The purpose of this site is for information and a record of Gerry McCann's Blog Archives. As most people will appreciate GM deleted all past blogs from the official website. Hopefully this Archive will be helpful to anyone who is interested in Justice for Madeleine Beth McCann. Many Thanks, Pamalam

Note: This site does not belong to the McCanns. It belongs to Pamalam. If you wish to contact the McCanns directly, please use the contact/email details    

The Cracked Mirror *


The Blog

Back to basics, 06 February 2009
Back to basics The Cracked Mirror

Friday, 6 February 2009

The summary of the case by the Portuguese police for the prosecutors runs to just over 56 pages. It is the last official word on the affair and the summation of their findings and, as such, an extremely important document. The English translation available is a poor one and its windiness and lack of clarity have done its conclusions no favours. In the extract below I have re-translated the document with minor alterations to the grammar and sense. For those who wish to compare my version with the indigestible existing translation the latter can be consulted on numerous sites, the McCann Files being one of them.

The concluding pages (54-57) run thus:

"We turn now to the question of the "reconstruction" (Article 150º of the Penal Process Code), which was not performed due to the refusal of some of the members of the holiday group to return to our country, as documented in the Inquiry.

The reconstruction, at the actual location where the events took place, would have provided due clarification of the following extremely important details, amongst others:

  • The relative distances between JANE TANNER,GERALD McCANN and JEREMY WILKINS at the moment when the former passed them which coincided with the sighting of the supposed suspect carrying a child. We find it unusual that neither GERALD McCANN nor JEREMY WILKINS saw her nor the alleged abductor, despite the restricted area.
  • Matters concerning the window of the bedroom where MADELEINE slept with the twins, which was open according to KATE. Clarification as to whether there could have been a draught causing movement of the curtains and pressure under the bedroom door, as described by the witness.
  • Establishing a timeline which includes the checking of the children left inside the apartments, given that if the checking was as tight as the witnesses and the arguidos describe, it would be to say the least, very difficult under such conditions for an abductor to enter the residence and leave with the child through a window of limited dimensions. We would add that the supposed abductor could only pass that window holding the child in a different position (vertical) from the one that was described by witness JANE TANNER (horizontal).
  • What happened during the interval between 5.30 p.m. (the time at which MADELEINE was seen for the last time by anyone other than her family and the time at which the disappearance was reported by KATE HEALY (at around 10 p.m.)
The requested assistance and investigation from the British authorities mentioned above, despite the fact that it was almost completely carried out, added nothing new to the investigation. The questioning of the holiday group merely corroborated what had already been established during the investigation, without providing any additional significant detail.

In conclusion, despite the efforts that were made and the exploration of all lines of investigation, it is not possible to obtain a solid and objective conclusion about what really happened that night, nor about the present location of the missing child. It should be remembered, however, that this investigation took place under conditions of exceptional media exposure, with the publication of much “news” of imprecise, inexact or even false content. This did not help in the discovery of the truth and frequently created a climate of unusual commotion and lack of calm.

Therefore, as we do not currently envision the pursuit of any other line of enquiry within the process that might produce any useful result I submit our findings for your consideration, for you to determine and decide accordingly.

Portimão, 20th of June 2008"

It is a notable summary and while the strangulated prose of the original testifies to the bitter experience of confessing failure its conclusions are significant. Reading from the final sentence back:
  • They state that they are pursuing no new lines of enquiry and nor do they envision any.
  • That their investigation was hampered by unprecedented media exposure and "commotion".
  • That the UK "rogatory letter" interviewees, principally the "Tapas 7" , provided no additional information.
  • That they are still lacking information about what happened within the holiday group between 5.30 & 10PM on May 3.
  • That the "timeline" provided by the holiday group makes it "at the least very difficult" for an abductor to have entered and left.
  • That the information (provided by Kate McCann) that a draught had alerted her to a previously unopened window needed clarification or replication.
  • That the circumstances of the Jane Tanner sighting were hard to reconcile with the geography of the location and the close proximity of others.
  • And that clarification of these and other matters could not be obtained due to the "refusal" of members of the holiday group to return to Portugal for the necessary reconstruction of events.
Readers will note that these are the only constraints on the investigation described in these final pages: no reference is made to any burdens or problems involved in getting at the truth of events outside the holiday group itself, save for a reference to media coverage. There is no mention of any other witness inadequacies outside the holiday circle affecting the outcome of the investigation.

Leaving aside the extreme reserve with which the parents are treated in this document, when an investigating team states that it has no plans to pursue new lines of enquiry,adds that there are "very important" aspects of the investigation still unresolved, names the witnesses who could help resolve them and states that a number of them - walking around freely in the UK - have "refused" to come back to do so, then it is hardly surprising that many people agree with the Portuguese police that there are urgent questions surrounding the holiday group still requiring an answer. And that is whether one believes in the possibility of an abduction - as I do - or not.

Beginnings, 11 February 2009
Beginnings The Cracked Mirror

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

To the outsider there is something forlorn about the Tapas 7 and the McCann's Portuguese holiday and reading the former's accounts of it is a numbing experience. Quite how the group could have believed that a holiday abroad in dispersed accomodation with nine children at their most demanding ages, and with the assistance of only one in-law and no nannies, would be "relaxing" is a mystery. And the experience itself was reminiscent of out-takes from Carry On Camping: the resort was semi-deserted, there were disputes about the facilities, the weather was miserable until May 3, the pool was freezing and unusable, the sea required a wet suit, the beach was like a grey morass, and a stomach bug, complete with vomiting such as one of them "had never experienced before", ran through almost all of them for the whole week.

In these unpromising conditions the 9 spent their time schlepping the juniors to and from creche, kids' club, play area, eateries and (occasionally) the sea-side in between lengthy - when their bowels permitted - jogging runs, windswept watersports and tennis - before another whirl of bed, biscuit and bath time followed by execrable English food at the "tapas" bar gobbled down in the intervals between the famous checking. And early to bed on most nights.

Surprisingly, perhaps, not one of the 7 appears to have had anything except a wonderful time, with none of the bitching or depression that such circumstances can often unleash. Or so they say. To the questions of the investigating officers, some of them with rueful memories of the stress of small children - with one of them, a woman, the eyebrows can almost be seen rising at these sunny responses - the answers were always the same: everyone got along just fine, everybody was really happy. Everything was lovely.

Were they fibbing? In the strict sense I think not, with some important exceptions. The explanation for much of their behaviour is surely in the personalities and experience of this naive and thoroughly unsophisticated crowd, meritocrats all, "outer-directed" people to whom careers have been everything and whose children have all been placed in the optimum planned birth slot after the completed first lap on the way to success and the "civilised" life - mid to late thirties.

Reflective about their emotions, their present circumstances or anything else? Hardly at all. Capable of real insight into themselves? Not on the evidence so far. If you want a Hamlet meditation on the tragedy that has enveloped them you'd better go elsewhere for these are, in the most literal sense, deprived people. Everything is not false but pasteboard, as in those appalling, self-delusory, round-robin Christmas letters that we sometimes receive: holidays are "wonderful", friendships terrific, parenthood an unalloyed pleasure, while the possible abductor is, of course, a monster, never seen in human terms but through filters, as the drawings of Jane Tanner illustrate.

Rachael Oldfield, Fiona Payne and Russell O'Brien

Did something...

Even the weird and disturbing premonition of disaster that Kate McCann had about the holiday fails to raise much reflection. Fiona Payne: "Kate...what she said, when I was sort of twisting her arm really, she was unsure, I think Gerry was immediately quite come and Kate had said, when I rang up, she said 'I don't know why I've just got an uneasy feeling about it'. And I don't know why she said that, I don't think she even knows, I never mentioned it to her since." These people are not practised liars on the model beloved of some amateur detectives, very unlikely "swingers" indeed, and the unsatisfactory nature of their descriptions of what happened does not look like group conspiracy. The weaknesses in their story, again with important exceptions, are connected with their inability to tell, or grasp unaided, the truth about what is happening to them.

Tapas 7 at High Court for libel payout

...happen to us?

Why us?, 24 February 2009
Why us? The Cracked Mirror

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The inability to make sense of what has happened, and the resentment at the fate that has befallen them for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, runs like a thread through the UK police interviews. And understandably so: they had by then been run through the rumour mill in a particularly crushing way, accused of almost everything, from gross child neglect, through sexual perversion to premeditated murder. Jane Tanner, for example, the most emotional and expressive of this emotionally rather buttoned-up crowd, breaks down as she describes her shock at being called a liar and fantasist. Her partner Russell O'Brien is bitter and talks of getting revenge on the media one day. Mathew Oldfield, on the right of the High Court photo, is clearly still so cross that he might just burst out of his shockingly ill-fitting jacket. Their feelings are reflected to a greater or lesser extent by the entire group: how, they ask, could "anyone in a million years" – a frequent phrase - have predicted what would happen on May 3? Any sense of having helped shape events by their decisions, however well-meaning, or that their own personalities might have played a role in what happened, is absent: instead there is a slightly strange, teenager-like, attitude that the world has let them down. They are, genuinely, innocents abroad.

But perhaps not that strange. Many of us have known one of these tight-knit provincial university groups who somehow manage to keep in touch with each other - sometimes with the dreaded round-robins or their Facebook equivalents - for decades after graduating, and whose aims and interests, such as they are, are deeply entwined. This one seems to have shared, in career terms, the long view, a determination to make the most of their middling talents and a willingness to forgo youthful diversions on the steady upward march to "success", that beguiling phantom of the future, with children scheduled for the appropriate time, accommodation increasing steadily in size – the McCanns' Rothley house providing a stunning example of their domestic tastes – and, eventually, no doubt, a Mediterranean villa to linger in or retire to, probably the first in their respective families.

The National Health Service, that vast, over-inflated monopoly bureaucracy, so often more welcoming to its employees than to its patients, was the comforting arena for their dreams and struggles, the latter rarely involving any risk to pocket or possessions. So, single minded, decent, in many ways admirable people these, sharing the slightly mindless interests of medical students, growing apart, in the modern way, from their family origins, sharing also, due to their institutionalization in the NHS and despite their exposure to the sufferings of patients, a certain blinkered innocence about the teeth and claws of real life waiting in the shadows for all of us.

And, indeed, with these interests, their very young children and their collective boyishness, which embraces the ladies as well, with the exception of the aging in-law Diane Webster, it is easy to forget just how old they are. The running joke which caused so much mirth at the chilly dinner table on May 3 - that Jane Tanner was going to "relieve", snigger, giggle, her partner back at the apartment – seems more suited to a university bar or rugby changing room than to the evening meal of a hospital consultant with receding hair, his colleagues and their partners. Perhaps this collective naivety, now coming under pressure from the realities of approaching middle age, is the key to the first of a series of failures of judgement that they made: their absolute unwillingness to accept that having infants in the family changes everything for ever, including such trivia as the planning of holidays.

Dr David Payne, our consultant on the left of the picture, and his wife - the stance and expression of the latter reflecting a certain admirable je ne regrette rien - were the initiators of the holiday. Clearly comfortable in the role of organiser, if a slightly bumbling one, and accepted as the "leader" of the group, whether through his talent or through a certain lofty, if amiable, presence, Doctor Payne described its origins (the italics are all mine) thus:

"The first ... concept of a group holiday was when we went to Italy for our wedding... we had all of the guests staying there for that weekend, and it was fantastic. We had children staying there and everyone came and said what a fantastic time they’d had so that was the beginning."

He added, "Subsequently… we had holidays with other people, we went away with Kate and Gerry and other friends to Majorca and …although it was very hard, difficulties with our child sleeping wise and it's hard work, still you appreciated the fact that there's a group of you there and we subsequently had been away with Russell, Jane, and Matt and Rachael on another group holiday the year after that, and …it is much easier when you have a group of children, it's great for the parents and you're all at a similar stage in life with the way that they're growing up. We were always looking to continue that yearly holiday."

To each his own. It is surprising that Payne talked about the work involved and yet still felt that a group of children was "easier" and it is also questionable if the successful Italian weekend in 2003, when only the McCanns had a child, had any relevance to later times, particularly 2007 when five of the children were under three and three of them were only one. "We were looking to go on that type of holiday where we had all the amenities that Mark Warner offer so they've got the sporting facilities, they've got the crèche facilities for the children... so that, that kind of holiday was what we were looking for."

Fiona Payne: "all those Mark Warner holidays were very much the same, different resorts but the same sort of layout, the same hypothesis of having kid time and adult time". She also said, "They all offered a babysitting service. When Dave and I went we didn't have children, but we were very aware, we met lots of couples that were using the baby listening service."

And Mathew Oldfield, roped in by the Paynes said, "... some of us had been to various Mark Warner resorts before, the Greek one in Lemnos, originally before Grace was born, a last minute deal and it was great, it was all inclusive, we all like sport and sunshine it was...just a very relaxing place to go, and we were quite keen to do that again because everybody in the group is pretty sporty, if you have a lot of people together you can share sort of the child care arrangements and it's also very relaxing for everybody." And then added, bemusingly, "...when we went to Greece it was like the fastest holiday I'd ever been on because there was only about an hour when they [the children] were asleep at lunch each day and a couple of hours in the evening where you were actually sort of off child care duties, so the week went by in about sort of six hours, it was all sort of, it was very quick."

Jane Tanner was asked the obvious question at her interview – what plans had she made for what she would be doing and what the children would be doing on the forthcoming Praia de Luz trip?

"Er," she replied, "we didn't really think. I think we thought Ella would definitely be going to the kids club because I almost felt bad that she wasn't getting that much kid attention in Exeter. And Evie probably to the kids club in the morning but then stay with us in the afternoon and that morning would give, well me a break you know to do, to do something else but at that point I hadn't really, I hadn't really thought about what that would be or, you know, whatever."

It should be clear by now that none of the group, save possibly Kate McCann with her premonitory worries, were thinking clearly about the holiday, for reasons outlined above and, no doubt, because young children can make you loopy. At no time were they able to answer the question of whether it was a group of families or a group holiday with children attached. There was nothing reprehensible or neglectful about this and clearly there is no evidence of any hidden motives: it was just a lousy, lousy, decision, of the sort that we can all make at different times but worsened, in this case, by the tight psychological similarities of a group that still, deep-down, saw themselves as couples.

It has to be said, however, that the Paynes, having roped everyone into a venture that started with their own inner needs - "we were always looking to continue that yearly [group] holiday" - and having unintentionally chosen a resort which made a bad decision worse, made some pretty appropriate follow-up choices: they took Fiona's mother with them, they made sure they got a large apartment and they took a highly effective baby-monitor along, neglecting, perhaps, to suggest that the others do the same. The result was that for them the holiday was indeed reasonably relaxing, more or less what they wanted, and they were able to sit at the supper table floating free of the time consuming and frantic silent-movie "checking" routine apparently taking place on all sides.

Looking again at the photo on the court steps it is very easy to picture the chronically unpunctual but otherwise unruffled Dr Payne, sitting, slightly smugly, with his wine glass close to hand,at the misleadingly named "tapas" bar table. One rather gets the feeling that that's how things have often turned out for David and Fiona Payne, but not necessarily for others around them.

