Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Georges Moréas: Typhaine Taton, Antoine Brugerolle and Madeleine McCann

Anne-Sophie photo Anne-Sophie-Faucheur_zpsf6753f32.jpg

Anne-Sophie Faucheur, mother of Typhaine Taton

The mother of little Typhaine and her partner have both just been sentenced to 30 years in prison. In the course of the trial, terrible things came out: the child was not getting to sleep; her mother, Anne-Sophie Faucheur, then delivered a barrage of blows. She then slipped on a pair of trainers before hitting her again, this time in the stomach. During this time, Nicolas Willot, her partner, held Typhaine up. Yet, in June 2012, before the cameras, this couple invoked sympathy by pleading for their child to be returned. Before the Court of Assizes, while an expert psychiatrist stated that in the mother there was no "clear, definite, conscious desire," to kill her daughter, it's
understandable why the jury remained skeptical.

In Seine-et-Marne a few days ago, the parents of a two-year-old girl who disappeared in 2011 were placed under investigation for murder. She was buried 500 metres from their home. The body has not yet been formally identified.

These cases, and many others, draw attention to the difficulties faced by police officers when confronted with the disappearance of a child. It's not easy to remain unmoved when dealing with desperate parents. And yet, there is no question of giving way to empathy or even feeling for them which could cloud their judgement. What is the difference between the tears of guilty parents and those parents who are overcome with pain? Within the same group of investigators, opinion is often divided.

There is no miracle formula. No magic profiler, as in the TV series. In this, even forensic scientists mark time and accept there is a place for the old methods: intuition or the well-worn technique of good cop/bad cop. Thus, after Typhaine's disappearance, the Lille police had the couple in custody for a few hours and then released them because experience told them it wasn't the right time for obtaining confessions. In these cases where we are dealing with infanticide, the denial is important. An investigation that starts with certainty often finishes with failure. 

And we have to get our priorities right: first of all, find the child. But, the initial sense of urgency gone, traditional investigators take up their tasks: verifications, witness statements, cross-checking, reconstruction, stake-outs, shadowing, surveillance techniques, etc. That's what happened with Typhaine. And the surveillance reports are damning. "Making salacious jokes about the presiding judge, masturbating in the evening on porn sites, accessing dating sites, dancing at a baptism, at a wedding, partying, having dinner parties, making wedding plans... Everything that was seen from the surveillance van was a long way, a very long way from the image of the devastated couple they had wanted to put forward at the press conference," a police officer stated in the witness box.

The police know, but they don't intervene. In the absence of proof, they record all the details. And, without doubt, in order to win the trust of Anne-Sophie Faucheur and Nicolas Willot, the presiding judge calls them for interview with the status of concerned parties. "That means their status as victims is recognised," their lawyer said. 

The net closes in. With a young police officer, a new face, the mother lets slip that she saw her daughter die. She speaks of an accident. A first confession, or more of a confidence. All that remains is to gently pull in the line. A fine art. 

This type of case is like walking on eggshells. The fear is of going wrong and missing the slightest chance to save the child. Because experience doesn't help very much where every situation is different. Thus, with little Antoine's disappearance, on September 11th 2008, the investigators initially thought he was a runaway. Three days later, the prosecutor declared: "The more time passes, the more the theory of running away loses credibility.."

Two weeks after the events, the child's mother, Alexandrine Brugerolle de Fraissinette, and several other people of her acquaintance, were placed under arrest. The young woman's apartment was taken over by scene of crime police officers. The walls were sounded, strips of parquet were lifted, fluorescent light was passed over certain areas. Two small drops, minute, around a millimetre in circumference, were finally detected near the light switch in Antoine's bedroom. And that's all. In other words, nothing! "We've got to go back to zero," stated one of the leading investigating officers. The case is not closed. Meanwhile, recently, the mother has again been arrested. But we still don't know what happened to little Antoine. He was six and a half years old.

In the case of Madeleine McCann, who disappeared on May 3rd 2007, in Portugal we reach the limits of the absurd. A cop left his job: Commissioner Gonçalo Amaral. From the start of the investigation, he picked up on contradictions in statements from the parents, the McCanns, British holidaymakers who immediately sought to protect themselves by making contact with the authorities from their own country. The police officer considered accidental death of the child, covered up by the parents by faking an abduction. But he was not supported by his superiors. Sacked from the police (1) for having shared his doubts with journalists, he wrote a book to explain his theory. Today, ruined, he has a fight on with the McCanns' lawyers who are  suing him for 1.2 million pounds (2) in civil damages. Of note is that the trial which was due to start soon has been adjourned. Are there new elements in this case which has been the leader in newspapers all over the world?

In France, the police and the Gendarmerie hold all the legal authority to investigate the disappearance of a child (or a vulnerable adult). With one basic principle: every report must be considered as a cause for concern and an investigation must be opened. If there is disagreement between the police and those registering the disappearance, it is up to the prosecutor to decide. As soon as there is the slightest indication of an offence, the latter actions the "flagrante delicto," (3) procedure, with all the powers that go with it.

With the disappearance of a child, more than all other cases, the prosecutor is the key figure. He makes emergency decisions. It's also he who determines if an "alerte enlèvement," (4) should be triggered. Often the result of an investigation depends on the soundness of his decisions and of the harmony between him and the police or the gendarmerie and also..his ability to resist pressure from the media.

Georges Moréas 28/01/2013

Police Et Cetera blog


1) Gonçalo Amaral was not sacked. He was removed from the investigation and subsequently took early retirement so that he could speak freely about the case.

2) The figure is €1.2 million or £1 million

3) Basically "caught in the act." 

4) The "Abduction Alert," system which was rolled out across most EU countries following its development and success in France. 

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