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Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

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Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Get'emGonçalo on 02.02.16 17:06

Former BBC journalist Clarence Mitchell helped keep the story of the disappearance of three-year-old British child Madeleine McCann in the media for eight years. In this Q&A he discusses the challenges of the case, his career as a journalist and the road to launching his own communications consultancy, Clarence Mitchell Communications.


What was the most challenging part of being the spokesman for the McCann family?
There were constant daily challenges. Hourly, in fact. And at times 24/7 – for the first couple of years. Not least having to correct, rebut or balance very rapidly the initial hostile coverage that the family faced, particularly in Portuguese media.
False stories based on anonymous briefings on one day were then simply repeated internationally the next day before being re-repeated in Portugal on the third day.
UK journalists, especially, were under immense newsdesk pressure to deliver a sensational splash irrespective of the day’s actual events or the truth of something, which meant much of my time was spent dampening down – or stopping altogether – the most lurid, exaggerated or blatantly fabricated headlines.
Hostile UK coverage of the Portuguese police also meant the situation quickly became very nationalistic and highly political, too. Cultural differences added to the mix.
Being an advocate for the family and their friends, defending their reputation and actions and constantly attempting to pull what felt like a daily soap opera back to concentrating purely on the search for Madeleine was the main overall challenge.
How do you go about engaging with media on such a sensitive story as Madeleine McCann’s disappearance?
Whilst it has been and continues to be a highly emotionally-charged situation, I could not, and cannot, afford to be emotional with the media in any way. Tact, sensitivity, understanding and diplomacy were needed from the outset. Not least given the international and cultural differences so publicly at play, quite apart from the core human story of Madeleine’s disappearance itself.
I approached it as a major news story as a news reporter would, with all the dispassionate journalistic demands for immediate information, access and briefings that go with one.
As a former journalist myself it also helped considerably that I knew what journalists, both print and broadcast, would largely want, how they would approach it and when were their individual pressure points, according to their respective deadline rhythms.
It meant I could predict with some certainty what elements of the story they would focus on, how it would play out over any given 24 hour news cycle and, if feasible and practical with law enforcement on the ground, how I could create opportunities for them, while liaising closely with the family at all times. I then prioritised which outlets would get what and when, if at all.
Part of it was also daily relationship-building on the ground and developing trust to overcome the language difficulties and improve international media co-operation. Getting local media to share pooled picture and interview opportunities, for example, was a particular hurdle until they understood they could trust me to deliver for them.
What are the key PR skills needed when handling a case such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann?
It needed a mixture of skills: sheer common sense, honesty, rapidity of response, having a clear line to take ready and dealing with the journalists in as straightforward and open a way as possible, given the constraints of the police operation.
If a journalist was straight with me in their approach and demands, I was straight with them in what I could or could not tell or offer them, which on many days wasn’t much.
In terms of assisting the family themselves, it also required tact and sensitivity and an understanding of their own antipathy towards certain media requests, discussing with them in detail the merits of certain bids and how they may or may not help the wider search.
I effectively acted as the middleman trying daily to balance the family’s privacy and law enforcement’s operational restrictions on public statements or picture opportunities with the media’s constant desire and demand for updated information and their central, over-riding desire to help the search.
At certain times coverage could be highly counter-productive and it was hard for journalists to accept that.
I also took a hard-nosed attitude to any journalistic nonsense, blatant exaggeration or swallowing of downright lies. Later, I acted as liaison with the family’s defamation lawyers and senior editorial figures in the UK, which required tact and diplomacy whilst also making robustly clear the failures of their own internal editorial systems.
What are the lessons you’ve taken away from handling the McCann case that you can apply to your other clients, especially now you’ve started your own firm?
To be as human, empathetic and sensitive as possible, whilst still being firm, brutally honest and fair in dealing with both your clients and the media.
Common sense, transparency and an ability not to be afraid to say it how it is still takes you a long way in PR, not the latest comms jargon or buzzword.
The industry, at heart, is still driven by relationships and the mutual trust that develops as your advocacy grows for a client or your sell-in delivers for a journalist. Nurture those core characteristics in all your client and media relationships and they will underpin your success, bolstering everything you do.
How does working as a journalist for the BBC differ to working in public relations?
There were both similarities and key differences. At the BBC, I spent 20 years dealing with hard facts rather than opinion, researching stories extensively and establishing the accuracy of a situation – the exact same attributes needed in PR when understanding a client, their background or product and the facts of their situation. That core journalistic discipline has stood me in very good stead ever since.
The differences, though, lie in my originally not being able to express any view as a news reporter.
In PR, particularly within reputation management, I had to rapidly become an advocate, taking a position and arguing it strongly on behalf of the client, almost, in fact, a political role. That was a big adjustment to make from simply being the impartial BBC observer and messenger.
How did your experience leading the British government’s media monitoring unit prepare you for working in PR? 
It gave me a crucial insight into the workings of central government structures at the highest level, along with an understanding of the civil service culture and attitudes – all vital for effective public affairs outreach in my later PR life.
It also gave me strong political insight. Although I, of course, operated with strict neutrality under the Civil Service Code of propriety, working for  Ministers of the day, no matter which Party was in power.
Running a mid-sized team of Information Officers across a 24/7 rota was also good management experience for my later chairing of public affairs and media practice areas in a network agency.
In many respects, the UK civil service was the ideal bridging element in my career to make the transition from journalism to PR.
What are the challenges in starting your own PR business?
Establishing, expanding and diversifying my core client list as swiftly as possible. I have been fortunate enough so far to have built a public profile that has brought me a valued client base, stretching across the personal, corporate and political spheres.
My central challenge now is to consolidate CMC Ltd to become a significant industry presence, whilst building out new relationships and client offers across potential new sectors, for example, in entertainment and sport.
In terms of the PR industry what do you see as the key challenges for the year ahead? 
The industry still needs to build a far broader C-suite acceptance of the PR and comms function as an integral part of the core management and marketing portfolio. For too many companies PR remains a bolt-on, regarded as expensive, only really visible and valued when a crisis hits.
The key industry challenge remains the need for PR to prove its worth daily within the boardroom, not simply as a generator of publicity or some sort of press office add-on, but as the ever watchful. multi-channel promoter and guardian of reputation, brand and share price.
In the sprawling digital age, clients – corporate, political and personal – still need to understand that while the day of controlling the message is largely over, replaced by the day of influencing it, the attendant multi–platform opportunities to do so have never been greater.
Logistically, staff retention, low pay for interns and an uncertain global economic climate continuing the downward pressure on budget spend will also all continue to present central industry challenges in the coming year.