Why, welcome!, 25 February 2009
Why, welcome! The Cracked Mirror

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

In late 2008 the author Paul Richardson read extracts from his book A Late Dinner, on BBC UK radio. Richardson lives in Spain and in his book, which was described as exploring the Iberian culture and way of life through its food, he lovingly described the sense of revelation he felt when, as a young man in Santander, he was invited for the first time to join one of those long, tumbling, family meals in a seaside restaurant where time seemed to stand still and which, for him, conjured up a feeling for life and its joys which he had somehow never experienced in Britain.

Richardson was writing primarily about Spain but such ritualised gatherings are a regular feature throughout the southern European littoral, stretching in a huge arc from the Bay of Biscay to Naples and Calabria. As well as being the source of sheer enjoyment they affirm the centrality of a certain vision of family life to Latin Catholic culture, buffeted at is it by so-called globalization and the atomizing tendencies of modern life. What strikes interested northerners at once is the way all generations are accommodated into these unhurried three hour feasts, whatever time of day or night, and the way the prolonged consumption of wine almost never explodes into argumentative drunkenness on the British model. It is an event which, like the seafood itself, is strongly bound to its locality: to have the children present in numbers without wrecking things – to have them greatly adding, in fact, the to the pleasure of the occasion – means having grandparents, the avos, nonnas and abuellas, at the table to control and indulge them while others talk. The acute fragmentation of family life in post-modern Britain, where the grandparents end up living in their own reservations hundreds of miles from their children, has not – yet — destroyed the traditions of the Catholic south.

Holiday apartments

The good, perhaps...

An interest in local culture, including its cuisine, is not exactly a Unique Selling Point in the Mark Warner experience. Its gated compounds, in fact, announce the reality – that an MW holiday should have nothing to do with its host location but be nicely and predictably the same whether it takes place in Lemnos or Ulan Bator: the same sports and sportiness, as many English staff as possible, the same execrable food and – a reflection of the fragmented society from which it originates - the same generational apartheid. "Suitable for", conclude typical holiday puffs - or "reviews" as they are known - "suitable for: couples, young families with children etc. Unsuitable for: families with teenagers, the elderly, the disabled."

Holiday apartments

...the bad...

The firewall against the local community which protected those who signed up for the Mark Warner Experience, however, was breached radically in the charmless Ocean Club development in Praia de Luz, a once remote fishing village, initially by the nature of the MW facility itself and, ultimately, by the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. In their UK police interviews the seven talked repeatedly of "knowing what Mark Warner offered" and signing up for PDL on the basis of successful past trips, but when the cumbersome, seventeen strong party and its paraphernalia was eventually discharged from the people movers and mini-buses, they might have wondered if they were the victims of a practical joke.

Instead of the welcoming – if grotesque - embrace of an MW hotel building, some examples of which can be seen here, they found themselves staring at a chilly and semi-deserted mish-mash of facilities rented from the Ocean Club and dispersed over a hillside area about as big, and nearly as cold, as a Premier League football field, an area so large, indeed, that the group had been unable to find each other on arrival and had resorted to making contact via text messages. True there were the famous cordon sanitaire MW gates but their accommodation, and thus their supervision and security, was beyond the walls, in apartment blocks further up the hill. This was not exactly the realization of past dreams – the early morning gleeful dash in the sunlight from the door of your thatched chalet, past the palms and into the communal pool: on the contrary the doors of the ground floor apartments faced onto nothing more romantic than an excessively gloomy five-foot concrete wall and, while the rear balcony doors did indeed overlook a pool, they were separated from it by a wall, an embankment and, well below them, an alley.

Mark Warner Ocean Club complex

...and a postcard from heaven...

David Payne, ever willing to put a favourable gloss on the consequences of his own decisions, claimed, rather optimistically, that it was possible to have a conversation with people in the pool while enjoying a drink on the balcony. Leaving aside the fact that it would probably have required a megaphone, or perhaps a baby monitor, to do so, the rest of the party might have been forgiven for not having this vision in mind as they waited for buses to take them from reception to their apartments. In any case on April 28th the pool itself was about as warm and welcoming as an Arctic seal hole.

"Basically," said Rachael Oldfield, "Dave had chosen the resort and hadn't really read the small print." A remarkably generous assessment, but by the time she told the UK police this they had all been through experiences that put such relatively minor annoyances in the shade. This, and perhaps an awareness that they need their friendships intact, mean that their states of mind regarding those and other irritations are hard to gauge from their statements. Still, there is no escape from it: Dr Payne had comprehensively dropped them all in the shit.

He had, it is true, made them to a certain extent aware of some of his increasingly complex hassles with Mark Warner before they left, leading at one point to a farcical and embarrassing mix-up in which a copy of his insulting statements about MW, together with added comments of a "Get 'em, Dave" nature by the recipient, was emailed by one of the seven to Mark Warner themselves. Payne suspected afterwards that Mark Warner had, in revenge, deliberately put the Payne entourage on a different floor from the others. He had also made the group aware, sotto voce, that there might be "some differences" (!) from other MW resorts that his friends were familiar with, but it was clearly not until their arrival that it sunk in just how great their difficulties were, and that it was now too late – because of Payne's prior formal acceptance of the facilities, including the non-existence of baby listening and the lack of MW security overview of the apartments – to claim that they had been misled.

Still, any thoughts of lynching their Leader must have been dismissed by this extremely tolerant group and, after some hours of settling in, welcome meetings and activity choices, the group assembled to perk themselves up with the first collective meal of their holiday. Due to yet another of the "some differences" described by Doctor Payne, this was not to be in a hotel dining room, since there wasn't one, so the group, who must by now have been half-dead from tiredness and hunger, found themselves in unknown territory, stepping out for the first time for a Portuguese, multi-generation, friends and family meal at the "Millennium" restaurant.

It was, of course, yet another disaster.

Fiona Payne said, "I think we all went to the Millennium Restaurant, which had a sort of kids supper and that was certainly sort of, sort of early evening, I can't remember whether it was six or seven, that sort of time, I remember the kids being very tired but we all trooped across and had a massive table, you know, overtook the restaurant, it was a bit of a walk and certainly with the younger kids it, you know, imagine we're having to pick them up and put them down and they're wanting to walk, it just took ages and it was quite sort of late for the children, they were sort of not behaving particularly well and just very tired and wanted to go to bed..."

Mathew Oldfield confirmed the details of this trek and added some of his own: "The Millennium was a good ten minute walk along roads with sort of, where you had to actually cross into the road to get round ...obstructions on the pavement and there was quite a lot of traffic that did come occasionally through quite fast, so it was quite a long walk to get there." And Rachael said that the "dinner at the Millennium, was all, you know, was quite chaotic because there were eight, you know, eight kids and nine adults." She then added the final detail to this latest scene from Carry On Doctors, "it was like... well Matt, Matt wasn't well that night, he threw up a few times." Fiona Payne's understated verdict on this first encounter with the Algarve? "It was not," she said, "a success."

Such were the realities of their long-planned trip, their first battle with real Portuguese streets ["all cobbled!" runs another internet review of Praia de Luz, "disastrous for pushchairs and young families"] and the nearest they came to an encounter with the culture of the Algarve before meeting its police officers on May 3. It was, of course, not just a graphic reminder that the holiday they had vaguely envisaged was simply impracticable and not just a collision between two different ways of life - but a harbinger of things to come. The British had been bringing their beefy physiques, their weird emphasis on sports and games - suggestive to southerners of sexual frustration - their curiously unsubtle ways of thinking, their politely hidden but deep-seated feelings of the superiority of their own culture, their virtual, colonially-minded, indifference to that of others and, most of all, their irritating wealth and potential power, to Portugal since the sixteenth century and, despite the old alliance, it could easily trigger some very complex emotions: soon the gap that opened up between England and the UK over the McCann affair was as great as it had been in centuries.

Food as a reflection of culture? Well, perhaps only in England could a senior police officer, Doctor Goncarlo Amaral, within a couple of months be mocked and vilified as a "disgrace" for the crime of taking "two hour lunches," rather than, presumably, snatching the tea and dogmeat burgers that their English equivalents are apparently happy to manage with.

Gonçalo Amaral

Never in a million years..., 27 Febraury 2009
Never in a million years... The Cracked Mirror

Friday, 27 February 2009

Matthew Oldfield

Matthew Oldfield: "It's just we are sort of fairly similar...we're sort of from the same background, we have similar issues about child rearing, which is why we sort of get on."

Matthew Oldfield, despite the anger that could overtake him at their collective fate, was one of the more laid-back members of the group. Not querulous, like Russell O'Brien, who typically spent some hours of his UK police interview making nit-picking and sometimes self-serving corrections to his statement, Oldfield described himself as "somewhere between" the fumbling David Payne and the thoroughly driven motormouth Glaswegian Gerry McCann. Tall and fit, greying, conventionally good looking, the granite face, without a sensual feature to it, speaks of a certain decency, strength and determination in the eyes and mouth as well as a sense of modesty. The latter might well have contributed to the swelling discomfort manifest on the High Court steps: Matthew Oldfield, in contrast to his wife, doesn't like being the centre of attention.

Not only does Rachael Oldfield look a great deal more comfortable in the limelight than her partner but all the women in the group, with the exception of the virtually invisible Dianne Webster, overshadow their men in one way or another. Fiona Payne's mother may have been a mindless nonentity but the glamorous Fiona, whose outfits look like they may have eaten up a fair chunk of the family budget, is clearly one of those ladies who straightens her husband's tie before they step out of doors. Kate McCann's blonde, ambiguous, looks constantly and notoriously stole the public attention from her husband, whose greyish, pin-eyed and argumentative face is, admittedly, about as photogenic as the River Clyde on a November day. Rachael, the self-possessed networker, an amusing, amused but coldly ambitious lady who looks very happy indeed to be Rachael Oldfield, clearly has enough oomph for both she and partner Matthew, with possibly some left over. As does the dark haired, slightly Celtic looking, Jane Tanner, the least conventionally pretty but in many ways the most interesting-looking, as well as the most thoughtful, of the ladies: pictured in her company the weak and rather unconvincing features of her partner Russell O Brien look as though they've had an airbrush run over them. Of none of the ladies, despite their ages, does the word maternal spring to mind.

Fiona Payne

That this combination of talent, flair and ambition could make such an utter hash of their childcare arrangements once the Millennium restaurant (of which, Dianne Webster said, getting her priorities right as usual, that "the food wasn’t very good either") had proved its unsuitability, has been a source of perplexity and suspicion for investigators and many of the public alike, particularly among the Latin Catholic Portuguese of the Algarve, where the idea of excluding the children from meal times, let alone leaving them on their own, is, as we have seen, simply incomprehensible.

The choices, after all, were simple enough: with the daytime activities sorted out on the Sunday the sole question was what to do about the evening meals. Given that none of them, understandably, fancied the idea of carting the children to an evening crèche some distance away, the obvious solution was to find someone, either a local person, or one of the off-duty English staff, to act as a patrolling baby sitter with access to their apartments. At between ten and fifteen euros an hour, say, three hours a night would cost the three couples – one does not get the impression that the Paynes were going to hurl money into the kitty – around eighty euros each to cover the remainder of the holiday.

Dr Gerald McCann has made a great many comments about his ill-fated trip and, indeed, about a vast number of other things but explaining just why such an obvious step wasn't taken doesn't appear among them. Nor have the 7 felt able to enlighten us. Perhaps it was, indeed, money: they are a notably careful lot and at this stage of their lives may have felt there wasn't much to spare on top of the holiday costs. It can't have been intellectual stupidity. And – here come the sleuths! - the idea that it was a deliberate act to avoid outside scrutiny of their activities accords neither with what we know of their personalities, nor with any supporting evidence. Certainly finding and organizing such assistance would have bitten into another day or so of their holiday, just as the inferior alternative of buying more baby monitors would have done, assuming that these were even available in Lagos. Even so the decision to do the evening supervision themselves is hard to explain, contradicting as it does their expressed desire for some – by no means undeserved - "social time on our own".

The tendency to inadequate judgement outside their own narrow vocational fields which I have described and characterised earlier seems to have been, once again, the cause, coupled, perhaps, with holiday inertia. The way in which they implemented the decision, as we shall see though, involved something more, something relatively unusual in a group of nine adults - the absence, temporary or otherwise, of anyone with adult common sense and concentration. This apparently average "middle-class" group – as our class obsessed UK media love to describe them – was as I wrote before, seriously deprived in imagination and experience and, underneath the apparently conventional surface, rather weird.

Dianne Webster

Fiona's somewhat blurred mother

Quite where the hazy and indistinct figure of Dianne Webster fits into this pattern is another matter. Subject to none of the constraints of the rest of the group in upbringing and occupation, she should, surely, have provided perspective and perhaps even wisdom for her daughter and her younger companions in their approach to family life. Some hope. At an age when many people are at the peak of their careers with all their marbles intact she gives the impression of a badly worn ninety-four-year old clutching a glass of port, with neither advice, impressions, observations, judgement, a hint of wisdom or even memory, to contribute to anybody or anything.

By the time of the UK interviews this lady may well have been in neurotic fear that something, somewhere, had gone very wrong and that her obvious ability to put her foot in her mouth unless closely watched – one can almost see her husband's glare - might unintentionally make her daughter and the others look neglectful of their children. Under such circumstances an apparently poor memory is by no means a crippling burden. In any event her recollection of events is comprehensively worthless, typified by the contrast between her May 4 2007 interview and her UK deposition. Had she noticed anything unusual on the holiday, she was asked in May, anything which could be linked to the investigation? Nothing at all. A year later she remarked, with a sort of dull, sit-com, certainty, that oh, yes, they'd clearly been under observation by a potential abductor at all times. He'd chloroformed the McCann children too. The kindest things one can say about her are that she does not seem a liar and that she may well have aged prematurely, and leave it at that.

But the whole question of supervision and "checking" has become so loaded since May 3 that most of the statements made about it by all those involved, not just Dianne Webster, are of debatable value, not because the 7 (I exclude the McCanns) were liars but because the issue was tied up, in both their statements and their own minds, with problems of guilt, shame, self-preservation, loyalty to the unfortunate McCanns and bewilderment. They spoke, for example, about the decision to eat at the tapas bar and look after the children themselves as if it had somehow "emerged" without much discussion.

"We just saw the tapas bar," said Fiona, "and thought, oh that's great, we've got somewhere to eat, it's easy, we could keep an eye on the kids, get them to bed when they're tired and, erm, you know everyone's a winner really." And at another point she said, "I think, you know, once we, the following day we got more to grips with the layout of the place ... we sort of saw the Tapas Bar and that well that looks ideal, you know, to eat." And Jayne Tanner added, "...we sort of thought, at that point we thought we can either do it between ourselves and one night one couple you know stay back and then do the baby listening when we found where we were and the proximity to the restaurant we just thought if we are checking and doing the baby listening as is done in other Mark Warner resorts we should be okay, which it obviously wasn't, but that was, that was the thought process behind it."

Just how much the subject, and its implications, were actually discussed is smothered under a certain amount of flannel. It is quite clear that none of the 7 were willing to admit that any one person suggested the idea, or that is was a consciously agreed decision in the knowledge that there were risks. "In relation to the child care issues it was a collective decision made as a group," said Russell O’Brien to the UK police, in one of his characteristically pompous comments, suggestive of a certain, shall we say, defensiveness. As often in his interviews, Dr O'Brien sounded more like a tight-lipped social worker defending his performance to a tribunal rather than a witness trying to help reconstruct the truth of events. And the line that, far from worrying about potential risk – which implies ultimate legal responsibility - they were simply duplicating exactly what Health & Safety compliant Mark Warner would have done, speaks more about the advice of expensive lawyers than the reality.

