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Snatched: Kate and Gerry McCann will use money from the book's sales to pay for their ongoing search for Madeleine Photo: PA
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British holiday-makers, the Atwood family, at the Ocean Club Resort in Praia da Luz in Portugal where Madeleine McCann was staying when she went missing
By Olga Craig 7:00AM BST 24 Apr 2011
It is the spiritual sanctuary to which Kate and Gerry McCann return time and time again with each passing year. Usually their visits are in private, occasionally with close relatives. But it is here, in the tiny, white-washed 17th-century church of Our Lady of Light, overlooking the sea in Praia da Luz on the Algarve, where the couple feel closest to Madeleine, their cherished oldest child, who next month will have been missing for four years. Here is where Kate, especially, in the words of parish priest Father Haynes Hubbard, her Portuguese pastor and confidant, “comes back to cling to the hope that their daughter will come home”.
The church has always been where the McCanns and their supporters have gathered, particularly during those dark days following May 3 2007 when Madeleine, then just days short of her fourth birthday, vanished from the family’s holiday apartment in the seaside village. It has been here they have found succour and strength. Here that they still hope one day to return to give thanks and salvation for the safe return of their child, who will turn eight next month.
Yet today, as another agonising anniversary looms for the McCanns, there is, surely, something missing? While the congregation prays daily for Madeleine, the photographs of the little girl, forever frozen in time as the chubby-cheeked, gap-toothed toddler she was when she vanished, are nowhere to be seen. Once, they adorned the walls and pews. “Find Madeleine” posters, replaced when they faded, were pinned near the altar and yellow and green ribbons, symbols of the campaign launched to search for her, adorned the porch. Now there are none.
“There are pictures of Madeleine in the church,” Fr Hubbard says hesitantly. “But you can’t see them, they are hidden. They are not on display. People were hurt and scarred by everything that was said and done and it has frightened them off. Many are now cautious to openly display their hope.”
He is wary; uncomfortable, perhaps. He chooses his words with care. For while he – and many in his congregation – continue to pray in hope rather than in despair, the sad truth is that Madeleine McCann has become an awkward, painful and, perhaps unpalatably, at times taboo topic in Praia da Luz. Tragically, though perhaps understandably, the overwhelming atmosphere here is of a community uncomfortable with its connection to a lost little girl. Some have simply airbrushed her from memory while others, who at the time were highly vocal in the “Find Maddy” campaign, now distance themselves.
A few, one suspects, feel guilty that the locals did not handle the disappearance in a more organised – and less hysterical – manner. As Inez Lopes, editor of the local newspaper, Algarve Resident, points out: “People want to move on, not be forever attached to or identified with Madeleine. Of course we still feel for the McCanns but we want to be associated with a happier place. Frankly, it was an isolated incident that could have happened anywhere in the world. Right now Portugal is in the grip of a financial crisis. In Praia da Luz the feeling is that it has hurt our local economy. Tourism was affected by it, businesses closed. I don’t think the local business community can be blamed for wanting to return to being nothing more than a holidaymakers’ haven.”
Many of the principal characters in the case – which saw the McCanns by turn being comforted and protected by the Portuguese and expatriate communities alike as grieving parents; then vilified and shunned when they were, wrongly, accused of being involved in the disappearance – have moved on. Others want to banish all reminders of Madeleine’s existence and some openly display anger that this once prosperous tourist town is now synonymous with the abduction and possible murder of a child. Just a month ago, fresh posters were either torn down or had paint splattered over them within 24 hours. Reluctantly the McCanns have accepted that their campaign reminders are no longer welcomed by many locals.
And while no one would deny that the McCanns have borne the brunt of the anguish and opprobrium, they are not alone in that suffering. Within weeks of Madeleine’s disappearance Robert Murat, a British expatriate who had made Praia da Luz his home, was under investigation. The villa he shared with his elderly mother Jenny was searched by police and sniffer dogs and its grounds dug up. Mr Murat was questioned repeatedly by police and became the public scapegoat for the international outrage over Madeleine’s abduction. He was vilified in print, spat at in the streets and besieged in his home. In time, he too was exonerated. The scars of his public savaging, however, remain. These days he is rarely seen in public in Praia da Luz. He has since married his long-term girlfriend Michaela (she, too, was wrongly accused of involvement) who eight months ago gave birth to their son, Benjamin.
