrated and desperate. Gerry went out at about 4am with David Payne, another of their group, hoping to find something. Later, at about 6am, the McCanns went out alone and walked around the scrubland on the outskirts of the village, holding hands and calling Madeleine’s name. There was nobody else around and they felt utterly alone. (13)
From the beginning the McCanns felt that they must keep faith with the Portuguese detectives who were investigating their daughter’s disappearance. Others around them were ready to criticise but, in public at least, the McCanns expressed their support. They were also advised not to betray any emotion when making public appeals for help, which accounts for the even face which Gerry has presented to the media. Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, told them that if the abductor was watching he or she might take pleasure in the McCanns’ distress. (14) Behind the scenes, however, tensions festered on both sides. It was not always easy for the McCanns or their friends to maintain the veneer of confidence in the police. One forensics officer spent a long time in the McCanns’ apartment collecting exhibits, but wore the same gloves the whole time. The gloves should have been replaced regularly to avoid cross-contamination. The Portuguese police were unused to the intense media interest and the McCanns’ highly successful and in some ways controversial strategy of keeping Madeleine’s story and image in the public eye in the hope that someone would recognise her. The PJ, steeped in a culture of secrecy dating back to Portugal’s dictatorship, which ended in 1974, resented the media attention and having to give a press conference. (15)
There were further complications, too. The McCanns knew, as few others did, that the PJ had adopted a local expat called Robert Murat, who spoke English and Portuguese, as an official translator. Murat lived in a villa with his mother just across the road from the Ocean Club and only a few hundred yards from the McCanns’ apartment - in the very direction that Tanner had seen a man with a child wrapped in a blanket. Yet he was given a position of trust by the police: when Murat told the police that some members of the press already suspected him, the PJ told him not to worry. He should keep away from the press, the PJ said, and help them as a translator. He began informally translating for the PJ on Monday, May 7, and on the Wednesday signed an agreement as an official interpreter. He translated the interview of the McCanns’ holiday companion Rachel Oldfield, among others. On the night of Saturday, May 12, he left the PJ offices in Portimao and realised that he was being followed by an unmarked police car as he drove home. On Sunday he tried in vain to find out from the PJ why they had changed their minds about him. He has still never been told why he became a suspect but the next day, at 7am, the police raided his house and took him off for questioning. How could he be trusted one day and suspected the next? It made little sense, least of all to Murat. Police investigations into his movements and associates produced little of interest. Excavations at his mother’s villa turned up no sign of a body. The police investigation appeared to be going nowhere.
From the beginning the McCanns had been warned by the PJ that they could not speak about the details of the investigation or the circumstances of Madeleine’s disappearance. The "secrecy of justice" laws prevented anybody involved, including all police officers and witnesses, from talking about it to the press or anyone else. Both Gerry and Kate were meticulous in observing this rule. (16) The McCanns lived - and continue to live - on hope. They knew their daughter could have been abused and killed but, in the absence of certainty, they could have hope. When a German journalist asked in June whether they had had anything to do with Madeleine’s disappearance, it seemed an insulting aberration. The McCanns maintained their composure. For many weeks even the identities of the McCanns’ holiday companions remained secret - nobody except the police knew who they were. Suddenly the friends began receiving telephone calls in England from a Portuguese journalist. It was a woman from Sol magazine who knew the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all the friends. It appeared that she could have obtained that information only from the police. Had the PJ, whose competence was being questioned by the British media, been stung into some sort of riposte? (17) Those first invasive telephone calls were the opening round of the campaign of speculation and suspicion that seems to have culminated in the extraordinary events of the last few days. Sol ran a series of articles that cast doubt on the behaviour and probity of the McCanns and their friends. The articles were a mixture of straight facts from the police files and random inaccuracies, such as the 14 bottles of wine. Where Sol led, the rest of the Portuguese media followed - except they did not seem to be so well connected to the police and their information was even wilder. (18) The internet became rife with rumour and gossip. The holiday group were "swingers", apparently, and had lied and contradicted themselves in their statements to the police. The McCanns had accidentally killed Madeleine and conspired with one or more of their friends to dispose of her body.
Was it possible, in some bizarre circle of fate, that the PJ had started to believe the exaggerations of the local press and decided that Gerry and Kate were not so innocent after all? (19) In early August a Portuguese newspaper reported that sniffer dogs brought in by British police had found traces of blood on a wall in the McCanns’ apartment. It claimed that detectives believed that Madeleine had been killed accidentally. The blood traces are now thought to be those of a man, not of Madeleine (although the police have issued no confirmation either way). After weeks of the McCanns’ publicity drive there was a drought of hard evidence and a flood of speculation about every suspected new twist. The lawyer for Murat upped the ante by criticising the McCanns' "strange" behaviour in leaving Madeleine alone. Then the police acknowledged for the first time that she could be dead. The ugly mood culminated in a Portuguese newspaper claiming outright that the McCanns had killed their daughter with an overdose of a sedative. Stunned, the McCanns, who had already decided to start winding down their media campaign, said they would sue for libel.