"So what sort of arrangements did you come to as a group in respect of checking on the children?" Rachael Oldfield was asked by her police questioner. "That we would just check our own children," she replied briskly, ( Rachael does a lot of brisk) "we'd go and have dinner [at the tapas bar]and then we'd sort of run back you know every fifteen twenty minutes and have a listen at the door and make sure nobody's screaming their head off."

And she added, "Because The Millennium had been a bit of trek and a bit too stressful with all the kids and it was thought it would be quite nice to have dinner by ourselves, so I booked a table for eight thirty in the Tapas...we thought we'd do our own baby listening as if we'd been in another Mark Warner resort where that would have happened."

All very simple. Like having the kids in the bedroom of your own home while you sit in the garden fifty - or is it twenty? - metres away. Jane Tanner, slightly contradicting her comments above, made it clear that it wasn't like supper in your own garden at all – after all such homely events are not normally preceded by a Risk Assessment. She admitted, "...we were just weighing it up and it seemed a reasonable risk, well I did think of it as a reasonable risk then it just, we thought it would be fine."

At this point alert readers may have noted that the McCanns make no appearance at all at this crucial time, which seems, to put it mildly, odd, considering Dr McCann's firm views on just about everything and considering also that it was he and Kate McCann, as parents of three young children, who were by far the most affected by this "collective decision". It seems rather unlikely that he was uninvolved, doesn’t it? It is much more probable that, in the absence of Leader Payne - who, with his supportive mum-in-law and baby monitor, was out of this particular loop - Gerry McCann would have been closely, and characteristically loudly, involved in the final decision. No doubt the group subsequently felt that it would be wrong and unfair to say so, hence the other reason for O'Brien’s disingenuous comments about group decisions.

But the various strangled circumlocutions of the 7, all those "it was thoughts", "collective decisions", "we sort of thoughts", disguising the individual responsibility and implying the "emergence" of a decision, as in the election of a pope, cannot disguise the fact that debate did take place. Not only had Jane Tanner assessed the risks but as Matthew Oldfield confirmed:

"...we'd thought about it [leaving the children alone in their rooms] and talked about [it] in between couples and between Rachael and I was, I mean, the worst thing you go well, you know, why are you worrying so much? They're locked in, they're safe, the worst thing that can happen is they wake up and not really know where you are for five, ten minutes, and first that's pretty unlikely, Grace sleeps all the way through nearly, you know, nine times out of a hundred, and at worst she's gonna be upset for ten minutes and then you're gonna be, you're gonna be there err just the thought of something like this is just completely just out of our experience."

So Rachael Oldfield, for example, did have doubts, and was reassured, or persuaded by Matthew; Jane Tanner was aware that it was risky. Kate McCann had had her premonitions about the holiday; the safety issue was explored between the couples. No, not at all like your average garden supper. And yet they went ahead with the men and with the wrong decision - and then they all worsened it immeasurably with their grotesque failure to secure the apartments, which we shall come to in detail below.

It really does seem that all of them - save Dianne Webster.who was not consulted and was probably making sandwiches or staring into space - were imaginatively incapable of putting themselves in the position of a terrified child at risk, the limitations of their personalities coming once more to the fore. "There's obviously this image," concluded Jane Tanner, "that we were like ah, fuck the kids, we'll go off to the Tapas bar they'll be fine, and it wasn't like that at all." And she was telling the truth: it wasn't. But using, significantly, a Kate McCann phrase, she added, "We just don't imagine in a million years."

Imagine what? Fire? Bizarre and unlikely accident? An intruder? Is it really that inconceivable? People a little less sheltered than these narrowly dedicated - or should it be, especially in the case of Gerry McCann - focused professionals, rich or poor, might find such things all too easy to imagine. For every aspiring Tapasite in the embrace of a safe provincial university and the National Health Service or convention circuit, there were plenty of others who'd strayed beyond Mark Warner and had their pockets picked in Madrid or Athens, or who'd come home in their youth to Moss Side or London, to find a dealer or a hooker in their doorway, vomit in the hallway, or their rented rooms smashed, burgled and ransacked.

"It's just we are sort of fairly similar," said Matthew Oldfield, "...we're sort of from the same background."

Noble English Tradition, 05 March 2009
Noble English Tradition The Cracked Mirror

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Jane Tanner

Jane Tanner. Truth is all

It was Jane Tanner who, towards the end of her UK police interview, best expressed the group's view about the way they'd behaved during their holiday and the utterly unfair criticism that they'd subsequently faced. All of the seven gave the police the same basic picture of their time in Praia de Luz: taking the children to the Mark Warner crèche in the mornings, going to tennis, sailing or windsurfing lessons, meeting up, usually, for sandwich lunches at the Paynes' apartment, dropping the children back at the crèche – which most of the kids seemed to love – and exhausting themselves with more sport for the rest of the afternoon, before the usual routine of tea with the children, bath and bedtime story. Once the children were finally asleep they all met for their evening meal at the so-called tapas bar, sitting at a sheltered outside table which looked across the pool to their apartments beyond the Ocean Club perimeter.

Documentary evidence, the crèche records and restaurant reservation sheets, for example, generally backed up the group's version of events, as did the police statements of independent witnesses such as the Mark Warner and restaurant staff, confirming, in particular, that they had indeed left the dinner table at intervals, apparently to check on their children. There were no major discrepancies in the versions of events which the seven provided to the UK police; evidence of conspiracy, either to disguise the true nature of their stay in Praia de Luz, or to assist the McCanns in a cover-up of some kind was conspicuously absent; and not one of them, despite the Damocletian possibility that they might be compelled to return to Portugal, ever took refuge in a "no comment" answer.

These interviews, coming as they did after almost a year's silence, tended in many cases to strengthen the seven's credibility, which had been under attack in the media of both countries: Russell O'Brien's claim, for instance, that he had been dealing with his sick child's bed sheets on the night of May 3 had been mocked as a lie for months, for Mark Warner employees had told the Portuguese press that he had never requested clean sheets. Quite right, said O'Brien dismissively, he hadn't – because the apartment had a washing machine, which he'd used that night. Of course, he added with his characteristic resentment, the Portuguese press hadn't reported that, had they? Nor, it transpired, had the group spent forty suspicious minutes after the child's disappearance, possibly preparing their story, before eventually calling the police: the first call, as confirmed by Mark Warner staff, had been made by 10.15. And, as we have seen, Praia de Luz was not a carefully selected venue for suspect private pleasures – it was a David Payne small-print botch-up, with facilities that satisfied nobody.

A few days after the interviews had finished and the Portuguese police observers had flown home, Rachael Oldfield was willing to comment on them for a BBC documentary on the disappearance. Had any of them changed their story? No, replied Rachael coolly, they certainly hadn't – there'd never been a group "story" in the first place.

To many, of course, such self-confidence was a sure sign that they were all under protection of some kind, perhaps because this little group of provincial nonentities had powerful connections, or maybe because they were uncomfortably close to organised VIP paedophile rings whose exposure would bring the government, or the monarchy, crashing down. After all, hadn't the "UK Secret Services," whoever they might be, arrived within forty-eight hours of Madeleine McCann vanishing from her bed? However possible or impossible such theories may be, one can only say that they are not obviously derived from the available evidence, although that evidence can, naturally, be used to support them.

Jane Tanner, brought by fate into the bleak surroundings of the Leicester Police interview room, watched by both a video camera and, behind a two way mirror, the Portuguese police, had had her fill of "theories."

"There's a lot been said but, you know, we're not a bunch of swingers that went out there for a swinging holiday," she protested, adding the fascinating aside that, "I can't think of anything worse, to be honest." Her questioner, possibly intrigued by this insight into her personal tastes, let her proceed. "We didn't go out there on a swingers' holiday to dump our kids in the kids club while we got pissed and shagged each other, you know. That’s not what we did. One week a year," she added bitterly, "there's, there's one week a year, the other fifty one weeks of the year with the kids all the time! In terms of our family, you know every spare moment's with the kids: Russell doesn't go off playing golf or go to the football's spent with the kids. I just think the Portuguese police have obviously got this idea of us and it's completely, completely wrong in terms of the way we are and what, you know, our motives for being on holiday there were." She added, as Jane Tanner often did, "I'm telling the truth."

Given their manic sporting activity – just reading about those fearsome sweat-drenched afternoon jogs above Praia de Luz makes the spirits drop – and the tedious and exhausting nature of the teatime-bath-and-bed children's routine, let alone the disabling stomach infection which laid most of them out at one time or another, one is inclined to accept her protestations. No handcuffs or copies of A Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom spilled out of their luggage onto the airport carousel; fifteen minutes at a time away from the supper table was hardly sufficient for refined and inventive sexual variations; the crack of whips was not to be heard through the cheap, badly insulated, apartment walls. I can't think of anything worse to be honest - cue Gerry McCann in that fleece of his: let's face it, as hedonists the tapas nine are nowhere.

Gerry and Kate McCann jogging

Such fun

But let's be clear here – we are talking primarily about the seven who were questioned in the UK, not the nine. Gerry and Kate, whom the Portuguese authorities saw fit to make arguidos, or suspects, in the disappearance of their own child, an action for which they have expressed no regrets and few reservations, have their own story to tell, as we shall see. The behaviour of the seven needs to be considered quite separately from that of their two friends.

Jane Tanner's outburst sounds sincere and conforms to the author's personal view that the group's manifest belief in its own innocence is justified as far as the actual disappearance is concerned. But once again we see the weird tunnel vision of this tightly connected and slightly odd clique: just how had the Portuguese police come to believe that they might have been there to "dump the kids in the kids club, get pissed and shag each other?" Didn't Jane Tanner ever ask herself this question? Had it never occurred to her that the seven's own actions might have contributed to the way they were seen? The problem here, the one that lies right at the heart of the police enquiry, was that while the seven had an unshakable conviction of both their own and the McCanns' innocence regarding the actual disappearance, perfectly justifiable, it seems, in the former case, rather less so perhaps in the latter, their attitude and behaviour as far as the rest of their holiday is concerned is a quite different matter. Yes, they described the broad picture but when it came to the details of the children's care, well, as Fiona Payne might say, Phew! A witches brew of guilt, shame, inability to confront their own actions and - with the growing realization of how their behaviour was being seen by outsiders - barely controlled fear of legal action, made their responses to the Portuguese police very far from frank and open.

The crime of child neglect, in the English sense of failing in a duty of care, does not exist in Portugal. Its nearest equivalent, sometimes translated as "neglect", is a much more serious matter – effectively abandoning a child to its fate with the intention that it should come to harm. There was no reason for the seven to be aware of these fine details, at least until these innocent "witnesses of interest" started, no doubt for very good reasons, to consult lawyers, and not just libel lawyers at that. All of them, however, must have had a pretty good sense of potential risk, perhaps in Portugal, very possibly from the UK's increasingly draconian, if often ineffective, child protection laws.

In their first, hurried, statements, on May 4, the group made almost no comments about the child care arrangements, except to confirm the obvious fact that Madeleine McCann had been left alone, for short periods, while they all ate. In the second set of interviews at police headquarters in the charmless town of Portimao almost a week later, however, a more detailed picture was emerging of their activities, including, as we have seen, the uncomfortable fact that far from being a one-off, "all right we made a mistake," aberration, the decision to leave the children alone every night was consciously taken near the beginning of the holiday in the knowledge, as Jane Tanner has confirmed, that there were risks involved.

It was rapidly becoming clear that they had certainly not taken action to obviate those risks. Leaving the "checks" aside only Tanner and O'Brien had been able to maintain that they had secured the critical children's bedroom windows; it was certain that none of the others, despite David Payne's and Matthew Oldfield's bullish assertions to the contrary, had done so. Worse, it was now evident that the McCanns themselves, who in their statements on May 4 had been ambiguous about just how they had entered their apartment, had in fact been leaving their rear patio doors unlocked, for no better reason, apparently, than because it made for a quicker and easier walk between there and the tapas bar.

Conscious awareness of risk to others, combined with repeated failure to take all reasonable precautions to counter it, means the possibility of criminal charges in almost any Western society and in almost any field, whether it's a matter of child care, public safety or, as the group must have known, medical practice. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the seven were not particularly forthcoming to the Leicester police about the effect this awareness might have had on their responses to the Portuguese criminal police, or PJ, as we shall now refer to them.

The same Jane Tanner who made those passionate assertions that the PJ had a totally false picture of her and her companions began her Portimao interview on the evening of May 10 with some interesting social insights. Asked about the decision to leave the children unattended, the gist of her reply, according to the PJ records, was that:

"It was quite normal, culturally and traditionally, for English tourists to leave their small children alone in the bedroom or apartment to sleep while the parents are absent."

Well now! Hotel bedrooms, with fire doors, smoke alarms and a certain amount of security and porterage do, no doubt, lull some people into leaving their children unattended at times, but to describe it as "normal" and extend it to apartments was a bit of a stretch wasn't it? Culturally and traditionally? Whose culture and what tradition? Jane seemed to be hoping to fall back on the traditions of that venerable British institution Mark Warner, a cultural beacon to us all no doubt, but she wouldn't have been able to find an example of MW encouraging such a practice in external apartments whose security they didn't control. It didn't happen because it was far too dangerous for MW, or any other holiday company, to contemplate.

The reaction of her interrogators to these insights is not recorded but one can venture that it wasn't a vote of thanks, especially as the interviewers were already lining up some tough questions about her reliability as a witness. Perhaps their failure to welcome her brief lecture unnerved her somewhat because pretty soon she grew altogether less certain about the strength and dignity of British tradition, turning, in fact, about one hundred and eighty degrees: "...personally," the record continued, "personally she didn't make a habit of leaving her daughters alone this way but only did so because all the couples of the group did it."

Jane Tanner

What was that Jane?

Neither then nor later did Jane Tanner enlarge on this alternative explanation of peer pressure and it remains another of those little gems that she drops now and then without quite realising the impact of what she has said, especially since it implies that she might, under some circumstances, be just be a tiny bit, well, suggestible. We can recall also the "well organized" Russell O'Brien’s flat, "It [the decision to leave the children] was a group decision, collectively taken." So nobody's going to hear anymore about that, then. In any case, by the time Jane addressed the question in Enderby a year after her uncomfortable Portimao experience, both of her earlier "explanations" had vanished without trace.

"Of course, you look back now and think, yes, probably we were stupid but I think we were lulled into a false sense of security because this baby listening service is offered in other places and yeah you look at it now knowing what happened and... you'd think we were probably reckless..."

Reckless? Oops. But then she added, "...this [baby-listening] is a service that is offered, you know, marketed as a service in other resorts and we felt we were doing more than is maybe offered there."

In this, another of her helpful and highly incautious comments, Jane had summed up the "line" that they were all to take regarding the child care, or rather the slightly disgusting shortage of it, that ultimate, "collectively expressed," view of the seven as a whole. It was a neat and highly difficult to refute position, covered in lawyer's fingerprints and with conclusions that followed as smoothly as a well oiled exercise bike - these sports freaks can get to one's brain - or perhaps a defence counsel's final address: it was their understanding [members of the jury?] that a famous and reputable holiday group, Mark Warner, regularly uses a baby listening service by which employees listen from outside for sounds of disturbance or distress every half an hour or so. By doing it themselves they were not merely following good and accepted practice, members of the jury, but were actually improving on this highly respected holiday company's child care - by listening at the same or more frequent intervals than MW. Cute, eh? The reason for the unanimity regarding the magic "every half hour" should now be clear, despite the irrefutable evidence that on at least one night the interval was considerably longer and featured an uncontrollably sobbing child in the McCanns' darkened apartment.