“No one wanted to know how I felt, or what I was going through at the time,” he says with an understandable trace of bitterness. “From my perspective, I have a new life with my wife and baby son.”
None the less, Mr Murat and his family have found it difficult to return to anonymity. “It’s still talked about here. All the time. But everyone is more cautious, less willing to take events at face value,” says Tuck Price, a close friend of Mr Murat and his staunchest supporter when he was wrongly accused. “Madeleine’s disappearance is an uncomfortable reminder that perhaps we had all become too complacent. Just last week I had my four-year-old nephew and his 12-year-old sister staying. And yes, I was more vigilant. I kept a closer eye on them than maybe I would have before Madeleine disappeared.’’
Mr Murat’s aunt and uncle, Sally and Ralph Everleigh, were also hounded during the spell he was under suspicion. Though they were never accused of any involvement they were harassed and cold-shouldered: for nothing more than being deemed guilty by association. “It was a horrendous time,” Mrs Everleigh recalls. “Our house was bugged, our phones tapped. Of course the McCanns have suffered a tragedy that they will never be able to come to terms with. How could they? But the stress of the whole situation made my husband ill. We suffered in our own way.” Little wonder, then, that each year, as the May 3 anniversary approaches, the couple leave their home and spend a few weeks in Gibraltar to escape the attention.
There are many in the tourism trade, too, whose businesses have been affected by what Ms Lopes describes as the “double whammy of the recession and the Maddy effect”. Several shops are boarded up and closed, and the resort seems a little more shabby, a little more down-at-heel. Restaurant owners mutter or grimace dismissively when asked how they have been affected. “Badly,” is the morose, monosyllabic response of one café owner. “We don’t want to talk about it,” say most. “We want the holidaymakers back.” It hasn’t helped, naturally, that Portugal’s weather is currently unseasonably poor. Last week, Praia da Luz was lashed with torrential rain, its few tourists forced to huddle in cafés clad in sou’westers and gumboots.
Mrs Ruth McCann (no relation) who owned the 5a apartment that was rented to the McCanns through the Ocean Club complex from where Madeleine was snatched, has tried for two years to sell. Though she dropped the price to £255,000 (£50,000 less than similar properties sell for) she didn’t have a single inquiry. The flat has lain unoccupied since the McCanns left it to return to their Leicestershire home in Rothely in September 2007. And it shows. The varnish on its front door has become faded and stripped by the sun; its garden is overgrown and the hedge, in contrast to those adjacent, is unkempt and bedraggled. “I keep asking the Ocean people to cut it,” says Ian Fenn who inherited the apartment above from his mother, Pamela, who died last month.
Mr Fenn, who lives in England, visits the flat monthly and has witnessed its transformation from white-washed holiday home to a ghoulish, run-down tourist attraction. “There are always tourists who stand outside and get their friends to take their photograph outside 5a,” he says wearily. “They find some ghastly attraction in being pictured at the spot when a little girl was abducted. Gerry McCann did come up to apologise to my mother for all the unwanted attention – which was incredibly kind as he has endured a grief and pain that no parent should ever have to withstand.”
There have been subtle changes, too, in the Ocean complex. On the night their daughter was snatched, the McCanns and seven other British couples in their party, dined in the complex, leaving all their children – in adjacent apartments – alone. They did not lock the doors, fearing the children would be trapped should a fire break out. Neither did they pay for a baby-sitting service, saying they didn’t want to leave their children with strangers. Instead, in a decision that will forever haunt the couple, they opted to take turns checking on all the sleeping children at half-hourly intervals. Today, the dining area has been turned into a pizzeria and is no longer open in the evenings. And though the McCanns have received world-wide sympathy, they know that those fateful decisions will always be questioned.
