So the Bureau retires from the fray. The case has hurt many people – the Healy and McCann families, a number of the police officers involved, Robert Murat. Reputations have been damaged or smeared, including those of ambassadors, civil servants and the entire Portuguese justice system.
Mark Warner paid for being at the centre of the affair by being effectively destroyed, its remnants sold. At one stage the oldest alliance itself was rocked as the media turned the case into a suppurating ulcer between the two countries. The head of the PJ had to go, Goncalo Amaral lost his post before resigning to write a book that has led him into a legal labyrinth; Metodo, the private investigators brought in to find the child, were exposed and ridiculed; another of the McCanns’ supposed investigators lies in prison awaiting extradition to the United States.
Against this loss and destruction can be set those who have gained handsomely by the case, chiefly the media and the numerous beneficiaries, professional and otherwise, of the Madeleine Fund; overall, however, the picture is a sombre and unpleasant, even sordid, one.
The internet reflects this reality. The Madeleine McCann affair was the first internet crime story, the sole source of information free from national media self-deception and the repository of gigantic amounts of relevant data unavailable elsewhere. Unfortunately its weaknesses have emerged almost equal to its strengths. The author’s own first experience of the former was in joining, for a short time, a site called physics.org. I was taken aback to discover that once on the net all principles of scientific debate were abandoned in favour of the new web staple, contempt and screamed abuse. If academic scientists could fall out and hurl insults at each over basic equations, for Christ’s sake, then the future for reasoned debate on the web was clearly dodgy. So it has proved.
Now, what justification was there for me or anyone else continuing to write about the case, particularly the parents’ place in it, after it was archived? The answer lies in the way it was shelved. Far from concluding the affair it laid the grounds for unending dissension.
According to the Portuguese prosecutors’ report, which terminated the active investigation and released the three arguidos from their suspect status in July 2008, the Madeleine McCann case began thus:
“On May 3 2007 at around 10PM Kate Healy headed for apartment G5A in the Praia da Luz Ocean Club to check on her three children who had been left asleep while she, her husband Gerald and friends dined at the nearby Tapas restaurant. The whole group had been following a similar checking routine although the frequency of the checks has not been rigorously established.”
Or, if you like the commonly used but rather incoherent translation to be found on the McCann Files website:
“On the 3rd of May 2007, at around 10 p.m., at the Ocean Club, in Praia da Luz, Kate Healy – like her, her husband Gerald and their friends, while dining at the Tapas, did with a periodicity that has not been rigorously established – headed for apartment G5A, in order to check on her three children, who had been left there, asleep.”
The report concluded by releasing the McCanns, along with Robert Murat, from their “arguido”, or uncharged suspect, status on the grounds that there was no evidence of any crime by them under the relevant sections of the penal code.
The parents and their lawyers took this is, and its amplification for the media by the Attorney-General’s office, as an official exoneration from any suspicion of personal involvement in the disappearance of their child, one to put all doubts about them finally to rest.
It couldn’t be done, either in the legal sense or in the field of public debate. As to the former the UK media immediately accepted the report as an insuperable obstacle to a defence to libel claims and any doubts about the parents’ role ceased to be expressed. In Portugal, on the other hand, its legal status remains undetermined, though damaged, while the various cases involving the parents and the ex-police officer Goncalo Amaral make their slow progress through the courts.
The problem preventing any “closure” of public debate about the case lies in the ambiguous, not to say schizophrenic, nature of the prosecutors’ report.
Because the prosecutors’ conclusions at the end of the report do not flow directly from the evidence summarised there – as by Portuguese law they are meant to do - but are partially superimposed upon it: hence the schizophrenia.
In the summary of the case material provided to them by the PJ it is made clear that the investigation is incomplete. Not incomplete in the sense that there is no trail to the whereabouts of the child to be followed, but in the sense that there are witnesses who have still not fully deposed, who have not fully co-operated and whose information cannot be taken as reliable in its incomplete state.
And these witnesses, the parents and their seven friends, are not peripheral, or anything like it: they include, in particular, the five people who were in or around the crime scene on the evening of May 3, one of whom was the last person known to have seen Madeleine McCann alive. Such information as exists about the last hours of the child in Praia da Luz comes from them and yet those witnesses, having left Portugal, all refused to return to assist the investigation in clarifying their evidence about events that night.