Goya: Saturn Devouring His Children

Sweet dreams, kids

Still, knowing, as all professional English people do, the nightmare possibilities associated with child neglect accusations, such as their removal by the mad, incompetent, commissars of the social services without the irritating formality of a trial, who can blame the seven for tacitly adopting a line and sticking to it? Wouldn't you? The trouble was that the fumbling and ashamed stonewalling of the seven which preceded the "emergence" of a defensible line on the neglect issue was perfectly obvious to the trained officers of the PJ, making it dreadfully difficult, if not impossible, for them to decide whether they were truthful witnesses or not in the separate and altogether more serious matter of the disappearance issue. It was a situation that was never resolved and its ultimate consequences for the investigation were, as we shall see, profound.

Absent friends, 13 March 2009
Absent friends The Cracked Mirror

Friday, 13 March 2009

Kate and Gerry McCann are about to step forward into the lights.

There has been something blurred and fleeting in their appearances up to now. Yes, they were part of the group, but their days were spent away from it most of the time and they are usually described by the others from a distance: a green and white snapshot on the tennis courts, a glimpse of Kate on a punishing jog on her own above Praia de Luz, finally the cheerful chaos as the children are picked up from the crèche. As a couple they appear private and enclosed, with more than one of the seven saying that they'd never been to the McCann's apartment before the night of May 3. Later, pressed by the police to say when they'd last seen Madeleine, their friends found it extremely hard to do so, hardly able, indeed, to place the movements of the family. They'd been around, certainly, hadn't been out of sight for long, but it was so hard to recall details exactly...

Few of the group, it turned out, could even claim to know them as friends. One of the men, when asked a question about relations between the McCanns, told the police that their friendships “weren’t like that,” that is, they didn’t stray into areas of emotional significance, once again suggesting, like the "Russell's getting relieved" jokiness at the tapas bar table , that their companionship was more that of a club football dressing room, or a golfing foursome, than of friends bound by deeply felt links. Even allowing for all that it is surprising just how far the McCanns were outside the rest of the circle and how recent or unformed the “friendship” was. The only true friendship appears to have been between the pair and the Paynes, with Fiona Payne clearly close to Kate and David Payne companionably at ease with Gerry. But even the Paynes told the UK police that, in Praia de Luz, “a lot of the time we didn’t tend to see Kate and Gerry - it was Russell and Jane primarily[we mixed with], I remember, and sometimes Matt and Rachael and Grace but generally Kate and Gerry would do their own thing during the day.”

And Fiona Payne, when asked if the only time she really saw Kate and Gerry was at the tapas bar, replied, “We saw them round and about during the day... I remember one afternoon I wandered down to the pool...and had a diet Coke by the pool with them, they’d just finished a tennis lesson...but we didn’t really do any activities altogether”.

Rachael Oldfield said that although they had known the pair for some years before the holiday they only ever met them at the Paynes, not independently. Matthew Oldfield, for his part, said he “didn’t know Gerry and Kate and their children so well,” and, as far as Praia de Luz was concerned, they saw less of them because, “Russell and probably Dave...we knew them better. Gerry and Kate were much more organised about their day and what they did and they had signed up for tennis lessons.”

Jane Tanner said she didn’t know the McCanns well either. Before they went on the trip, she told the police, “they were the two people in the group that - I knew we’d get on with Dave and Fiona, I knew we’d get on well with Matt and Rachael just because they’re our best friends but it was nice to be able to get to know Kate and Gerry better.”
“Your contact with Kate was limited to your tennis lessons and then to sort of just sitting socially?”
"And with Gerry it was just limited to the social side?”
"It was mainly in the evening that we saw, well, after the high tea for the kids and afterwards in the play area with the kids and then, and then in the restaurant in the evening.”

Russell O’ Brien was supposed to be the friendliest, after the Paynes, but then it turned out that he didn’t know them that well either, although you have to work to discover it. Dr O’Brien, readers may have observed by now, could be very crisp when addressing subjects that animated him, like his treatment by the press, and very clear in his recollections when they concerned such things as the behaviour of the Portuguese police. On other matters he was considerably more vague and a great deal more prolix. He was asked the straight question, put in at the request of those same Portuguese police, “what kind of relationship is there between you and the McCann couple”?

“Yeah, sort of partially explained that there, erm so initially it was a working relationship with Gerry at work, then there was a series of err things, largely meetings at Dave and Fi’s house with the kids, yeah well and the fact that we had the kids the same age, err and it’s become erm you know, a friend, a friendship, although we, we wouldn’t sort of see them or necessarily contact them you know regularly, it was more you know that during, you know during err meetings with, with Dave and Fi at their house”.

So that’s clear then.

And about how often they met during the holiday, he replied:

“Erm it varied day to day, we’d certainly see them erm a number of times each day, err generally, we probably didn’t see them at breakfast time, they were, I say they, they played more tennis than sort of down at the water front I don’t think they did an awful lot down on the water front at all, so erm Jane probably saw slightly more of, of, of, of Kate and Gerry because she did a bit more tennis than me. We, we’d see the children and them often at lunch time on a number of days, we had joint lunches in one or other of the, of the rooms, erm that didn’t necessarily happen every day, high tea we would always see all the children and all the adults together when they were served, they were served their dinner, erm think it was about five or about quarter past five, something like that, err so at least three or four times a day, I mean we, people did do their own thing you know during the week as well and then obviously every, every evening, err we were, you know we, we all kind of congregated together”.

Taking a hosepipe and broom to that answer we can see that his reply was much the same as the others: regularly in the evenings, not very often during the day.

This surprising distance between the couple and others and the fuzziness in recollections of their activities - in very sharp contrast to the seven’s solid certainties about the McCann’s characters and what they were and were not capable of - runs like a leitmotif through what little can be discerned of their lives. Both born in 1968, both the children of artisan families with no particular advantages, Kate an only child, Gerry the youngest of five. The Healy’s from Liverpool, that tough, bitter, city of sentiment and decline, the McCanns Irish immigrants to the equally tough city of Glasgow. Both families Catholics and both attending Catholic schools, something of more importance to Gerry than Kate: Glasgow is still a city where your religion can matter when you're growing up.

Intelligence and determination, and no doubt firm parental encouragement, were the means that took them away from these thoroughly deprived surroundings, using the upward path of the professions and the comforting career structure of the NHS. Kate McCann, a high flier at school apparently, studied at the University of Dundee, her husband closer to home, at Glasgow. Gerry clearly the more ambitious, specialising, after a stint in sports medicine, in cardiology, not as a surgeon but as a diagnostician. Kate qualified as an anaesthetist, eventually going into general practice.

They met in 1995 at the Western Royal Infirmary before both taking posts in New Zealand for a year. Married in 1998. Their first child Madeleine was born in 2002.

Such are the bare facts of an unusually bare joint biography. Their known responses to their experiences, or any projections of themselves as individuals are vanishingly rare. There is a short Facebook entry by Gerry written – in contrast to the oppressive, strangled banality of his later, thousands of words long, “blogs” – in the usual bouncy, brainless Facebook style with limited details of what appears to be, as we have seen before, a rather limited life. There seem to be no records of how they see themselves and who they are. There are no recollections by anyone of why they wanted to go into a healing profession, or whether they had a sense of vocation, or even any interest in healing. Neither of their medical specializations involve the conscious patient very much – an output map from an MRI scanner and associated aids in one case, an unconscious and masked figure in the other. Kate’s later, and brief, experience in personal healing as a GP seems to have left hardly a trace. “Interests,” in the conventional sense, are conspicuously missing, except for sport. On the matter that separates them from the rest of the nine – the desire to have children early rather than late, the failure to do so and the IVF treatment that followed, some of it, apparently, in Amsterdam – almost nothing has been said, by them or others.

As in Praia de Luz, the people around them hardly seem to remember details at all. The newspapers’ routine trawl through their backgrounds revealed a tiny number of individual recollections but almost nothing of what they had ever actually done to strike people, apart from Gerry’s success in the under nineteen’s 1500 metre title championship and Kate’s apparent liking for a drink and a good time as a student. So faint was the trail they left behind that conspiratorially minded sleuths afterwards suggested that the usual suspects – the intelligence services and others – had suppressed their history.

Impressions, on the other hand, rather than description, as in Praia de Luz, were in plentiful supply once the child had disappeared, although, oddly, few of them seem to derive from their ex-patients. Everybody quoted in the media described them as popular or very popular, though few were actually able to say why. Coming to more recent times the universal opinion was that they were devoted to their children and were “brilliant” parents; these opinions, expressed after May 3, are of dubious value since the media will only say saccharine things about victims, but there is plenty of consistency in the accounts and no reason to disbelieve them.

There is also some consistency among the friends in Praia de Luz. Kate is described, with genuine warmth, as laid-back and “lovely,” a “perfect foil” to her more driven husband - the latter opinion receiving some independent confirmation later on, when, after Gerry had erupted at an interviewer’s unsuitable question and stormed out like an angry bull, leaving an empty chair and a manifest sense of unease behind him, Kate McCann remained where she was and murmured placidly to the media crew, “it’s all right, it’s just his way.” Comments by the seven about Gerry are, understandably, slightly different: his habit of talking at you as though you are a public meeting is alluded to a number of times, though there is no malice in the memory and clearly the relationship, except between him and David Payne, is one of respect rather than affection. But even that should be balanced by the seven’s – and others’ – memories of this taut individual, whose voice and manner recall the harsh ugliness of a Northern Ireland town, romping indulgently with his young children, a boyish smile on his face.

So they hover at the side of the stage, dim outlines – hard in Gerry’s case, attractively soft in Kate’s – rather than crisp visions, having left hardly a footprint behind them anywhere in almost forty years, only those impressions. If one of them had ever gained fifteen minute fame or notoriety, for medical triumph or medical misconduct, or anything at all, then their appearance on the stage might have had less dramatic consequences. As it was this strange absence, or ambiguity, of content meant that people, by the million, by the tens of millions, were able to fill in the shapes for themselves as they watched them step forward to confront the lights, Gerry’s shaking hand clutching his first speech, Kate’s holding the child’s soft toy like a dead rabbit: through the deforming power of the media’s cameras everyone was now free to create their own imaginary version of the pair, like a reflection in a cracked mirror.

Who?, 18 March 2009
Who? The Cracked Mirror

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

In 1934 F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel Tender is the Night was published. Its reception was muted: Fitzgerald, an almost forgotten figure now, was in the middle of the long alcoholic decline which ended in his death only a few years later and the subject matter, the activities of a group of rich American expatriates on the French Riviera in the nineteen twenties, was not in tune with current preoccupations. People in the depression-hit USA had other things to think about and, in truth, it wasn't a terribly good book.

It was, however, noteworthy for its opening chapter. Fitzgerald wrote the whole section through the eyes of a young American woman, Rosemary Hoyt, overwhelmed by what she saw as the glamorous couple at the heart of the book, the young doctor Richard Diver and his beautiful blonde wife Nicole, usually seen sitting under their parasols on the beach with their two young children and a group of laughing friends nearby, a sunlit, glittering vision of life achieved.

"Nearest her, on the other side, a young woman lay under a roof of umbrellas making out a list of things from a book open on the sand. Her bathing suit was pulled off her shoulders and her back, a ruddy, orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls, shone in the sun. Her face was hard and lovely and pitiful. Her eyes met Rosemary's but did not see her. Beyond her was a fine man in a jockey cap and red-striped tights; then the woman Rosemary had seen on the raft, and who looked back at her, seeing her; then a man with a long face and a golden, leonine head..."

Only later in the book, as we all get to know the Divers, does it become clear how little her superficial, gushing assessment of the couple had to do with the reality: she knew nothing about their inner lives and their relationship behind closed doors, nothing at all. Her belief, as she got to "know" them better, that they were "the perfect couple" – an essentially childish concept, like its close neighbour "the couple who had everything" - was a trick of the shimmering Mediterranean light and her own shallow and childish assessments. The reality beneath the surface which she had so willingly accepted turned out to be something very different.

"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..."

This extract comes from a lengthy newspaper piece on the McCanns by another holiday maker in Praia de Luz, a M/S Bridget O'Donnell, described by The Guardian, with 50% accuracy, as a writer and television director. She had also been involved with television crime programmes. Unlike Fitzgerald's book where events eventually impose reality on illusion, both the "writing" and the level of insight remain at this level of gushing unreality for almost the whole of the article.

"Throughout all this, I have always believed that Gerry and Kate McCann are innocent," concludes M/S O'Donnell, "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 was wrong. There were no drug-fuelled "swingers" on our holiday...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. 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."

The piece is striking in our context not for its assaults on the English language, nor the inadequacy of its observation, nor because this junk was written by someone who knew the McCanns about as well as Rosemary Hoyt knew the Diver family after watching them for an hour. No, its significance lies in the fact that these comical "assessments" could have - and did - come from the mouths any of the McCanns' oldest and closest friends.

Meet Linda McQueen and Nicky Gill, described as the best friends of Kate McCann, fellow Liverpudlians who had grown up with her and still see her, it seems, every couple of months.

"She is lovely," said Nicky, in the recognizable patois of the City of Sentiment, "you could not say a bad word against her. There is absolutely nothing to say that would make anybody think badly of her." Mrs McQueen added that, "They are very together. They have their vulnerable moments, and probably their dark moments as well, but ...they are the most loving, caring, family-oriented couple that you could ever meet. They are absolutely fabulous. Those three children are the world to them, as our children are to them as well." Mrs McQueen dismissed claims that Mrs McCann struggled being a mother. "I have never ever seen Kate run ragged in her life, ever. If anybody was meant to have three children under three it's Kate. She is just cool, calm, laid-back, just very together and very happy - I think because it is everything she wanted."

Nicky and Linda have known the McCanns since childhood. Susan Hubbard, the wife of the Anglican vicar in Praia da Luz who spent a little time with the McCanns in 2007 was in complete agreement. "They are the most unbelievably attentive parents," said Hubbard, adding as proof that, "they slather up their kids with sunscreen—they practically have a sunscreen suit. They say, 'No, you can't have that, eat the fruit." This startling insight into the parents' family life allowed Hubbard to draw firm conclusions: "There's no doubt in my mind," she added, "that they had nothing to do with this." Thirty years or thirty days or thirty minutes, the assessments and the conclusions are always the same.

Like Hubbard and the others the Tapas 7 unanimously described the couple as not just good parents but very special ones. Kate was described over and over by them as a "very cautious" mum, always very careful, veering on the over-protective, with her children's care. But wait a minute, wait a minute, how does this square with what we have seen? Kate McCann simply couldn't be accurately described as someone putting her children above all other considerations: just in the short period that we have been looking at it simply isn't true. Kate McCann, as we have seen, put her children, for a few hours a day, well outside the protective parental circle. Even the worshipping M/S O'Donnell includes what little she knows of this bleak reality: almost hidden in the overripe vegetation of her prose we find a clearing, a more restrained paragraph, one which, no doubt, she'd spent much time on.

