Sunday, 28 July 2013

Killer of two young girls unmasked after twenty-two years?

Ten-year-old Saïda Berch, who was strangled, was found in an irrigation ditch on 26th November 1996 in Voreppe, two days after she disappeared.

Betrayed by his DNA and arrested on Tuesday, (23/07/2013) a 37 year-old man is suspected of having killed Sarah and Saida in 1991 and 1996 in Voreppe (Isère). Aged 15 at the time, he was close to the families of both young girls. 

So many years of doubt and distress have gone by. And on Tuesday, more than twenty years later, the development that nobody expected: the man who is thought to have killed the children, Sarah Syad aged 6 and Saïda Berch aged 10, who were both abducted in Voreppe, has been arrested. The suspect, first name Georges, now aged 37, was still living in Voreppe, a stone's throw from the families of the two girls. This man remained close to the brothers of the two young victims whom he would see every day. 

Now in his thirties and just under 16 at the time, he was interviewed as a witness, but there was nothing to implicate him. He was finally unmasked my new developments in DNA analysis and samples which had miraculously been preserved intact. His sperm and traces of DNA allowed him to be formally identified.   

A magazine and soiled tissues.

Since March 2008, a group of Grenoble police officers have been investigating ten cases of missing and murdered children in Isère. The investigation was close to being archived on many occasions, but the police officers continued to methodically retrieve lost or mislaid evidence. And their perseverance paid off. 

On April 15th 1991, little Sarah Syad was playing at the bottom of town in Bourg-Vieux in Voreppe. She was last seen in the early evening of that day. The child's strangled body was found the next day in woods a few hundred metres from her home. In the area surrounding the scene of the crime, investigators found a pack of tissues bearing a fingerprint and traces of sperm on the paper tissues. The post-mortem revealed that the child had been sexually abused. Another case was then on everyone's mind, that of little Rachid Bouzian, aged 8, who had been abducted from outside her apartment building in Echirolles near Grenoble. Her killer, Karim Katefi, has since been sentenced to life in prison. 

On November 24th 1996, once again in Voreppe, Saïda Berch aged 10, disappeared in the Béraugodière quarter. This very clever schoolgirl had just left her parents' home to go to the gym. Her body was found in an irrigation ditch forty-eight hours later. She had also been strangled but had not been sexually abused. At the scene of the crime, investigators found a soiled pornographic magazine. 

Nearly twenty years later, analysis of the DNA traces has implicated a neighbour and friend of the victims' brothers. New molecular analysis of traces recovered at the time has confirmed that Sarah and Saïda were definitely abducted and killed by the same man. A suspicion became a certainty for the police and the presiding judge Catherine Léger. The genetic profile was entered into the police files and Georges' name came out.  

Georges had been implicated in a case of car theft and put on file and he was already among the small group of witnesses in the case of Saïda Berch: he had been seen with his mountain bike not far from the location of the child's disappearance. 

Le Parisien 25/07/2013

With thanks to "Frencheuropean" for the link to this article.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Madeleine McCann: the rather unusual suspects!

According to the Daily Star dated July 6th 2013, there are five suspects in the frame for the Madeleine McCann abduction. Scotland Yard detectives want to trace five mysterious strangers who were spotted in Praia da Luz around the time that Madeleine disappeared.

One is “Bundle Man” who was seen by the McCanns’ pal Jane Tanner carrying a sleeping girl away from their apartment at around 9.15pm on the night Madeleine disappeared.

Jane Tanner's first statement about this sighting was that she had seen a man carrying a, "bundle that could have been a child." Over time, Ms Tanner's memory improved to the extent that the bundle was not just definitely a child, but a child wearing pyjamas just like the ones Madeleine had been wearing on the night she disappeared. 

Abductor photo Abductor251007.jpg

The above is based on Jane Tanner's description of "Bundleman" She described the pyjamas as having frills around the ankles and they looked "pinky."

Jammmies photo PyjamasBestPhoto.jpg

Here we have Kate and Gerry showing a set of pyjamas identical to those Madeleine had been wearing, the bottom part of which has cropped legs, which would surely have ridden up over the knees of a child who had been carried in the manner described by Jane Tanner. They would definitely not have been tight around the ankles. 