Last week the results of forensic tests conducted in Britain were passed to the Portuguese police. Newspapers reported that Madeleine’s "blood" had been found in the McCanns' hire car - rented 25 days after Madeleine had vanished. But it is not clear whether it was blood or some other substance, how much was found, where it was found - or indeed how it was found. The car has remained in Portugal - bizarrely, it was returned to the McCanns after it was examined and they are still using it - and the tests were done in England. Could Gerry or Kate, or both of them, have killed their daughter and later disposed of her remains using the car? The scenario has to be considered - if only because there have been previous cases of apparently grief-stricken parents turning out to be killers. A forensic psychologist suggests it is unlikely that the McCanns could have kept up their united front for four months in the face of such attention if they were guilty. "It is very difficult for two people to lie over a death, however that death occurred, whether it was accidental or deliberate," said Mike Berry, senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. "I cannot see two parents lying and lying consistently." (20) A friend of the McCanns makes a more practical point: "Where would they have hidden the body for three weeks in front of the world’s press?" (21) In the meantime it is day 129, Madeleine is still missing and, as her parents keep reminding anyone who will listen, there is someone out there who knows.
(1) Non, parce qu'ils savaient depuis le 8 août qu'ils seraient formellement interrogés, ils savaient que les autorités judiciaires n'accordaient pas foi à leurs narrations, ils avaient demandé le statut d'assistant du procès (obtenu, puis annulé lorsqu'ils furent nommés arguidos) et enfin ils avaient reçu une notification le 3 septembre.
(2) Les avocats savent ce qu'est le statut d'arguido. Hormis son aspect formel, ce statut indique qu'un individu est soupçonné.
(3) Le problème de l'enregistrement, c'est qu'on ne peut le signer. Archaïque ou non, il faut passer par le papier. Mais le OPJ qui prend une déposition ne prend pas des notes à la main, il utilise un traitement de texte.
(4) L'alerte la plus remarquable ne concerne si l'auto, le chien EVRD n'y ayant pas signalé d'odeur de cadavre, mais l'appartement des MC où ce chien a changé de comportement dès l'ouverture de la porte.
(5) Les auteurs négligeront de corriger cette erreur grossière, fruit peut-être de la confusion entre Common Law et Système inquisitoire, que le propre avocat portugais des MC démentira.
(6) Le Portugal fait partie de l'UE et c'est un État de droit, on croit rêver.
(7) Au Portugal on n'arrête pas les gens sans raison solide. Au reste les MC n'ont été interrogés, non accusés, et il n'a jamais été question de les arrêter ni de leur confisquer leurs passeports. Le mélodramatisme des médias semble contagieuse.
(8) Aucune visibilité la nuit et 50m jusqu'à la véranda de la façade sud (les enfants dormant du côté nord) à vol d'oiseau, mais 90 m pour qui ne vole pas. Où l'on voit des journalistes qui se proclament tels ne pas prendre la peine de mesurer la distance, en enjambées par exemple.
(9) Ce récit ne fait pas droit aux narrations des protagonistes auxquelles il faut se reporter.
(10) Haute fantaisie. Personne n'a dit ignorer quel était le numéro européen d'urgence où l'on répond (au moins) en anglais. Tous les protagonistes étaient équipés d'un téléphone cellulair. Les MC n'ont pas demandé qu'on appelle, Fiona WP a demandé à Matthew MO d'alerter la réception principale, ce qu'il n'a pas réussi à faire. La GNR n'a été contactée qu'à 22h41 à l'instigation du gérant de l'OC. Selon les auteurs, parler portugais au Portugal est-il un crime ? L'anglais n'y est pas (encore ?) langue officielle.
(11) Où l'on voit que la rumeur de l'effraction par les persiennes/fenêtre est toujours bien vivante, bien que la formulation soit ambiguë : "ouvertes" et non "forcées", mais "pas d'autre preuve d'effraction".
(12) Questionné, Gerald MC a répondu à la PJ, le 7 septembre, qu'il était allé à la réception principale vérifier qu'on avait appelé la police. On ne sait quand, on ne sait qui est "on", mais le réceptionniste ne l'a pas vu. Kate MC confirme ce déplacement dans "Madeleine", non vers la réception principale, mais vers la crèche où Madeleine aurait pu se réfugier.
(13) Là encore, lire les rapports de police et les témoignages "indépendants"..
(14) JG, s'il l'a fait, est le seul à avoir recommandé la neutralité, une attitude qui ne se conçoit que si l'enlèvement est le moyen d'une vengeance.
(15) Renversante inculture des journalistes (ici ils sont trois !)
(16) Le secret de l'instruction est bien utile pour qui apprend à s'en servir. Les MC, ainsi, après le classement de l'affaire et dans les interviews, recoururent de temps à autre à l'argument du secret comme par une sorte de réflexe conditionné.
(17) Comme si l'OC n'avait pas la liste des hôtes et leurs coordonnées... Les auteurs semblent tenir avant tout à discréditer la PJ. Pourquoi ? À défaut d'argument en faveur de l'innocence des TP9 ?
(18) Écrire que les articles de "Sol" était un mélange de faits provenant du dossier de police implique avoir connaissance soi-même de ce dossier. Comment ?
(19) Que des journalistes se posent cette question est étonnant. On s'attendrait à une méditation sur l'utilité des médias, pour ne rien dire de leur nuisance, dans une affaire de disparition d'enfant. Ce propre article illustre de manière désolante à quel point les journalistes racontent n'importe quoi, la vérification des informations étant le cadet de leurs soucis.
(20) Il a raison, mais il y a précisément des incohérences dans les narrations des MC et ils ont changé de version des événements, comme l'a observé le profiler du NPIA, Lee Rainbow.
