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How could the PM say no to Maddie search?

Original Source: NEWS & STAR: 17 MAY 2011
Anne Pickles Last updated at 13:05, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The haunted, tortured expression on Kate McCann’s face has never altered in the four long years since her Madeleine disappeared.

It’s an expression that gives no hint of hope, one that offers no suggestion of mourning. It is the face of a woman incomplete. It’s the empty, desperate, silently screaming look of a tormented mother torn from her baby.

Four years. Such a very long time of cruel separation. Any period of enforced distancing from their young children can feel interminable to loving parents. But Kate and Gerry McCann have specific reasons for feeling the pain of loss so keenly. They have no idea – beyond the horror they imagine – what has happened to their little girl.

Kate McCann wears her suffering like a death mask. On it is painted guilt, terror, the chronically anguishing imaginings of her Maddie’s fate. And deep, deep loss.

The McCanns have never abandoned their belief that one day Maddie will be home with them again. They can’t allow themselves to lose that. It sustains them, facilitates their breathing, their ability to be parents to their six-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.

And now their continued pleadings have persuaded David Cameron to agree to have Scotland Yard take a fresh look at the evidence in the case of missing Madeleine McCann.

The move comes after Kate and Gerry made an impassioned appeal for the Prime Minister to help them revive the search for their daughter, who vanished in Portugal in 2007, shortly before her fourth birthday.

Mr Cameron sent a letter to the McCanns promising action.

“Your ordeal is every parent’s worst nightmare and my heart goes out to you both,” he wrote. “I simply cannot imagine the pain you must have experienced over these four agonising years, and the strength and determination you have both shown throughout is remarkable.

“That you have been so courageous over all this time, and have not given up, speaks volumes.”

Remarkable is the least they have been. Their survival of an unimaginable ordeal defies all known vocabulary. How could the PM have dismissed their cries for help or turned his back on their unashamed pleadings? How could anyone?

There, of course is the rub. Though Scotland Yard’s involvement in the revived search for little Maddie McCann must surely be a step in the right direction, an improvement on what has gone before, it can’t really be expected to bring Maddie’s abductors to justice and return her to her family.

The harsh truth is that, after all this time, it’s unlikely there’ll be a dramatic breakthrough anytime soon. But even so, who in all conscience could close the book on little Maddie?

The McCanns have been to hell and back several times since that fateful family holiday in Portugal. It had started with so much happiness and without a care in the world. Then everything changed.

Kate and Gerry left their children in bed, asleep, alone and unsupervised in their holiday apartment, while they dined out at a nearby tapas restaurant with friends.

They took turns to check on the kids every half hour. It should have been enough. It’s the kind of risk most parents have taken at some time – having a quiet drink in the garden as the children sleep upstairs. It happens. Most often without event.

But for Kate and Gerry McCann the events that followed were unspeakably awful and have grown more grindingly unbearable with every passing day.

They have had to suffer criticism, outrage, scorn, disbelief and worse since their daughter went missing – believed carried away by a kidnapper in the night.

At more than one point in the past four years, I have been among those convinced they had invited trouble by leaving the children without a babysitter and that the hysteria, the bitter criticism of Portuguese police which followed, had been a reaction to their guilt.

It still seems true to me that children left alone – particularly in a foreign tourist resort – are at unacceptably high risk. It still seems etched on Kate McCann’s now permanently pained face that she believes that to be true too.

The 43-year-old GP says she wakes every morning thinking this might be the day her daughter is found. She must have more “if only I’d done things differently” moments than she can count, through all the waking moments of her anguished days.

But behind the haunted expression on that facial mask which holds everything together, there is still a reluctance to allow personal guilt to override the more urgent business of finding Madeleine.

Life throws up all kinds of hard lessons, very many tough and agonising traps into which we could fall at any time.

If we are very lucky we learn from other people’s mistakes. If we are less fortunate we have to learn from our own. Lost causes learn nothing at all.

Kate and Gerry McCann have been the tragic unfortunates to teach parents everywhere that their children need every last moment of attention, every ounce of cosseting love and round-the-clock, inconvenient care.

They learned just minutes too late that the tiniest of risks can have the most awful consequences – the kind that live on and on.

Now they need all the help that can be raised to drag these poor people back into the land of the living from their personal hell.

It’s bad enough that any parents should survive their child. But that parents should have to live through long, empty, aching years never knowing whether their child is dead or alive, happy without them or abused and terrified, is too agonising to contemplate.

And that, I guess, is why when they came to him for help, David Cameron – without any balking from his adversaries across the Commons – simply couldn’t say no to a tortured mum and dad fighting tooth and nail for the return of their missing baby.

Not a single soul could have done any different.

First published at 11:26, Tuesday, 17 May 2011
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