"Bundleman," also known as, "Eggman," began his media career as an egg with hair! The McCanns put pressure on the PJ to publish the e-fit based on Tanner's description and since she didn't see the man's face, this was the image the PJ touted around Praia da Luz!

 photo Eggman.jpg

Then, according to the Daily Star, there was "Rude man."

He could also be “Rude Man” who ignored an Irish family’s attempts to chat as he passed them carrying a pyjama-clad girl towards the beach around 10pm that night.

"Rude Man" was spotted by the Smith family from Ireland, who encountered a man carrying a child as they left a bar in Praia da Luz at around 10pm on the evening of May 3rd 2007. One of the family asked "Rude man" if the child was asleep and received no response. According to The Irish Independent the Smith family could hold the key to the Madeleine McCann mystery and their evidence is viewed by Scotland Yard as "credible." When Mr Smith saw the news report of the McCanns returning to the UK, he told the police that he was fairly certain that the man he had seen on that night was Gerry McCann.

Another is “Creepy Man” who days earlier scared British holidaymaker Gail Cooper when he demanded charity cash for an orphanage that did not exist.
She later saw the Mexican-moustached stranger watching children on the beach.

This was when Jane Tanner's "Bundle Man," developed a face and she became absolutely sure that "Bundle Man," and "Creepy Man," were in fact one and the same person! 

 photo Bundleman2.jpg

And now for number four! 

A fourth was dubbed “Spotty Man” after he was seen five times in the four days before Madeleine disappeared apparently watching their apartment.

 photo spottyman-1.jpg

If that man exists, is he likely to come forward and declare, "I'm Spotty Man. Look here's the plukes to prove it!"? If he had any sense and was in fact acting suspiciously, he may have visited a dermatologist since then. Even if he exists, who would want to be known internationally as "Spotty Man"?
I feel for you Mr Spotty!

A fifth, “Photo Man”, was spotted taking pictures of children near the beach in nearby Sagres.

Well, that man must be found and interrogated! Taking photos on a beach? Definitely highly suspicious! 

I think Scotland Yard and the Daily Star have missed out a few (well, quite a few) suspects. 

Here are just a few!

Lettuce photo Lettuceman.jpg

Lettuce Man

Bolivian photo BolivianE-Fit.jpg

The Bolivian

1 photo Suspect4.jpg

The Victoria Beckham look-alike

2 photo Suspect5.jpg

The odd couple who allegedly worked at the Ocean Club

9 photo Suspect9.jpg

Stubble Man

14 photo suspect14.jpg

The George Harrison look-alike 

10 photo suspect10.jpg

The dead paedo

There is growing concern in some quarters that Madeleine's disappearance will be pinned on the dead paedo. Case closed. Pick a paedo, any paedo, as long as he's dead!

We now add, "the childless couple." Seriously folks, the police are now looking at a childless couple who apparently told friends they'd be willing to kidnap a child, having become frustrated with adoption red tape. These two people are among the 38 the Scotland Yard police have listed as "persons of interest."

The pair, who had told friends they would kidnap a child after becoming frustrated with adoption red tape, are among the list of 38 new suspects drawn up by British cops.

A review by London’s Metropolitan police led them to the couple and detectives are now investigating the theory that they smuggled the missing toddler out of Portugal aboard a boat. (Sunday World July 10th 2013)

There may be a childless couple who have Madeleine McCann, the world's best known missing child, who now know that the police are on their tail! And where would Maddie have been for the past 6 years? On a private island somewhere? Let's face it, she would not have been out in public when Maddie look-alikes have been spotted on all 5 continents, sometimes on the same day. Also, wouldn't a childless couple, who are said to have been possibly watching the McCanns coming and going for several days, not have spotted that there was a younger female child? Surely it would be easier for a younger child to adapt to a new family and a new environment?

Ah well, I think the last word here goes to DCI Andy Redwood, who led the review into Madeleine's disappearance.

“From the outset we have approached this review with a completely open mind, placing Madeleine McCann at the heart of everything we do. We are working on the basis of two possibilities here. One is that Madeleine is still alive; and the second that she is sadly dead”, DCI Andy Redwood said last year. Portugal News 24th Jan 2013

Yes, DCI Redwood has spoken! Madeleine McCann is either alive or she is dead! Well, Sherlock, that doesn't fill me with confidence for the success of the investigation that Scotland Yard is about to undertake, especially as the Portuguese Attorney General's Office has not yet received a formal request from SY for assistance with the case, which remains under Portuguese jurisdiction. (Joana Morais July 5th 2013)

I hear they're still having the formal request translated!