Clarence Mitchell is the keynote speaker at Mumbrella’s 2016 CommsCon conference, in Sydney on March 23.
For more information on the CommsCon program and how to buy tickets click on the banner below.



http://mumbrella.com.au/clarence-mitchell-madeleine-mccann-disappearance-pr-342797
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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Tony Bennett on 02.02.16 17:41

Clarence Mitchell speaks of:

"my time was spent dampening down – or stopping altogether – the most lurid, exaggerated or blatantly fabricated headlines".

I cast my mind back over some old Clarence-Mitchell-inspired stories:

* 'Maddie in the U.S', says basketball-playing Angolan former bouncer and amateur sleuth whose teeth were knocked out by a violent paedophile gang that held Maddie

* Maddie with wealthy middle-class north African family

* I burnt letter from my dead paedophile father who met the gypsy-gang leader that abducted Maddie

* Maddie seen with man in New Zealand supermarket

* Paedophile tried to snatch my daughter outside a pastry shop in Sagres

* Maddie taken by Victoria Beckham lookalike on a yacht to Australia.

And loads more in similar vein.

Shouldn't Clarence have said:

"my time was spent developing – or even inventing altogether – the most lurid, exaggerated or blatantly fabricated headlines".

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 Daily Mail journalist Daniel Bates wrote: “Kate and Gerry McCann have released a new picture of their daughter Madeleine as they prepare to commemorate tomorrow’s third anniversary of her disappearance. The photo shows her when she was three after a raid on the dressing-up box. She has a pink bow in her hair and a gold bead necklace and is wearing blue eyeshadow. It was taken weeks before the fateful family holiday to the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz when Madeleine vanished”

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by worriedmum on 02.02.16 19:17

Who put the 'I couldn't make love to Gerry' story out there???

Which obviously helped in the search for Madeleine....

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by sallypelt on 03.02.16 11:08

SNIPPED

Being an advocate for the family and their friends, defending their reputation and actions and constantly attempting to pull what felt like a daily soap opera back to concentrating purely on the search for Madeleine was the main overall challenge.


END

I rest my case.

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clarence mitchell

Post by willowthewisp on 03.02.16 11:51

@sallypelt wrote:SNIPPED

Being an advocate for the family and their friends, defending their reputation and actions and constantly attempting to pull what felt like a daily soap opera back to concentrating purely on the search for Madeleine was the main overall challenge.