(21) C'est une bonne question à se poser et la PJ aurait été bien avisée de se la poser avant d'échaffauder un scénario absurde sans un minimum d'indice, à l'origine probablement du renvoi du coordinateur de l'enquête.
Bridget O'Donnell - The Guardian - 14.12.2007
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.
* Le titre dit tout. La journaliste avoue elle-même qu'elle aurait été incapable de distinguer Madeleine parmi les enfants (pourtant peu nombreux, 5 enfants dans le groupe de Madeleine). Comment l'aurait-elle reconnue du reste ? Elle ne la connaissait pas.
For six months David James Smith has examined the evidence surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann for The Sunday Times Magazine. In this, the most comprehensive — and authoritative — investigation yet, he addresses the key issues facing Gerry and Kate as they prepare for Christmas without their daughter.
That week in Praia da Luz, the week the McCanns were made suspects in their own daughter's "death", I was out there talking to them and to family and friends. I was at the home of the Anglican vicar Haynes Hubbard, sitting with him and his wife, Susan, while their own three children pottered around us. The Hubbards had flown in from Canada three days after Madeleine’s disappearance to begin Haynes’s tour of duty as the vicar of Praia da Luz. They had heard about Madeleine for the first time while changing planes at Lisbon airport, in a slightly unnerving encounter with an elderly Portuguese woman who had seized Susan’s arm and told her to "hold on" to the baby she was carrying, as a child had been taken.
The Hubbards had spent their first days at the resort fearing for their own children's safety. Gradually they became friends with the McCanns, particularly Susan and Kate, drawn together at first perhaps by the McCanns' need to find some comfort in religion. But mostly in Portugal the McCanns were enveloped by family and friends from the UK.
The McCanns were flying home that Sunday and had been to a farewell dinner that week at the Hubbards'. Susan told me that she and Kate had discussed how much one person could cope with. Kate seemed close to the limits of human endurance. Haynes chimed in: "And I don’t think she’s looking forward to tomorrow very much either." The thought was left hanging there: how much can one person take?
Kate was to go to the nearby town of Portimao the next day, Thursday, September 6, to be questioned by detectives from the Policia Judiciaria (PJ). It would be Gerry's turn the day after. For the media this would be a shocking new twist to the story – but not for the McCanns: the PJ had told them four weeks earlier they were going to be subjected to formal interviews and the McCanns had stayed on, instead of going home at the end of August as originally planned, waiting for the interviews to take place. Waiting. Waiting.
Finally, the PJ called. They told the McCanns they would be made official suspects – arguidos. The McCanns had noted the change of mood in Portugal, especially among the PJ, and the increasing viciousness of the Portuguese press. Some of the stories seemed so incredible and far-fetched – Kate, for instance, disposing of Madeleine’s body, or Madeleine’s DNA being found in the car the McCanns had hired three weeks after Madeleine disappeared – that I at first assumed they were the fanciful inventions of an unfettered press. I soon realised how well they reflected the thinking of the PJ. More recently I have discovered the stories were being fed to the press by the PJ, from the highest ranks. So much for judicial secrecy. One Portuguese journalist told me that segredo de justica – secrecy of justice – was like the speed limit. Everyone knows the law; nobody keeps to it.
It seems important to make it clear right away that I do not suspect the McCanns harmed Madeleine, nor do I think they disposed of their daughter’s body if, as the PJ believe, she died in an accident that night in their apartment.
This is not a mere prejudice on my part. I have spent a long time considering and examining every unpleasant scenario. The McCanns are not my friends and I have no axe to grind with Portugal, its police or its media.
To me, the McCanns are genuine people in the grip of despair – the accusations against them are ludicrous and a cruel distraction from the search for their daughter. That’s why I put the quotation marks around the word "death" at the top of the article. Madeleine may be dead, it may even be more likely she is dead, but nobody knows for sure. Nobody, not even the PJ, as we will see, can produce any persuasive evidence that she has come to harm.
That evening, Thursday, May 3, at just after 8pm, by their account, Kate and Gerry McCann were having a glass of wine together in apartment 5a on the ground floor of Block 5 of the Waterside Village Gardens at the Ocean Club. Their three children were asleep in the front bedroom overlooking the car park and, beyond it, the street. Madeleine was in the single bed nearest the door. There was an empty bed against the opposite wall, beneath the window. Between the two beds were two travel cots containing the twins: Sean and Amelie. Gerry had bought the wine at the Baptista supermarket, 200 yards down the hill. They had lived and worked in New Zealand for a year and that particular bottle, Montana sauvignon blanc, was their favourite. It was the sixth day of their week’s holiday in the Algarve and they were reflecting on the enjoyable time they’d had, how surprisingly easy it had been with the children.
When their old friend Dave Payne had invited them on a group holiday, it had seemed too good to resist. Dave and Fiona Payne had been on another Mark Warner holiday the year before, to Greece with Matt and Rachael Oldfield. The Algarve group would be completed by Russell O’Brien, Jane Tanner and Fiona’s mother, Dianne Webster. Six of the group were doctors. Gerry was a consultant cardiologist and had worked before with Matt and Russell. Kate had been an anaesthetist and was now a part-time GP.