Related reading

Monday, 1 July 2013

Breast cancer screening fails to cut deaths

Twenty five years of breast cancer screening has failed to significantly reduce deaths from the disease, according to a landmark study.

Although the number of women who die from breast cancer is steadily decreasing, there is “no evidence” to suggest this is because of screening programmes first introduced in 1988, researchers from Oxford University said.

Daily Telegraph 11th June 2013

The significant decrease in deaths from breast cancer is among younger women who are not among those called in for regular screening. I would hazard a guess that this is because of the emphasis over the past few decades on self-examination.

It comes as no surprise to me that screening using mammography has not significantly reduced deaths from the disease and I can almost hear a certain Dr Martin Albright saying "I could have told you this in 1991."  I suppose having invested huge amounts of money in this programme, the NHS was obliged to run it for a number of years since the effectiveness may only have been measurable with time and a significant number of women being screened.

However, in 1991, during a lecture on "Screening" Martin outlined the criteria for an effective and safe screening programme and the ways in which mammography did not meet any of them. In 1991 folks! If I could find those lecture notes, the reasons outlined by Martin in 1991 why mammography did not meet any of the criteria for a safe, effective and reliable test would be shown, I think, to have been borne out in the intervening years of the programme.

How does mammography meet, or not meet, those criteria?

1) Is the test cost effective?

In 1991, Martin Albright said no and this seems to have been borne out in practice, since the average cost to the NHS is over £120 million a year and there has been no significant decrease in deaths from breast cancer.

2) Is it easy to administer?

The answer to this one has to be no, since it involves flattening the breast between two plates and passing a dose of radiation through the tissue. Flattening those mammaries is not an easy task.

3) Does it produce an acceptable number of false positives?

The chances of a false positive are increased with every mammogram a woman has.

False-positive screening mammograms are "very common," Dr. Brodersen toldMedscape Medical News. The cumulative risk in Europe and the United States of false positives in 10 screening rounds ranges from 20% to 60%. It is clear from this study that "psychosocial harms of the false results are substantial and last for years," Dr. Brodersen noted

A false positive result will lead to more tests, including biopsy and obvious stress and anxiety for the woman involved.

4) Does it produce an acceptable number of false negatives?

I think we can say no to this.

False-negative results. False-negative results occur when mammograms appear normal even though breast cancer is present. Overall, screening mammograms miss about 20 percent of breast cancers that are present at the time of screening...

...False-negative results can lead to delays in treatment and a false sense of security for affected women.

(Note: false negatives are more common in younger women because of the density of the breast tissue. As women age, there is less fatty tissue and therefore the breast tissue is less dense)

5) Are levels of discomfort reasonably acceptable to most women?

No! I don't think I need to say much about how incredibly painful, not just uncomfortable, it is when sensitive breast tissue is squashed to a thickness of  a few inches between two rigid plates.

6) Does the procedure, of itself, create problems?

Judging by the numbers of internet searches on the question of "Does trauma/injury to the breast cause breast cancer?" it would appear to be a commonly held belief/worry, but research on this question seems to conclude that there is little or no evidence to support the theory.

One study suggests a link: Cancer Research UK

No evidence:

Q: Can an injury to my breast develop into breast cancer?

A: Injury to the breast does not cause breast cancer. In some cases, the breast may become bruised after an injury and, in rare cases, develop a non-cancerous lump called fat necrosis. Fat necrosis is not dangerous, and the symptoms usually subside within a month. If you have a lump in your breast and are concerned that it may be breast cancer, consult with your doctor immediately.

What about the radiation, then? Safe levels?

Mammography was introduced in the USA in the 1970s and at that time radiation levels were significantly higher than when the procedure was introduced in the UK. However...

Despite better technology and decreased doses of radiation, scientists still claim mammography is a substantial risk. Dr. John W. Gofman, an authority on the health effects of ionizing radiation, estimates that 75 percent of breast cancer could be prevented by avoiding or minimizing exposure to the ionizing radiation. This includes mammography, x-rays and other medical and dental sources.