END

I rest my case.
Hi Sallypelt,Clarence should have "Balaclava" inserted into his name,as he certainly has tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the UK media in his little well funded enterprise from the "Find Madeleine McCann Fund" not a charity,but an exercised manipulation to raise funds to defend certain person's of their "Reputation"?

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Verdi on 03.02.16 11:55

@worriedmum wrote:Who put the 'I couldn't make love to Gerry' story out there???

Which obviously helped in the search for Madeleine....

puke

And a whole lot more..

https://www.google.com/search?q=madeleine+mccann+newspaper+headlines&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimwsnmw9vKAhWIZA8KHYVjA0gQsAQIHA&biw=1366&bih=609

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Verdi on 03.02.16 11:59

Clarence Mitchell always reminds me of Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys fame..



Sorry, couldn't resist it.

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by aquila on 03.02.16 12:27

@worriedmum wrote:Who put the 'I couldn't make love to Gerry' story out there???

Which obviously helped in the search for Madeleine....

How much were the McCanns (or their limited company) paid for this article? This article was obviously sanctioned by Clarence Mitchell (the bloke who controls what appears in the Press). No doubt it comes under some tenuous link to 'human interest'.

Oh dear, Clarence isn't a very nice man is he?

IIRC Clarence also mentioned he missed his own wife miscarrying their baby whilst working with the McCanns.
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similarities..

Post by worriedmum on 03.02.16 17:43

@Verdi wrote:Clarence Mitchell always reminds me of Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys fame..



Sorry, couldn't resist it.
Is it because of the cauliflower?








lol4
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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by plebgate on 03.02.16 19:06

@sallypelt wrote:SNIPPED

Being an advocate for the family and their friends, defending their reputation and actions and constantly attempting to pull what felt like a daily soap opera back to concentrating purely on the search for Madeleine was the main overall challenge.


END

I rest my case.
AND ACTIONS.

What actions of theirs needed defending I wonder?  Is he going to tell?

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Verdi on 03.02.16 19:55

'There is a wholly innocent explanation for any material the police may or may not have found.'  -  Clarence Mitchell

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Carrry On Doctor on 29.02.16 10:22

Not sure if posted elsewhere, but saw this on twitter;

Any members in Australia available to ask some pertinent questions ?

http://commscon.com.au/conference/


KEYNOTE – The hunt for Madeleine McCann

Clarence Mitchell, the man who kept the story of the disappearance of three-year-old British child Madeleine McCann in the media for eight years, will open CommsCon 2016. The former BBC reporter will present on how he worked with the McCann family and media to keep the story of Madeleine’s disappearance in the news, as well as reflecting on how the experience has led to launching his own communications consultancy Clarence Mitchell Communications in August.





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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Verdi on 09.04.16 23:55

Rags to riches..

CLARENCE MITCHELL (PR Spokesperson)
Clarence Mitchell, a former BBC journalist who worked for the Cabinet Office but was seconded to the Foreign Office because of his experience of working in television. Under Mitchell, the campaign stepped up a gear, with the papal visit and European tour. When the McCanns were made arguidos, Clarence Mitchell resigned his post as Director of the government's Media Monitoring Information Unit and joined the McCann team again. His salary is funded by the tycoon Brian Kennedy
The making of a media expert

From TV to Madeleine, and beyond

1962 Born and educated in north-west London. Tries working in a bank after school but hates it.

1982 Joins Hendon and Finchley Times as a trainee reporter, which brings him into contact with the local MP, Margaret Thatcher. "To see the Prime Minister sweep into the office with Special Branch while you are writing up the latest golden wedding is quite an experience."

1985 Shift work on Sunday Express.

1986 Joins the BBC in Sheffield as a radio reporter, before going on to television in Leeds with Look North.

1989 Breakfast News in London, then "fireman" sent where needed, including extensive war reporting.

1999 Made a BBC News presenter.

2005 Joins Civil Service as director of Downing St Media Monitoring Unit.

May 2007 Sent to Portugal to help with press attention in the McCann case.

September 2007 Quits the Civil Service to become spokesman for McCanns.

ETA:  www.gerrymccannsblog.co.uk

     'I am a decent human being. If I can help them, I will'


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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by BlueBag on 10.04.16 6:38

@Verdi wrote:
September 2007 Quits the Civil Service to become spokesman for McCanns.
How did he know this wasn't a very short term job?

Come on Clarence... she could have been found at any time.

That was quite a career move.
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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by plebgate on 10.04.16 10:05

There's normally a very good pension attached to civil service jobs.

Isn't there a new law that employers have to contribute to the pension of their employees if the earnings are over £10,000 a year?

I wonder if Mr. & Mrs. have to contribute to Clarries pension pot?

