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Maddie - A year in the darkness [PART 1]

Original Source:  SUN: MONDAY 28 APRIL 2008
Published: 28 Apr 2008





LISBON, Portugal -- Portuguese police searched Friday for a three-year-old British girl who went missing from an upmarket resort in Southern Portugal where she was on vacation with her family, officials said.

WITH one momentous sentence on May 4, 2007, the Associated Press broke one of the biggest news stories of modern times.


Almost exactly a year on, it continues to fascinate and horrify. To send chills down the spine of every parent. To turn us all into armchair detectives harbouring pet theories on what really happened.


Its complexities, moral and forensic, are still talked about in every home, office and factory, and in every newspaper.


None of us had heard of Madeleine McCann until she was already gone. But we feel we know her now.

To see pictures of the face we will never forget, click on the slideshow below

Slideshow at bottom of page

Since last May, millions of words have been written about her disappearance and the

Hunt for Maddie day by day

May 15: Murat is officially classed as a suspect but claims he is a scapegoat.

Soccer ace Carlos Tevez, father of a two-year-old daughter, and Sun columnist Lorraine Kelly join stars wearing yellow ribbons to support The Sun’s “Wear Yellow for Maddie” campaign. Gerry and Kate pray for police leading the search at a church service in Praia da Luz.

May 16: Madeleine’s aunt Philomena lobbies for support at Westminster. Gordon Brown pledges to help “in any way he can”. His eyes fill with tears as he holds her hand. Philomena said: “He was very emotional.” Many MPs wear yellow ribbons. A fighting fund is launched at Leicester City’s Walkers Stadium to support Madeleine’s family and “bring her abductors to justice”.

Detectives raid the home of Murat’s Russian friend Sergey Malinka in Praia da Luz. Murat maintains his own total innocence.

May 17: Police probe alleged calls between Malinka and Murat the day Madeleine was abducted. More than 25 million people visit the website set up to help find her.

Posters protesting Murat’s innocence appear in the Norfolk village where he used to live.

At the first cricket Test against the West Indies at Lord’s, England captain Andrew Strauss and his team wear yellow ribbons.

May 19: Hundreds of Manchester United and Chelsea fans queue to pick up The Sun’s Where’s Maddie T-shirts before the FA Cup Final at Wembley. A video of her is screened.

May 20: Gerry vows to scour the world for Madeleine and flies back to Britain to discuss plans with campaign organisers.

May 21: Police admit the investigation has been scaled down — and now involves just 30 officers. Initially there were 200. A police source admits: “The truth is we don’t have the slightest idea where she is.”

Gerry returns to Rothley and tells neighbours: “There’ll be a massive party when we bring Madeleine back safe and sound.”

Supporters have turned the village war memorial into a monument of hope. Some 14 miles of yellow ribbon is tied round benches, houses, lamp-posts and cars.

May 22: EastEnders scraps a baby-snatch plot due to Madeleine’s kidnap.

In Portugal, police refuse to let the world’s best sniffer dogs join the hunt despite being urged to do so by British police.

May 23: Kate and Gerry visit the Portuguese holy shrine of Fatima in search of a miracle, joining 1,000 other pilgrims.

May 24: Madeleine’s family release a photo taken seven hours before she was abducted, showing the tot laughing in the sunshine, dangling her feet in the swimming pool.

A fighting fund for the campaign reaches almost £300,000 and 125 million people have clicked on to Thousands of green and yellow wristbands symbolising Madeleine’s plight go on sale across Leicestershire for a minimum donation of £1.

May 25: Kate and Gerry give a resolute TV interview defending their decision to leave the children sleeping alone. Gerry says: “We’re in a very safe resort. If you think about the millions and millions of British families who go to the Mediterranean each year, the chances of this happening are in the order of a hundred million to one.”

Kate says: “I think at worst we were naive. I mean we’re very responsible parents. We love our children very much and I don’t think any parent could imagine or consider anything like this ever happening.”

A Sun editorial pronounces the McCanns’ growing band of critics as “sniping” and “stone-hearted” and says they should “feel ashamed”.

