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I have a terrible nagging doubt the McCanns might be involved'

HOMEPAGE NEWS REPORTS INDEX STEEL MAGNOLIA-08-09-2010 NEWS SEPTEMBER 2010
Original Source: Mail on line: 08 September 2007
By DAVID JONES
Last updated at 00:36 08 September 2007
 

 
Almost four months have passed since I first began to investigate the harrowing case of a beautiful little girl who appeared to have vanished into thin air, shortly after being tucked up in bed by her parents on holiday in Portugal.

Like a great many people in Britain, and millions more around the world, I have since become fascinated, almost to the point of obsession, with the Madeleine McCann mystery.

I have travelled repeatedly to the Algarve to interview potential witnesses and suspects; retraced the abductor's possible escape routes and explored all manner of theories.

And I end most days by reading the strangely breezy and matter-of-fact web-log kept by Madeleine's surgeon father, Gerry.

My curiosity has been heightened at least partly because those haunting last photographs of a beautiful, carefree child playing in the sunshine resemble so many treasured pictures in my own family album.

As a father of four, I can also identify with the dilemma that apparently confronted Gerry and Kate McCann on that fateful May evening in Praia da Luz. How do you enjoy an evening out with friends on holiday, and keep your toddler safe?

Yet something else has kept me utterly absorbed in Madeleine's case, and it is certainly not the McCanns' moth-to-a-flame courtship of the media (their latest interview, with Paris Match, is due to be published imminently).

United front: Kate and Gerry McCann have never hesitated to face the cameras together

Nor is it the initially well-meaning, but now ill-advisedly slick publicity campaign being masterminded by failed Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate and party activist Justine McGuinness - a freelance PR who recently had to be dissuaded from arranging a photocall for Kate McCann at a Portuguese orphanage.

No, something far more disconcerting has kept me rapt with the Madeleine story.

From the earliest days, a disturbing thought has nagged away at the back of my mind. Suppose her parents were somehow culpable?

Until yesterday, this was such a terrible notion as to be almost unspeakable, even within the confines of my own four walls, where my wife steadfastly refuses to countenance the possibility the McCanns could be anything other than the blameless, heartbroken parents they present themselves to be.

Malicious gossips apart, everyone appears to agree with my wife. Even to raise the possibility that there might just be more to the McCanns is to risk being pilloried. It places one in the camp of internet ghouls, xenophobic, badly-informed Portuguese newspapers and mendacious detectives.

In the final analysis, of course, my sneaking fear that they might be involved in her disappearance could turn out to be completely unfounded. It might well be proved that Madeleine was snatched from her bed - by some despicable paedophile or a desperate childless couple - as everyone surmised from the outset.

Alternatively, though even less likely, she might have woken up alone and, bewildered that her parents weren't there in the strange apartment, panicked and wandered off to search for them.

Stretching one's imagination, she might conceivably have fallen into the nearby roadwork trenches - filled a few days later - or even wandered more than half a mile through the darkness, into the sea.

However, yesterday's bombshell news that Kate McCann has formally been made an "arguida" - a formal suspect - means we can no longer take their innocence as an absolute, cast-iron certainty, how ever unpalatable that might be.

Last night, Gerry was still being questioned by the Portuguese police, and might also be named as a suspect.

My own gnawing doubts about the conventional theories began on my first visit to Portugal. I am a reporter, not a detective, but some things just didn't seem right.

First, there was the resort itself. Expecting to find a bustling town where it would be easy for a childsnatcher to mingle with the crowd while watching his target, and make off without arousing suspicion, I found instead an almost deserted, out-of-season place. A risky setting for a kidnap, however well-planned.

Then there was the McCanns' apartment. Although it stood at least 75 yards from the tapas bar where the family's party dined, and was completely obscured by a high wall topped with bougainvillea, its location would have presented considerable problems to a would-be abductor.

Family photo: The couple released a photo of Madeleine snapped by the pool on the day she went missing

The sliding window at the rear faces an alley used as a main thoroughfare for those staying in the apartment blocks, while the front door and windows open on to a frequently used car-park, beyond which runs a well-lit main road.

How on Earth, I have often wondered, did someone walk in, gather Madeleine up in his arms and make off with her without being seen, or waking her twin brother and sister sleeping either side of her? And surely the little girl must have stirred. The neighbouring apartments were occupied. Why was nothing heard or seen?