"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 [BOD's husband] 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, [my italics] 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."

There is no moral baggage or criticism involved in the observation that Kate McCann was very much not a "cautious and careful" parent during these few days: it is merely a matter of fact and it points towards a much more complex and human character than the sweet-smelling blonde void that has been so consistently presented to us, by herself and others. Perhaps there is a side of this rather over-determined lady, carrier of her parents' fond hopes, that wants to throw the dice occasionally. Certainly there are deeper forces at work but what they are we don't know.

Throw the dice? Consider: Kate McCann spoke of uneasy feelings, a premonition about the holiday even, before she left the UK. "Over attentive" she might well be, but in Praia de Luz, the fears seem to have been forgotten, discounted or very easily overcome. On the Tuesday night a Mrs. Fenn, the McCanns' elderly upstairs neighbour and, as the only permanent resident of the apartment block, someone who clearly kept an eye and ear on what was going on, heard crying from the downstairs apartment, not babies' crying but an older child's, and not just a hissy fit: she described to the police prolonged sobbing and calling out "daddy" lasting from around 10.30 PM until 11.45 or so, ending only when the patio doors were heard being opened, presumably by the parents.

Mrs Fenn, while old, has her wits about her and she was insistent that this had happened on the Tuesday, when, of course, the Mark Warner Model half hourly "checking" was supposed to be in operation. In fact she gave the police the name of a friend whom she had described the incident to that night, so it is unlikely that she had the date wrong. So what had happened to the checking on only the second night of the routine? How could it have missed a child's crying for over an hour?

The McCanns say that it didn't, end of story. They have nothing to say about finding a crying Madeleine when they returned that night and nothing at all about missing any checks, something which the reader may believe or disbelieve as they feel fit. By Wednesday, though, there is no doubt at all that this famous "checking" had bitten the dust: members of the group confirm that this was a late night, that they went on drinking at the bar – heavily by their standards - after supper was finished and that for the last "forty minutes" or so – much more likely an hour at least – nobody made any checks.

Just why they all behaved in the same way during that period, rather than some of them, perhaps the "more cautious" ones, going back while the others remained at the bar is a mystery: something to do, perhaps, with the "emergent collective decision taking" so memorably described by Dr O'Brien. Probably it was an innocent enough matter of oh, come on girl, have one more drink, we're all going up in a minute, as the clock ticked away. But over-cautious, or putting the children at the centre of your life, it was not. That night Kate McCann slept in the children's room.

While both Kate and Gerry McCann make no mention of having heard their children crying, one person, it seems, confirmed that Mrs Fenn was not mistaken: the child herself. It was one of the very few moments that week that Madeleine McCann actually emerged as an individual with valid feelings of her own, rather than as a vague and unimportant memory – as in M/S O'Donnell's article – or a sickly sentimental bouquet of clichés. As Kate McCann told the police in her first statement, Madeleine had asked her on the Thursday morning just why she hadn't responded to her cries. According to Kate the child never got an answer because she had never heard any crying. She then, according to the police record, "ignored her daughter's words because it was the first time she had talked about it."

Premonitions, her daughter's words, the fact that the group's guard had dropped when the more serious drinking had started the previous night, might well have given Kate McCann – or anyone else – serious cause to brood on whether the evening routine should be changed, with perhaps one of them staying home while the other ate. Another of the couple's numerous friends did quote Kate as saying in August 2007, "I wish I could roll back time and go back to the day before Madeleine was abducted. I would slow down time." But no, it wasn't anything to do with incautiousness, or any fancy acknowledgement of fate – someone else's fate – tapping her on the shoulder, for she added the much more dramatic and completely unreal, "I'd think, where are you? Who are you? Who is secretly watching my family? Because someone was watching my family very, very carefully. And taking notes."

As she took her seat at the dinner table on the Thursday evening, before most of the others had arrived, she may well have had something nagging at her, though. Jane Tanner told the UK police, "I did have a conversation with Kate about, she'd said that she'd, Madeleine had said something strange about 'Where were you last night when I woke up'. And, as I say, I can't remember where in the meal she said this, but she did sort of say, oh I thought she said I thought that was a bit odd when, when Kate said, you know, Madeleine obviously she did say 'Where were you when', you know, I think she said 'When Sean and I woke up', I can't remember whether it was when two of them woke up. So I think Kate was more worried that night, you know, whether leaving them was the, the right thing, or so to speak, so. So you were saying then about the frequency of the checks. I was just wondering if that was another reason, you know, why maybe the checks were more often [on the Thursday]."

It was perfectly understandable that Jane Tanner should have tiptoed her way through this passage of her questioning, given her knowledge of what had occurred in the past year, because it was fraught with all sorts of potential contradictions. Surely something as troubling as the "much-loved" Madeleine's question might have evinced symptoms of serious concern, or even self-reproach in her mother at a time when she was, once again, leaving the child in an unlocked apartment. No, apparently not. "More worried," than on previous nights, yes, whatever that may mean. But there couldn't have been any signs of major distress because that would conflict with everything that people, including Jane Tanner, had been saying for a year about Kate McCann's demeanour on the evening of May 3 - totally calm and untroubled, with obvious inferences to be drawn as to the impossibility of her hiding anything emotionally.

If all these recollections and portraits have established anything with certainty it is that nobody knew the McCanns, then or thereafter: they were a totally closed couple, who gave nothing of themselves, the parts that mattered, to anyone. Only one of the Tapas seven had any sort of friendship with the pair, the rest confirmed that they knew them at arm's length, or Kate only, or hardly at all, and in any case they all admitted that the friendships within that tight group were on a superficial basis revolving around shared interests, not personalities. The "closest friends" who'd known Kate all her life hadn't the slightest insight into the pair's relationship and the real emotions, drives, dynamics, light and shadow within it. Punch Gerry McCann's closest friend, or even close friend, into Google and you get either a blank or the name of an obscure New Zealander who played football with him a few times. The O'Donnells, the Hubbards, the media and PR people in their hundreds - including Alex Woolfall, their PR guru who said that the couple never even mentioned abduction after May 3 - they all knew the McCanns just as well as those who'd "known" them for decades. The fact is, the only people who have ever been remotely close to that bound and ungiving pair are their clans, from two of the very few clannish cities in the United Kingdom, where the kin structure means only one thing: unity against the outside world, whatever the circumstances. Nobody has ever been allowed in to know the McCanns, or their capabilities.

Beyond the black box, 18 August 2009
Beyond the black box The Cracked Mirror

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

If the period from 7 until 10PM on May 3 resembles a physics "black box" in its complete impenetrability, the events of the rest of that night in Praia de Luz are much clearer. The frantic activity in the streets as posses of holidaymakers and villagers searched for the child, the reception area of the Ocean Club where Mark Warner staff, summoned from their homes and beds, attempted to bring some order to the chaos and, most of all, the extraordinary bedlam in apartment 5A, with crowds swirling around the unconscious twins at its heart like some surreal Latin Catholic miracle drama, have been described many times.

Russell O'Brien, among others, recounted what he saw in the apartment between the disappearance and the early hours of Friday morning as the parents punctuated uncontrollable, indeed hysterical, outbursts of shock with wildly agitated phone calls. As staff, holiday makers, police and even total strangers ran in and out or roamed through the apartment Gerry McCann was to be found "... on the phone to members of his family, curled up on the floor just outside the sliding patio door, sobbing uncontrollably and in between sobs just saying, 'They've taken her,' or 'Somebody's bloody got her', you know, 'She's gone!' He was incapable of even standing up, just lying on the floor..."

And Fiona Payne said, "Kate and Gerry were ringing anybody under the sun. They were just going between sobbing and feeling helpless and then ringing people and all this frantic activity.... Who do we need to ring? The British Embassy, I think he was trying to get hold of the British Embassy and get somebody who was English speaking and might be able to help. I know he phoned his sister, he was phoning relatives, just telling anybody you know, you've got to help us, what can you do, can you think of anything?"

Despite their shock and hysteria the account the parents gave in all their calls was consistent and emphatic. As Kate McCann made clear, when she returned to the apartment to check the children at ten PM she "knew at once" that the child had been taken: an intruder had broken into the apartment after forcing the exterior security shutter and opening the child's bedroom window.

"Gerry was distraught, breaking his heart," said Madeleine’s aunt Mrs Patricia Cameron, retailing one of these phone conversations later, "the door was lying open, the window in the bedroom and the shutters had been jemmied open. Nothing had been touched in the apartment, no valuables taken, no passports. They think someone must have come in the window and gone out the door with her. It looks as if somebody has either been watching, or they've targeted her."

A friend, Jon Corner, quoted Kate, "blurting out" on the phone that Madeleine had been abducted. "She told me, 'They've broken the shutter on the window and taken my little girl.' They had left the apartment locked while they were having their meal, but when they went back the last time they saw the damage - first they saw one of the window shutters had been forced, and then they saw the door was open and the bed was empty - and Madeleine was gone."

And another friend, Jill Renwick, said, "Poor Kate and Gerry don't know where to turn. Madeleine has obviously been taken. She couldn't have gone out on her own and the shutters were forced."

Friends and relatives also described how maddened the parents were already becoming at the police inability to accept that the child had indeed been kidnapped. Despite the clear signs of a break-in, despite Kate's immediate certainty that abduction had occurred and the evidence she provided that had prompted her to that conclusion, the police refused to accept the obvious. Why, demanded the pair bitterly, had the authorities ignored the information they'd provided and "wasted their time" by making local searches for the child on the assumption that she might have wandered off? The crying need, surely, was to take on board the evidence of a crime and concentrate on pursuing an abductor while there was still time, alerting highway patrols, ports and airports, instead of plodding around looking in wardrobes and poking under beds.

"Their voices were out of control," recalled Kate's mother, "and I think it was just blind panic and fear that they couldn't get through to the police or to anybody, to make it clear that Madeleine had been abducted and they were afraid that every minute that was lost was crucial to getting Madeleine back."

Later, after the investigating officers had finally accepted the likelihood of abduction, the parents' calls reflected a frightening sense of isolation as well as despair at the latest developments, or rather the lack of them. The police had, said Kate McCann, shown a devastating lack of urgency – "as though I'd reported a missing dog." And by four thirty in the morning what little police presence and activity there had been had apparently ceased: the parents were, it seemed, on their own. "It was frustrating for Gerry," said Mrs Cameron again, after yet another phone call, "because between 5am and 7am the police seemed to do nothing, they were standing about."

The McCanns, according to those close to them, were not the sort of people simply to give up without a struggle. Their friends and relatives told the same story of how their calls changed during the night from shocked descriptions of the abduction and frustration at the initial, unsatisfactory, reaction of the police to a determined attempt to make up for the grotesque deficiencies in the Portuguese effort. By sunrise they were calling for outside pressure to be brought to the investigation via their friends in the UK. Patricia Cameron’s husband Sandy said, "Gerry was distraught and spoke at the same time as he cried. He seemed frustrated with the slowness of the searches in Portugal, with the fact that the borders had not been closed, and with the fact that sniffer dogs were not being used. Patricia and I contacted the British Embassy to try and help in this regard."

Jill Renwick had known the couple for over a decade. She spoke to Kate McCann at 7AM and described Kate imploring her for real assistance. "She just said, 'Help me, please help me'. She said, 'We've been searching all night until 4.30AM, and then everybody left us'. At that stage there was only one police officer at the door. They didn't know what to do." So I phoned GMTV."

M/S Renwick did more, phoning other friends of the parents who in turn contacted anyone they could think of to help. Renwick's sister called a friend in the UK police, another acquaintance attempted to get the assistance of Des Browne, an MP and member of the government. "One friend lives close to the television presenter Kirsty Wark," said Renwick. "She knocked on her door and said, 'I know you must think I'm mad but my friend's wee girl is missing, can you do anything to help?'" And Renwick later recalled the most celebrated example of "getting some help." She said, "Gordon Brown's brother John lives in the same street as me. I stopped him in the street the day afterwards and said, 'These are my friends. Do you think you could speak to Gordon about it?' And he said of course."

And there were the friends at hand who had accompanied them on the holiday. Rachael Oldfield told the UK police later that a friend of hers, James Landale, was a BBC news correspondent and she rang him that night. "Actually," she said, "I rang his wife Kath because I had her mobile number, to say that Madeleine had gone missing and was there any way that we could get it on the news?" Another of holiday group said, rather vaguely, "I'm not sure who informed Sky News of the event but...I know Kate and Gerry spent a lot of time on the phone ringing people, they were just so, so beside themselves really."

Thus by breakfast time on May 4 a clear and fateful divergence had already opened up between police and parents, with the conventional host-country investigation being accompanied by the parents' mobilization of outside political and media power. Perhaps the parents were, in their distress, ignorant of the risks they were running in bringing these notoriously unpredictable, and potentially treacherous forces into play; perhaps they felt they had no choice. In any event, by midday consular and embassy staff were already in frantic consultation with London and reporters and media hounds were scrambling for seats on flights for Faro. Within days this divergence between the two groups would become a chasm.

But why had the gulf opened so quickly and so radically? This was an EU country, after all, not some distant and bandit-ridden equatorial failed state with a police force consisting of half-starved and illiterate militia men, interested only in the financial opportunities that the loss of a foreign child might provide. The well-known narrative we have retailed above describes a clear progression, with the parents reacting throughout the night to the unfolding weaknesses of the police effort, minor at first but worsening, and with the pair moving gradually from hysterical shock to frustration to an eventual grim determination to act independently when they saw that there was no alternative.

And it is just that, a narrative. Convincing, explanatory and dramatically satisfying, like a film or good fiction, rather than the kaleidoscope of real life. No doubt that is why it always forms the basis of the endless articles and documentaries made about the case. But how true is it? Our narrative, after all, that foundation of all research and study of the case, has been provided exclusively by the parents, their friends and family. There is another side, of events seen and reported by those whose professional role it is to organize and make sense of the real-life kaleidoscope every day, and to report it simply and intelligibly, undistorted by shock and fear. What about the police side of the story

The Policeman's Tales, 19 August 2009
The Policeman's Tales The Cracked Mirror

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

It fell to the Portuguese Republican National Guard — the Guarda Nacional Republicana or GNR — to respond to the calls for help from Praia de Luz. The GNR is the gendarmerie of the Portuguese state, copied originally from the French model, its role being general policing and the maintenance of law and order, not criminal investigation. Before 2007 its international reputation was largely anonymous and uncontroversial, due perhaps to the relatively law abiding nature of the Portuguese people, both policemen and policed, rather than any special GNR qualities. As far as outsiders are concerned anecdotal evidence suggested that foreigners found this gendarmerie, despite its relatively low pay, rather more amicable and trustworthy than its neighbouring Spanish counterpart, with few of the stories of petty, but shady, exploitation of foreigners that continue to sour the reputation of its Spanish equivalent. Like all police forces in the EU it had for many years been drawn ever more closely into the network of European common policing standards.

Officer José María Batista Roque of the GNR and his colleague Nelson da Costa were on vehicle patrol near Odiaxere on the night of May 3. Working out of the Lagos GNR station under its commander Sergeant Antonio da Duarte Conceição both were highly experienced men with decades of service between them. The radio message they received from Lagos instructed them to proceed to Praia de Luz to investigate reports of a missing child. A further message was received while they were on their way: it had now been reported to Lagos that the child was extremely young and that there were serious concerns for her safety. Proceed with all urgency.

