Georges Moréas, honorary Principal Commissioner of the (French) National Police.
Moréas blog 25/10/10
The Maddie Case: police officer regains his right to free speech.
After a number of events that followed little Madeleine McCann's disappearance in May 2007, in Portugal, the director of the investigation, Commissioner Gonçalo Amaral, was persuaded to keep quiet and his book, which recounted the details of his investigation, was withdrawn from sale by court order.
A best seller in Portugal, in it Amaral considers that the Policia Judiciaria were hampered in their investigation by the behaviour of the little girl's parents. He puts forward the hypothesis of accidental death due to lack of supervision, or even the misuse of a sedative. The McCann couple then allegedly concealed their child's body to evade responsibility, deliberately sending the investigators on the track of an abduction. Without concrete evidence, the police officer wove a number of givens into the thread of a story. From worrying details.
The most recent ruling by the Court of Appeal took the opposite view to the previous decision. It said that, "the contents of the book do not infringe any fundamental right of the McCanns," and that the ban with which he was sanctioned was an attack on freedom of expression such as is guaranteed to all by European Convention on Human Rights and the Portuguese Constitution. And there could not be a violation of the McCanns' privacy in so far as they themselves had freely used the media and provided private information to the press: "It was they themselves who, voluntarily, decided to limit their right to privacy."
So, Amaral regained his right to express himself and to defend himself. However, he has two other accusations to face. In fact, he is still the subject of an action for defamation on the part of the McCann couple, who are claiming 1.2 million Euros from him in damages and compensation, and a complaint for violation of, "secrecy of justice."
His book, "A Verdade da Mentira," published in France by Bourin, is to be returned to the shelves in the bookshops. Also, the ban which affected the documentary about the case, has been lifted. It can now be broadcast on a French TV Channel.
Meanwhile, we still don't know what has happened to little Maddie. Recently, an Englishman, a convicted paedophile, who figured amongst the suspects, allegedly made a deathbed confession. In a letter addressed to his son, he stated that the little girl was allegedly chosen from a photo, by clients of an, "illegal adoption gang." A pretty weird story, into which dived the private detectives paid from the support fund set up by the McCanns.
In his exposé, Amaral accuses the child's parents, but the way in which the investigation got going could also be questioned. Notably (easy in retrospect) the delay in putting out a general alert...In identical circumstances, would we in France have triggered the "Alerte enlèvement," plan? *
In an attempt to harmonise procedures when such an event occurs, a plan is being studied at European level. Last month, an exercise was carried out between France, Britain and Belgium, around the following scenario: a little girl was abducted in Britain by a man on his own. It is believed that he reached France with his victim, then Belgium. The success has been mixed: collaboration between the different services is good, but means of communication must be improved. the creation of an extranet site is envisaged.
For us, when this plan has been triggered, it has shown its effectiveness. The main difficulty is still in taking the decision: have the criteria been fulfilled for launching an alert? To take an example, after the disappearance of little Antoine, in September 2008, should the Alerte Enlèvement plan have been set in motion? In hindsight, you could think yes, since we still don't know what has become of the child...
There are criminal cases that stand out more than others. The disappearance of little Maddie is one of them. And 26 years later, the mystery of little Gregory's murder is still firmly rooted in the mind. And there are others that are forgotten.
Georges Moréas 25/10/10
(*Note: I don't think the Alerte Enlèvement would have been triggered in France in Maddie's case. According to the criteria set out by the French Justice Minister, Rachida Dati, there would have to be: a definite abduction; a description of an alleged abductor that could help locate the abductor and the child; a description of any vehicle involved. In Maddie's case, there was no trace of an abductor, apart from Jane Tanner's vague description of an egg with hair, which would not have been helpful, and no vehicle description. So, an alert would not have been practicable.)