Two of the most significant articles written on the case by Bridget O'Donnell, the partner of Jeremy Wilkins, and
David James Smith, whose article 'Kate and Gerry McCann: Beyond the smears' effectively placed the McCanns own version
of their timeline in the public domain.
Victims of the rumour mill?, 09
David James Smith, Steven Swinford and Richard Woods
September 9, 2007
After a dramatic twist, are the Portuguese police close
to solving the most extraordinary disappearance of recent years?
As Gerry McCann emerged from Porti-mao police station at midnight on Friday, he stared unblinkingly
into the distance while his lawyer read out a statement. The consultant cardiologist, said the lawyer, had just joined his
wife as a prime suspect in the death of his daughter, Madeleine, who went missing four months ago.
Beneath his unflinching exterior, Gerry was in a state of turmoil and fury. "We are being absolutely stitched up
by the Portuguese police," he had told a friend after his wife Kate had earlier been named a suspect after hours of interrogation.
"We are completely f*****, we should have seen this coming weeks ago and gone back to Britain."
Barely six days earlier the McCanns had been preparing to do just that: to end their vigil in Portugal and return
home to Rothley in Leicestershire. They had informed the police who had reacted calmly enough.
Detectives had warned their lawyer that the McCanns might be made arguidos - suspects - in the investigation, but
had emphasised that it would be a purely "technical" move. The status would give the McCanns greater rights in interviews.
The couple were going to need them. Kate was the first to be summoned and on Thursday was questioned for 11 hours.
Drained and exhausted she left the police station at 12.55am, only to be back for a further five hours of questioning on Friday,
before which she was named an arguida (the feminine form).
The archaic procedures made her grilling all the more arduous. Instead of taping the interviews, an officer took
hand-written notes in Portuguese of Kate's comments, which were then translated back into English at regular intervals for
The police have said nothing publicly about the evidence they are reported to have. But according to friends of
the McCanns who spoke to them after their interviews, the police told Kate they had found "bodily fluids" in a Renault Scenic
car hired by the McCanns.
The police implied the forensic traces had come from Madeleine - yet the McCanns had only hired the car 25 days
after their daughter disappeared. The implication was clear: Madeleine had died and the McCanns had later used the car to
dispose of her body.
The police added that a sniffer dog brought in from South Yorkshire police to help with the inquiry had detected
the "scent of a corpse". During questioning they repeatedly played footage of sniffer dogs becoming animated around the Renault
Scenic. They are also said to have found Madeleine’s DNA on items of clothing bought by Kate after her daughter’s
The police declared that the elements were enough to make them believe that Madeleine was dead and to make Kate
a suspect. They even offered her a deal: if she confessed to killing her daughter accidentally, she would receive a "lenient
sentence" of just "two to three years".
After all the weeks of grief and pressure, it might have been too much for some to bear. Kate, although worried
sick, stayed strong. "How dare you," she told the police. "How dare you use blackmail to get me to confess to something I
didn’t do." Gerry returned distressed and tired. His sister Philomena McCann, who spoke to him after his interrogation,
said: "He’s adamant that he’s done nothing wrong. Every question he was asked, he answered. Gerry didn’t
seem particularly worried. He’s more concerned that the investigation seems to have moved away from finding Madeleine
She added: "Kate and Gerry have not been charged. They are free to leave Portugal, which is what I would want them
to do - because I am sick of seeing them persecuted in this shameful manner."
This weekend their fate hangs in the balance. A source at Britain's Forensic Science Service said that the whole
edifice of suspicion against the McCanns may rest on sand. Forensic samples, he cautioned, may have been too small or too
contaminated to prove anything.
A senior British police source said he was astonished by the decision to accuse Kate of killing her daughter just
on the basis of the forensic tests. "It sounds over the top. What we do is to get an independent review of the forensic evidence
and bring someone in from the outside. You independently review what is going on and you certainly don’t make an arrest
off the top of one specific piece of evidence," he said.
On the other hand, a Portuguese newspaper yesterday claimed that Kate is accused of homicide, negligence and "preventing
the corpse from being found". Reports also claimed that police sources said Kate is mentally unstable, displayed "aggression"
and has been using her right to remain silent.
The Portuguese authorities are considering whether to suspend the McCanns’ passports - and the police may
yet lay charges.
To appreciate the McCanns' extraordinary predicament, you have to go back to the night in question, Thursday, May
3, and in particular the three hours between when Madeleine was last seen by a nonfamily member and when she was reported
missing. What happened in this period is regarded by police as the key to solving the mystery.
AFTER a series of interviews in Praia da Luz in recent weeks, The Sunday Times has established new details of what
happened that night and how the police inquiry took its dramatic twist this weekend.
The McCanns had travelled to the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz with a group of friends, predominantly doctors
like them. Altogether, four families, comprising nine adults and eight children, set out.
At the Ocean Club all four families had apartments in Waterside Gardens Block 5, which overlooked
one of two pool and restaurant areas on the resort. It was not a gated site and Gerry’s and Kate’s ground floor
apartment, 5a, was on a street corner. The group occupied two of the neighbouring apartments, 5b and 5d, and another on the
On the first night, Saturday, April 28, the adults and children all ate together at the Ocean Club’s other
location, some 10 minutes away, the Millennium Restaurant and Terrace. But the next night, and for all the nights thereafter,
all four families settled the children in their apartments and then walked down to the nearby Tapas restaurant with its open
air tables offering a clear line of sight to the apartments, about 50 metres away.
You could see the rear of the apartments where french windows opened out of the lounge and kitchen area. In the
McCanns' apartment there was a master bedroom next to the lounge, a bathroom and, furthest away from the Tapas restaurant,
at the front, next to the front door, the second bedroom where the three children were put to sleep every night.
Each evening the group followed a pattern of giving the children tea together and then playing with them for an
hour before putting them to bed. The children, worn out, were soon asleep.
For the adults, the evenings were fun, although not excessive, despite some of the more excitable reporting. The
Portuguese magazine Sol, for example, claimed 14 bottles of wine were consumed on the night of May 3 - adding the supposedly
persuasive details of eight bottles of red and six of white. In fact, according to Gerry, the group had drunk only four bottles;
another two stood barely touched on the table.
Each set of parents took responsibility for checking on their own children, so there was fairly constant traffic
up and down from the table, the parents often crossing paths. Gerry and Kate took turns to check every half hour.
On the evening of May 3, the last moment when Madeleine was definitely seen alive by anybody other than the McCanns
was at about 7pm as the group put their children to bed.
As the adults dined, Gerry went to check on Madeleine and the twins Sean and Amelie at just after 9pm, perhaps
at 9.05pm. He says all the children were safely asleep.
As he was returning to the table he encountered Jeremy Wilkins, an English fellow holidaymaker whom Gerry had befriended
at the resort’s tennis courts. They chatted for a few minutes in the street outside the McCanns’ apartment.
One of the party, Russell O’Brien, was away from the table for much of the evening, caring for his sick child.
At about 9.15pm Jane Tanner, his girlfriend, went to their apartment to see how things were. As she did so she passed, right
on the street corner by the McCanns’ apartment, a man carrying a child wrapped in a blanket.
The man was crossing the road, walking away from the apartment complex. At the time Tanner thought nothing of it;
it seemed a perfectly normal spectacle in a family resort.
At 9.30pm Kate was due to check on her children, but another of the party, believed to be Matt Oldfield, was getting
up from the table to make his own check. Oldfield said he would look in on the McCanns’ children, according to a source
close to the McCanns.