In the complex several British families, hoping to escape what they believed would be brisk Easter weather at home, were holidaying in the Ocean complex last week. Mike and Liz Atwood from Birmingham and their three children – Toby, 12, Lucy, nine, and four-year-old Tom – were among the few who braved the pool during the brief spells when the monsoon-like rains ceased. The family has holidayed in Praia da Luz many times and though Madeleine’s disappearance disturbed them, they have opted to return each year.
“But, of course, we are more vigilant,” Mrs Atwood admits. “This is a friendly, family-orientated resort and the Portuguese are well-known for how lovingly they treat children. But we just don’t let the kids out of our sight. We wouldn’t dream of going out for dinner and leaving them alone. I don’t mean to be critical of the McCanns. All parents can empathise with how grief-stricken they are. How bitterly they regret those decisions. They are paying a dear and heavy price and no one would wish it upon them. It has certainly made us be more attentive.”
On Praia da Luz’s beach, too, parents keep a keen eye on their children. Between heavy showers, as some played in the sand clad in stout boots and raincoats, their mothers shivered on the sea front watching them. “I don’t even want to sit in the café where it’s warm,” one said. “I would rather get wet and cold and know they are safe.”
Among the local Portuguese community too there have been many whose lives have changed immeasurably since Madeleine's disappearance. None more so, perhaps, than Gonçalo Amaral, who initially headed the botched and woefully inadequate police investigation. Since being dropped from the case, he has become a thorn in the McCanns’ side. While Kate awaits the launch of her own book on May 12 (Madeleine’s birthday) in which she tells the story from her perspective, and the proceeds from which will hopefully boost the vastly depleted Find Madeleine campaign, she and husband Gerry face a renewed legal battle with Amaral. They had already clashed over his sensationalised and dubious account of events, cryptically entitled The Truth of The Lie in which he attempted to justify his decision to brand the couple as suspects, which the McCanns called “mistaken” and aired his highly speculative theory that Madeleine died in apartment 5a. When he was barred from publishing it, he set about writing another which is also timed to launch near Madeleine’s birthday.
This weekend, while he refused to comment on his book, his wife Sonia defended his decision to publish a second. “Gonçalo has worked hard on this book,” she said. “He has spent days and nights assessing the evidence. In it he will say his investigation was cut short and he will explain what he would have done if he had been allowed to continue.” The timing of the publication, she insisted, was “coincidental. We are not trying to cash in on the anniversary”.
None the less, the timing will be hurtful for the McCanns who had hoped their court battles had dissuaded him from further comment. “It’s just one more painful thing they must face,” says one relative. “Quite why he wants to hound them when it has been proved definitively that they are completely innocent, no one knows.”
This weekend, while the congregation of Our Lady of Light held traditional Easter services, doubtless many said silent prayers for Madeleine, although she was not mentioned by name. Many will leave the village for the anniversary, others intend to make an appearance at the vigil in the church on May 3. In their home town of Rothely, Kate and Gerry will be steeling themselves to attend their fourth service that marks yet another year without a trace of Madeleine.
Both vigils will be emotion-filled. Prayers will be said, fervent hopes for a happy outcome – which, with the passing of time, becomes ever less likely – voiced. In Praia da Luz, however, quietly and behind the scenes, one man will spend the day remembering Madeleine in a more practical way. David Edgar, the Ulster-born ex-police officer whose Alpha Group Investigations has taken over the search, will hope that the anniversary – and publication of Kate’s book – will jog a long-forgotten memory.
That finally there will be a resolution to what has become an enduring mystery: the whereabouts of Madeleine McCann.
"WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER" - Rebekah Brooks to David Cameron
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Madeleine search: How did it come to this? Sunday Telegraph
By Olga Craig
12:01AM BST 09 Sep 2007
Kate and Gerry McCann, admired around the world for their courageous search for missing daughter Madeleine, have been named as suspects in the case of her disappearance. Olga Craig tracks the couple's desperate four-month ordeal
As Kate and Gerry McCann trudged, hand-in-hand with heads bowed, through the narrow cobblestone streets of Praia da Luz towards the town's tiny, whitewashed church of Our Lady of the Light, en route to 11am Mass on the morning of Sunday, May 5, crowds of onlookers stood in silent sympathy.
