Madeleine has still not been found four years after she
disappeared in the Algarve
Tiptoeing into her holiday apartment to check on her three sleeping
children, a young mother immediately senses something isn't quite right.
Strangely, the bedroom door, which she had left only slightly ajar after
reading them stories and kissing them goodnight, is now wide open.
And when she tries to return it to its original position it suddenly
slams shut ' seemingly blown by a draught from the window, whose wooden
shutters, she knew, had been tightly closed.
With a mother's thoughtfulness, she resists the urge to turn on the
light for fear of waking her children: two-year-old twins and a
beautiful pixie of a daughter who will celebrate her fourth birthday in
nine days' time. Instead she peers through the darkness, trying to
discern them slumbering beneath the covers.
For a few seconds time seems to freeze. And then, realising the oldest
girl's bed is empty, her heart lurches, and she dashes frantically
around the apartment, checking every cupboard and wardrobe.
Told for the first time in harrowing, moment-by-moment detail, this is
Kate McCann's first-hand account of how she discovered that her
daughter, Madeleine, had been snatched away from her.
In her 384-page memoir, serialised in The Sunday Times, which is sure to
top the best-sellers list when it is published this Thursday ' Madeleine's eighth birthday
' Kate describes the maelstrom of emotions
that overcame her ('nausea, terror, disbelief, fear, icy fear, dear God,
no') as she was confronted with every parent's ultimate nightmare.
The personally-penned book, which took her nine months to complete, and
was written both as a catharsis and to fund the campaign to find
Madeleine, answers many of the questions which have helped make this the
most perplexing and darkly compelling missing child case of modern
Former GP Kate, now 43, reveals how losing their daughter drove her to
the brink of suicide and came close to breaking up her marriage to
cardiologist Gerry McCann.
and Gerry McCann, whose daughter Madeleine went missing four
Distressed by the vicious and highly personal vendetta against them '
which continues to poison the internet ' she also explains why the
couple have sometimes tested public sympathy with their apparently aloof
and unemotional demeanour.
It wasn't indifference, as some cruelly interpreted, but shock, she
said. 'It's quite frightening when I see myself in those early days. To
me I look incredibly fragile and confused and lost.
'When I look back at the appeal I did to the abductor, I look as though
I'm not connecting. That day, I remember we were concerned we weren't
crying. We felt detached from it all and because of that we were
worried; would the appeal be so effective''
Privately, she says, she was ' and sometimes still is ' 'consumed' by
overwhelming guilt and anguish.
By day, she would replay hideous images of Madeleine's broken body
'lying cold and mottled on a big, grey stone slab'; or in the hands of
some twisted sex fiend.
'The idea of some monster like this, touching my daughter, stroking her,
defiling her perfect little body, just killed me over and over again,'
The Ocean Club in Praia da Luz, Portugal, from where Madeleine
McCann went missing in May 2007
It didn't make any difference that this might not be the explanation for
Madeleine's abduction (and please God it isn't). The fact that it was a
possibility was enough to prevent me from shutting it out.'
An entry from her diary during those early days reads: 'Crying in bed
again. The thought of Madeleine's fear and pain tears me apart. The
thought of paedophiles makes me want to rip my skin off.'
At night, her torment comes by way of vividly lifelike recurring dreams.
Kate has three, and they are broadly the same. Madeleine is still alive,
and so tangible her mother can 'smell her, feel her snuggling into me,
like she always did'.
Then she wakes up, and the daughter she and Gerry strove so hard to
conceive after months of IVF treatment is no longer in her arms. It is
as if she has been ripped away from her all over again.
Though her 42-year-old husband was able to resume a semblance of
normality much sooner than his wife, his outwardly tough exterior is
deceptive, she suggests.
'Making the McCanns official suspects was inexcusable'
One day, watching his daughter's favourite Dr Who episode with the
twins, she found him silently dissolving into tears.
Reading Kate's haunting account, it is impossible to feel anything but
the deepest empathy. In all but the sickest of minds, it will dispel any
scintilla of doubt about their involvement in Madeleine's disappearance.
Having started investigating the case soon after she vanished from that
ground-floor flat in Praia da Luz, on May 3, 2007, and ' to my lasting
regret ' voicing early suspicions that they might be somehow implicated,
I just wish the McCanns had felt able to show this very human face much
Drawn from Kate's diaries, it is the little details and 'what if's that
make it so heart-rendingly human; and so authentic that even the most
cynical Portuguese detective will surely no longer doubt its veracity.