When Oldfield reached the corner apartment he entered through the closed but unlocked french windows and checked
on the sleeping children. Afterwards, with the terrible agony of hindsight, he could clearly recall seeing the twins lying
there, but could not say for sure that he had seen Madeleine. But that was afterwards. The evening went on.
O’Brien rejoined the table shortly before 10pm. Not long afterwards Kate got up to make the next check on
her three children. The walk must have taken her less than a minute. Madeleine was not in her bed.
Left behind was Cuddle Cat, Madeleine’s comfort toy. She was never separated from it, especially at night.
According to Kate, the bedroom window was open and the shutter up, yet they had been closed and down when Gerry
checked at 9pm. Kate searched the apartment and the area immediately outside.
She ran down the hill and into the restaurant, where Gerry recalls her shouting or screaming either "Madeleine
has gone. Somebody has taken her" or "Madeleine has gone. Someone has taken her". Other reports suggest she shouted, "They've
Gerry thought "that can’t be right, that can’t be right". He went running up to the apartment with
Kate and checked everywhere she had already looked, and made a quick run around the apartment block.
They decided straight away to call the police but had no idea what the emergency numbers were and, anyway, could
not speak Portuguese.
They asked one of their friends in the group to go down to the main reception, which is manned 24 hours, and call
the police. The call was made at 10.14pm or 10.15pm, according to the McCanns.
Two officers from the GNR local police arrived at 11.10pm, nearly an hour after the call. They could not speak
English and a member of the Ocean Club staff had to translate.
The immediate assumption was that Madeleine must have wandered off, but Gerry and Kate were adamant that this could
not have happened. Besides there were, apparently, obvious signs that an intruder had been there. What they were, however,
is not clear. Apart from the open window and shutter, neither the McCanns nor the police have confirmed any other evidence
of a break-in.
At midnight the local police called the Policia Judiciaria, the PJ, who investigate serious crimes. The PJ arrived
at 1am, according to the McCanns. There was substantial searching involving tourists and locals for some hours. Kate remained
in the apartment hoping for news, while Gerry went out and looked.
By 3.30am the police had packed it in for the night. The searching was pretty much over. Gerry and Kate were frustrated
and desperate. Gerry went out at about 4am with David Payne, another of their group, hoping to find something.
Later, at about 6am, the McCanns went out alone and walked around the scrubland on the outskirts of
the village, holding hands and calling Madeleine’s name. There was nobody else around and they felt utterly alone.
FROM the beginning the McCanns felt that they must keep faith with the Portuguese detectives who were investigating
their daughter’s disappearance. Others around them were ready to criticise but, in public at least, the McCanns expressed
They were also advised not to betray any emotion when making public appeals for help, which accounts for the even
face which Gerry has presented to the media. Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre,
told them that if the abductor was watching he or she might take pleasure in the McCanns’ distress.
Behind the scenes, however, tensions festered on both sides. It was not always easy for the McCanns or their friends
to maintain the veneer of confidence in the police. One forensics officer spent a long time in the McCanns’ apartment
collecting exhibits, but wore the same gloves the whole time. The gloves should have been replaced regularly to avoid cross-contamination.
The Portuguese police were unused to the intense media interest and the McCanns’ highly successful and in
some ways controversial strategy of keeping Madeleine’s story and image in the public eye in the hope that someone would
recognise her. The PJ, steeped in a culture of secrecy dating back to Portugal’s dictatorship, which ended in 1974,
resented the media attention and having to give a press conference.
There were further complications, too. The McCanns knew, as few others did, that the PJ had adopted a local expat
called Robert Murat, who spoke English and Portuguese, as an official translator.
Murat lived in a villa with his mother just across the road from the Ocean Club and only a few hundred yards from
the McCanns’ apartment - in the very direction that Tanner had seen a man with a child wrapped in a blanket. Yet he
was given a position of trust by the police: when Murat told the police that some members of the press already suspected him,
the PJ told him not to worry. He should keep away from the press, the PJ said, and help them as a translator.
He began informally translating for the PJ on Monday, May 7, and on the Wednesday signed an agreement as an official
interpreter. He translated the interview of the McCanns’ holiday companion Rachel Oldfield, among others.
On the night of Saturday, May 12, he left the PJ offices in Portimao and realised that he was being followed by
an unmarked police car as he drove home. On Sunday he tried in vain to find out from the PJ why they had changed their minds
about him. He has still never been told why he became a suspect but the next day, at 7am, the police raided his house and
took him off for questioning.
How could he be trusted one day and suspected the next? It made little sense, least of all to Murat. Police investigations
into his movements and associates produced little of interest. Excavations at his mother’s villa turned up no sign of
a body. The police investigation appeared to be going nowhere.
From the beginning the McCanns had been warned by the PJ that they could not speak about the details of the investigation
or the circumstances of Madeleine’s disappearance. The "secrecy of justice" laws prevented anybody involved, including
all police officers and witnesses, from talking about it to the press or anyone else. Both Gerry and Kate were meticulous
in observing this rule.
The McCanns lived - and continue to live - on hope. They knew their daughter could have been abused and killed
but, in the absence of certainty, they could have hope. When a German journalist asked in June whether they had had anything
to do with Madeleine’s disappearance, it seemed an insulting aberration. The McCanns maintained their composure.
For many weeks even the identities of the McCanns’ holiday companions remained secret - nobody except the
police knew who they were. Suddenly the friends began receiving telephone calls in England from a Portuguese journalist. It
was a woman from Sol magazine who knew the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all the friends. It appeared that she
could have obtained that information only from the police. Had the PJ, whose competence was being questioned by the British
media, been stung into some sort of riposte?
Those first invasive telephone calls were the opening round of the campaign of speculation and suspicion that seems
to have culminated in the extraordinary events of the last few days. Sol ran a series of articles that cast doubt on the behaviour
and probity of the McCanns and their friends.
The articles were a mixture of straight facts from the police files and random inaccuracies, such as the 14 bottles
of wine. Where Sol led, the rest of the Portuguese media followed - except they did not seem to be so well connected to the
police and their information was even wilder.
The internet became rife with rumour and gossip. The holiday group were "swingers", apparently, and had lied and
contradicted themselves in their statements to the police. The McCanns had accidentally killed Madeleine and conspired with
one or more of their friends to dispose of her body.
The most powerful rumour was that they had used their medical knowledge to sedate their children – presumably
so they could go "swinging".
There was no evidence to support any of the claims. The McCanns insisted they had given their children nothing
more potent than Calpol, which is a painkiller and has no sedative effect. It is also paracetamol based so an overdose would
take days to have an effect, with the child likely first to show signs of jaundice.
The febrile atmosphere persisted. In mid-August the Portuguese papers, apparently following a line from Sol, began
to point suspicion at O’Brien, the friend who had been absent from the dinner for most of that evening.
In some cases the Portuguese stories became the next day’s British stories and the Portuguese journalists,
seeing this apparent corroboration of their own work, would then report the stories again with an additional layer of speculation.
In this way O’Brien went from innocent holidaymaker to prime suspect facing imminent arrest in less than a week.
He had driven Madeleine’s body to the coast to be disposed of, went the terrible fantasy. One morning the
media descended on his Exeter home in the belief that he was about to be arrested. Not only was he not about to be arrested,
the whole thing was an invention– based, it appears, on leaks to Sol from the PJ.
Was it possible, in some bizarre circle of fate, that the PJ had started to believe the exaggerations of the local
press and decided that Gerry and Kate were not so innocent after all? In early August a Portuguese newspaper reported that
sniffer dogs brought in by British police had found traces of blood on a wall in the McCanns’ apartment. It claimed
that detectives believed that Madeleine had been killed accidentally. The blood traces are now thought to be those of a man,
not of Madeleine (although the police have issued no confirmation either way).