Only two days before, the couple's eldest child, blonde, bewitching three-year-old Madeleine, had vanished from their holiday apartment, seemingly abducted from her bedroom while she slept, tucked between her twin siblings, in the sleepy Algarve coastal resort.
Already, shockwaves were reverberating around the world.
Here before them, was the distraught, stumbling young mother whose name was now synonymous with the searing heartache of maternal loss.
As the McCanns drew nearer to the church, the quiet murmurings of grief, of sympathy and pity for a mother who clutched Cuddle Cat, her child's favourite toy, to her chest and was so clearly clinging to the belief that within days Madeleine would be found, swelled.
Spontaneously, the few supportive claps became a crescendo.
Holiday-makers and locals enveloped the couple, stroking Kate's face, clapping Gerry's back, pressing flowers and green and yellow ribbons into their hands.
Their message was clear: we are with you, we will support you, we will comfort you as we would our own.
Four months on, almost to the day, how astonishingly, almost unbelievably, things have changed.
On the morning of September 7, again, shortly before 11am, Kate McCann once more walked through the Portuguese crowds swarming the pavement, this time to face an 11-hour grilling by police, who were waiting to ask her: Did you kill your daughter?
This time there was no cheering support, no rousing reception.
Instead the low, slow sound of hissing, then jeers and the escalating angry cat-calls of: "How could you? What mother could do this?"
Only one lone voice, that of an English holiday-maker, shouted: "We believe you Kate."
It must have been scant comfort to Madeleine's mother, now painfully thin and wan-faced, as she walked trance-like into the Portimao police headquarters.
Today Kate McCann, and Gerry, both 39, are no longer deemed, by Portuguese police at least, the tragic victims of a heinous and heartless crime: they now face the finger of vile suspicion as the chief suspects in the disappearance of their daughter - of whom there has been not a single sighting since the evening she vanished.
That the McCanns, initially, evoked sympathy and compassion worldwide is without doubt.
The great and good, from the Pope to the British Prime Minister, from David Beckham to pop stars, have pledged their support, using their status and celebrity to highlight the compelling and sorrowful story of Madeleine's abduction, which has topped the news agenda for three months.
In the intervening time, the couple have been feted and applauded across the world, saluted for their relentless FindMadeleine campaign - which has raised more than £1 million - and the stoic courage they have shown as the lacklustre Portuguese police inquiry, punctuated by bumbling inefficiency and the most basic of flaws, lumbered slowly along.
Then, three weeks ago, the tide seemed to turn. When Robert Murat, the British-born suspect, angrily suggested those "bloody McCanns" should return home, he was not, this time, a lone voice.
The Portuguese media had already been revelling in lurid headlines suggesting that the couple were "swingers" who indulged in wife-swapping, had drunk 14 bottles of wine along with their seven friends on the night Madeleine vanished, had not been nearly so vigilant about checking on their children on the evening of May 3 as they claimed and were under intense scrutiny by police, who now believed Madeleine was dead.
The idea that something was awry finally seemed to be taking root in the public's consciousness.
Increasingly, the McCanns seemed isolated. Even though the Portuguese police investigation was riddled with flaws, more and more people began to question the family's version of events.
Gnawing, often unspoken, doubts festered.
When the Portuguese media insisted that its allegations were not based on wildly imaginative speculation, but were the result of secret briefings by police moles, they had largely been dismissed.
Now, however, the public grudgingly gave them more and more credence.
On Friday, we discovered why. Those veiled innuendoes and lurid allegations, it became clear, were indeed based on the Portuguese police's suspicions. Suspicions they had most likely leaked to their own country's media, possibly in the hope of rattling the McCanns and encouraging them to change their story.
And those suspicions were based on scientific evidence, albeit evidence that the Portuguese themselves had spectacularly missed or failed to seek out and which was revealed only after they finally allowed British police, who possess much more sophisticated equipment and methods, to become involved.
In the past two days, events have switched. Why, Portuguese police want to know, did the McCanns hire a car five weeks after Madeleine's disappearance and one day before they flew to Rome for an audience with the Pope?
How did traces of Madeleine's blood come to be found on the window and under the sofa of apartment 5a in the Mark Warner Ocean Club resort in which the couple had stayed along with their two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie, and Madeleine?
