Jose Breton's disappearance gripped the attention of the Spanish public
Sunday January 22,2012
By William Bond
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AN INVESTIGATING judge in southern Spain will this week lift a secrecy order on the disappearance of two young children that has gripped the nation for more than three months.
It could cast fresh light on what happened to Ruth Breton, six, and her two-year-old brother Jose but could just as easily only fuel the mystery.
The children were reported missing by their father on October 8, 2011.
He approached a security guard in a popular public park in the city of Cordoba, telling him his children had simply disappeared when he was distracted and had taken his eyes off them for no more than a minute or two.
Jose Breton and his wife Ruth had just separated. He had weekend custody and had taken them to the park that Sunday.
Police launched a frantic search but the two children were nowhere to be found and no one had seen them. Even the park’s numerous security cameras had captured images only of the father, none of Ruth and Jose.
Police immediately noticed that Jose senior seemed to show no emotion. In a flat voice, he repeated his story several times, never changing a detail.
And to those who don’t know him, I will assure them that he didn’t
Yet there wasn’t a flicker of fear over what might have happened to his beautiful children. It was reported that he had shown no guilt either for having taken his eyes off them, nor anger that they may have been snatched by strangers to meet who knows what fate.
Detectives leaned heavily on him but he just kept repeating his story, virtually word for word. The children were playing, he took his eyes off them briefly and they were gone. Officers were convinced he was involved in the disappearance. A few days later detectives and uniformed police swooped on the country property just outside the city owned by his parents and little Jose’s paternal grandparents at Las Quemadillas.
They were accompanied by sniffer dogs and spent hours turning the place inside-out. They found nothing. In the next eight days they repeated the operation twice more. But there were still no clues. Although Jose stuck to his story he was arrested and questioned as a suspect. After 72 hours – the maximum a suspect can be held in Spain – he was handed to an investigating judge, Jose Luis Rodriguez.
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After a closed-door session, Breton was ordered to prison on suspicion of illegal detention, kidnapping and simulating a crime. A secrecy order meant that whatever evidence there was could not be disclosed.
Last week, state prosecutor Jose Antonio Martin-Caro said that when the secrecy order is lifted on Wednesday there will be evidence to back-up why Breton is being held. He admitted, however, that what actually happened to the children remains a mystery. The police are convinced that the father did not take them to the park and knows what happened to them, but they have yet to get him to admit it.
The pressure has not let up on the paternal grandparents. The estate where they live has been searched at least half a dozen more times. Drains have been scoured, false roofs torn down and walls opened up. Last Wednesday a team of National Police divers dragged the River Guadalquivir where it passes through Cordoba and near to the grandparents’ property for a second time since the drama began.
The weekly Madrid news magazine Interviu reported that the father had let one ominous expression slip when a detective asked yet again: “Where are the kids, Jose?” “That,” he is reported to have said, “is my secret.”
Equally convinced that Jose senior is responsible for the children’s disappearance is their mother, Ruth. She broke her silence for the first time this month as the 100th day of their disappearance approached.
She told a rally near the Portuguese border: “Everyone who knows Jose Breton knows that he did not lose his children. And to those who don’t know him, I will assure them that he didn’t.”
The case bears a passing resemblance to the disappearance of British child Madeleine McCann on a family holiday in Portugal almost five years ago, in the sense that the mystery has a nation in thrall. Just as Kate McCann has clung to the belief that her daughter is still alive, so Ruth Ortiz is convinced her children are not dead. Also like Kate, she is determined to keep the spotlight on the case and not to give up until the mystery is solved.
Earlier this month she crossed the border into Portugal to put-up scores of posters with pictures of Ruth and Jose.
In Cordoba, a city visited by thousands of tourists every week, posters are being prepared in several languages, including English.
British expats are said to have offered to send posters to the UK as Interpol alerts police across Europe.
It has to be emphasised that there is nothing to connect the Spanish children’s disappearance with that of Madeleine.
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