The group first spent time together at Dave and Fiona’s wedding in Italy in 2003. Now they had eight children between them. Madeleine was the oldest, her fourth birthday a week after they would return from the Algarve. One of the attractions was that there were children for their own to play with. And the adults were a sporty group, a speciality of Mark Warner holidays; tennis had dominated the activities that week.
That might all sound very cosy and middle class, but that did not mean their lives had been easy or free of suffering – especially with the struggle to have children, eventually managed through IVF – or that they had been born into an advantaged world. Kate came from a modest Liverpool background and Gerry, the youngest of five, had been brought up in a tenement building on the south side of Glasgow.
The terms of the holiday were half-board, breakfast and evening meal, and the McCanns paid about £1,500. There had been some reduction when they had discovered that, unlike most Mark Warner resorts, the Ocean Club did not offer a baby-listening service. Instead, the group had asked for apartments close together, so they were all assigned to Block 5. The Paynes were on the floor above, the only couple with a functioning baby monitor. Russell O’Brien and Jane Tanner had brought a monitor too, but theirs wasn’t getting much of a signal from the Tapas restaurant 50 yards away.
The Ocean Club was not a gated, enclosed resort in the usual style of Mark Warner, but a sprawling complex open to the village of Luz and scattered over such a wide distance that shuttle buses were used.
Even though the resort was open to the village, it felt safe and secure, and in early May it was still very quiet. Gerry never saw a soul, except once, on the last night, on his evening checks, going back and forth between Tapas and the apartment, an even-paced walk of just under a minute.
As the McCanns endlessly repeated afterwards, if they had thought it was wrong or even risky, they would never have left their children. With hindsight, of course, they would never have done it and now they are riven with guilt, but we can all be wise after the event, and so many of us have taken similar chances at times, in search of a bit of respite from our children.
Gerry had knocked up at the start of the 4.30pm tennis-drills session, but had decided not to exacerbate an injury to his Achilles tendon, so had dropped out and waited around by the courts until the children came back from the kids’ clubs at 5pm for tea. That had been one of the most enjoyable times of the holiday, all the children together for tea, then the adults playing with them afterwards.
Gerry was in his apartment at 7pm, had a glass of water, then a beer, while the children sat with Kate on the couch having stories with a snack. The children were clearly shattered – the last thing any of them needed was a sedative and, anyway, it was not something the McCanns ever did. They put them to bed after a last story. The twins were asleep virtually the moment they lay down, Madeleine not far behind them.
These days it was rare for Madeleine to wake up at all once she was in bed. If she did, she’d normally wander into her parents’ bed, whether they were there or not. At home in Rothley, sometime earlier, they had begun a star chart for Madeleine staying in her own bed. The chart, still on display in the kitchen, was full of stars. At about 7.30pm, Kate and Gerry showered and changed and sat down to have a quiet glass of the sauvignon blanc. They were first to the table at the restaurant at 8.35 and spent some minutes talking to a couple from Hertfordshire – two more tennis players – at the next table, who were eating with their young children. As they chatted, Gerry thought how lucky he was, his children asleep nearby, he and Kate free to come and enjoy some adult time at the restaurant and not have to sit with their children, as this couple were.
The McCanns sat down after a few minutes and then ordered some wine. The Oldfields were next to arrive, then Russell O’Brien and Jane Tanner and, finally, always last, Dave and Fiona Payne with Dianne Webster. That night their group ordered six bottles in total and two were still untouched on the table at 10pm. No more than half a bottle of wine each. The Portuguese magazine Sol reported that the group had drunk 14 bottles. Another Portuguese journalist told me a local GNR (national republican guard) police officer had described one of the group as being so drunk later that evening, they could barely stand. They had just ordered starters when the routine of checking began. Matt Oldfield went first at 8.55 to check his own apartment and to hurry up the Paynes, who had still not arrived. He was followed by Gerry, who entered his apartment at about 9.05 through the patio doors to the lounge. Earlier that week the McCanns had used a key to go in through the front door next to the children’s bedroom but, worrying the noise might wake the children, they began using the patio doors, leaving them unlocked.
When he entered the apartment, Gerry immediately saw that the children’s bedroom door, which they always left just ajar, was now open to 45 degrees. He thought that was odd, and glanced in his own bedroom to see if Madeleine had gone into her parents’ bed. But no, she and the twins were all still fast asleep. Gerry paused over Madeleine, who – a typical doctor’s observation, this – was lying almost in “the recovery position” with Cuddle Cat, the toy her godfather, John Corner, had bought her, and her comfort blanket up near her head, and Gerry thought how gorgeous, how lovely-looking she was and how lucky he was. Putting the door back to five degrees, he went to the loo and left to return to the restaurant. That, of course, was the last time he would see his daughter. As he walked down the hill, Gerry saw Jes Wilkins on the opposite side of the road pushing a child in a buggy. Gerry called hello and crossed over to talk. Wilkins and his partner were eating in their own apartment that night, but their youngest still wouldn’t settle. It reminded Gerry of the fraught time he and Kate used to have with Madeleine when she was a baby. In his memory, they could never eat a meal together when they went out, as she was always disturbing them and needing to be wheeled off to sleep.
As Jane Tanner walked up the hill, she saw Gerry talking to Jes and, as she passed them, she saw ahead of her a man walking quickly across the top of the road in front of her, going away from the apartment block, heading to the outer road of the resort complex. The man was carrying a little girl who was hanging limply from his open arms. The sighting was odd, but hardly exceptional in a holiday resort. Her daughter fine, Jane returned to the table. At 9.30, Kate got up to make the next check on her children, but Matt Oldfield was checking too, as was Russell O’Brien, and Matt offered to do Kate’s check for her, which she accepted. Gerry teased that she would not be excused her turn at the next check.