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Verdi on 10.04.16 23:04

@BlueBag wrote:
@Verdi wrote:
September 2007 Quits the Civil Service to become spokesman for McCanns.
How did he know this wasn't a very short term job?


He didn't - or did he? 

The Guardian - 18th September 2007  [snipped]

Former BBC man to speak for McCanns

Clarence Mitchell, speaking outside Gerry and Kate McCann's home in Rothley, Leicestershire, confirmed he had resigned from a senior post in the civil service to handle the intense international press interest in the case of Madeleine, who vanished while on holiday with her family in Portugal.
 
Mr Mitchell, a former BBC reporter, spent a month with the family as the representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, during the summer.
 
Speaking with the couple at his side, Mr Mitchell said he had spent up to 14 hours a day with the couple and had never seen anything to suggest they had had anything to do with the four-year-old's disappearance.
 
"All I saw was a loving family that has been plunged into a dreadful situation - two parents trying to cope amidst their loss. To suggest that they somehow harmed Madeleine accidentally or otherwise is as ludicrous as it is nonsensical. Indeed, it would be laughable if it was not so serious," he said.
 
Mr Mitchell said he was "proud" to be able to help the McCanns deal with the pressure of the media interest.
 
The McCanns have been named by Portuguese detectives as official suspects.
 
Mr Mitchell said his job in the Cabinet Office as head of the media monitoring unit was "untenable" from the moment he accepted an invitation from the family, supported by their legal team and financial backers, to represent them.
 
"More importantly, I have resigned because I feel so strongly that they are innocent victims of a heinous crime that I am prepared to forego my career in government service to assist them."

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/sep/18/ukcrime.marketingandpr
----------
 
I have in the past contemplated the idea that Mitchell was 'persuaded' to leave the government Media Monitoring Unit to save them further embarrassment, as opposed to leaving of his own accord.  It could explain a lot.

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Verdi on 10.04.16 23:19

Frank interviews are of course always so much more revealing..

Investigation may last a year - Expresso Interview with Clarence Mitchell
 
Maria Barbosa  -  29 September 2007

 
Clarence Mitchell goes through the streets of London at the same speed at which he speaks in his mobile - which actually never stops ringing. The McCann's spokesperson receives about 60 calls a day (Gerry call's him about 5 to 6 times). Mitchell spoke to Expresso whilst he had breakfast, one day before the publishing of the picture taken in Morroco by a Spanish tourist.

Q: You exchanged your position as a servant of the British Government for spokesperson of the McCanns. Did you make this decision for sentimental reasons or professional ambition?

A: I am not a sentimental person and neither am I making any plans for the future. I accepted the invitation by the McCanns because I know that they are innocent.

Q: Have you ever asked them if they are involved in their daughter's disappearance?

A: I have never felt the need to ask them that question because we have spoken con[s]tantly about this subject, and both tell me that they are innocent. Since I have spent a month with them, I believe in what they tell me. It is enough to see how they deal with the twins, Sean and Amelie. You can see that they are dedicated to their children and that they would never do anything to hurt them. This argument may not prove anything, but for me it is important that I work with honest people.

Q: In order to defend the McCann's innocence with such surety it is necessary that you know more than what you say...

A: I know the facts that can explain all the police suspicions regarding what was found in the car or in the apartment rented by them. I can not reveal any more details. Some of the accusations that appear in the PT press - the British papers only translate what is written there  - supposedly happened whilst I was with them. Therefore I know the truth.

Q: How do you explain the cadaver scent detected in the vehicle rented 25 days later?

A: It is not up to me to reply. There has never been anything that has happened that has led me to suspect the McCanns. And I was only not with them at night time, for obvious reasons. But the story about the car is not the only one that makes no sense: it was suggested in the press that Kate and Gerry went to Fátima to bury Maddie's body. I went with them in this trip and I guarantee that we did not bury any body.

Q: You spent a month in the Algarve with the couple. Who sent you and what is it about the McCanns that makes them so special?

A: They are not Mourinho (laughs). This is one of the points that Gerry stressed over the phone that he wished me to tell you: they are a normal family, the same as so many other middle class families. They are people with a higher academic education, but that above all love their children. They are not influential people. They have not had any special treatment.

Q: You were sent by the Foreign Office. Are all British people that find themselves in trouble awarded the same treatment?

A: Every time that a British subject has problems abroad Consular assistance is offered. As it was regarding a missing child and not the theft of documents, the help provided by the Consul of Portimão was greater. Since the case dominated the media, The Foreign Office, in London, thought of me because I had experience as a reporter and I knew key English people. It wasn't Tony Blair nor the present Prime minister, Gordon Brown, that sent me. I am not their spokesperson nor do I call them asking for advice.