Further, their testimony was not just incomplete: parts of it, the critical parts involving the last hours and the checks on the the children, the heart of the whole case, were untrue.
So we return to the words of the prosecutors at the head of this article: “with a periodicity that has not been rigorously established.” That seems to mean that after seventeen volumes of investigative material and fourteen months of enquiry the authorities hadn’t even been able to fix the movements of the key witnesses that evening, and that the two arguidos whom they were preparing to release from suspect status had lied to the investigation.
If that was so then clearly shelving was premature or inappropriate: releasing the two arguidos from suspicion while the grounds for suspicion remained was Alice in Wonderland justice, apparently rewarding the pair for having fled Portugal. So is that what “periodicity that has not been rigorously established” means? That the parents were lying?
Yes.Buried in the rest of the report is the confirmation:
“It is extracted from the files that the McCanns and their friends checked to verify if all was well with their children, as can be concluded from what the members of this group declared, and also derives from the testimony of Jerónimo Tomás Rodrigues Salceda, a waiter at the Tapas, who stated that he "noticed, because it was evident, that some of the group's members sometimes went outside of the restaurant to do something, which by and by he realised was to "check" on the children. Nevertheless, he was always convinced that those children were in a space that belonged to the Luz Ocean Club…Nevertheless, it can also be concluded from the files that this surveillance with the periodicity that was mentioned above was not the one that is alleged in the files, which leaves unexplained why, on that night, the procedures were altered in the sense of reducing the checking intervals.”
“Pamela Fenn, who resides on the residential block's first floor, above the apartment that was occupied by the McCann family, clarified that on the 1st of May 2007, two days before her disappearance, at around 10.30 p.m., she heard a child crying, which from the sound would be Madeleine and that she cried for an hour and fifteen minutes, until her parents arrived, at around 11.57 p.m.
This shows that the parents were not persistently worried about their children [and] that they didn't check on them like they afterwards declared they did, rather neglecting their duty to guard those same children, although not in a reckless or gross, manner.”
And, in one of the very few genuine developments in the case since July 2008 one of the prosecutors, José de Magalhães e Menezes, giving evidence in the Lisbon court case, removed any doubt: the group, he said, had not been telling the truth about the frequency of their checks – they had checked, he said, but not at the intervals they claimed.
Mr Menezes, as we shall call him, is an easy figure to mock so it might be unfair to point out that if the group were the only people testifying to the checking on May 3 and it is established that they were not truthful in their statements, then his acceptance that checking did take place that night is based purely on the statement of one waiter, the above-mentioned Jerónimo Tomás Rodrigues Salceda.
But Salceda, by his own admission, knew nothing first hand of any checking, only (“some of the group's members sometimes went outside of the restaurant to do something”) that some members of the group left the restaurant at intervals, destination unknown.
In the judicial context the judges hearing Amaral’s appeal recognised this schizophrenic disjunction between the prosecutors’ conclusions and the evidence from which those conclusions were supposedly derived. Had the McCanns’ defence team been successful in their attempt to exclude the DVD containing the evidence from the case the judges’ examination of the report would have been delayed, perhaps excluded. As it was the judges were able to consult the DVD case papers for themselves and compare the the raw material of the case, including the wildly divergent statements that the group made about the frequency of the checks, with the Menezes selection.
Having looked at the evidence the appeal judges determined that the archiving report’s conclusion could not be taken as a definitive expression of the case evidence; it was, they said, “an interpretation”, not a finding of fact, thus re-opening the entire can of worms going back to May 3.
So much for the legal context and the overturning of the doomed attempt to maintain the report’s “last word” status. And in the extra-judicial public arena this lamentable report has had equally little acceptance as drawing a line and stilling the “doubts”.
The UK media is indeed silent but the parents remain in a limbo between public acceptance and public suspicion, an unstable state based on indifference and boredom with the case liable to ignition into active hostility should new facts emerge.
People will always ask questions about unsolved mysteries. As long as Kate and Gerry McCann and their seven friends refuse to answer the charges of untruthfulness and unwillingness to co-operate with the investigation then the parents, their friends and their children will never have peace and there will be those who believe they deliberately helped it to fail.
That’s it, that’s my lot.
Whose cadaver scent and bodily fluid was found in the McCann's apartment and hire car if not Madeleine's?
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