In the McCanns’ apartment, Oldfield noticed the children’s bedroom door was again open, but that meant nothing to him, so he merely observed all was quiet and made a cursory glance inside the room, seeing the twins in their cots but, agonisingly, not directly seeing Madeleine’s bed from the angle at which he stood. Afterwards, he could not say for sure if she had been there or not. Nor could he say if the window and shutter had been open. He would get a hard time from the police because of this, during his interviews not long afterwards, being aggressively accused of taking Madeleine – you passed her out of the window, didn’t you! – being suspected because he had offered to take Kate’s turn.
Jane Tanner, too, would be accused of fabricating or misremembering her sighting of this stranger with a child. There could be no answer to such an accusation – except that she was an ordinary, honest person who knew what she had seen. Sometime after 10pm, Rachael Oldfield would go to Jane’s apartment to tell her Madeleine had been taken and Jane would say: “Oh my God. I saw a man carrying a girl.” It perhaps needs to be stated openly that all these timings and details, the way in which they weave and dovetail together, are based on witness accounts – corroborated not just by the McCann group but by others, such as Jes Wilkins – and that, despite suggestions to the contrary, there are no obvious contradictions or differences between them. Nor has any of the McCann group, at any time since, said they wanted to retract or change their statement.
That suggestion too is a lie.
Matt went down to the 24-hour reception at the bottom of the hill to raise the alarm. The call to the police went in at 10.15. They arrived 55 minutes later. It is widely believed among the Portuguese media, and perhaps the police too, even now, that the McCanns called Sky News before they called the police. For the record, Sky News picked up the story from GMTV breakfast television, at around 7.30am the following day. There was a latch lock on the sliding glass window, and the McCanns thought, but could not be sure, that they had locked it at the start of the holiday. They would later discover it was common for cleaners to open the shutters and windows to give the rooms an airing, so there was no way of knowing whether the window was locked that night or not and no forensic trace to indicate where and how an abductor had gone in and out. They could easily have used the front door, perhaps even had access to a key.
In the McCanns’ minds now, there is no doubt Jane Tanner saw their daughter being taken, but there was so little time to talk in the first few days that it was not until Jane saw the description of Madeleine’s pyjamas in the media, around Monday or Tuesday of the following week, that she told them the little girl she had seen was wearing the same design: pink top and white bottoms with a floral design. While searches began, Gerry was worried about Kate, as she was so distraught and kept talking about paedophiles, saying Madeleine would be dead. He tried to be reassuring, but of course he was thinking the same things. It all came pouring out of him at 23.40 – from his phone records – when he called his sister Trish in Scotland ranting and raving semi-coherently on the phone about Madeleine being taken, and Trish kept trying to get him to calm down. A sharp contrast with the way he would be later, particularly in public, once he had regained his self-control.
The detectives from PJ arrived at about 1am. By 3.30am they had gone and there was no police action at all, or none visible to the McCanns. Four times that night they put in calls via the British consul; four times the message came back from the PJ, a message that the McCanns would never forget: “Everything that can be done is being done.” One of the PJ officers had put on surgical gloves and begun trying to dust down the bedroom, but his powder was not working properly. He tried to take the McCanns’ fingerprints for elimination, but that didn’t work either. It all had to be done again the next day.
The twins slept on like logs, just as they always did at home, though even their parents were fleetingly worried – had they been sedated by an abductor? – that they should be quite so comatose. The Ocean Club gave them another apartment, but the McCanns did not want to be alone, so the twins were taken to the Paynes’ apartment, and Kate and Gerry went there later too, to try to rest. They got up at first light and went to search alone on the open scrubland beyond the resort, wandering around, calling Madeleine’s name. It was cold and lonely – there was no answer. Gerry had asked the departing PJ detectives at half three about contacting the media to make an appeal. One of the officers had reacted with surprising agitation, waving his hand emphatically: “No journalists! No journalists!” That, of course, was not quite how it worked out.
For many weeks, the McCanns enjoyed a good relationship with the Portuguese police and were treated to regular updates and a flow of information via the family-liaison officers sent out by Leicestershire police. The problem with the three Leicester officers was that they didn’t have a word of Portuguese between them. The first public indication of police thinking came at the end of June when the magazine Sol published a story about the McCann group, casting doubts on their evidence and claiming they had undertaken a pact of silence. It was the first time the McCanns’ friends had been named in public, but Sol’s journalist Felicia Cabrita had their names and phone numbers and details from their witness statements. She had called them all, and at least one other witness, Jes Wilkins.
The information had been handed to Cabrita by the police – she says she acquired the material through good journalism, which in a sense it was – and her source is widely believed by her colleagues to have been the former head of the inquiry, Goncalo Amaral. The PJ appointed an official spokesman, Olegario Sousa. He was apparently plucked from his day job – he was a chief inspector on the art-robbery squad – because he was the only one who spoke decent English. He was never directly involved in the investigation and was rarely told much of what was really going on.