Q: But you were responsible for the projection of the McCanns in the media at a world scale. The fact that you worked for the British Government facilitated this...

A: In Portugal there has been a wrong image created about me. I was the Director of the Government's Media Monitoring Unit. Their work, about 40 people, and their function is to control what gets printed in the press. Every morning I had a meeting with the Prime Minister's spokesperson at 10 Downing Street and we discussed any developments. I didn't get to speak to Gordon Brown directly. Everything that I have been able to do for the McCanns has been through my computer and my mobile.

Q: It was enough that you called certain people so that Kate and Gerry were granted an audience with the Pope.

A: And I am a Protestant! When I was in the Algarve on behalf of the Foreign Office I kept in touch with the British Embassies, the Vatican's inclusive. Through Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, I knew that Maddie's disappearance had not gone un-noticed by the Vatican. He suggested that we asked for an audience with the Pope. It was I that wrote that email, since Gerry and Kate did not want any special treatment.

Q: Was it your decision to use the media so that the case may not be forgotten? Some specialists argue that this exposure might be fatal...

A: The parents trusted my instincts. They only told me that they wanted to do everything to find her. It was them that decided on a tour around Europe, that started in Amsterdam. After they had been to Germany, Kate was inclined to go to the North of Africa. Actually it is in that area that Kate suspects that Maddie might be.

Q: With the change of direction of the investigation, Kate's attitude (the fact that she does not/has not cried in public) has been the subject of criticism. In private what has been her reaction?

A: Kate is very strong. She seems like a rese[r]ved and contained woman in her emotions but she is suffering a lot. I have seen her crying in private. I can also tell you that the parents were advised by specialists not to reveal their emotions in public. The kidnapper may enjoy watching their suffering.

Q: There is a lot of speculation about the events of the 3rd May. What did kate say when she did not find her daughter in the bedroom?
 
A: The witness statements say that Kate shouted "they've taken her". They are incorrect, I will say no more.

Q: Whilst you were a journalist following the case of Jessica and Holly in Soham. The children were found dead 2 weeks later. Did you predict the same ending to this case?

A: I thought that by this time she would have been found dead or alive, but an ending similar to the case of Jessica and Holly is possible, I don't want to and can't speak about Robert Murat but some of the journalists that worked with me in Soham, and that were recently in Portugal, saw similarities between the case and Robert Murat, more than this I will not say.

Q: Before accepting Kate and Gerry's proposal you admi[t]ted that you needed some guarantees. Were you refering to Brian Kennedy, the businessman that pays your wages?

A: I could not resign from my job with the Government before this issue was resolved. It was unacceptable that Maddie's Fund would pay my wages. The solution found was the best: I work for the McCanns but who pays my wages is Brian Kennedy, who made himself available to help them financially. My objective is to help them overcome this phase but I also want to be paid for it, which has not happened yet.

Q: Some celebrities generosity, such as Richard Branson, allowed the McCann's to hire the best lawyers that money can buy. Did you advise them in their choice?

A: Absolutely not. But I do recognise the need for them to be surrounded by the best Portuguese and British professionals. They are suspected of having killed their daughter and having got rid of the body. That is a very serious accusation. People want them charged and tried. Or at least that Maddie appears next week, and that is not going to happen. this investigation might take a year.

Q: Do they still trust the Portuguese Police? Or do they want to follow other clues using private detectives?

A: I have to be careful with what I say. This is a sensitive subject. The McCanns want to continue to co-operate with the police, and they have to do so. Even if Maddie is no longer in Portugal, the PJ continue to be a main say. However, any parent in the same situation has the right to use any means to find their child. I am not confirming the hiring of private detectives.

Q: You started the interview by saying that you were not sentimental but during the trip through Europe with the McCanns you were photographed crying. In that day the ex-journalist became the news...

A: It wasn't intentional. But when I found out that my wife had lost the baby, I felt lost and angry for being there and not beside her. It is at least ironic that during this search for Maddie, I had also lost a son. Very young yes, but it was my son. I believe that that united us."
----------

I despise being taken for a mug.  You only need carefully read this interview to suss out what this man is about.

ETA:  Thanks to mccannfiles.com

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Re: Clarence Mitchell: ‘I approached Madeleine McCann disappearance as a major news story’

Post by Verdi on 11.04.16 0:05

          

     "I know the facts that can explain all the police suspicions regarding what was found in the car or in the apartment rented by them. I can not reveal any more details....."

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