After weeks of the McCanns’ publicity drive there was a drought of hard evidence and a flood of speculation
about every suspected new twist.
The lawyer for Murat upped the ante by criticising the McCanns' "strange" behaviour in leaving Madeleine alone.
Then the police acknowledged for the first time that she could be dead.
The ugly mood culminated in a Portuguese newspaper claiming outright that the McCanns had killed their daughter
with an overdose of a sedative. Stunned, the McCanns, who had already decided to start winding down their media campaign,
said they would sue for libel.
Last week the results of forensic tests conducted in Britain were passed to the Portuguese police. Newspapers reported
that Madeleine’s "blood" had been found in the McCanns' hire car - rented 25 days after Madeleine had vanished. But
it is not clear whether it was blood or some other substance, how much was found, where it was found - or indeed how it was
The car has remained in Portugal - bizarrely, it was returned to the McCanns after it was examined and they are
still using it - and the tests were done in England.
Could Gerry or Kate, or both of them, have killed their daughter and later disposed of her remains using the car?
The scenario has to be considered - if only because there have been previous cases of apparently grief-stricken parents turning
out to be killers.
A forensic psychologist suggests it is unlikely that the McCanns could have kept up their united front for four
months in the face of such attention if they were guilty.
"It is very difficult for two people to lie over a death, however that death occurred, whether it was accidental
or deliberate," said Mike Berry, senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. "I cannot see
two parents lying and lying consistently."
A friend of the McCanns makes a more practical point: "Where would they have hidden the body for three weeks in
front of the world’s press?"
In the meantime it is day 129, Madeleine is still missing and, as her parents keep reminding anyone who will listen,
there is someone out there who knows.
My months with Madeleine, 14 December 2007
It was a welcome spring break, a chance to relax at a child-friendly resort in Portugal. Soon Bridget
O'Donnell and her partner were making friends with another holidaying family while their three-year-old daughters played together.
But then Madeleine McCann went missing and everyone was sucked into a nightmare
Friday December 14 2007
We lay by the members-only pool staring at the sky. Round and round, the helicopters clacked and roared. Their cameras
pointed down at us, mocking the walled and gated enclave. Circles rippled out across the pool. It was the morning after Madeleine
Six days earlier we had landed at Faro airport. The coach was full of people like us, parents lugging multiple toddler/baby
combinations. All of us had risen at dawn, rushed along motorways and hurtled across the sky in search of the modern solution
to our exhaustion - the Mark Warner kiddie club. I travelled with my partner Jes, our three-year-old daughter, and our nine-month-old
baby son. Praia da Luz was the nearest Mark Warner beach resort and this was the cheapest week of the year - a bargain bucket
trip, for a brief lie-down.
Excitedly, we were shown to our apartments. Ours was on the fourth floor, overlooking a family and toddler pool, opposite
a restaurant and bar called the Tapas. I worried about the height of the balcony. Should we ask for one on the ground floor?
Was I a paranoid parent? Should I make a fuss, or just enjoy the view?
We could see the beach and a big blue sky. We went outside to explore.
We settled in over the following days. There was a warm camaraderie among the parents, a shared happy weariness and deadpan
banter. Our children made friends in the kiddie club and at the drop-off, we would joke about the fact that there were 10
blonde three-year-old girls in the group. They were bound to boss around the two boys.
The children went sailing and swimming, played tennis and learned a dance routine for the end-of-week show. Each morning,
our daughter ran ahead of us to get to the kiddie club. She was having a wonderful time. Jes signed up for tennis lessons.
I read a book. He made friends. I read another book.
The Mark Warner nannies brought the children to the Tapas restaurant to have tea at the end of each day. It was a friendly
gathering. The parents would stand and chat by the pool. We talked about the children, about what we did at home. We were
hopeful about a change in the weather. We eyed our children as they played. We didn't see anyone watching.
Some of the parents were in a larger group. Most of them worked for the NHS and had met many years before in Leicestershire.
Now they lived in different parts of the UK, and this holiday was their opportunity to catch up, to introduce their children,
to reunite. They booked a large table every night in the Tapas. We called them "the Doctors". Sometimes we would sit out on
our balcony and their laughter would float up around us. One man was the joker. He had a loud Glaswegian accent. He was Gerry
McCann. He played tennis with Jes.
One morning, I saw Gerry and his wife Kate on their balcony, chatting to their friends on the path below. Privately I
was glad we didn't get their apartment. It was on a corner by the road and people could see in. They were exposed.
In the evenings, babysitting at the resort was a dilemma. "Sit-in" babysitters were available but were expensive and
in demand, and Mark Warner blurb advised us to book well in advance. The other option was the babysitting service at the kiddie
club, which was a 10-minute walk from the apartment. The children would watch a cartoon together and then be put to bed. You
would then wake them, carry them back and put them to bed again in the apartment. After taking our children to dinner a couple
of times, we decided on the Wednesday night to try the service at the club.
We had booked a table for two at Tapas and were placed next to the Doctors' regular table. One by one, they started to
arrive. The men came first. Gerry McCann started chatting across to Jes about tennis. Gerry was outgoing, a wisecracker, but
considerate and kind, and he invited us to join them. We discussed the children. He told us they were leaving theirs sleeping
in the apartments. While they chatted on, I ruminated on the pros and cons of this. I admired them, in a way, for not being
paranoid parents, but I decided that our apartment was too far off even to contemplate it. Our baby was too young and I would
worry about them waking up.
My phone rang as our food arrived; our baby had woken up. I walked the round trip to collect him from the kiddie club,
then back to the restaurant. He kept crying and eventually we left our meal unfinished and walked back again to the club to
fetch our sleeping daughter. Jes carried her home in a blanket. The next night we stayed in. It was Thursday, May 3.
Earlier that day there had been tennis lessons for the children, with some of the parents watching proudly as their girls
ran across the court chasing tennis balls. They took photos. Madeleine must have been there, but I couldn't distinguish her
from the others. They all looked the same - all blonde, all pink and pretty.
Jes and Gerry were playing on the next court. Afterwards, we sat by the pool and Gerry and Kate talked enthusiastically
to the tennis coach about the following day's tournament. We watched them idly - they had a lot of time for people, they listened.
Then Gerry stood up and began showing Kate his new tennis stroke. She looked at him and smiled. "You wouldn't be interested
if I talked about my tennis like that," Jes said to me. We watched them some more. Kate was calm, still, quietly beautiful;
Gerry was confident, proud, silly, strong. She watched his boyish demonstration with great seriousness and patience. That
was the last time I saw them that day. Jes saw Gerry that night.
Our baby would not sleep and at about 8.30pm, Jes took him out for a walk in the buggy to settle him. Gerry was on his
way back from checking on his children and the two men stopped to have a chat. They talked about daughters, fathers, families.
Gerry was relaxed and friendly. They discussed the babysitting dilemmas at the resort and Gerry said that he and Kate would
have stayed in too, if they had not been on holiday in a group. Jes returned to our apartment just before 9.30pm. We ate,
drank wine, watched a DVD and then went to bed. On the ground floor, a completely catastrophic event was taking place. On
the fourth floor of the next block, we were completely oblivious.