Initial suspicion focused on Robert Murat, who made himself busy with police and journalists from the first day, offering his services as an interpreter, as he spoke both languages and lived across the road from the Ocean Club with his mother at the villa Casa Liliana. In fact, the man Jane Tanner had seen carrying a child was walking straight towards the Murat villa. Murat later said to me that he told the PJ the press were suspicious of him, and they told him not to worry and to keep away from the press and work for them instead. He had signed papers to become an official interpreter and even sat in during the witness interview of Rachael Oldfield. Leaving the police station in Portimao one evening, a week after becoming an official police interpreter, Murat became aware he was being followed. Shortly after that he was arrested and interviewed himself and made an arguido. Murat always denied he was out the night Madeleine disappeared, but three of the McCann group claimed at the time they had seen him and still insist they were right. I was told there was at least one new independent sighting of Murat out on the night of May 3.
Bizarrely, the McCanns believe they were inadvertently responsible for encouraging the PJ to take them seriously as potential suspects, as it was them bringing in a South African “body finder”, Danie Krugel, that led to search dogs being used. The PJ agreed to work with Krugel, and an officer from the UK National Policing Improvement Agency was called in to advise on a search based on Krugel’s findings. It was agreed the British would supply some specialist equipment for spotting disturbed soil and also some search dogs, including one trained in human-remains detection (HRD) and one trained to detect the scent of blood. Ultimately, only those who were there and involved know exactly what happened, but the McCanns wonder just how the search dogs were presented to the PJ and what claims were made for their success rate and infallibility.
All British policing techniques are meant to be practised uniformly by every force across the country and defined in written policy created by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). But the ACPO was unable to produce for me any policy relating to search dogs. Gerry was initially optimistic at the prospect of the searches by these supposedly elite British dogs and techniques. The dogs then went on to search the apartments of the McCanns and their friends. A line-up of cars were also called in by the police, including the cars owned or used by Murat and the Renault the McCanns had been using, which they had hired on May 27. Those who told me about the dogs’ searches say they involved little objective science. It has been suggested that the HRD dog was treated differently in the McCanns’ apartment than in the others. The dog kept sniffing and running off and it was called back on several occasions. Eventually it “alerted”, meaning it went stiff and stayed still. Then the blood dog was called in and directed to the area where the other dog had alerted. Eventually this dog alerted in the same place – behind the sofa in the lounge, which is where the trace of blood was supposedly found.
The cars were lined up, not in a controlled environment, but in the underground public car park opposite Portimao police station. Again the dog was led quickly from one car to the next until he reached a Renault with “Find Madeleine” stickers all over it. The dog sniffed and moved on to the next car, but was called back. The dog was taken around the McCanns’ car for about a minute, as opposed to the few seconds devoted to the other cars. Then the dog went rigid, an “alert”, and the doors and the boot were opened. It was this that led to the recovery of some body fluids that the PJ suspected would contain traces of Madeleine’s DNA, and which led to the supposed revelation that her body must have been carried in the car. The role of such dogs is normally intended to find a body or remains. Without any subsequent discovery the alerts amount to little more than an indication – or worse: in one recent case in Wisconsin a judge concluded that similarly trained dogs were “no more reliable than the flip of a coin”, after hearing evidence that they were wrong far more often than they were right. The McCanns’ lawyers are in touch with the defence lawyers in that case. The PJ had never attempted to obtain a “control sample” of Madeleine’s DNA. That had been left to the McCanns, who had found traces of her saliva on the pillow of her bed at home in Rothley and provided that DNA sample to the Portuguese police.
Whatever the public’s perception – based on a slew of news stories – at this stage there is no published evidence that Madeleine’s DNA, or any trace of her blood, has been recovered from the apartment or the car. Any suggestion to the contrary appears to be misinformation from the PJ. Some Portuguese journalists and, apparently, some members of the PJ believed the UK’s Forensic Science Service (FSS), based in Birmingham, had been deliberately delaying the tests. There are some who suspect the involvement of the British secret services. In fact, both the PJ’s national director, Alipio Ribeiro, and another PJ official, Carlos Anjos, have both said openly that the police have failed to establish a perfect match. The PJ found several specks of what they believe to be blood in apartment 5a, including one sample that someone had apparently tried to wash off. They found a trace of body fluid – that is, not blood – in the boot of the Renault and a tiny trace of blood in the Renault’s key fob. Some forensic tests were carried out at the PJ’s own laboratories in Lisbon, where tests on samples related to Robert Murat were also made. The tests on the traces that were potentially the most significant came to the FSS. One sample was said to have produced DNA that was similar to Madeleine’s. An exact match would be 20 out of 20 bands, this sample was said to be similar in 15 out of 20 bands. But in reality, that result was meaningless, as any family member could produce the same match.
Some journalists were told that more advanced tests were being carried out on the smallest blood traces – tests called low copy number profiling, which could produce DNA findings in the slightest of samples. They were a slow process, but did not normally take more than two weeks. In late November, PJ officers and forensic experts came to meet police and FSS experts in the UK, amid claims the PJ were still waiting for further results. Leicestershire police have apparently paid for all the forensic tests being carried out in the case by the FSS – they are the client in the case, not the Portuguese. The PJ have used this as evidence that the British are suspicious of the McCanns too – even the McCanns think the British police doubted them for a while, until the forensic results emerged – but you might think the PJ would have wanted to be in control of their own forensic findings.