All this is a matter of speculation, of course, as are the other anomalies too numerous to mention which make me sceptical that this was the work of a predatory paedophile - the most commonly-held theory.

However, in the early days of the investigation, I interviewed Robert Murat, the 33-year-old Portuguese-born Englishman who was, until yesterday, the only suspect. I remain one of only a handful of journalists to have spoken to him at length.

The police took an interest in Murat, you'll recall, only after a reporter felt there was something suspicious about him and told them of her concern.

Murat: Quickly offered help as an interpreter

With his glass eye, vaguely uneasy manner and injudicious outbursts of self pity (he has compared his own suffering to that of the McCanns) it is easy to see why this self-employed "property developer" has been singled out.

The more so because his mother's house stands 75 yards from the apartment, and, with echoes of Soham murderer Ian Huntley, Murat was on the scene very quickly to offer help as a police interpreter.

One cannot gauge a man's guilt or innocence during a two-hour conversation, as I readily accept.

I believe it is sufficient to form an impression of his character, however, and during my afternoon alone with the chain-smoking Robert Murat, nothing led me to believe that he might be capable of kidnapping a child.

On the contrary, I came away convinced that he will eventually be proved a seriously-maligned scapegoat, as he has always protested.

Whatever the eventual outcome, the Portuguese police were foolhardy in the extreme to focus their attention so narrowly on one man.

And, whether we like it or not, the possible involvement of Kate and Gerry McCann should have been rigorously investigated at the very beginning of the inquiry - as it would have been in Britain, where routine procedure dictates that those closest to the victim are scrutinised and eliminated first.

Now, very belatedly, the spotlight has been turned on them.

If we believe sources quoted in the Portuguese press, the reasons for this sudden change of tack - just as the McCanns were preparing to return to Leicestershire - are disturbingly plausible.

Apparently, detectives started to consider the possibility that Madeleine might have been killed by her parents - albeit inadvertently - after comparing the case with that of a missing Portuguese eight-year-old girl named Joana Cipriano, whose mother was convicted of her murder.

For the watching world, of course, the prospect that there are similarities between the fate of Madeleine and Joana will beggar belief.

Clutching Madeleine's beloved toy Cuddle Cat to her bosom wherever she goes, and so visibly laden down by grief that her fragile body seems ready to buckle under the strain, Kate McCann has become a haunting symbol for despairing mothers everywhere.

Her husband, by contrast, strides purposefully between meetings with senior politicians and religious leaders. Zealously banging the drum for missing children, his pugilistic Glaswegian chin juts defiantly towards anyone who dares to question him, or his motives.

And then there is the relentless publicity blitz.

Originally devised and orchestrated by relatives and friends, with the simple aim of keeping Madeleine's impossibly-cute face uppermost in people's thoughts, it has - to the distaste of many - taken on a life of its own, becoming the focus of an ill-defined global mission.

Madeleine poster

Fronting the campaign: Kate McCann - and with her husband Gerry (below) did all they could to keep Madeleine's face in people's thoughts

At times, it seems that the goal of finding Madeleine safe and well is being lost amid the PR hoopla.

But whatever we might think of the Find Madeleine campaign, surely all this can't be a fake? Surely a couple who have placed themselves under the microscope - and in so doing turned their daughter's disappearance into the most high-profile child abduction case in history - won't emerge as callous frauds?

In the coming hours, after Gerry McCann has completed the same, grim grilling to which Kate was earlier subjected in the Portimao police station, we might be a little nearer to knowing the answer.

For all my scepticism, I pray that the Portuguese police are - once again - careering down the wrong track.

Because if, by some dark twist, it transpires that Kate and Gerry McCann have really known all along what happened to Madeleine - that they were responsible and staged the most elaborate imaginable cover-up - the consequences would be harmful almost beyond measure.

Such an incredible outcome would forever destroy the inherent faith we place in outwardly decent, caring parents such as the McCanns, and with it our very trust in the goodness of human nature.

It would make cynics of us all - and that would be as sad, in its way, as losing little Madeleine.
 

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-480628/I-terrible-nagging-doubt-McCanns-involved.html  

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