At 1am there was a frantic banging on our door. Jes got up to answer. I stayed listening in the dark. I knew it was bad;
it could only be bad. I heard male mumbling, then Jes's voice. "You're joking?" he said. It wasn't the words, it was the tone
that made me flinch. He came back in to the room. "Gerry's daughter's been abducted," he said. "She ..." I jumped up and went
to check our children. They were there. We sat down. We got up again. Weirdly, I did the washing-up. We wondered what to do.
Jes had asked if they needed help searching and was told there was nothing he could do; she had been missing for three hours.
Jes felt he should go anyway, but I wanted him to stay with us. I was a coward, afraid to be alone with the children - and
afraid to be alone with my thoughts.
I once worked as a producer in the BBC crime unit. I directed many reconstructions and spent my second pregnancy producing
new investigations for Crimewatch. Detectives would call me daily, detailing their cases, and some stories stay with me still,
such as the ones about a girl being snatched from her bath, or her bike, or her garden and then held in the passenger seat,
or stuffed in the boot. There was always a vehicle, and the first few hours were crucial to the outcome. Afterwards, they
would be dumped naked in an alley, or at a petrol station with a £10 note to "get a
cab back to Mummy". They would be found
within an hour or two. Sometimes.
From the balcony we could see some figures scratching at the immense darkness with tiny torch lights. Police cars arrived
and we thought that they would take control. We lay on the bed but we could not sleep.
The next morning, we made our way to breakfast and met one of the Doctors, the one who had come round in the night. His
young daughter looked up at us from her pushchair. There was no news. They had called Sky television - they didn't know what
else to do. He turned away and I could see he was going to weep.
People were crying in the restaurant. Mark Warner had handed out letters informing them what had happened in the night,
and we all wondered what to do. Mid-sentence, we would drift in to the middle distance. Tears would brim up and recede.
Our daughter asked us about the kiddie club that day. She had been looking forward to their dance show that afternoon.
Jes and I looked at each other. My first instinct was that we should not be parted from our children. Of course we shouldn't;
we should strap them to us and not let them out of our sight, ever again. But then we thought: how are we going to explain
this to our daughter? Or how, if we spent the day in the village, would we avoid repeatedly discussing what had happened in
front of her as we met people on the streets? What does a good parent do? Keep the children close or take a deep breath and
let them go a little, pretend this was the same as any other day?
We walked towards the kiddie club. No one else was there. We felt awful, such terrible parents for even considering the
idea. Then we saw, waiting inside, some of the Mark Warner nannies. They had been up most of the night but had still turned
up to work that day. They were intelligent, thoughtful young women and we liked and trusted them. The dance show was cancelled,
but they wanted to put on a normal day for the children. Our daughter ran inside and started painting. Then, behind us, another
set of parents arrived looking equally washed out. Then another, and another. We decided, in the end, to leave them for two
hours. We put their bags on the pegs and saw the one labelled "Madeleine". Heads bent, we walked away, into the guilty glare
of the morning sun.
Locals and holidaymakers had started circulating photocopied pictures of Madeleine, while others continued searching the
beaches and village apartments. People were talking about what had happened or sat silently, staring blankly. We didn't see
Later, there was a knock on our apartment door and we let the two men in. One was a uniformed Portuguese policeman, the
other his translator. The translator had a squint and sweated slightly. He was breathless, perhaps a little excited. We later
found out he was Robert Murat. He reminded me of a boy in my class at school who was bullied.
Through Murat we answered a few questions and gave our details, which the policeman wrote down on the back of a bit of
paper. No notebook. Then he pointed to the photocopied picture of Madeleine on the table. "Is this your daughter?" he asked.
"Er, no," we said. "That's the girl you are meant to be searching for." My heart sank for the McCanns.
As the day drew on, the media and more police arrived and we watched from our balcony as reporters practised their pieces
to camera outside the McCanns' apartment. We then went back inside and watched them on the news.
We had to duck under the police tape with the pushchair to buy a pint of milk. We would roll past sniffer dogs, local police,
then national police, local journalists, and then international journalists, TV reporters and satellite vans. A hundred pairs
of eyes and a dozen cameras silently swivelled as we turned down the bend. We pretended, for the children's sake, that this
was nothing unusual. Later on, our daughter saw herself with Daddy on TV. That afternoon we sat by the members-only pool,
watching the helicopters watching us. We didn't know what else to do.
Saturday came, our last day. While we waited for the airport coach to pick us up, we gathered round the toddler pool by
Tapas, making small talk in front of the children. I watched my baby son and daughter closely, shamefully grateful that I
We had not seen the McCanns since Thursday, when suddenly they appeared by the pool. The surreal limbo of the past two
days suddenly snapped back into painful, awful realtime. It was a shock: the physical transformation of these two human beings
was sickening - I felt it as a physical blow. Kate's back and shoulders, her hands, her mouth had reshaped themselves in to
the angular manifestation of a silent scream. I thought I might cry and turned so that she wouldn't see. Gerry was upright,
his lips now drawn into a thin, impenetrable line. Some people, including Jes, tried to offer comfort. Some gave them hugs.
Some stared at their feet, words eluding them. We all wondered what to do. That was the last time we saw Gerry and Kate.
The rest of us left Praia da Luz together, an isolated Mark Warner group. The coach, the airport, the plane passed quietly.
There were no other passengers except us. We arrived at Gatwick in the small hours of an early May morning. No jokes, no banter,
just goodbye. Though we did not know it then, those few days in May were going to dominate the rest of our year.
"Did you have a good trip?" asked the cabbie at Gatwick, instantly underlining the conversational dilemma that would occupy
the first few weeks: Do we say "Yes, thanks" and move swiftly on? Or divulge the "yes-but-no-but" truth of our "Maddy" experience?
Everybody talks about holidays, they make good conversational currency at work, at the hairdresser's, in the playground. Everybody
asked about ours. I would pause and take a breath, deciding whether there was enough time for what was to follow. People were
genuinely horrified by what had happened to Madeleine and even by what we had been through (though we thought ourselves fortunate).
Their humanity was a balm and a comfort to us; we needed to talk about it, chew it over and share it out, to make it a little
easier to swallow.
The British police came round shortly after our return. Jes was pleased to give them a statement. The Portuguese police
had never asked.
As the summer months rolled by, we thought the story would slowly and sadly ebb away, but instead it flourished and multiplied,
and it became almost impossible to talk about any-thing else. Friends came for dinner and we would actively try to steer the
conversation on to a different subject, always to return to Madeleine. Others solicited our thoughts by text message after
any major twist or turn in the case. Acquaintances discussed us in the context of Madeleine, calling in the middle of their
debates to clarify details.
I found some immunity in a strange, guilty happiness. We had returned unscathed to our humdrum family routine, my life
was wonderful, my world was safe, I was lucky, I was blessed. The colours in the park were acute and hyper-real and the sun
warmed my face.
At the end of June, the first cloud appeared. A Portuguese journalist called Jes's mobile (he had left his number with
the Portuguese police). The journalist, who was writing for a magazine called Sol, called Jes incessantly. We both work in
television and cannot claim to be green about the media, but this was a new experience. Jes learned this the hard way. Torn
between politeness and wanting to get the journalist off the line without actually saying anything, he had to put the phone
down, but he had already said too much. Her article pitched the recollections of "Jeremy Wilkins, television producer" against
those of the "Tapas Nine", the group of friends, including the McCanns, whom we had nicknamed the Doctors. The piece was published
at the end of June. Throughout July, Sol's testimony meant Jes became incorporated into all the Madeleine chronologies. More
clouds began to gather - this time above our house.