Fate began to take its course on New Year's Day, 2007, when their
friends Fiona and David Payne said they were planning a week's break at
a resort on the Algarve, with two other families, and invited them
Four months later, on Saturday, April 28, the McCanns boarded a
Portugal-bound plane, and despite tripping on the aircraft steps and
cutting her shin, Madeleine was filled with excitement.
Arriving in the chilly, half-deserted out-of-season resort, she pleaded
with her mother to join her in the freezing pool, and Kate, who dislikes
the cold, simply couldn't refuse.
With a veranda overlooking the resort's garden and tennis courts, the
apartment was not only 'lovely' but seemed perfectly secure.
British police later told the couple that its location, on the
ground-floor corner of a five-storey block accessible from both the
front and side, and partly hidden by trees, made it an ideal target for
a child abductor.
However, it was only 18 months later, when the Portuguese authorities
formally shelved the inquiry and opened the case file, that Kate and
Gerry discovered the chilling gamble they had unwittingly taken by
holidaying in such a vulnerable location on the Algarve.
Logged in the papers were five reports where British parents had
complained that their children had been sexually molested in their beds
as they slept and three more where the intruder had been disturbed
before he could assault his would-be victims ' again, young Britons on
Not one of these cases had been mentioned to the McCanns, and Kate says
there was 'a familiar thread' ' that none appeared to have been taken
seriously, either by the Portuguese police or the tour operators
Of course, this raises extremely serious questions. Was a serial child
predator on the loose at the time, and was this covered up for fear of
damaging the tourist industry'
If so, this makes the police's determination to focus their inquiries on
the McCanns, and make them official suspects, even more inexcusable. The
pattern for the holiday was set on their first day. Most mornings and
afternoons, the children joined in activities at the toddler and mini
clubs whilst the adults sunbathed or played tennis.
'Her final few minutes with Madeleine are forever etched in her
But they were all together for a couple of hours at lunch and tea-time,
and Kate and Gerry would have fun with Madeleine and the twins in the
play area before putting them to bed.
As the resort complex's main restaurant was located about half a mile
away, the nine adults in the group decided to dine together every night
at the poolside tapas bar, just 30 to 45 seconds' walk from the
It meant they could easily take turns to nip back to check on the
children every half an hour, and wouldn't need to disturb their sleep
patterns by taking them out late, or rely on strangers to babysit them.
It was only later, again whilst combing through the police files, that
Kate discovered an unintended, though glaring flaw, that could have left
the children exposed.
Since the tapas bar had only 15 places, the group had block-booked their
reservation for the week. But this request was written in a staff
message book left on the reception desk beside the pool.
'This book was by definition accessible to staff, and albeit
unintentionally, probably to guests and visitors, too. To my horror I
saw that, no doubt in all innocence, the receptionist had added that we
wanted to be close to our apartments as we were leaving our children
alone there and checking on them intermittently.'
Her final few minutes with Madeleine are forever etched in her memory.
Madeleine, in her Marks & Spencer Eeyore pyjamas, nuzzling her toy
Cuddle Cat beneath a 'princess' blanket ... Madeleine asking, and being
permitted, to wear her mother's engagement ring for a few moments before
she settled down to sleep.
Was the kidnapper already hiding in the apartment when, having ordered
dinner, Gerry returned to make the first check, at 9.05pm' It now seems
appallingly possible, for the door to the children's bedroom was open
much wider than they had left it.
Glancing into the room, however, their father was reassured. Madeleine
was lying on her side, exactly as they had left her.
'He paused for a couple of seconds to look at her and thought to
himself, she's so beautiful,' recalls Kate.
Then he pulled the door back to its original position and, after using
the bathroom, he returned to the dinner party.If only his suspicions had
been aroused by the open door and he had scoured the apartment. If only
they had followed their hearts and stayed in that night.
If only ... if only. Doubtless this poor, wretched couple will forever
torture themselves with the what-might-have-been.
One only hopes the many questions raised in Kate's book will prick the
conscience of the Portuguese authorities and prompt them to review the
woeful police investigation.
I hope that the royalties from it will keep the McCanns' private
investigators in business long enough to turn up a crucial lead.
And I hope, though not with too much expectation, that it will finally
silence those internet ghouls who seek to exacerbate their agony by
casting blame and making vicious attacks on their character.
The McCanns were just two decent, loving parents enjoying a family
holiday ' and, after reading Kate in her own, excruciatingly raw words,
I am certainly sorry that I ever thought otherwise.