Why were traces of Madeleine's bodily fluids discovered in the car?
Why had sniffer dogs smelled the scent of a corpse on Kate McCann's jeans and T-shirt and on Cuddle Cat, Madeleine's favourite toy which Mrs McCann twists obsessively through her trembling fingers as her last tangible link with Madeleine?
Did you sedate your daughter, accidentally overdose her and then panic and dispose of the body, they want to know.
And while there can be no doubt that the majority of people believe the McCanns to be entirely innocent, and that the allegations are, in the words of Philomena McCann, Gerry's aunt, "ludicrous and utterly untrue", the public, too, has pressing questions: Have the McCanns cynically manipulated a gullible public that was all too willing to believe their heartbreaking story of how their cherished child disappeared?
Was their carefully orchestrated and sophisticated campaign, that included jetting across the world on fact-finding missions and high-profile press events, merely a smoke screen for what could be one of the most audacious and clever cover-ups?
In the early days of May no one could have imagined such a scenario.
Day after day, as the McCanns left their apartment at 9am to walk Sean and Amelie to the Mark Warner creche, they appeared more and more pitiable.
They embraced media involvement, believing publicity was their best weapon.
"We are waging a war, a strategic campaign," Gerry told me in the couple's first face-to-face interview with a British Sunday national newspaper.
That day, the first time I had spoken at length to the couple, there seemed no reason to doubt their story of how they had put their three children to bed at 7pm and then dined at a tapas bar, checking at half-hour intervals.
Yes, I had niggling suspicions. It was true, I suggested gently, that while they had dined within the safe confines of the Mark Warner resort, behind security staffed gates, their children were left alone in a ground-floor apartment seven to eight minutes away, on the main road.
And when I, apologetically, asked my two final questions, prefacing them delicately with the explanation that I had, as a journalist, no option but to ask, Kate became very edgy.
When I queried their decision to ignore the various baby-sitting services, Kate mumbled something about not wanting "to leave them with strangers".
When I asked why they left the patio doors and windows unlocked, she stood up and walked off. Understandably, they were distressing questions. Nevertheless, she was unwilling to address them.
Kate McCann, whom I was convinced, without a doubt, was incapable of harming a hair upon her child's head and was, truly, a distraught and heart-broken mother, did come across as detached, a little cold.
Only through lengthy gentle coaxing would she talk of her emotions. But, I reasoned, too much could be read into that.
Joanne Lees, initially suspected of the murder of her boyfriend Peter Falconio, suffered vilification simply because she did not wear her heart on her sleeve. She was, as was later proved, innocent.
When Kate was asked a difficult question she sat in silence, leaving the response to Gerry.
He, more gregarious by nature, could be slightly arrogant. It was easily explained by his natural desire to be doing something positive and his professional training as a highly skilled cardiologist, accustomed to controlling situations. Yet it was mildly disconcerting.
In those initial weeks, I also witnessed the Portuguese police's shambolic inquiry.
I noted the four Alsatian sniffer dogs penned in cages in the sweltering sun while their handlers scoured the seafront shops for souvenirs instead of seeking evidence; I observed too their failure to close the border between Portugal and Spain for 12 hours after Madeleine vanished and the paucity of their apparent evidence against Robert Murat, who appeared to be guilty only of having a strange manner and a nosy desire to be at the heart of the case.
Although Portuguese police insisted that there was no paedophile ring operating in the country, their British counterparts revealed that 130 such criminals had travelled to Portugal in the past two years.
Casa Liliano, the villa shared by Mr Murat and his mother, Jenny, about 100 yards from the McCann's apartment, was searched twice, its grounds dug up.
His computers were scoured and his links with the somewhat elusive Russian, Sergey Malinka, and Malinka's mysterious on-off girlfriend Michaela, were trawled through.
But while Mr Murat became the sole suspect, no charges have ever been brought and he expects to be exonerated soon.
By July, while the McCanns were still swamped with unswerving support, the first voices of dissent began to emerge.
The Leicester Mercury, the couple's local newspaper serving the Rothley village where they lived, was forced to close its Madeleine website after a series of "spiteful and defamatory" remarks were made about the McCanns.