In August, the doorbell rang. The man was from the Daily Mail. He asked if Jes was in (he wasn't). After he left I spent
an anxious evening analysing what I had said, weighing up the possible consequences. The Sol article had brought the Daily
Mail; what would happen next? Two days later, the Mail came for Jes again. This time they had computer printout pictures of
a bald, heavy-set man seen lurking in some Praia da Luz holiday snaps. The chatroom implication was that the man was Madeleine's
abductor. There was talk on the web, the reporter insinuated, that this man might be Jes. I laughed at the ridiculousness
of it all and then realised he was serious. I looked at the pictures, and it wasn't Jes.
Once, Jes's father looked him up on the internet and found that "Jeremy Wilkins, television producer" was referenced on
Google more than 70,000 times. There was talk that he was a "lookout" for Gerry and Kate; there was talk that Jes was orchestrating
a reality-TV hoax and Madeleine's disappearance was part of the con; there was talk that the Tapas Nine were all swingers.
There was a lot of talk.
In early September, Kate and Gerry became official suspects. Their warm tide of support turned decidedly cool. Had they
cruelly conned us all? The public needed to know, and who had seen Gerry at around 9pm on the fateful night? Jes.
Tonight with Trevor McDonald, GMTV, the Sun, the News of the World, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Express, the Evening Standard
and the Independent on Sunday began calling. Jes's office stopped putting through calls from people asking to speak to "Jeremy"
(only his grandmother calls him that). Some emails told him that he would be "better off" if he spoke to them or he would
"regret it" if he didn't, implying that it was in his interest to defend himself - they didn't say what from.
Quietly, we began to worry that Jes might be next in line for some imagined blame or accusation. On a Saturday night in
September, he received a call: we were on the front page of the News of the World. They had surreptitiously taken photographs
of us, outside the house. There were no more details. We went to bed, but we could not sleep. "Maddie: the secret witness,"
said the headline, "TV boss holds vital clue to the mystery." Unfortunately, Jes does not hold any such vital clues. In November,
he inched through the events of that May night with Leicestershire detectives, but he saw nothing suspicious, nothing that
would further the investigation.
Throughout all this, I have always believed that Gerry and Kate McCann are innocent. When they were made suspects, when
they were booed at, when one woman told me she was "glad" they had "done it" because it meant that her child was safe, I began
to write this article - because I was there, and I believe that woman is wrong. There were no drug-fuelled "swingers" on our
holiday; instead, there was a bunch of ordinary parents wearing Berghaus and worrying about sleep patterns. Secure in our
banality, none of us imagined we were being watched. One group made a disastrous decision; Madeleine was vulnerable and was
chosen. But in the face of such desperate audacity, it could have been any one of us.
And when I stroke my daughter's hair, or feel her butterfly lips on my cheek, I do so in the knowledge of what might have
been. But our experience is nothing, an irrelevance, next to the McCanns' unimaginable grief. Their lives will always be touched
by this darkness, while the true culprit may never be brought to light.
So my heart goes out to them,
Gerry and Kate, the couple we
remember from our Portuguese
holiday. They had a beautiful
daughter, Madeleine, who played
and danced with ours at the
kiddie club. That's who we
Kate and Gerry McCann: Beyond the smears, 16 December 2007
David James Smith
December 16, 2007
For six months David James Smith has examined the evidence surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine
McCann for The Sunday Times Magazine. In this, the most comprehensive — and authoritative — investigation yet,
he addresses the key issues facing Gerry and Kate as they prepare for Christmas without their daughter
That week in Praia da Luz, the week the McCanns were made suspects in their
own daughter's "death", I was out there talking to them and to family and friends. I was at the home of the Anglican vicar
Haynes Hubbard, sitting with him and his wife, Susan, while their own three children pottered around us. The Hubbards had
flown in from Canada three days after Madeleine’s disappearance to begin Haynes’s tour of duty as the vicar of
Praia da Luz. They had heard about Madeleine for the first time while changing planes at Lisbon airport, in a slightly unnerving
encounter with an elderly Portuguese woman who had seized Susan’s arm and told her to "hold on" to the baby she was
carrying, as a child had been taken.
The Hubbards had spent their first days at the resort fearing for their
own children's safety. Gradually they became friends with the McCanns, particularly Susan and Kate, drawn together at first
perhaps by the McCanns' need to find some comfort in religion. But mostly in Portugal the McCanns were enveloped by family
and friends from the UK.
The McCanns were flying home that Sunday and had been to a farewell dinner
that week at the Hubbards'. Susan told me that she and Kate had discussed how much one person could cope with. Kate seemed
close to the limits of human endurance. Haynes chimed in: "And I don’t think she’s looking forward to tomorrow
very much either." The thought was left hanging there: how much can one person take?
Kate was to go to the nearby town of Portimao the next day, Thursday, September 6, to be questioned by detectives from
the Policia Judiciaria (PJ). It would be Gerry's turn the day after. For the media this would be a shocking new twist to the
story – but not for the McCanns: the PJ had told them four weeks earlier they were going to be subjected to formal interviews
and the McCanns had stayed on, instead of going home at the end of August as originally planned, waiting for the interviews
to take place. Waiting. Waiting.
Finally, the PJ called. They told the McCanns they would be made official suspects – arguidos. The McCanns had
noted the change of mood in Portugal, especially among the PJ, and the increasing viciousness of the Portuguese press. Some
of the stories seemed so incredible and far-fetched – Kate, for instance, disposing of Madeleine’s body, or Madeleine’s
DNA being found in the car the McCanns had hired three weeks after Madeleine disappeared – that I at first assumed they
were the fanciful inventions of an unfettered press. I soon realised how well they reflected the thinking of the PJ. More
recently I have discovered the stories were being fed to the press by the PJ, from the highest ranks. So much for judicial
secrecy. One Portuguese journalist told me that segredo de justica – secrecy of justice – was like the speed limit.
Everyone knows the law; nobody keeps to it.
It seems important to make it clear right away that I do not suspect the McCanns harmed Madeleine, nor do I think they
disposed of their daughter’s body if, as the PJ believe, she died in an accident that night in their apartment.
This is not a mere prejudice on my part. I have spent a long time considering and examining every unpleasant scenario.
The McCanns are not my friends and I have no axe to grind with Portugal, its police or its media.
To me, the McCanns are genuine people in the grip of despair – the accusations against them are ludicrous and a
cruel distraction from the search for their daughter. That’s why I put the quotation marks around the word "death" at
the top of the article. Madeleine may be dead, it may even be more likely she is dead, but nobody knows for sure. Nobody,
not even the PJ, as we will see, can produce any persuasive evidence that she has come to harm.
That evening, Thursday, May 3, at just after 8pm, by their account, Kate and Gerry McCann were having a glass of wine
together in apartment 5a on the ground floor of Block 5 of the Waterside Village Gardens at the Ocean Club. Their three children
were asleep in the front bedroom overlooking the car park and, beyond it, the street. Madeleine was in the single bed nearest
the door. There was an empty bed against the opposite wall, beneath the window. Between the two beds were two travel cots
containing the twins: Sean and Amelie. Gerry had bought the wine at the Baptista supermarket, 200 yards down the hill. They
had lived and worked in New Zealand for a year and that particular bottle, Montana sauvignon blanc, was their favourite. It
was the sixth day of their week’s holiday in the Algarve and they were reflecting on the enjoyable time they’d
had, how surprisingly easy it had been with the children.
When their old friend Dave Payne had invited them on a group holiday, it had seemed too good to resist. Dave and Fiona
Payne had been on another Mark Warner holiday the year before, to Greece with Matt and Rachael Oldfield. The Algarve group
would be completed by Russell O’Brien, Jane Tanner and Fiona’s mother, Dianne Webster. Six of the group were doctors.