I heard that a PJ officer had been surprised to find a member of MI5 at a UK meeting about the case, and this made him suspicious that shadowy forces could be at work. The Sol journalist Felicia Cabrita mentioned the “mysterious Clarence” – Clarence Mitchell, the former government PR officer turned McCann spokesman – and I was told there was suspicion too about another government official, Sheree Dodd, who had acted as a PR officer for the McCanns briefly in the early days – had she come out from MI6 to help dispose of the body? These theories might seem preposterous, but for those involved in the case in Portugal, they fitted a pattern in which the Portuguese government and in turn the PJ had felt the heavy weight of diplomatic pressure from the UK – a pressure that the police and the journalists very much resented, with its implication that the police were not doing their job properly. This could be one reason why the PJ were so ready to suspect the McCanns.
There seemed to be no doubt that the PJ really did think the McCanns had done it. I was outlined a scenario in which Kate had come back to the apartment and found that Madeleine had fallen from the sofa and hit her head – hence the blood – and cleaned up and hid the body somewhere in the apartment, and perhaps had not even told Gerry until the next day. The police could not answer all the questions, of course. They were almost as unanswerable as they were unimaginable. Where would they have hidden the body? How would they have got it into the car 24 days later, and where would they have taken it? What kind of people would they have to be – what borderline personality disorders must they both share – to keep that to themselves for six months, maintain a facade in front of everyone they knew, and at the same time not hiding away but going out to ask the world to help find Madeleine?
I know the McCanns believe the PJ were oversold the value of the dogs. It was after the dogs came out that the PJ’s attitude towards the McCanns changed and it became harder for the McCanns to obtain a briefing meeting. They were disturbed when the press began reporting that the PJ knew Madeleine was dead. Finally, after pressing for a meeting, one was arranged for Wednesday, August 8, three days before the 100-day point after Madeleine’s disappearance. When they arrived at the station in Portimao the couple were separated and both interrogated. Kate especially was given “the third degree”. Gerry broke down and cried, pleading with the PJ to share any evidence that Madeleine was dead. “It’s coming, it’s coming,” he was told. The interviews caused the couple “incredible emotional distress”. But they agreed, if they had been guilty, they probably would have cracked and confessed at that point. The police said there would be no more briefings. The next time they saw the McCanns it would be across the table, for formal interviews.
What was doubly dispiriting, of course, was that while the PJ treated them as suspects, they were no longer looking for Madeleine. I was told the PJ had “abandoned the abduction theory”. It was open season now on the McCanns. The publicity was wretched. The British press were not blameless either, often lazily repeating allegations and sometimes repeating them despite emphatic denials from the McCann camp. If you read the blog sites on the internet you would discover an even darker, nastier tone. The McCanns and their holiday friends were swingers, apparently. That allegation was even made on the Portuguese equivalent of the BBC by a former PJ detective, Jose Barra da Costa. When I checked with him, he said he had been told by a friend in the UK who happened to be a police officer. No doubt that officer had plucked it from the internet. It is not true.
During Kate’s interviews with the PJ in September, just before she was declared an arguido, she was separated from her lawyer, and he was presented with a long list of factors pointing to her guilt, including entries from her entirely innocuous diary and a passage they believed she had marked in a Bible (which in fact had been given to her and marked by the original owner). The PJ also told the lawyer there was a 100% DNA match with Madeleine in the car and showed him a document that appeared to prove it. Possibly, this was the document showing Madeleine’s control sample of DNA. The McCanns feared even their own lawyer thought they were guilty. Kate was asked by the PJ to explain the dog alerts by her car. “You’re the police,” she said. “You tell me.” Kate asked the PJ: “Are you trying to destroy our family altogether?”
Gerry was asked the same questions the next day but could not answer. (Sometime earlier a Leicestershire officer had said to him, just stick to what you know.) Why did the dogs only alert next to material belonging to the McCanns? The officer was brandishing the dog-handler’s report. And then: “Your daughter’s DNA, your daughter Madeleine McCann, how do you explain that?” “Show me that report,” Gerry asked. “No. This is the report that matters – with the dog.” Of course, they could not produce a DNA match because there wasn’t one. The McCanns took heart when Goncalo Amaral was forced to step down after making public criticisms of them and the Leicestershire police – he had made the criticisms in a phone call to a journalist contact, not suggesting the comments were private or off the record.
The McCanns hope that Amaral’s replacement, Paulo Rebelo, a more sober, conservative character, will take a wide view of the inquiry. He is said to have stopped leaks to the press, and has been locked away on the upper floors of the station in Portimao reviewing the evidence with a team of officers. Meanwhile, the McCanns are back home trying to recover some kind of normality. How long can you put your life on hold? They have the twins to think of. Gerry has gone back to work half-days, and has finally told the British Heart Foundation he plans to go ahead with the research fellowship they awarded him, a week before he was accused of being involved in his daughter’s death. He had told me, weeks ago, about the six-figure grant and how it meant almost nothing in terms of professional advancement, but might one day help in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. He had prepared the application in his own time, working evenings and weekends. In other circumstances it would have meant the world to him but, right now, he had other things on his mind.
Une conversation avec DJS - 8 July 2011
1) Dear Mr. Smith,
In your article "Kate and Gerry McCann: Beyond the smears", from 16th December 2007, you mention this fact: "Russell O'Brien and Jane Tanner had brought a monitor too, but theirs wasn't getting much of a signal from the Tapas restaurant 50 yards away."