From the same source:

Cancer research has also found a gene, called oncogene AC, that is extremely sensitive to even small doses of radiation. A significant percentage of women in the United States have this gene, which could increase their risk of mammography-induced cancer. They estimate that 10,000 A-T carriers will die of breast cancer this year due to mammography. (2005)

Compression of breast tissue can cause cancerous cells to travel to distant sites.

Cancer Risks from Breast Compression

As early as 1928, physicians were warned to handle "cancerous breasts with care— for fear of accidentally disseminating cells" and spreading cancer (7). Nevertheless, mammography entails tight and often painful compression of the breast, particularly in premenopausal women. This may lead to distant and lethal spread of malignant cells by rupturing small blood vessels in or around small, as yet undetected breast cancers.

From the source cited above:

Radiation Risks

Radiation from routine mammography poses significant cumulative risks of initiating and promoting breast cancer.

So, does the process of mammography cause problems of itself?

It would appear that the answer to this is yes. Cumulative doses of radiation are thought to be a risk factor for the development of cancer of the breast, particularly in women who carry a particular genetic anomaly, who are therefore more at risk. 

And for me, it seems to be a no-brainer that compression to the breasts can cause cells to break off and travel to distant sites, presenting a high risk of the development of metastases. (secondary tumours) 

For me, the development and continued use of mammography as a screening test for breast cancer is left brain thinking. Mostly we are told that the left brain is logical, rational, literal and the right brain is creative and imaginative.   Robert Ornstein suggests text/context. When I view and object, my left brain tells me descriptive things about it: this thing I'm looking at is living, it's hairy, it's brown. My right brain places this thing in the context of similar things I have encountered and tells me "It's a dog!" Similarly, my left brain says there are things in the water and they're moving and my right brain, comparing them to similar things I've seen before, to place them in a context, says "They're gill-bearing aquatic craniates." (Do I go into the chippie and ask for gill-bearing aquatic craniate and chips? Of course I don't! I'm vegetarian!) 

So, the left-brainer develops machines. And oh what magnificant machines they are! These machines can flatten breasts and when we pass a nice dose of radiation through, we can possibly detect cancer. That's the straight line thinking of the left brain. When right brain and left brain work in harmony, some context is added here - uh, hang on a wee minute, Jimmy, I've seen this kind of thing before: radiation can cause cancer and what kind of head banger can't work out that if you squash breasts as flat as possible, significant harm could result? 

So, on the six criteria for a safe and effective screening test, mammography scores a big FAIL! 

There is also, to be added here, the problem of over-diagnosis. Some breast cancers are so slow-growing that they will never become symptomatic within the natural life expectancy of the individual, but these tumours may be picked up by mammography and unnecessary treatment started, which of course can be traumatic and lead to further treatment being necessary. 

The most informative analysis in Zackrisson et al's study is the comparison of the cumulative incidence of breast cancer in the screened and the non-screened groups of women born between 1908 and 1922 and randomised between 1976 and 1978.1 This is a mature cohort with follow-up to 2001 when about 60% of the women had died. The main finding is a 10% increase in the lifetime occurrence of breast cancer (including cancer in situ) in the screened group.

In a population where the lifetime risk of breast cancer is 8% and the lifetime risk of dying from breast cancer from age 50 onwards is 2.5%, screening 250 women may prevent about one death from breast cancer. Screening would, however, also lead to the over-diagnosis of two cases. The woman whose death from breast cancer is prevented receives all the important benefit, whereas the two over-diagnosed women pay part of the price by becoming breast cancer patients and undergoing treatment. We cannot predict, however, which three women these will be. (23/03/206)

For every woman whose life is saved, two women will be over-diagnosed, gaining the status of breast cancer patients and undergoing treatment? I don't think I like the odds on that, however slim they may be, of being one of those two. 

And finally, if mammography is so unsafe and unreliable, why is so much effort being put into bringing more women onto the programme? And if the significant decrease in deaths from breast cancer is among those women too young for regular screening, why was the "expert" on Radio 4's Today programme suggesting that the programme be extended to include those women? They're doing alright without it! Seems like a no-brainer to me! 

There are potentially safer screening tests being tried out. More on those another time! 

Further reading: