John Blacksmith writes: The Madeleine McCann affair falls into four parts to date. First, the disappearance of the child and the subsequent investigation until the McCanns were constituted arguidos in early September 2007; next the flight of the parents and the powerful public and legal campaign in their favour financed by the fund and rich well-wishers, ending in the admission of defeat by the PJ in April 2008 and the subsequent formality of the archiving process; then a period of apparent vindication and retrenchment by the parents brought to an end by Goncalo Amaral’s provocative attack on them in his book and by their decision to sue; finally the flurry of publicity, petitions and the new book announcement, all flowing from the Portuguese appeal court decision.
Distance lends perspective.
The first phase – the search for the child
In retrospect we can see that the famous “search for the child” was effectively over by the end of August 2007 and has never been resumed. The death-knell for Madeleine McCann was sounded not by Goncalo Amaral or his team but by the severely intellectual head of the PJ Alipio Ribeiro, who made it clear during the summer that the inquiry was concentrating on “pure investigation” and analysis of existing data rather than branching out to follow wider leads. No such leads existed and none exist to this day: the enquiry had returned, full-circle, to those known to be present in the Ocean Club on the night of May 3.
The media carnival, so noisy, melodramatic and self-important at the time, has vanished into insignificance, reminiscent of those weighty obituaries of one of their own by newsmen and broadcasters to an indifferent public before they are forgotten for ever. There is general agreement that it was initiated by the McCann family but it is doubtful if it was a critical factor: if decisive forensic evidence had been found to incriminate the McCanns, or forensic traces of an outsider to exonerate them, then no media campaign at that time – in contrast to their defence campaign from the safety of England - would have made any difference to their fate.
No evidence of improper protection of the parents by UK authorities has emerged. The content of the famous foreign office cables is fairly easy to infer, Ribeiro himself denied the claim that Ambassador Buck had in any way intimidated him early in the case and Clarence Mitchell’s absurd and Pooterish hints that he was an arm of the British government have been refuted in previous posts on here.
All the evidence suggests that the Labour government was comfortable in immediately smearing the KY of synthetic “we are suffering with you Maddie” popular sentiment all over the body of the case, prompted by the maladroit Gordon Brown’s hopeless attempt to match the tears for Princess Diana so effortlessly shed by Tony Blair.
The vexed question of why the parents and their friends chose to act independently of the police from the start remains unanswered. The retrospective justification is, of course, (in Glasgow-speak) that the Portuguese police were bluddy useless, didn’t have a clue etc, third world etc, etc. But that couldn’t have been the reason since the two crucial steps - the decision to brief the McCann friends and family on police shortcomings and the outright refusal to abide by the police “no media” instruction - were taken before the police performance could possibly have been assessed as bad or good, in the early hours of May 4. Since the parents were confined to the apartment block for that period they could have had no personal knowledge of either the form or quality of the wider search and thus no evidence to base a decision on.
It remains incomprehensible that the parents could have taken such a grave and critical step – which, according to current police doctrine, would obviously put the child’s life at risk - on such flimsy or non-existent grounds. There is no avoiding the stark reality: “obviously put the child’s life at risk” [at the hands of a panicking abductor] means just that - the McCanns’ refusal to co-operate with the police on Day One may well have been a death sentence for Madeleine McCann.
The only possible excuse for their actions lies in stress-induced bad and panicky decision taking. But that in itself raises difficult questions, since embarking so prematurely and wilfully on a course with potentially fatal consequences for their own daughter takes us into the murky question of character. One interpretation of the last three and a half years is that the McCanns really are totally innocent victims of an abductor but their personalities are so odious and selfish, their decisions so utterly and malignantly wrong throughout their ordeal, that they have brought dislike, contempt and unwarranted suspicion down onto themselves.
Starting, of course, with the police. The behaviour of the couple, beginning with their refusal to accept the PJ way of doing things, continuing with their wild PR and campaign ventures and their attempts to involve the British government on their behalf was, to say the least, unlikely to add to mutual confidence. And the contrast between the rich fare constantly served up to the media and the miserly scrapings offered in their police statements was glaringly obvious. Like them or hate them the Portuguese police tried to do a job, which was to discover the fate of a child; it was disconcerting to find themselves trying to do it in the midst of a grotesque media circus imported to Portugal by the parents; even more troubling to pick up the radar pings from the McCann family anti-police briefings back in the UK.
From outside Portugal it is difficult to judge the performance of either police or prosecutors although Clarence Mitchell soars effortlessly over the problems. Certainly some officers were unnecessarily troubled by the appearance of the British ambassador at an early stage, unaware of the part that presentation plays in modern democratic societies: Goncalo Amaral brooded over what influence the pair must have possessed to produce a diplomat at the door, like a rabbit out of a hat, not knowing that the appearance was itself the required action, end of story. All he was there for was to show that the government [breaks off to vomit] cared. Caring wins votes.
Eventually a hypothesis was proposed by the police, the well-known accidental death and parental involvement in disposal of a corpse. It hardly needs repeating that there was no hard evidence that would stand up in court to support the theory. It does bear repeating that it remains the only official hypothesis ever publicly put forward in the case or present in the files. Time has not yet provided clarity on the Rebelo chapter of the investigation which followed Amaral’s removal from the case. The parents and their mouthpiece claim, inevitably, that Rebelo rejected the previous line of investigation as worthless and misguided and moved onto one of his own which excluded the McCanns and their friends.
There is no mention in the final police or archiving reports of a new hypothesis from the Rebelo team, let alone a convincing and structured evidence-based theory. In addition his team was urgently badgering the FSS for their definitive findings on the McCann vehicle and apartment as late as the end of November 2008, rather than dismissing them as part of a failed hypothesis.
Finally he was still attempting to get the Tapas 7 back to Portugal in April 2008 to resolve the inconsistencies first raised by Amaral early in the case, so it appears 99% certain that, once again, the parents’ claims are false and that he worked over exactly the same ground and found exactly the same indications as his predecessor, failing, like Amaral, to find sufficient hard evidence to turn the hypothesis into a charge. We shall see: eventually McCann-Amaral litigation should enable us to gain a definite answer to the question, “what exactly were your lines of investigation, Mr Rebelo?”
We can all accept that there was not enough evidence to charge the McCanns along these lines and many of us are willing to accept that they are innocent of any involvement. What is difficult to accept, once more, is the over-egging of the pudding by the McCanns and the noxious team that surrounds them: in order to defend the reputation of two people, whose disastrous decisions may well have led to their status as arguidos, the defence of the pair has to besmirch the reputations of numberless others.
Thus the first police officers on the scene and the first criminal investigators to appear are attacked as useless bunglers; then the forensic team who followed them have no idea of cross-contamination risks; then, Mr Big, Goncalo Amaral himself is not just incompetent but a crook and a torturer, a throwback to Salazar, a fat slob out to “fit the parents up”, a womanizer and wife beater. Phew! The other members of his team are brainless sheep who do what their raving boss tells them to do, despite the fact that he isn’t their boss and is co-ordinator, not director, of the investigation; the officers who participate in the EVRD dog searches are brainless goons;the dog alerts are not favourable to the parents ergo their handler, Grimes, is a greedy conman and bluffer, even if he isn’t a Dago. And so it goes on, all the way up, with the unwritten, behind-the-hand message that the Portuguese are, you know, fucking fascist primitives a hundred miles from Africa, two hundred years behind the times, my friend had to pay off a bent cop after a car accident, my cousin got stitched up for not carrying her passport, I’ve seen the cops smoking dope, the only investigation they can do is to beat suspects into confessions…
There is something wrong with all this, a lack of proportion – better that a thousand, ten thousand, a nation should fall than one of ours be in the wrong! And then set against this demonization of a nation we have the equally fanciful translation of Rebelo into angelhood – however temporarily – and the canonization of both the prosecutors and the Portuguese attorney-general because, amid this sea of stupidity and corruption, they are not against the McCanns. They are good. Poor old Alipio Ribeiro swings both ways in this fantasy land, like some crazed weather house figure: Amaral reported to him while framing The Innocents – boooooo! But, he states later, “perhaps we were hasty in making the parents arguidos” – prolonged and deafening applause!
It’s soap-opera tale stuff again, isn’t it? Bearing all the hallmarks of the soap opera obsessed imaginations of the McCanns. It falls down, of course, on the question of the UK police and their involvement but since the UK police, as is their way, ain’t saying nuffin’ , the Team can rest easy.
Or rather they could until that wicked, wicked Goncalo Amaral – again! The man’s a disgrace! – threatened to blow it open by calling Scotland Yard officer De Freitas to testify in Lisbon. De Freitas was held back from appearing in court, quite correctly, by his superiors. I heard enough of what he had to say, though, and it confirmed Amaral’s contention that the English and Portuguese police were in close agreement in their analysis of the case at this stage, the only difference between them being one of tactics.
No, the circle of the wicked persecutors or oafish bunglers, all apparently determined to draw the wrong conclusions about two innocents, is just too large and too ad hoc. It isn’t credible. Worst of all, and coming up to date, it is a defence case. But the McCanns have, according to Mr Mitchell, been exonerated. So how can they need a defence? Against what?
Lastly, we return to the part the parents played at this critical stage of the affair.
At any time the parents could have turned off the publicity tap. They chose not to do so. The claim that they had no option but to try and ride the media tiger is just that, a claim, and a false one. Repeating it in the Mother of Parliaments doesn’t make it any less false.
Readers of this blog will know that my oldest friend was murdered in appalling circumstances in Australia last year, a story which was for a time bigger over there than the Madeleine affair, as well as attracting the media in the UK. The family made it clear that they simply weren’t going to talk to the media about anything and asked for privacy: the media in both continents respected their wishes and went away. Despite the highly newsworthy and melodramatic nature of the case it was that simple. It would have been even simpler for the McCanns since the UK media, the leaders of the pack, had long had a tacit agreement with the police to impose a total news blackout in abduction cases.
And what did the parents’ approach achieve? What payback was there to offset the alienation of the very people who offered the only realistic chance of finding their daughter? Did they really believe that contacting English security companies and mounting a media campaign offered a stronger chance of locating the child than an investigation by a national police force whose fixed resources in terms of staff, laboratories, international liaison and other facilities dwarfed any private venture?
Cut the McCann/Mitchell inspired critics some slack for a moment and assume there were real weaknesses in the Portuguese investigation. Do any of them compare to the complete and absolute failure of the alternative McCann approach? “We know better” non-co-operation, a vast media machine, government lobbying, private investigators – and result zero. No suspects, no leads, no Madeleine, no nothing.
But by the time the parents fled Portugal (with the famous promise to return when required) the “search for the child” had lost all meaning anyway and not just because of the PJ’s analysis of the case: by slow degrees the Find Madeleine campaign was mutating into the McCann Defence Campaign. One was a worthless failure and a possible death sentence; the other was a glowing success.
To be continued.
POSTED BY JOHN BLACKSMITH
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