Their syrens announced their arrival around 11 PM. They quickly found their way to the throng in the main reception area of the Ocean Club. There they were greeted by a Mark Warner employee with language skills, M/S Sylvia Batista, and a distressed — he fell to his knees in front of the officers — Gerry McCann, who had left the apartment to meet them. The two police officers, Mr McCann, another of the Tapas group and Silvia Batista – to interpret - all drove up to apartment 5A, where Kate was waiting, and attempted to get a handle on just what was supposed to have happened.

It was not easy. Both Gerry McCann and some of the Tapas helping to make up the bustling crowd in the apartment talked of the disappearance as a possible abduction but none of them gave any clear information as to how they had formed this view so soon, or what evidence there was to suggest it. The views of the Tapas group were, of course, essentially worthless since none of them had any first-hand knowledge of the circumstances of the child's disappearance; the only first hand witness of the state of the apartment at 10 PM was Kate McCann.

Kate McCann said nothing. Whatever she had cried or shouted to friends and relatives about shutters, intrusion and the certainty of a kidnap she did not share with officer Roque. Instead Gerry McCann, still apparently in a state of shock and at times hardly coherent, spoke of an open window and raised shutter in the child's bedroom but, crucially, according to the reports of the police officers, made no suggestion that it had been forced. In the middle of this confusion, with Sylvia Batista translating merely that Gerry McCann was "suggesting" a possible abduction, with the eyes of the frightened and agitated people in the room upon him and with the shouts from the searchers in the street in his ears, Officer Roque began at the beginning and searched the apartment.

He found nothing to suggest that apartment 5A was in fact a crime scene. Far from having been disturbed in any way the child's siblings were still sleeping soundly; there was no evidence of forced entry; there was not a sign of even the minimal struggle that a child might put up, let alone any displaced furniture, evidence of injury or use of force, and, of course, no visible traces of an intruder. Roque reported matter of factly of his search: "I found nothing strange in the apartment."

With one exception. Roque added that the bedclothes on Madeleine's bed "were too tidy." It appeared, he reported, "that she had been picked up, or had left the bed, with great care. There was a mark on the sheet that appeared to be made by a child's body."

What exactly Roque might have inferred from the bedding being "too tidy" he did not say but – and here we can read something between the lines of his factual statements, the twitching instincts, perhaps, of an experienced policeman — he gave the impression of being somehow troubled by the parents. Naturally they were "nervous and anxious," he said, but at times he found their behaviour "unusual," adding that, at one point, both of them knelt down on the floor of their bedroom and placed their heads on the bed, crying, although there were no tears. Clearly the whole scenario failed to form a consistent picture.

What about those "jemmied" shutters and the window through which a kidnapper might have entered? They hardly featured in officer Roque's initial report at all, since almost nothing had been said about them and he had seen nothing to suggest they had been interfered with. Much later, when investigators' suspicions about the parents' version of events had arisen, he was explicitly questioned about the bedroom window by his superiors. In response he replied that he only remembered that the window in the girl's bedroom was closed, with the exterior blind raised "the width of a hand." Officer Roque knew that such a gap could not have been occasioned from outside since, as we explain below, these shutters can only be rolled up from the inside. He remembered nothing about the curtains and reiterated merely that Gerry McCann, not the virtually silent Kate, had indicated through the interpreter that the "window and shutter" had been open when the disappearance was discovered.

The shutters which officer Roque looked at are of a type not normally seen in the UK. Their perforated metal slats form a roll in a housing above the window and are operated by a vertical webbing strap, like a car safety belt, in an aperture on the inside wall alongside the window. To raise them one pulls downwards on the webbing and they are lowered by pulling and releasing the strap which, via a ratchet system, enables them to unroll and drop to their full extent on the outside of the building.

These shutters feature two important security features. First of all they are always designed to fit snugly inside the exterior window recess and to descend the full drop to a window sill. This ensures that intruders cannot get their fingers under the shutter bottom to start lifting them: they must first insert a thin object, a screwdriver for example, or a knife to get the lift started, in colourful old-fashioned burglarese, a "jemmy."

Secondly the ratchet system means that while the shutter can be lifted it cannot be rolled up from the outside since the roller remains in the locked position in its overhead housing unless released by the interior webbing strap. Attempts to raise it from outside, therefore, result in a heavy, unwieldy and sagging mass of metal which can only be held in a raised position by using props between sill and shutter. No evidence of the use of a jemmy or any tool was uncovered, then or later, and officer Roque could see that there was no distortion of the shutter and no sign of props: it had been opened from the inside. Nor was any evidence of the window itself being forced ever found.

Roque later reported quite frankly that his own feeling was that this was not an abduction, though he did not state whether he based his view purely on the absence of intruder evidence.

And he was not alone. His colleague, Officer da Costa, gave a similar report. After the meeting at reception he had, he said, searched the apartment with his colleague, opening all cupboards in the bedrooms, living room and kitchen and checking under the beds and in the fridge. He did not see anything strange during the search, he reported, and there was no sign of a break in.

In fact, unlike officer Roque, he could not remember the father even mentioning an abduction and the only comment that he remembered Kate McCann making was a tearful request for more police officers. Thus a second officer made his inquiries without a word from the key witness, Kate McCann, regarding what she had seen at 10PM.

Officer Roque searched outside the apartment while da Costa remained inside or at the door. It was then, he reported, that a woman, evidently Jane Tanner although the officer did not identify her, told him that earlier on she had seen someone carrying a child "and running". Because of the pyjamas the child had been wearing, she said, it could have been Madeleine McCann. Only then, said officer da Costa, did abduction "begin to be talked about."

His response to Jane Tanner was sceptical. If she had been able to see the pattern of the child's pyjamas, he reasoned, then there must have been quite good light. So he asked her about the much more important question of what the person carrying the child looked like. She couldn't tell him, replied Jane Tanner, since it was "very dark." No, he reported, he did not find the "sighting" credible.

Officer da Costa stated that he neither saw nor heard any evidence to make him believe that an abduction had occurred; his personal view, he reported was that "it did not appear to be an abduction, but rather a normal disappearance where the child had left by her own means." Again the impression is given that things didn't form a picture to an experienced policeman, didn't add up. The thing that stuck him particularly, and that he found "strange" was that the twins never woke up, despite the considerable noise in the apartment.

At around 11.15, only some quarter of an hour after his arrival, Roque contacted the Lagos police station and spoke to his superior Sergeant da Duarte Conceição, another veteran with twenty five years service. Despite his doubts and reservations he gave the sergeant a brief and relatively objective account of the facts, including that the father "had put forward a theory" that it could have been abduction and mentioned that a shutter could have been raised. With no sign of the child and no clues to indicate that she had wandered off Duarte now told the officer to preserve the apartment as a possible crime scene and wait with his colleague for him to join them. Then he set off at once for Praia de Luz.

He got to the Ocean Club just an hour after the arrival of his colleagues. By now talk of "the abduction" had strengthened among the UK group. Sergeant da Duarte Conceição was told immediately by Silvia Batista that the group were now describing it firmly as an abduction with Gerry McCann – neither hysterical nor rolling on the apartment floor at this time - joining her to emphasise the point. Not only that, added Silvia Batista, but the holiday group had printed photographs of the child and were already contacting the media to inform them of the "abduction."

Contacting the media at midnight? But the narrative, according to friends and family, was that the media had only been contacted after the failings of the investigation had become clear and the parents had been left isolated and unsupported with "nothing happening" at 4.30 in the morning. It is hard to see any real cause for dissatisfaction with the police so soon – police who were doing their best to find their daughter.

What dissatisfaction could there be? The idea that the search effort could immediately be transferred from the local area to a far-away hunt for kidnappers with all the fashionable paraphernalia of closed borders and the rest of it was simply fanciful, both at the time and in hindsight. Leaving aside that there was no description of a vehicle or any third party to alert outside forces to and, indeed, absolutely nothing to suggest a kidnapping save the hearsay hunches of the Tapas group, how could resources have been switched away from Praia de Luz without risking the fate of the child?

The overwhelming need was to exhaust every local avenue in case the child was lying trapped somewhere in the darkness, in a gulley perhaps, or lying injured at the foot of a stone staircase, possibly with rapid loss of blood. And that is what the police, while increasingly mindful of other, remote, possibilities did.

Sergeant Duarte, just like the other two officers, could see nothing, literally nothing, to indicate that an abduction had taken place. And once again Kate McCann did not come forward to tell the sergeant what she had seen. Even so, after carrying out further searches, he contacted headquarters for more officers to attend the scene immediately, called in the nearest available dog team and contacted the criminal investigation police, the PJ, in Portimao.

And thereafter the search effort and investigation rapidly gathered pace. The additional officers from the GNR requested by sergeant Duarte soon arrived and, at about 12.40 AM, so did Inspector Pimental of the PJ together with a technical scene-of-crime officer. Despite the continued absence of any hard evidence to indicate that apartment 5A had been a crime location rather than merely the child's temporary home, the apartment was cleared, the twins finally moved – still unconscious - and the family allocated alternative rooms so that a forensic search could be made.

The parents, reported the inspector, "looked quite tired and anguished," particularly the mother. Not only anguished, but silent. For the fourth time that night Kate McCann, the only witness of value, failed to come forward and tell the police – this time in the person of a criminal investigator - what she had seen. Once again the story of the jemmied shutters and the evidence that made her "certain" that abduction, not a disappearance, had taken place – evidence that Kate McCann later alleged that she had given the Portuguese police but could not describe to the public - once again, her story went untold.

After the site had been isolated the inspector examined the flat with his specialist Barreiras. Both of them were critical of the free-for-all that had been allowed to continue in the apartment before their arrival due to the failure of the GNR officers to lock down the location. Statements and photographs were taken and the inside of the bedroom window was finger printed. While GNR officers remained on site to keep the apartment isolated tracker dogs began searching around 2.30 in the morning. Throughout the night the strengthened forces continued to search streets, gardens and car parks and now vehicles were being stopped for examination as well. Between 2 and 2.30 AM Portimao police headquarters, after liaising with the PJ officers at the scene, contacted Faro to ensure that outgoing flights from the airport were monitored while the GNR in Lagos were ordered to keep vehicles under observation for signs of the child.

At dawn Chief Inspector Tavares de Almeida of the Criminal Investigation Department in Portimao, after abandoning his planned holiday, began consideration of a further widening of the investigation. The first phase of the search for Madeleine McCann had finally ended and it was time to draw breath. It was around now, between 4.30 AM and 7, that the local search was temporarily wound down, three officers only continuing with the so-far fruitless effort while their colleagues got some badly needed rest. This was the period that the McCanns described as a time when "nothing was happening," when, in Kate McCann's words the investigation had all the urgency of a "search for a missing dog" - the comments a scurvy reward, it may be thought, for the efforts that the Portuguese had put in throughout the night to find the child of these strangers in their land.

It was also the period which finally prompted the despairing couple, neither of whom, of course, could have been aware of the full dimensions or any shortcomings, of the search effort – for how would they have known? - to call for full-scale outside media and political help via their friends and family.

Or so the narrative tells us.

From what we have seen above it is clear that the "narrative", constructed by the parents and their friends, does not tally with the facts as reported by the police. The parents and the group had, despite their continued denials, in fact contacted the media, in the form of Sky News, long before there was any evidence of shortcomings in the investigation, probably within a very short time of contacting the police themselves, as the group finally admitted at their UK police interviews in April 2008; Kate McCann did not show the police the supposed evidence that "made it obvious" that it must have been an abduction; astonishingly, she did not tell any of the police, either the GNR or the criminal investigation officers of what she had seen, despite her frenzied phone calls though the night with the repeated and insistent claims of jemmying and forced entry. From all the evidence it is clear that the strategy of contacting the media and UK politicians, for whatever purposes, did not result from their response to police actions or failings but preceded them. The "narrative" is quite clearly, for whatever reason and making all allowances for the situation the parents found themselves in, an invention.

Many hectares of print have been covered with the criticisms and contemptuous insults directed at the Portuguese investigation and the decent and well-meaning officers who participated in that first night's effort. Perhaps, in the light of the policemens' tales it is best to stand back, take a deep breath and consider the simplest and most well-supported explanation of why the police "failed to isolate the crime scene" or immediately "broaden the search".

They didn't do so because none of them, despite their efforts, ever found anything to suggest an abduction had taken place, or was even likely. And almost certainly they were right: there was never any evidence of abduction to find.

The Crucial Day, Part One, 19 September 2009
The Crucial Day, Part One The Cracked Mirror

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The McCanns and members of the Tapas 7 gather outside the apartments, 04 May 2007

At 8.30 on the morning of May 4 a tired Kate and Gerry McCann, together with others of the Tapas group (some remained behind to baby sit), gathered outside the Ocean Club apartments to be taken by car to Portimao for the formal interview and statement-taking process. In contrast to the bedlam in Praia de Luz the previous night the relative calm of Portimao's police headquarters offered a first opportunity for investigators to gain a clear picture of events on the evening of May 3 and find out more about the backgrounds, relationships and movements of the people involved.

Only when they had that information would a police team be in a position to formulate the detailed lines of a criminal inquiry rather than an emergency search exercise. As a PJ officer said, the initial reports from Praia de Luz indicated that "all hypotheses were open," including, in the grim terminology of the police list, "woke and wandered," accident/eventual death/hidden cadaver, bodily injuries resulting in death, negligent or intentional homicide, vengeance, kidnap for eventual ransom, sexual predation, and interrupted intruder.

In any inquiry each investigative possibility requires different management and a different allocation of resources and manpower, most of which has to be brought in from outside. A decision to concentrate on "woke and wandered," for example, which included the chance of the child being seized and assaulted while missing, would require a high concentration of relatively unskilled manpower in the local area combined with intensive forensic work. Suggestions of an act of vengeance or malice, on the other hand, would need a totally different resource allocation, with much less manpower "on the ground" and a concentrated research effort into the actions and whereabouts of possible perpetrators. Accidental or other death at the hands of close associates, such as local employees, the holiday group itself or even the family, would require relatively limited, but very highly qualified, manpower and would need to concentrate on what a head of the PJ described as "pure investigation" – carefully analysing the whereabouts and statements of possible suspects and examining them over and over for conflicts and contradictions – "clues." Lastly, abduction or kidnapping remains by far the most open-ended, intractable and resource-hungry line of enquiry, putting virtually limitless demands on police forces for as long as they can be afforded.

No sensible investigative effort, in any force, could make progress without this initial appraisal of evidence and weighting of possibilities and, even as the McCanns were preparing for their interviews, a police team in the recently established "crisis room" was brainstorming the affair accordingly. The trouble was that in this most extraordinary case they were losing control of planning, and the opportunity for cool analysis, almost before they had begun: control of events, and the determination of the future direction and scale of the investigation, was already slipping - or being taken - from their grasp.

Inspector Goncarlo Amaral, co-ordinator of the case, a man of considerable intelligence as well as instinct, about whom we shall hear more, sensed that something was happening but had no idea quite what it was. He was going over the ground in Praia de Luz while his juniors were conferring and organizing the statements in Portimao when he was taken aback by the sudden arrival at 10AM of the British Consul, present not only to confer but also, rather alarmingly, to express a view about the enquiry.