Then came the real turning of the tide. Tired of being ignored by the McCanns, the Portuguese media camped outside their villa and knocked constantly upon their door. When the family left, the media circus followed, tracking the couple obsessively.
In Praia da Luz, too, more and more people began to ask why the McCanns were still there. It seemed heartless. And, yet, one could see the sentiment take root and grow.
In a scathing letter to the Algarve's English language newspaper, the Portugal News, Martyn Smith, a British solicitor living in Praia da Luz, asked a series of scorching questions.
"The Director of Public Prosecutions should consider if there is a case to answer," he thundered, querying the couple's decision to leave their children alone.
Why, he asked, did the McCanns travel to several European countries but never Britain. "It may be for fear of prosecution," he said.
The all-too-sad truth was that the tide of goodwill was turning against the McCanns.
Locals were angry that their police were being so heavily criticised by the British press. British journalists also believed the Portuguese simply wanted a scapegoat, preferably not Portuguese, upon whom they could pin the crime.
"People here are finding it all very tiresome," Sheena Rawcliff, the managing director of the Resident, Praia da Luz's English-language magazine, admitted to me.
"Of course our hearts go out to them. But people are asking the blunt questions. Why leave them alone? Why remain here? The McCanns need closure, but so, too, do the people of Praia da Luz. A backlash has begun and I believe it could get ugly."
This weekend, Ms Rawcliffe has been proved correct.
Kate and Gerry McCann should have been preparing to board a flight back to England this morning with their two remaining children.
Instead, they will, once again, trudge to their local church, passing the posters, now torn and dog-eared, of their cherished Madeleine. They have vowed to remain in Portugal until they clear their names.
But, however astonishing it may seem, there appears to be a possibility that the couple whose anguish has touched the world may face charges of accidentally killing their child and disposing of her body.
Few in Britain will believe that they could have been involved: perhaps because that possibility, with all its implications, is too horrendous to contemplate.
Never more so than now will the McCann's motto of "Hope, Strength and Courage" be more important, or more vital, to their survival".
Whose cadaver scent and bodily fluid was found in the McCann's apartment and hire car if not Madeleine's?
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Sunday, 24 April 2011
Time to Forget?... No way, hosé.
I'm feeling the full effects of Easter today as the latest tripe from Olga Craig has made my eyes bleed.
Interesting that the British media can obtain quotes when they pick and choose, although veiled xenophobia only works when you're clever enough to pull it off. The ability to write an unbiased article in a less derogatory nature seems a thing of the past - getting Mrs Amaral's name correct would be a good start. This pink and fluffy tale of woe however actually gave us a couple of pieces of factual information.
Congratulations and good wishes to Mr and Mrs Murat on the birth of their son. It's no surprise that this family wish to remain private after past happenings and a welcome change that the press have chosen to respect their privacy.
Also condolences to the Fenn family on the death of their mother, Pamela who passed away last month. Her son, Ian claims that Mr McCann visited her personally to apologise for all the unwanted attention.
Yet another witness contacted by or on behalf of a suspect in this case? Strange that, it really shouldn't be allowed.
1st May 2007 - At approximately 22.30 she heard a child cry, and that due the tone of the crying seemed to be a young child and not a baby of two years of age or younger. Apart from the crying that continued for approximately one hour and fifteen minutes, and which got louder and more expressive, the child shouted “Daddy, Daddy”, the witness had no doubt that the noise came from the floor below. At about 23.45, an hour and fifteen minutes after the crying began, she heard the parents arrive, she did not see them, but she heard the patio doors open, she was quite worried as the crying had gone on for more than an hour and had gradually got worse.
Sad words from Mrs Fenn, now set in stone and another in that series of stones that have been left unturned.
Time to forget? What a pathetic, ludicrous question. Apart from the frenzied courting of the media that the McCanns whipped up in early May 2007, along with the strange facts and inconsistencies in this case, the child is still missing. All these factors have ensured that Madeleine will most likely never be forgotten, even if there is a conclusion. We're not going anywhere, are you?
Happy Easter to you all.