Gerry was a consultant cardiologist and had worked before with Matt and Russell. Kate had been an anaesthetist and was now
a part-time GP.
The group first spent time together at Dave and Fiona’s wedding in Italy in 2003. Now they had eight children between
them. Madeleine was the oldest, her fourth birthday a week after they would return from the Algarve. One of the attractions
was that there were children for their own to play with. And the adults were a sporty group, a speciality of Mark Warner holidays;
tennis had dominated the activities that week.
That might all sound very cosy and middle class, but that did not mean their lives had been easy or free of suffering
– especially with the struggle to have children, eventually managed through IVF – or that they had been born into
an advantaged world. Kate came from a modest Liverpool background and Gerry, the youngest of five, had been brought up in
a tenement building on the south side of Glasgow.
The terms of the holiday were half-board, breakfast and evening meal, and the McCanns paid about £1,500. There had been
some reduction when they had discovered that, unlike most Mark Warner resorts, the Ocean Club did not offer a baby-listening
service. Instead, the group had asked for apartments close together, so they were all assigned to Block 5. The Paynes were
on the floor above, the only couple with a functioning baby monitor. Russell O’Brien and Jane Tanner had brought a monitor
too, but theirs wasn’t getting much of a signal from the Tapas restaurant 50 yards away.
The Ocean Club was not a gated, enclosed resort in the usual style of Mark Warner, but a sprawling complex open to the
village of Luz and scattered over such a wide distance that shuttle buses were used.
Even though the resort was open to the village, it felt safe and secure, and in early May it was still very quiet. Gerry
never saw a soul, except once, on the last night, on his evening checks, going back and forth between Tapas and the apartment,
an even-paced walk of just under a minute.
As the McCanns endlessly repeated afterwards, if they had thought it was wrong or even risky, they would never have left
their children. With hindsight, of course, they would never have done it and now they are riven with guilt, but we can all
be wise after the event, and so many of us have taken similar chances at times, in search of a bit of respite from our children.
Gerry had knocked up at the start of the 4.30pm tennis-drills session, but had decided not to exacerbate an injury to
his Achilles tendon, so had dropped out and waited around by the courts until the children came back from the kids’
clubs at 5pm for tea. That had been one of the most enjoyable times of the holiday, all the children together for tea, then
the adults playing with them afterwards.
Gerry was in his apartment at 7pm, had a glass of water, then a beer, while the children sat with Kate on the couch having
stories with a snack. The children were clearly shattered – the last thing any of them needed was a sedative and, anyway,
it was not something the McCanns ever did. They put them to bed after a last story. The twins were asleep virtually the moment
they lay down, Madeleine not far behind them.
These days it was rare for Madeleine to wake up at all once she was in bed. If she did, she’d normally wander into
her parents’ bed, whether they were there or not. At home in Rothley, sometime earlier, they had begun a star chart
for Madeleine staying in her own bed. The chart, still on display in the kitchen, was full of stars. At about 7.30pm, Kate
and Gerry showered and changed and sat down to have a quiet glass of the sauvignon blanc. They were first to the table at
the restaurant at 8.35 and spent some minutes talking to a couple from Hertfordshire – two more tennis players –
at the next table, who were eating with their young children. As they chatted, Gerry thought how lucky he was, his children
asleep nearby, he and Kate free to come and enjoy some adult time at the restaurant and not have to sit with their children,
as this couple were.
The McCanns sat down after a few minutes and then ordered some wine. The Oldfields were next to arrive, then Russell
O’Brien and Jane Tanner and, finally, always last, Dave and Fiona Payne with Dianne Webster.
That night their group ordered six bottles in total and two were still untouched on the table at 10pm. No more than half
a bottle of wine each. The Portuguese magazine Sol reported that the group had drunk 14 bottles. Another Portuguese journalist
told me a local GNR (national republican guard) police officer had described one of the group as being so drunk later that
evening, they could barely stand.
They had just ordered starters when the routine of checking began. Matt Oldfield went first at 8.55 to check his own
apartment and to hurry up the Paynes, who had still not arrived.
He was followed by Gerry, who entered his apartment at about 9.05 through the patio doors to the lounge. Earlier that
week the McCanns had used a key to go in through the front door next to the children’s bedroom but, worrying the noise
might wake the children, they began using the patio doors, leaving them unlocked.
When he entered the apartment, Gerry immediately saw that the children’s bedroom door, which they always left just
ajar, was now open to 45 degrees. He thought that was odd, and glanced in his own bedroom to see if Madeleine had gone into
her parents’ bed. But no, she and the twins were all still fast asleep.
Gerry paused over Madeleine, who – a typical doctor’s observation, this – was lying almost in “the
recovery position” with Cuddle Cat, the toy her godfather, John Corner, had bought her, and her comfort blanket up near
her head, and Gerry thought how gorgeous, how lovely-looking she was and how lucky he was. Putting the door back to five degrees,
he went to the loo and left to return to the restaurant. That, of course, was the last time he would see his daughter.
As he walked down the hill, Gerry saw Jes Wilkins on the opposite side of the road pushing a child in a buggy. Gerry
called hello and crossed over to talk. Wilkins and his partner were eating in their own apartment that night, but their youngest
still wouldn’t settle. It reminded Gerry of the fraught time he and Kate used to have with Madeleine when she was a
baby. In his memory, they could never eat a meal together when they went out, as she was always disturbing them and needing
to be wheeled off to sleep.
As Jane Tanner walked up the hill, she saw Gerry talking to Jes and, as she passed them, she saw ahead of her a man walking
quickly across the top of the road in front of her, going away from the apartment block, heading to the outer road of the
resort complex. The man was carrying a little girl who was hanging limply from his open arms. The sighting was odd, but hardly
exceptional in a holiday resort.
Her daughter fine, Jane returned to the table. At 9.30, Kate got up to make the next check on her children, but Matt
Oldfield was checking too, as was Russell O’Brien, and Matt offered to do Kate’s check for her, which she accepted.
Gerry teased that she would not be excused her turn at the next check.
In the McCanns’ apartment, Oldfield noticed the children’s bedroom door was again open, but that meant nothing
to him, so he merely observed all was quiet and made a cursory glance inside the room, seeing the twins in their cots but,
agonisingly, not directly seeing Madeleine’s bed from the angle at which he stood. Afterwards, he could not say for
sure if she had been there or not. Nor could he say if the window and shutter had been open.
He would get a hard time from the police because of this, during his interviews not long afterwards, being aggressively
accused of taking Madeleine – you passed her out of the window, didn’t you! – being suspected because he
had offered to take Kate’s turn.
Jane Tanner, too, would be accused of fabricating or misremembering her sighting of this stranger with a child. There
could be no answer to such an accusation – except that she was an ordinary, honest person who knew what she had seen.
Sometime after 10pm, Rachael Oldfield would go to Jane’s apartment to tell her Madeleine had been taken and Jane would
say: “Oh my God. I saw a man carrying a girl.”
It perhaps needs to be stated openly that all these timings and details, the way in which they weave and dovetail together,
are based on witness accounts – corroborated not just by the McCann group but by others, such as Jes Wilkins –
and that, despite suggestions to the contrary, there are no obvious contradictions or differences between them. Nor has any
of the McCann group, at any time since, said they wanted to retract or change their statement.
That suggestion too is a lie.
Russell O’Brien checked his own daughter at 9.30 and found she had been sick. Jane returned to the apartment to
be with her daughter, and Russell went back to the table. Russell would later fall under suspicion too, because of those few
minutes he spent away from the table.