The first detailed description of a suspect, the man seen by Jane Tanner, is issued by police. He is white, 35 to 40, medium build and 5ft 10in — though this later proves incorrect (it should have said 5ft 7in). He was wearing a dark jacket, light beige trousers and dark shoes and was in the area at around 9.30pm.

Police describe an attempt to snatch a girl similar to Madeleine in 2006, half an hour from Praia Da Luz.

The European Commission marks International Missing Children’s Day with a plea on behalf of the McCanns and Madeleine.

May 27: Tanner says she is “haunted” by guilt and sure she saw Madeleine’s kidnapper.

May 29: The last moving pictures of Madeleine are released — the mobile phone images of her climbing the steps of the holiday jet.

May 30: Kate and Gerry fly to Rome to see the Pope at the Vatican. Kate, holding Cuddle Cat, fights back tears during the open-air audience in St Peter’s Square as she tells him: “We need to find Madeleine.” His Holiness Benedict XVI clasps her hands and whispers words of comfort.

Kate says later: “He was very kind, very sincere. He said he would pray for us and our family and continue to have faith for us . . . and for Madeleine’s safe return to us.”

Gerry added: “It was more personal than I could imagine. His touch, words and thoughts were more tender than we could have thought. One evil act, the abduction of Madeleine, seems to have generated so much good. It has restored my faith in humanity.”

Vatican spokesman, the Rev Ciro Benedettini, said: “We are talking about a family drama that has touched world public opinion. It could not but touch the Holy Father. He is considered the father of all — therefore he was personally touched as a father.”

Back in Portugal, Kate says: “We just can’t even think about going home. Our total preoccupation is finding Madeleine.”

Gerry adds: “We’re in the middle of a race and we do not know how long it is going to be. We will never be the same again.”

May 31: Portuguese police say they are trawling through two dossiers, 8cm thick, of emails and messages from clairvoyants who say they know where Madeleine is. They are trying to find out if any of the messages could be from her kidnapper.

June 2: Gerry and Kate vow to stay in Portugal until there is “absolutely no hope”.

June 4: Gerry forgets his own birthday. Reminded about it, he says: “Is it? I can’t even think about it.”



June 6: For the first time, Kate and Gerry are asked in public if they had anything to do with Madeleine’s disappearance. The German radio reporter behind the question is criticised — but is voicing a growing concern among Portuguese police and some watching the case. Gerry is outraged. Shaking with fury, he says: “There is absolutely no way Kate and I are involved in this abduction.”

June 7: As the investigation limps on, the spotlight turns on the police. The man in charge, Goncalo Amaral — convinced from Day One that Gerry and Kate killed their daughter and covered their tracks — is spotted drinking for two hours at lunchtime with colleague Olegario Sousa. Meanwhile the restaurant’s TV is screening Madeleine’s anguished parents at a Press conference.

Sousa retorts: “It is my free time. I drink what I want to drink when I can drink.”

June 8: The McCanns launch a giant Sun appeal across Europe, releasing 1,000 yellow balloons from Praia da Luz. Another 1,000 are launched at Tower Bridge in London, Real Madrid’s Bernabau stadium in Spain and Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

The balloons have a picture of Madeleine and a hotline number for information. It is hoped they will take the appeal hundreds of miles in all directions.

June 10: The McCanns fly to Morocco, where they believe Madeleine may have been smuggled via Spain. The Sun puts up Find Madeleine posters at tourist spots in Morocco.

June 13: An anonymous letter to a Dutch newspaper claims Madeleine’s body is buried in scrubland nine miles from where she was abducted.

June 15: Police with sniffer dogs search the scrubland but the hunt is called off after four hours.

June 17: Police say Madeleine’s friends and family may have unwittingly destroyed vital evidence in the hours after her abduction as they frantically searched for her.

June 19: Gerry returns to the UK for the second time since the kidnapping for meetings about the campaign to find Madeleine.

June 20: A pickpocket at a London rail station steals Gerry’s wallet containing precious photos of Madeleine.

June 22: Detectives in Malta investigate two claims of Madeleine sightings on the island and reveal they have received details of 11 in total, dating back to May 27.