Amaral, who had apparently not been warned of his imminent arrival, let alone of his familiarity with events, gained the impression that the consul was "dissatisfied" with the police effort. But how could he be dissatisfied? How, in other words, wondered inspector Amaral, had he found out enough facts to make a critical appraisal of police performance?

Particularly in countries such as Spain and Portugal with historical overhangs - semi-fascist or fascist dictatorships in place until only a generation before, followed by a period of fluid and confusing constitutional change - police officers tend to have an instinct for detecting power relationships and the possibility of a "hot potato case" rather more developed that that of, for example, a Salford-based UK CID officer: without such an instinct in that environment, after all, you are unlikely to prosper as a policeman and sometimes you don't even survive in your profession.

Inspector Amaral could "feel" the pressure in the case but couldn't identify it or isolate it, having had virtually no information suggesting that anyone in the group had sought to go outside the investigation, far less that the process was taking place even then, with Gerry McCann making one of a huge number of significant phone calls on his mobile as Amaral was addressing the consul. Had the inspector had any idea of quite what was going on without his knowledge that slightly explosive countenance of his would have taken on an even darker hue.

Gonçalo Amaral

Inspector Amaral enduring a difficult morning

He was soon, unfortunately for his blood pressure, to have to cope with more sharp surprises on both the power and media fronts, the twin towers of the McCann case. While his junior officers, assisted by interpreters, were taking Gerry McCann's Portimao statement the inspector, having shaken free of the troublesome and well-briefed British consul, had then to greet a genuine bigwig, this time the deputy director of the PJ himself, hotfoot from Faro. His presence was yet another indication that the case, less than a day old, was threatening to burst uncontrollably out of its confines.

Inspector Amaral took him to the Ocean Club to keep him quiet, as one does with the Great and the Good - and discovered, to his acute consternation, that it was filling up with a Madeleine McCann media pack, something quite unheard of in the early stages of a Portuguese investigation. Had he known in addition that the British ambassador was arriving in Portimao to assist the holidaymakers on the day of their interrogation then his equilibrium might have suffered even more. As it was the morning was further enriched by calls from Portimao informing him that his officers had agreed to allow the Tapas group to come to headquarters in shifts (so that they could take turns to baby-sit) with the likely consequence of possible contamination of each others' evidence. Amaral, who had already had to digest the unwelcome news that the potential crime scene, apartment 5A, had been trampled by hordes of outsiders before the police arrived and its points of entry disturbed and handled by the McCanns and their friends, found his cup was complete when he was informed that the translation process in the interviews was slowing the interrogation process up so much that all the significant witnesses had "too much time to think" before answering questions. It was not an auspicious beginning.

Gerry McCann gave his statement at eleven fifteen that morning and Kate McCann just after two in the afternoon. The two statements were virtually identical and, in a further confirmation that the officers' fears about contamination were well-grounded, included hearsay descriptions of what other members of the group had been doing, rather than being confined to what they had actually seen for themselves. On the whole their contributions were relatively dry and factual with no mention of forced intrusion. Neither of them had any complaints about police performance in the previous twelve hours, although, of course, as parents of the missing child they were free to say what they wished. It is noteworthy also that in their statements there is no record of any of the supposedly clear but secret evidence of intrusion and abduction, such as the different position of the child's soft toy or the condition of her bed, which Kate McCann in particular - until the opening of the police files - consistently implied had been provided to the police. Nevertheless they maintained that it was clearly an abduction.

Before leaving the police headquarters the couple were taken through their witness secrecy obligations under Portuguese law and made aware, yet again, of the official police view that publicity was likely to endanger their child. The McCanns neither protested nor demurred at these warnings. Late in the evening the process was finally over and they were driven back, with the usual nightmarishly high Portuguese traffic speeds doing nothing to calm their nerves, to arrive in Praia de Luz just before 10 PM. It had been a long and exhausting day.

The parents never gave a satisfactory explanation of Gerry's independent activities, backed by his wife, on May 4, the beginnings of the "parallel investigation." Speaking of the immensely important decision to "bring in" the media Kate McCann seemed completely unaware of the significance and potential of their actions, as though it was a matter of no importance. She said that they had done so because "they didn't know what else to do," following this rather odd reasoning with one of her long Scouse-voiced chain of absurd non-sequiters which interviewers invariably allowed to pass unchallenged until they died away: "The feeling was absolute helplessness," she emoted helplessly, "you're absolutely desperate. I mean, this is our daughter who we love beyond words, and every second is like hours. Nothing can happen quick enough." Gerry at least acknowledged that "The Portuguese police were saying, 'No, no media,'" but like his wife used the "D" word in defence of his breach of the requirement - "but we were desperate at that point."

Gerry's ultimate motivation may never be known. As we have seen he was consistently described by friends and associates in Praia de Luz as a man who favoured action of any sort over reflection, although this seems extremely odd, even incompatible, with a doctor who specialised in cardiac diagnostics: act first and assess later in that field and you end up surrounded by dead bodies. The painstaking analysis of life and death possibilities preceding action that Gerry McCann must have regularly practised in his profession was apparently absent in Praia de Luz.

He later talked of wanting to "act" as a way of overcoming temporary shock and grief, apparently oblivious both to the egotistical implications of his statement and to the obvious argument that in this case the potential risks of independent – and publicity based – action may literally have been a matter of life and death for another person. "If we had stayed indoors," he said later, once again with a somewhat eyebrow-raising emphasis on the "we", which excluded Madeleine, "locked ourselves away and waited, and waited, and waited for a month, we would be shells of the people we are. We are doing everything we can to try to become a family of five again." Whatever one makes of such a view it clearly reflects his unusual certainty that his acts were capable of delivering Madeleine McCann up from her fate, and his refusal to accept even the possibility that her chances lay beyond his influence.

If he ever worried about taking independent action in a criminal case without any knowledge of investigation, or hesitated before taking irrevocable decisions regarding his child, he has not told us. Nor has he ever given any detailed explanation of why the Portuguese police approach – and particularly the cautions against the very initiatives which, as we shall see, he was already taking - was unacceptable to him. The ineffable Clarence Mitchell later said, "Everything we have done from the word go [in terms of the media] has been very carefully considered and thought through." This was clearly not true, something which should hardly surprise us, given its source: the parents do not claim to have spent time on consideration, only desperation, or action for its own sake and there was no time or opportunity for the parents to "think things through" before acting: the eye witnesses, as we have seen, show that Gerry McCann moved from floor-rolling hysteria to compulsive telephone-based action without any interval for assessment and consideration.

And nor did he ever seek to justify, explain or even mention his failure to keep the police fully informed about his independent actions and, particularly, his briefing against them, behind their backs and above their heads, on May 4. It is in this failure, indeed, that the seeds of so much of the bitterness and distrust between the police and the parents lay. Carlos Anjos, the head of the Portuguese CID Officers Association, later spoke for many of them when he accused the parents of creating "a monster of information" which had damaged the case. His strictures then and thereafter were factual but one can sense underneath them an additional element of shock and betrayal at the way the parents had done things as much as what they had done.

As for the latter Anjos was categorical: "We were against this [publicity] from the start. And importantly, we were against the release of Madeleine McCann's photo all over the world. We thought the photos that were released should not show the distinct mark Maddie had in her eye. From our experience in criminal investigations this was a kidnap, which was what we believed...the revealing of such a distinct feature would put that person's life in danger."

Photos with the feature were released by Gerry's relatives on May 4: clearly in his conversations with them he had not seen fit to pass on the police warnings, let alone insist on compliance with them. A forgivable slip, with so much going on in his mind? Quite possibly. But such slips, with incalculable consequences for the fate of his own daughter, – and how many more of them might there be? - were, of course, consequences of his independent initiative and the major argument against it. He was playing with fire, fire which risked consuming someone other than himself.

As for the way, rather than the what, policemen have, as we have said, good instincts. Inspector Amaral knew that morning that conversations must have been taking place with outsiders of which he was ignorant, including, apparently, critical assessments of his own force's operations. The effect on him and his colleagues of the ensuing discovery that the parents were briefing against the force to both the UK government (as Freedom of Information requests have since demonstrated) and to the media, while going through the charade of defending them or letting it be known that they "fully supported" the police – behaviour more typical of tricky politicians with their backs to the wall than crime-victims – can be imagined. The UK media may have been willing to play along with this game which was quite transparent to them, though held back from their readers, but police officers could soon see all too well what was happening.

Perhaps, if life had turned out differently Gerry McCann, once he had secured the future of his family financially and the rough edges had worn away, might have become one of those medical men with a talent for politics, a steady climber through the ranks of a Royal College, for instance, or a smooth and dedicated operator within the Byzantine government of the National Health Service, even, perhaps, an MP. Cometh the hour, cometh the man: it is a pity that his born talents as a politician, as a truly remarkable operator, first emerged in such tragic and potentially explosive circumstances, leaving a residue of profound distrust in those who failed to believe in him, both in Portugal and beyond. And those who underestimated this apparently naive and uncultured Glaswegian were to regret it.

In the last analysis the McCanns' initial behaviour in this regard – mainly Gerry's – remains a mystery, haunted by virtual silence, perhaps silence to himself as much as others. Behind it lie the unfathomable possibilities of darkness and self-doubt, qualities which are anathema to Gerry McCann - doubt in continuing hindsight not about any of their actions on the evening of May 3 but on the possible consequences of what they did afterwards. How could stealing the initiative from the police ever have helped to recover the child in the long run? Whatever its weaknesses it was the only force with the power and resources to find the child, after all. Could the release of the photographs actually have harmed her? Even now the child may be lying dead somewhere because, yes, the attempted police embargo, based on experience and expertise and yet so casually breached by Gerry, was fully justified and a kidnapper rapidly got rid of this overwhelmingly recognisable burden. Where, indeed, did his certainty that he could isolate the weaknesses and improve on an entire country's police force derive from? Lastly, the "failure" of the investigation, the shelving of the case that was met with such satisfaction by the McCanns and their spokesman, but which amounted to an admission that the Portuguese would never find their child – was that really a desirable outcome and had the conflict between the parents and the police contributed to it?

In any case, on May 4, it was Gerry's decision to act, not assess or consider, and Gerry McCann was acting, as we shall see, on a significant scale.

May 4 - The Performance of a Lifetime, 21 September 2009
May 4 - The Performance of a Lifetime The Cracked Mirror

Monday, 21 September 2009

Gerry and Kate McCann, 04 May 2007

The First Statement, May 4

It was just after 10PM when the parents came out and made their statement to the media.

"Words cannot describe the anguish and despair that we are feeling as the parents of our beautiful daughter Madeleine. We request that anyone who may have any information related to Madeleine's disappearance, no matter how trivial, contact the Portuguese police and help us get her back safely. Please, if you have Madeleine, let her come home to her mummy, daddy, brother and sister. As everyone can understand how distressing the current situation is, we ask that our privacy is respected to allow us to continue assisting the police in their current investigation."

This was the first statement, the famous occasion when Gerry McCann realised that the media had appeared "on the doorstep" in force and that he would have to deal with them. As Gerry later recalled, "...[it was] explained to me that either I interact with the media or we would be hounded by the press." And Clarence Mitchell said at a public meeting that "the McCanns were unaware of the media interest until they returned from questioning that day," adding that "a lot of it was done" by friends and relations back in the UK.

Gerry McCann had much more to say about the sight of the assembled media and the problems, as well as the opportunities, it brought but it nearly always started with this astonishment at the appearance of the media pack that he had neither inspired nor expected but that he had, somehow, to react to. As with so much of the case "the narrative" became standardised - how he and Kate, as total beginners facing the frightening crowd of reporters had to decide to interact or run away; how, with the assistance of the Foreign Office media advisors such as Sherie Dodd and communications experts like Alex Woolfall brought in by Mark Warner, they learned how to cope with the insistent demands for interviews and statements and how they finally determined to use the media for their campaign, instead of being used by it, learning the ropes from these experts quickly – and all of it beginning on that Friday evening of May 4.

Addressing a hushed and extremely respectful audience of MPs of the Media & Culture Committee in the House of Commons in early 2009, a sober-suited Gerry McCann said: "The first impressions really started on day one when we came back to Praia da Luz having spent the day in Portimao at the police station. Clearly, there was a huge media presence there already."

Dr McCann did not see fit to speculate on just how the pack had reached Praia de Luz and who had summoned it. Perhaps it had just grown. "My natural instinct," he added, "was to appeal for information, for people to come forward. At that point we were desperate for information and desperate, as we still are, that our daughter could be found and we wanted people to help in that. That is why we spoke to the media and did our appeals."

So much for "the narrative". The MPs lapped it up. A few weeks later – a week is a long time in politics – Gerry & Kate were on the Oprah Winfrey show and they were asked a simple question, one which the MPs, who treated Gerry like a cross between Mahatma Ghandi and Barack Obama, hadn't bothered with.

And so when you came and realised that your daughter was missing and you're in a foreign country at the time you made a decision you know an effort to try to get her picture out to try to err engage the media. Is that true?

It wasn't [sigh] so much a conscious decision after a few hours erm some of our friends were saying that we'd contact the media, contact the media you know at least Portuguese police were saying no, no media, no media and we were desperate at that point...

Quite what the assembled MPs would have made of an answer like that to a direct question we will never know but this was Showbiz now and on the small screen - especially once the "D for Desperate" word is mentioned - almost anything goes. In other words, however, and despite the flannel and the [sigh] Gerry didn't deny contacting the media – or arranging for the media to be contacted - well before they contacted him, and on the night of May 3/4. That was why the media pack was there.

In fact for all the plaudits they later received for their work with the media once their "campaign" got under way, and for all the recollections of people like Alex Woolfall of the planning and news management that they undertook together, nothing that followed was as astonishing as the achievements of Gerry McCann on May 4, before news management began to feature in "the narrative." By the time that he and his stricken wife appeared to make that first brief statement to the media the outside world had already been provided with a version of events - without any of the information being directly attributed to him - which was thereafter virtually unquestioned and unquestionable.
Incredibly, at the time Kate McCann was giving her statement to the police that afternoon, as well as being reminded of the secrecy rules, the media were already carrying the full unsupported and inaccurate McCann version in detail, almost completely displacing any orthodox or neutral reporting of the disappearance. The main lines of the future "narrative" were already there, in print or broadcast report: the "lack of support" for the parents in their hours of need; the "lack of urgency" in the police response; the clear "evidence" of entry by an intruder; the "need" for publicity; the unprompted denial, even at this ridiculously early stage, that the parents had been in any way neglectful or at fault. At ten in the morning, indeed, just an hour before his first interview in Portimao, when he must have had many things on his mind, Gerry McCann was still using his mobile, talking to Patricia Cameron this time, adding details that were to appear in the media within the next few hours.

All the information was "deniable", as though provided by a skilled politician or an experienced PR man not a shocked parent, for not once did Gerry McCann say these things himself directly to the public media: it was all done using the clan and "friends". Nor was he forthcoming to the unsuspecting officers looking for his child about his role in mobilising the media and his conscious breach - or rather explosive destruction - of their no publicity rule. It was not, needless to say, merely about the release of "a picture": by the time the police car carrying the pair pulled into Portimao police headquarters that morning Sky had been well briefed with the parents' story. And so had GMTV. So had BBC1 news. So had BBC 2 Newsnight. So had all the important UK dailies.