Finally, at 10pm, it was Kate’s turn to check the apartment. She only became alarmed when she reached out to the
children’s bedroom door and it blew shut. Inside the room the window was open, the shutter was up and Madeleine’s
bed was empty. Kate quickly searched everywhere and ran back down the hill and into the restaurant: “Madeleine’s
gone, somebody’s taken her” or “Madeleine’s gone, someone’s taken her.”
Gerry stood up. “She can’t be gone.” “I’m telling you she’s gone, someone’s
It was reported that Kate had said “They’ve taken her,” as if it was someone that she knew. She did
use those words, but only later, back in the apartment, in her despair, as she said: “We’ve let her down. They’ve
Matt went down to the 24-hour reception at the bottom of the hill to raise the alarm. The call to the police went in
at 10.15. They arrived 55 minutes later. It is widely believed among the Portuguese media, and perhaps the police too, even
now, that the McCanns called Sky News before they called the police. For the record, Sky News picked up the story from GMTV
breakfast television, at around 7.30am the following day.
There was a latch lock on the sliding glass window, and the McCanns thought, but could not be sure, that they had locked
it at the start of the holiday. They would later discover it was common for cleaners to open the shutters and windows to give
the rooms an airing, so there was no way of
knowing whether the window was locked that night or not and no forensic trace
to indicate where and how an abductor had gone in and out. They could easily have used the front door, perhaps even had access
to a key.
In the McCanns’ minds now, there is no doubt Jane Tanner saw their daughter being taken, but there was so little
time to talk in the first few days that it was not until Jane saw the description of Madeleine’s pyjamas in the media,
around Monday or Tuesday of the following week, that she told them the little girl she had seen was wearing the same design:
pink top and white bottoms with a floral design.
While searches began, Gerry was worried about Kate, as she was so distraught and kept talking about paedophiles, saying
Madeleine would be dead. He tried to be reassuring, but of course he was thinking the same things.
It all came pouring out of him at 23.40 – from his phone records – when he called his sister Trish in Scotland
ranting and raving semi-coherently on the phone about Madeleine being taken, and Trish kept trying to get him to calm down.
A sharp contrast with the way he would be later, particularly in public, once he had regained his self-control.
The detectives from PJ arrived at about 1am. By 3.30am they had gone and there was no police action at all, or none visible
to the McCanns.
Four times that night they put in calls via the British consul; four times the message came back from the PJ, a message
that the McCanns would never forget: “Everything that can be done is being done.”
One of the PJ officers had put on surgical gloves and begun trying to dust down the bedroom, but his powder was not working
properly. He tried to take the McCanns’ fingerprints for elimination, but that didn’t work either. It all had
to be done again the next day.
The twins slept on like logs, just as they always did at home, though even their parents were fleetingly worried –
had they been sedated by an abductor? – that they should be quite so comatose. The Ocean Club gave them another apartment,
but the McCanns did not want to be alone, so the twins were taken to the Paynes’ apartment, and Kate and Gerry went
there later too, to try to rest.
They got up at first light and went to search alone on the open scrubland beyond the resort, wandering around, calling
Madeleine’s name. It was cold and lonely – there was no answer.
Gerry had asked the departing PJ detectives at half three about contacting the media to make an appeal. One of the officers
had reacted with surprising agitation, waving his hand emphatically: “No journalists! No journalists!” That, of
course, was not quite how it worked out.
For many weeks, the McCanns enjoyed a good relationship with the Portuguese police and were treated to regular updates
and a flow of information via the family-liaison officers sent out by Leicestershire police. The problem with the three Leicester
officers was that they didn’t have a word of Portuguese between them.
The first public indication of police thinking came at the end of June when the magazine Sol published a story about
the McCann group, casting doubts on their evidence and claiming they had undertaken a pact of silence. It was the first time
the McCanns’ friends had been named in public, but Sol’s journalist Felicia Cabrita had their names and phone
numbers and details from their witness statements. She had called them all, and at least one other witness, Jes Wilkins.
The information had been handed to Cabrita by the police – she says she acquired the material through good journalism,
which in a sense it was – and her source is widely believed by her colleagues to have been the former head of the inquiry,
The PJ appointed an official spokesman, Olegario Sousa. He was apparently plucked from his day job – he was a chief
inspector on the art-robbery squad – because he was the only one who spoke decent English. He was never directly involved
in the investigation and was rarely told much of what was really going on.
Initial suspicion focused on Robert Murat, who made himself busy with police and journalists from the first day, offering
his services as an interpreter, as he spoke both languages and lived across the road from the Ocean Club with his mother at
the villa Casa Liliana. In fact, the man Jane Tanner had seen carrying a child was walking straight towards the Murat villa.
Murat later said to me that he told the PJ the press were suspicious of him, and they told him not to worry and to keep
away from the press and work for them instead. He had signed papers to become an official interpreter and even sat in during
the witness interview of Rachael Oldfield.
Leaving the police station in Portimao one evening, a week after becoming an official police interpreter, Murat became
aware he was being followed. Shortly after that he was arrested and interviewed himself and made an arguido.
Murat always denied he was out the night Madeleine disappeared, but three of the McCann group claimed at the time they
had seen him and still insist they were right. I was told there was at least one new independent sighting of Murat out on
the night of May 3.
Bizarrely, the McCanns believe they were inadvertently responsible for encouraging the PJ to take them seriously as potential
suspects, as it was them bringing in a South African “body finder”, Danie Krugel, that led to search dogs being
used. The PJ agreed to work with Krugel, and an officer from the UK National Policing Improvement Agency was called in to
advise on a search based on Krugel’s findings. It was agreed the British would supply some specialist equipment for
spotting disturbed soil and also some search dogs, including one trained in human-remains detection (HRD) and one trained
to detect the scent of blood.
Ultimately, only those who were there and involved know exactly what happened, but the McCanns wonder just how the search
dogs were presented to the PJ and what claims were made for their success rate and infallibility.
All British policing techniques are meant to be practised uniformly by every force across the country and defined in
written policy created by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). But the ACPO was unable to produce for me any policy
relating to search dogs.
Gerry was initially optimistic at the prospect of the searches by these supposedly elite British dogs and techniques.
The dogs then went on to search the apartments of the McCanns and their friends. A line-up of cars were also called in by
the police, including the cars owned or used by Murat and the Renault the McCanns had been using, which they had hired on
Those who told me about the dogs’ searches say they involved little objective science. It has been suggested that
the HRD dog was treated differently in the McCanns’ apartment than in the others. The dog kept sniffing and running
off and it was called back on several occasions. Eventually it “alerted”, meaning it went stiff and stayed still.
Then the blood dog was called in and directed to the area where the other dog had alerted. Eventually this dog alerted
in the same place – behind the sofa in the lounge, which is where the trace of blood was supposedly found.
The cars were lined up, not in a controlled environment, but in the underground public car park opposite Portimao police
station. Again the dog was led quickly from one car to the next until he reached a Renault with “Find Madeleine”
stickers all over it. The dog sniffed and moved on to the next car, but was called back. The dog was taken around the McCanns’
car for about a minute, as opposed to the few seconds devoted to the other cars. Then the dog went rigid, an “alert”,
and the doors and the boot were opened. It was this that led to the recovery of some body fluids that the PJ suspected would
contain traces of Madeleine’s DNA, and which led to the supposed revelation that her body must have been carried in
The role of such dogs is normally intended to find a body or remains. Without any subsequent discovery the alerts amount
to little more than an indication – or worse: in one recent case in Wisconsin a judge concluded that similarly trained
dogs were “no more reliable than the flip of a coin”, after hearing evidence that they were wrong far more often
than they were right. The McCanns’ lawyers are in touch with the defence lawyers in that case. The PJ had never attempted
to obtain a “control sample” of Madeleine’s DNA. That had been left to the McCanns, who had found traces
of her saliva on the pillow of her bed at home in Rothley and provided that DNA sample to the Portuguese police.
