Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Express Group: how did you get to this sorry state?

Today I have been reading, like the rest of the world, that the Express group of newspapers has apologised to Kate and Gerry McCann for any distress caused by stories which they have published since May last year when Madeleine disappeared. This has motivated me to tell you about a suggestion made by my daughter on Friday evening of last week.

My daughter is a very kind-hearted person, who does not indulge in gossip and who would not take a great deal of notice of what she might see as wild speculation. Since the McCanns' daughter disappeared, my daughter has retained an attitude of great sympathy for them. On Friday evening she was sitting by my desk, as I was reading an article on the Duarte Levy blog, "SOS Madeleine McCann," when she asked me why people had been so nasty about the McCanns, when their child was missing and they were suffering and would suffer for the rest of their lives for leaving the child unattended.

I began to describe to my daughter some of the things which seemed to have made people wonder about the case and about the parents and that in the absence of official statements, press conferences by the Portuguese police etc, that people had begun to speculate based on the information, official and unofficial which was available. My daughter is one of those people who chose not to read any of the speculative reports. When I had explained what probably gave rise to speculation, my daughter suggested that I write about our conversation and what I told her about the reasons people had been bothered about the case.

My daughter's question was, "Why have people been so nasty about the McCanns?" I can see what she means. I cannot recall a case where there has been so much speculation by the world's media and arising in internet forums dedicated to the case. So, what were those things that gave rise to the intense interest and speculation?

I can remember seeing the first report on the BBC's news pages of their web site. It was on the morning of Friday May 4th, 2007, and there were a few lines, heading the Front Page. I was shocked to read that a British toddler had disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Portugal and in the days that followed I searched the news pages for updates.

Some folks have posted on internet forums that they were immediately suspicious about what had happened. I guess I was just shocked that two intelligent doctors had left three small children alone. I read everything I could find on the subject and I must say, I became quite confused by the different accounts I was reading of the events.

When Kate McCann returned to the apartment, the shutters had been jemmied and the window forced open.

Heart specialist Gerry McCann rang his sister Trish in Scotland after Maddy vanished from her cot placed between two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.

Trish revealed yesterday: "He was breaking his heart, saying 'Madeleine's been abducted, she's been abducted'."

Gerry and wife Kate, both 38, had been checking their three children in the family's ground-floor flat every 30 minutes as they dined with friends 120ft away.

Trish said: "When Kate checked, she came out screaming. Maddy had gone. The door was open and the window in the bedroom and shutters were jemmied open. Nothing had been touched and no valuables taken."

The Mirror May 5th, 2007

  • "Close family friend Gill Renwick, of Liverpool, who also spoke to GP Kate yesterday, said: "Poor Kate and Gerry don't know where to turn.

"Madeleine has obviously been taken. She couldn't have gone out on her own and the shutters were forced."

  • "Close family friend Jon Corner, of Liverpool, told how tearful Kate sobbed down the phone early yesterday: "Someone has taken my little girl."
"Jon, godparent to the McCanns' twins, said: "She was in an absolutely hysterical state - very, very distressed. She blurted out Madeleine had been abducted.

"Kate said the shutters of the room were smashed. Madeleine was missing It looks as though someone had gone straight past the twins to get to her. Kate was incredibly upset. I've spoken to her since, and she's still completely devastated."

  • "Mark Warner management denied there were signs of forced entry at the flat claiming instead that roller shutters had been slid up and the bedroom window opened."
So, that was the first point of confusion for me and for many others. The shutters had been jemmied, the shutters had been smashed, there was no sign of forced entry.

Then there was the question of, was the apartment locked or unlocked?

Sky News Wednesday May 9th, 2007

Madeleine's aunt Philomena McCann, quoted by Sky News:

"Of Madeleine's disappearance, Ms McCann said: "They (Kate and Gerry) were going back to check a locked apartment where they had left the kids sleeping."

However, it subsequently seems to have been accepted that the apartment was unlocked.

CNN September 10th, 2007

The parents told police they had left the girl and her siblings asleep in the unlocked apartment as they dined just meters away, checking on them frequently. However, later in the evening they discovered she was missing."