The couple never mentioned to the PJ that they brought a monitor as well, in all their statements they claim that the Paynes were the only ones with a baby monitor. Only in April 2008, in the rogatory interviews conducted by Leicestershire Police, this piece of information appeared. It might seem a small omission, but in the light of possible neglect charges, would have been important. Jane Tanner claims in the rogatory interview that she brought it with her in the evenings and positioned it on a ledge/wall behind her. This was NEVER mentioned to portuguese Police as the released statements show. The question I have is, how did you get this info before the rogatory interviews even took place? I know you have to protect sources, but this seems a very strange inside knowledge.
Thank you in advance.
2) Who are you and what is your interest in this case?
3) I am sorry if I have upset you... Well I gave my name, I am from Germany and I am interested in the case. Since the files have been released I have been trying to build myself an opinion based solely on facts and no spin. I am in the possession of the DVD with the released case files and have spent a lot of time with their analysis. That is why I came upon this rather curious discrepancy regarding the baby monitor. There was a meeting of the McCanns and their friends in Rothley in November, and in December your article was published with this "new" fact. I am just curious where it suddenly came from.
4) No i am not upset. I just don't to fuel the web ghouls (i have no idea whether you are one of them or not...) who seem obsessed with what i consider to be the grotesque idea that the mccanns or their friends did away with madeleine. In addition to the further distress it must cause the mccanns and their friends on top of the devastating event that started it, I just feel it is a complete waste of time and energy. That said, however, I had a long briefing with Gerry McCann before I wrote my article and I guess the baby monitor info came from him. I am aware that many discrepancies arose in the portuguese statements through misunderstandings of language. And you ought to be aware that there will always be minor discrepancies of fact in statements - failings of memory, interpretation and so on - which are not in themselves sinister or suspicious.
One skill of good policing is sifting the wheat from the chaff and knowing what matters and what doesn't. I strongly suspect the baby monitor issue lies in the latter category. As you will gather, I have every sympathy with the McCanns and no sympathy with those who want to play amateur detective in public on the net with no apparent consideration for the McCanns' feelings.
I respect facts.
5) Dear David,
Thank you for the information about your source regarding the baby monitor. Allow me to add my 2c to the rest of your mail.
Last time I checked, the case was not solved, Madeleine had not turned up, and no evidence of an abduction had emerged. If you are content with the current status quo that is your prerogative, but I am of the opinion that the death or disappearance of a 3-year old girl should not simply be shelved after only a couple of months. To label all those that want explanations as ghouls is a preferred method of the media, the McCanns and Clarence Mitchell to discredit and ridicule a thinking minority that is in the possession of the casefiles. To ask questions is and should stay allowed in the light of so many discrepancies that were revealed with the release of the police files. The emotional blackmail, that those questions "add to the distress of the parents" is just an additional way to stop these questions.
I agree with you that the added fact of a second baby monitor, that never got mentioned in Portugal, is not important enough to change the course of an investigation that is no longer open. Still it was deliberately added and even "translation issues" cannot conceal the fact, that it was never mentioned to the Portuguese Police. The fact that the information was given to you by the then "Arguido" Gerald McCann, published without confirmation, does not instil confidence in the rest of the article.
But since you are of the opinion that sifting the wheat from the chaff is up to the police you are excused for not questioning the details. I know I won't be granted another reply after my rant, but there is one question that I wanted to raise with a proper journalist for ages.
The evidence of the Smith family from Ireland would have been the perfect "proof" for an abduction. A man carrying a "sleeping" girl towards the rocky beach via dark roads. Between June (when the article was published for the first time in the Drogheda Independent) and September (when Mr. Smith suddenly realised the man might have been Gerry McCann) it would have enforced the abduction theory immensely. But this evidence was never used, neither by the McCanns nor by the british press. No mention of it anywhere. While hundreds of sightings poured in from all over the world, this one sighting was never mentioned. Why?
Have a nice Sunday
6) No, I won't let you get away with that. You are asking me to endorse or tolerate a world in which interfering outsiders blunder around misinterpeting snippets of information and re-presenting them as suspicious facts, in reality half-facts. I do broadly think it is the job of the police to investigate crimes. Those are the people we appoint to do it on our behalf.
The media's role is to examine, challenge and sometimes investigate too. I think those web ghouls are driven by prejudices formed on the basis of...of what? Television appearances? How the McCanns appear to be? Most of those opinions about them were formed long before the case file was released. There is also a sad desire to give weight to conspiracy theories.
On the basis of the hard established facts of the case - the way in which the characters' lives intersect that evening, after Madeleine was last seen by anyone else - how many people would have to have known and been involved in the mccanns' self-abducting or killing their own child? The police always start with motive. Every crime has a motive. What would be the motive and what could be so great a motive it involved all that group of people and was capable of being seemingly indefinitely concealed. What do you think, they were all paedophiles? Sex game enthusiasts? Child traffickers? Or merely agreed that pretending an abduction had been committed was the best way of disguising an accidental calpol overdose?
Come on, get real. Find something useful to do - go and campaign against war crimes in rwanda or something - and leave those poor people in peace. That is not emotional blackmail it is a recognition of their loss and an acceptance of the reality that not a single plausible suspicious shred about them has emerged in all the months since.
All those delusional sites devoted to conspiracy theories about the mccanns are kind of repugnant. I can't remember the detail of the smith sighting but surely it was quickly established it was not reliable or significant.