Much later, after the police files were released and the completely fictitious nature of the "jemmied shutters" claims was exposed, attempts were made by defenders of the pair to claim that all this was simple confusion – the parents, they said, had never made any such claims, it was shocked and anxious relatives who had seized on agitated early news from the pair, including misunderstandings, and had then passed on minor inaccuracies when contacted by the media.

The explanation is untenable; it is untrue. The evidence clearly shows that Gerry McCann, far from passing on to his circle only chaotic first impressions or mistaken interpretations of what had happened immediately after the disappearance, quite clearly hammered home certain key information for many hours after the disappearance which he intended them to pass on to the media. Madeleine's uncle, Michael Wright, made this quite clear on the same day. Speaking from the grandparents' home in Liverpool, after pointing out that they were in "a hell of a state," he said, "Everyone has been up all night. I spoke to Gerry and he wants as much publicity as possible if it helps." And there is a repetition again and again of certain "facts" and themes from different people which cannot have been the chance result of misunderstandings: as is well known in information theory when a number of independent sources carry the same data then it derives from a common source.
The circle of friends and relatives provided the deniability. This same circle – mostly part of the Glasgow/Liverpool clan of which we have spoken before, with its intense, almost atavistic clan loyalty and solidarity against the outside world — also provided the mainstay of indirect and deniable information from the parents over the coming months, although with the later formalization of the "campaign" and the growing influence of the media professionals like Woolfall, Dodds, McGuinness and Mitchell their contributions became a good deal more measured and disciplined.

At no time early on – not once - did any of them report Gerry McCann as asking them not to repeat his comments to the public, or that he and they were bound by confidentiality. Nor is there any mention by them of Gerry, later in the day, telling them that the forced-entry and other information he had given them had now been found to be incorrect. Quite the contrary.

Tellingly, exactly the same techniques were used by the same clan members at the only other period of critical pressure during the McCanns' long Portuguese stay after May 4, when the professional media advisors were silent, disengaged or in disarray. When the pair were made arguido and questioned by the police about their possible role in the child's disappearance the same charade of "silence" from the parents was maintained while versions of what had happened to them - extremely anti-police and including the fictional stories of suggested plea bargains - were provided for the world media after being passed on in phone calls intended for publicisation. The technique was identical and identifiable. No, the evidence is unarguable that, just as at arguido time, Gerry McCann knowingly used the clan as conduits for a version of events, as well as an appeal for help in finding a missing child.

Of course any family would want to help one of their own in distress. And the willingness of the tight-knit clan to help mobilise the media wasn't wrong, or a conspiracy to hide the truth - that much is obvious. Nevertheless, just as relations between the police and parents were permanently soured when the PJ discovered that Gerry McCann was briefing against them via others, so the way in which a number of the McCanns' relatives threw themselves into the spin game of deniability and non-attribution, of the dishonest language of the "close source" and the "family friend", and all the other techniques of news control exacted a distant penalty. Those who looked closely at what was coming out from "the McCann Team" asked themselves why these methods were being used from May 4 onwards.
The saccharine tributes paid to the pair for their eventual "mastery" of the press could not conceal, after all, that news management, as practised in politics and public relations, is essentially about withholding and distorting news and arranging misinformation: that is its function, that's what the friendly word "spin" means. How was it that a decision to bring public awareness of a missing child to the world on May 4, before the engagement of experts or government advisors - to throw light onto darkness - slipped so seamlessly into a machine for spinning, disguising and limiting information? Why? What was the gain? The case papers show that there was very little confidential information about the circumstances of the disappearance to be withheld from possible miscreants, surprisingly little in fact, despite what Kate McCann implied until those papers were opened to public view, so what other reasons could there be?
This is the question that has surrounded the case since the beginning and it is impossible to avoid concluding that had the parents handled the media without assistance and in a frank - or, like the Tapas 7, a silent - manner they would have gained immeasurably. Yes, their campaign was "brilliant" to the deformed and morally crippled judgement of the "Crisis Management" and presentation industry, and it raised millions, but at what a terrible cost! The seeds of the rumours about them, the mad theories on the internet, that they had done away with the child, that it was a pre-meditated act, that the child wasn't even alive on May 3, all that revolting fantasy had its beginning in that question - why? Why weren't they frank and open?

The clan can't be criticised for coming to the aid, as they saw it, of their own and then being born along on a wave of public hysteria and the excitement of being at the centre of an enormous drama, and they were used by others as much as they used. But if only the Sherie Dodds and other government media experts had been sent to advise the family instead of the parents - especially in the virtues of restraint and silence! But that isn't the way the world goes round.

In the publicity blitz of May 4 a pattern emerges, an understandable pattern but nevertheless a disturbing one: not only are a limited number of particular themes present, such as the unjustified certainty of an abduction as well as "colour" items to make the story more dramatic and gripping, but there is a startling contrast between the inaccuracies and vagueness surrounding the disappearance itself, such as the "jemmying" material, and the perfectly detailed and quite un-vague nature of those matters which could be described as being in the parents' defence. There is no mention in the parents' description of their motives for seeking publicity of covering apparent, but never made explicit, vulnerabilities. But that is what happened. Why?

The London evening Standard's story can be taken as a typical example of the processes in action on May 4. As in almost all the numerous reports that day the relatively factual and neutral statements of Mark Warner administrative staff members like Sylvia Baptista, or John Hill the resort manager, were swamped by the much more dramatic feeds from Gerry via the clan and "friends".

Sylvia Baptista told The Standard (not by any means a tabloid paper): "Everyone in this small village has been looking for her. There's only about 500 people living here, and all the village has been searched. There have been police using dogs and all the staff have been trying to find her. I understand the police are searching the rest of the Algarve and checking airports, and checks have also been made in Spain." She added: "We don't know if the child opened the window and walked out or if someone else came in."

But preceding this relatively accurate and unbiased quote The Standard reported the completely false statement that "A rear window of the ground-floor apartment had been partly opened and the shutters appeared to have been lifted. One report suggested they had been broken." It added, significantly, "Fingerprints were taken from a window sill outside her room."

This laziness - or misdirection - with the facts of the disappearance of the child was in stubborn contrast to the way the much less important matter of the parents' activities was reported. "The McCanns," said the story, "were eating at a tapas restaurant in the Mark Warner Ocean Club complex but had been checking on their children every 30 minutes. The restaurant is within sight of their apartment." No vagueness there, no possible "misunderstandings" by relatives of "early panicky comments" by Gerry. Dead on.

After this a "family friend" whom we have heard from before provided the necessary blast of colour: "Jill Renwick, from Glasgow, told the The Standard: "Maddy is gorgeous. She has white blonde hair. She is active and chatty and intelligent, not shy. She is four next week and starts school this year." Miss Renwick added the dramatic but thoroughly untrue detail that "Kate and Gerald are rushing about looking for her."

And then the abduction story, which we heard from M/S Renwick before, was delivered, together with another reminder of how careful and responsible the McCanns were: "Mrs Renwick said she feared Madeleine had been abducted: "The shutters had been broken open and they [sic] had gone into the room and taken Madeleine." That showed, shall we say, a certain unfamiliarity with the facts but, when she reverted to the parents' conduct, M/S Renwick was much more well-informed and careful. "They were watching the hotel room and going back every half-hour. The parents went out about eight, went back in at nine the [children] were fine went back in at 10 and she was gone."
Once again, spot on.
Perhaps M/S Renwick's next comment was her own - or perhaps not. "She said," The Standard continues, "the McCanns had chosen the resort because it was family friendly. [Untrue; the resort was not, as we have seen, chosen by the McCanns but by David Payne] This is the first time they have done this,” she added [untrue; it was not the first time they had done this] They are very, very anxious parents and very careful," she said. [As we have seen earlier, in Praia de Luz the parents had in practice been neither very anxious nor very careful].

And then The Standard had this: "Michael Healy [this was Michael Wright], the missing girl's uncle, added: "There has been some negative spin put on this, with people criticising them for leaving the kids and going on the tear." Mr Healy added, "But it's nonsense, they were close by and were eating within sight of where the children were and checking on them. Other members of the group were checking on her as well. No one was rip-roaring drunk."

How have news reports about a disappearance, or "desperate efforts to get publicity for Madeleine" led to this? How have Kate's dying-fall mutterings to Oprah Whinney about involving the media because of "...absolute helplessness,absolutely desperate. I mean, this is our daughter who we love beyond words, and every second is like hours..." led to this mutation to a pre-emptive defence of themselves? How has "the natural appeal for information" that Gerry McCann described to members of Parliament morphed into denying that they were drunk?
"Negative spin" and "criticism." How could there be any spin or criticism of the parents by Friday afternoon when these were the very people telling the world what had happened the previous night for the first time and when the pair hadn't even given their statements to the police?

The report had, in embryo, all the marks of Gerry McCann's instinctive and inspired skills as an operator, establishing matters which appeared in the media from then on as fact: physical evidence of forced intrusion, [untrue] the "fact" of abduction, [no evidence] character reference for their parenting qualities,[gratuitous and in this context not accurate] pre-emptive defence of their conduct and child supervision on May 3 [unsubstantiated spin]. All without a single direct quote from Gerry McCann.
Faced with this irresistable stream of spin, colour and melodrama deriving from the horse's mouth and in which facts were by no means getting in the way of a great story, John Hill, the modest and level-headed Ocean Club manager had as much chance of getting his version of events into prominence as a gnat on the wall of apartment 5A. Though he was the man on the spot and had more much more reliable information about the night of May 3, the police effort and the state of the apartments than either of the McCanns, as well as being a neutral witness, his words were slowly drowned to death by the Gerry McCann version.

"It's still questionable as to whether it's an abduction," said Mr Hill correctly, in other reports that day, but his view was usually low down near the bottom of the page, after the inspired clan productions. "There was no physical evidence as yet that the girl had been abducted," he said, but he could have been speaking to an empty room or or addressing the breakers on the beach at Praia de Luz., for all the impact his words had. "The staff at the Ocean Club were still hoping to find her nearby," he added mutedly.

Poor Mr Hill. Nobody wanted to hear this stuff, not when the other story, complete with wonderful details of Madeleine's angelic appearance and bubbly personality neatly clothing the defence of the parents, was so readily available. Indeed another Healy clan member, Brian, the aged, credulous and malleable father of Kate McCann immediately rubbished Mr Hill's claim that there was "no sign of a break-in" that day in the UK Guardian, a newspaper with a famous reputation for sober reporting and accuracy. Mr Healy, said that his son-in-law had given him "the facts" on the phone. In a bravura performance in which every "fact" except Gerry's name was untrue he told the Guardian, "Gerry told me when they went back the shutters to the room were broken, they were jemmied up and she was gone. She'd been taken from the chalet. The door was open." Fate was stacking up against The Version According To John Hill.
There was one more element to put into the "narrative" that day before it was complete and fully formed – the supposed inadequacy of the police effort. Mr Hill – and with our knowledge that Mark Woolfall, brought in by Mark Warner to manage the media was already approaching Praia de Luz we can perhaps see the clouds gathering over this lonely witness of reason – ventured to the press that the police had done a fine job, deserved no criticism – where could any criticism have come from at this early stage? - and had been "tremendous". Really? Remember the mobile phone in Gerry's hand at ten that morning in Portimao while he waited to be called in to give his sober statement? He was then about to ring Patricia Cameron for the second time.

"It was frustrating for him because between 5am and 7am the police seemed to do nothing, they were standing about," she told the BBC, dutifully repeating what Gerry had told her in that call, "we [who was we?] feel that what's been going on in Portugal has been ineffectual." Well done Trish. And to back it up the ever-helpful Jill Renwick (again!) also contacted the BBC later. Ms Renwick made no bones about it: the McCanns, she said, felt let down by the Portuguese police.

Almost the last, sad, moment of Mr Hill's fifteen minutes of fame before this lonely provider of objectivity fell silent was his confident assertion that day that the windows to the apartment had not been forced open and that as far as intruders were concerned the apartments featured some "highly professional" locks. This was no way to fit into the scheme of things and soon afterwards Mr. Hill's authority to make statements on the case – statements that in almost every instance were accurate - was abruptly curtailed by his employers and by Gerry McCann's mentor Mark Woolfall: with that his claims began to disappear from the prints and John Hill was history.

Mr Woolfall was given a handsome tribute by Gerry speaking to the House of Commons committee. "Right at the very beginning," he said, "Mark Warner had a media specialist, a crisis management specialist from Bell Pottinger called Alex Wilful, [sic] who was incredibly helpful to us and, in those early days, gave us quite simple guidance which we found particularly helpful. It was very much along the lines of: what are your objectives? What are you hoping to achieve by speaking to the media? Be very clear about what you want."

Gerry McCann, added that his advice "was very, very good because there is an element that they are there on your doorstep" (the doorstep again!) before giving further handsome credit to others: "The government sent out a media adviser who had expertise in campaign management, Cherie Dodd, who previously worked at the DTI and started talking about planning for us, how we could utilise the media in terms of achieving objectives."

And of course – how could one forget? – "Subsequently Clarence came out. That was very important, one, to assist us in trying to get information to help find our missing daughter and, secondly, in protecting us from the media because the demands were unbelievable."

Volumes had been written about how these figures helped the parents by the time Gerry McCann entered the House of Commons committee rooms with his papers and briefcase, accompanied by the undertaker-like figure of Clarence Mitchell. It suited everyone involved, for different reasons, to agree with this portrait of a tyro thrust into the limelight, facing up to the media mob on "the doorstep", gathering himself to make his brief statement before retreating to start learning the media game at the hands of his masters.

Gerry McCann was far too modest. Alex Woolfall described the parents as giving [from May 4 onwards] "no indication that they thought she had been snatched...their early assumption was that she had wandered off and had an accident or been taken in by a well-meaning stranger" (!) This says almost as much about him as it says about them - but Smart Alex is impervious to these ironies and Gerry is clearly happy for Mr Woolfall to retain his own beliefs as to who was really running whom. In reality Woolfall had almost nothing to teach Gerry: he was a natural. Before these experts had said a word to him, in just under twenty-four hours of unassisted and frenzied activity he had put out a version of events that seduced people into its soap-opera mendacity and beside which other narratives stood no chance.
Particularly, it must be said, the police version.
Even as the pair looked down on the struggling media mob below them, their incarnation as celebrities, not victims, taking place before the eyes of the world, the poorly paid, shirt-sleeved members of the PJ, some of them dead-tired after a fifteen hour day, were in their cigarette smoke-filled crisis room, struggling to put this scattered jigsaw of a case together and locate a missing child. They couldn't make it fit, as one of the troubled detectives, in confidence, told a journalist on the Diario de Noticias, they just couldn't see it as an abduction. None of it added up.
Months later, when the gloves were off all round and the parents had been made arguidos, the words of the bemused officer were used as the sole basis of a story fed to an influential English newspaper by "Team McCann."

"A propaganda campaign against Kate and Gerry McCann started within 24 hours of Madeleine vanishing," the report stated. "While the police were secretly spinning their doubts about the McCanns to the media," [ the one comment to the JDN on May 4, nothing else ] "the couple were faithfully obeying Portugal's strict laws preventing them from speaking about the investigation."

History is written by the winners. Gerry McCann's achievement on May 4 had been a staggering one.

With thanks to Nigel at McCann Files


Site Policy Sitemap

Contact details

Website created by Pamalam