Long before September 10th, though, internet forums had sprung up, dedicated to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, originally I think based on the question of negligence. Had the McCanns been negligent in leaving their three children alone in the apartment? Of course there were the contradictions about the distance; 20 yards, 40 yards, 50 yards, 100 yards, 120 yards, just like eating in your own back garden, contradictions which gave rise to the production of aerial photos and Google images, showing measurements. Again, no official statement and so people got curious and wanted to find out.

The initial questions about negligence and expanding and contracting distances, were followed by speculation based on, "leaks," from, "official sources," published in the Portuguese and Spanish press. There was much talk about the secrecy laws in Portugal and hence the lack of official information, but in the UK, even with regular police press conferences, I am sure I have never seen so much written about those who might be involved in a criminal investigation, especially once those people were named as, "arguidos," or official suspects.

The Find Maddy Forum on the Daily Mirror was very active for some time, with hundreds of members posting a wide and wild range of theories. This forum was closed down.

What else did I tell my daughter that gave rise to speculation? Well, there was the sighting by Jane Tanner of the man she saw carrying a child. First reports were that the man was carrying a bundle which could have been a child. Eventually, after requests by the McCanns, a sketch was produced from Jane Tanner's description. A local bartender said that the sketch looked like, "an egg with hair," and so, "Eggman," was born on the forums. This sketch was widely printed in the media. Then there seemed to be updates on the description and we were told that Jane Tanner saw a man carrying a child wearing pink pyjamas.

The Sun 20th November, 2007

Seconds later she saw a man cross from left to right in front of her with a child lolling back in his arms.

Jane said: “It wasn’t unusual to see people with children, even at that time of night. But my attention was drawn to him because the child had bare feet.

It was a cold night and I thought that was strange because as a mother I would never have taken my child around at that time without something on their feet or a blanket. All I could see of the child was their legs dangling."

And later in the Sun interview:

Then, at around 11.15, two policemen arrived and I told them. Later CID arrived. They did this thing called a cognitive technique, where they put you back in the moment, and it was then that I remembered the pyjamas. “There were pink and white, they were what Madeleine was wearing. I just felt so awful, I felt I could have stopped this from happening. I think of that everyday."

So, Jane saw a man carrying a child, and all she could see was, "their legs dangling." This is clear from the sketch which was drawn from Jane's description and the pyjamas can be seen in the sketch, which Jane describes as being pink and white. Remember, she saw only the legs of the pyjamas.

BBC May 7th, 2007

Her family confirmed she was wearing white pyjama bottoms with a small floral design and a short-sleeved pink top with a picture of Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore."

So, the pyjama bottoms would not have been pink!

I can appreciate from these things that confused me why lots of people became quite speculative and suspicious about what went on that evening on which Madeleine McCann disappeared. But how did the Express manage to get to such a sorry state? Did they just reprint the reports from Portuguese journals such as Sol, which was one of the first to print details of, "leaks," from, "official sources."? I believe one of the articles printed by the Express, which carried allegations of the involvement of Kate and Gerry in Madeleine's disappearance, was written by a couple of the Express' reporters in Praia da Luz, but did not name their, "sources," and that article, at least, did not appear, if my memory serves me, to be a reprint of something published in a Portuguese journal.

So, where did the Express' reporters get their stories from? "Sources." ?? Very strange for a national newspaper to print such stuff and I can see how it has come to such a sorry state! Printing stories about the parents' involvement in their daughter's disappearance with nothing but, "sources," to back them up is just a bit silly, if anyone were to ask me, which my daughter did!

There has been very little official information about evidence in this case and we have no way of knowing what evidence the PJ may or may not have. All we know at the moment, or think we know, is that the Portuguese police wish to question some of the people who were on holiday with the McCanns about alleged inconsistencies in their initial statements. So, folks, I guess we wait and see. We have theories and wild, wild theories, but we don't know what happened to little Madeleine McCann. All I can add is that if she is alive, and part of me still hopes that she is, that she is unharmed emotionally and physically. If she is dead, then let her be found and laid to rest.