Whatever the public’s perception – based on a slew of news stories – at this stage there is no published
evidence that Madeleine’s DNA, or any trace of her blood, has been recovered from the apartment or the car. Any suggestion
to the contrary appears to be misinformation from the PJ. Some Portuguese journalists and, apparently, some members of the
PJ believed the UK’s Forensic Science Service (FSS), based in Birmingham, had been deliberately delaying the tests.
There are some who suspect the involvement of the British secret services.
In fact, both the PJ’s national director, Alipio Ribeiro, and another PJ official, Carlos Anjos, have both said
openly that the police have failed to establish a perfect match. The PJ found several specks of what they believe to be blood
in apartment 5a, including one sample that someone had apparently tried to wash off.
They found a trace of body fluid – that is, not blood – in the boot of the Renault and a tiny trace of blood
in the Renault’s key fob. Some forensic tests were carried out at the PJ’s own laboratories in Lisbon, where tests
on samples related to Robert Murat were also made. The tests on the traces that were potentially the most significant came
to the FSS. One sample was said to have produced DNA that was similar to Madeleine’s. An exact match would be 20 out
of 20 bands, this sample was said to be similar in 15 out of 20 bands. But in reality, that result was meaningless, as any
family member could produce the same match.
Some journalists were told that more advanced tests were being carried out on the smallest blood traces – tests
called low copy number profiling, which could produce DNA findings in the slightest of samples. They were a slow process,
but did not normally take more than two weeks.
In late November, PJ officers and forensic experts came to meet police and FSS experts in the UK, amid claims the PJ
were still waiting for further results. Leicestershire police have apparently paid for all the forensic tests being carried
out in the case by the FSS – they are the client in the case, not the Portuguese. The PJ have used this as evidence
that the British are suspicious of the McCanns too – even the McCanns think the British police doubted them for a while,
until the forensic results emerged – but you might think the PJ would have wanted to be in control of their own forensic
I heard that a PJ officer had been surprised to find a member of MI5 at a UK meeting about the case, and this made him
suspicious that shadowy forces could be at work. The Sol journalist Felicia Cabrita mentioned the “mysterious Clarence”
– Clarence Mitchell, the former government PR officer turned McCann spokesman – and I was told there was suspicion
too about another government official, Sheree Dodd, who had acted as a PR officer for the McCanns briefly in the early days
– had she come out from MI6 to help dispose of the body?
These theories might seem preposterous, but for those involved in the case in Portugal, they fitted a pattern in which
the Portuguese government and in turn the PJ had felt the heavy weight of diplomatic pressure from the UK – a pressure
that the police and the journalists very much resented, with its implication that the police were not doing their job properly.
This could be one reason why the PJ were so ready to suspect the McCanns.
There seemed to be no doubt that the PJ really did think the McCanns had done it. I was outlined a scenario in which
Kate had come back to the apartment and found that Madeleine had fallen from the sofa and hit her head – hence the blood
– and cleaned up and hid the body somewhere in the apartment, and perhaps had not even told Gerry until the next day.
The police could not answer all the questions, of course. They were almost as unanswerable as they were unimaginable.
Where would they have hidden the body? How would they have got it into the car 24 days later, and where would they have taken
it? What kind of people would they have to be – what borderline personality disorders must they both share – to
keep that to themselves for six months, maintain a facade in front of everyone they knew, and at the same time not hiding
away but going out to ask the world to help find Madeleine?
I know the McCanns believe the PJ were oversold the value of the dogs. It was after the dogs came out that the PJ’s
attitude towards the McCanns changed and it became harder for the McCanns to obtain a briefing meeting. They were disturbed
when the press began reporting that the PJ knew Madeleine was dead. Finally, after pressing for a meeting, one was arranged
for Wednesday, August 8, three days before the 100-day point after Madeleine’s disappearance.
When they arrived at the station in Portimao the couple were separated and both interrogated. Kate especially was given
“the third degree”. Gerry broke down and cried, pleading with the PJ to share any evidence that Madeleine was
dead. “It’s coming, it’s coming,” he was told.
The interviews caused the couple “incredible emotional distress”. But they agreed, if they had been guilty,
they probably would have cracked and confessed at that point. The police said there would be no more briefings. The next time
they saw the McCanns it would be across the table, for formal interviews.
What was doubly dispiriting, of course, was that while the PJ treated them as suspects, they were no longer looking for
Madeleine. I was told the PJ had “abandoned the abduction theory”. It was open season now on the McCanns. The
publicity was wretched.
The British press were not blameless either, often lazily repeating allegations and sometimes repeating them despite
emphatic denials from the McCann camp. If you read the blog sites on the internet you would discover an even darker, nastier
tone. The McCanns and their holiday friends were swingers, apparently. That allegation was even made on the Portuguese equivalent
of the BBC by a former PJ detective, Jose Barra da Costa. When I checked with him, he said he had been told by a friend in
the UK who happened to be a police officer. No doubt that officer had plucked it from the internet. It is not true.
During Kate’s interviews with the PJ in September, just before she was declared an arguido, she was separated from
her lawyer, and he was presented with a long list of factors pointing to her guilt, including entries from her entirely innocuous
diary and a passage they believed she had marked in a Bible (which in fact had been given to her and marked by the original
The PJ also told the lawyer there was a 100% DNA match with Madeleine in the car and showed him a document that appeared
to prove it. Possibly, this was the document showing Madeleine’s control sample of DNA. The McCanns feared even their
own lawyer thought they were guilty. Kate was asked by the PJ to explain the dog alerts by her car. “You’re the
police,” she said. “You tell me.” Kate asked the PJ: “Are you trying to destroy our family altogether?”
Gerry was asked the same questions the next day but could not answer. (Sometime earlier a Leicestershire officer had
said to him, just stick to what you know.) Why did the dogs only alert next to material belonging to the McCanns? The officer
was brandishing the dog-handler’s report. And then: “Your daughter’s DNA, your daughter Madeleine McCann,
how do you explain that?” “Show me that report,” Gerry asked. “No. This is the report that matters
– with the dog.” Of course, they could not produce a DNA match because there wasn’t one.
The McCanns took heart when Goncalo Amaral was forced to step down after making public criticisms of them and the Leicestershire
police – he had made the criticisms in a phone call to a journalist contact, not suggesting the comments were private
or off the record.
The McCanns hope that Amaral’s replacement, Paulo Rebelo, a more sober, conservative character, will take a wide
view of the inquiry. He is said to have stopped leaks to the press, and has been locked away on the upper floors of the station
in Portimao reviewing the evidence with a team of officers.
Meanwhile, the McCanns are back home trying to recover some kind of normality. How long can you put your life on hold?
They have the twins to think of. Gerry has gone back to work half-days, and has finally told the British Heart Foundation
he plans to go ahead with the research fellowship they awarded him, a week before he was accused of being involved in his
daughter’s death. He had told me, weeks ago, about the six-figure grant and how it meant almost nothing in terms of
professional advancement, but might one day help in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
He had prepared the application in his own time, working evenings and weekends.
In other circumstances it would have meant the world to him but, right now, he had other things on his mind.
to Nigel at