Hundreds of balloons bearing Madeleine’s picture are released across the world on the 50th day after her disappearance.

Kate and Gerry launch 50 on the beach at Praia da Luz. Some 300 locations in 200 countries from Brazil to Tajikistan join in.

June 25: Malta police have received eight fresh reports in two days from people claiming to have seen the four-year-old.

June 28: Spanish police arrest an Italian man and a Portuguese woman suspected of trying to extort money from Madeleine’s parents by offering bogus information. They have nothing to do with her disappearance.

July 1: Gerry’s wallet, with snaps of Madeleine, is returned in the post.

July 4: England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson and his team-mates wear Madeleine T-shirts and wristbands while training in Portugal for the World Cup.

July 9: Gordon Brown, now Prime Minister, thanks the Portuguese PM for his country’s help in the hunt for Madeleine. He said Jose Socrates assured him “everything that can be done will be done”.

July 10-11: Murat returns to the police station for questioning. He maintains his innocence. Tapas Nine members Russell O’Brien, Fiona Payne and Rachael Oldfield fly to Portugal to tell police they saw him at the complex the night Madeleine disappeared. Murat insists this cannot be so — that he was at his mother’s all the time.

July 16: Author JK Rowling insists all bookshops selling her new novel, the last in the Harry Potter series, must display Madeleine posters. The multi-millionaire writer has already offered a substantial reward for Madeleine’s safe return.

July 22: Gerry flies to Washington DC to meet experts on missing children and to discuss child protection laws with the U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

July 24: Gerry defends himself on American TV over leaving Madeleine unattended.

July 26: The McCanns’ local paper, the Leicester Mercury, bans readers’ online comments on stories about Madeleine after being bombarded with messages calling for her parents to be prosecuted for neglect.

August 3: Belgian authorities carry out DNA tests on a bottle and straw after a possible sighting of Madeleine with a couple in the eastern town of Tongeren.

August 5: British and Portuguese police begin a two-day search of Murat’s home using sniffer dogs. The garden is dug up. Nine cars belonging to Murat, his family and friends are examined. The search is called off 22 hours later. Nothing is found.

The unusual relationship between Murat and German girlfriend Michaela Walczuch adds to the suspicion. Murat is said to visit her regularly at the home she still shares with her estranged husband. He is Luis Antonio, a pool cleaner who reportedly once worked at the McCanns’ holiday complex.

August 6: Tiny traces of blood are found in Madeleine’s bedroom by a British sniffer dog. The specks, invisible to the naked eye, are tested to see if they belong to the child.

August 8: DNA tests on the bottle and straw from Belgium prove inconclusive.

August 11: On the 100th day since Madeleine’s kidnap, Portuguese police admit for the first time she could be dead.

August 12: Gerry admits he is having to consider “the worst possible scenario”. He said: “If it happens then at least Madeleine is in a better place. We’ve had incredible pain over the last three months and we pray that Madeleine hasn’t.” Kate adds: “This is the worst kind of limbo. In our heart of hearts we’d both rather know — even if knowing means facing the terrible truth that Madeleine might be dead.”

August 15: Kate and Gerry begin to talk about returning to the UK before Madeleine has been found. Kate said: “I guess one day we will wake up and it will be right.”

August 17: Gerry and Kate tell Sean and Amelie for the first time that Madeleine is missing and that “Mummy and Daddy are looking for her”. They had been telling them she was on a holiday.

August 19: Police begin a major new hunt and are ready for a “decisive” week. They have applied for warrants to scour areas where Madeleine may have been taken. They also intend to re-interview witnesses.

August 23: Leaks from Portuguese police indicate they now believe Madeleine died by accident in the apartment, leading to wild speculation that the McCanns or their friends know what happened. Gerry and Kate brand the theory “ludicrous”.

August 26: Gerry hints he has lost faith in the police investigation. “It’s difficult,” he says. “We just want to get to the bottom of things, find Madeleine, but obviously there is no sign of a breakthrough.

“The Portuguese police do things very, very quietly. That’s hard for us. The way the investigation is being handled is very different to the UK where the police like to give out information.”

August 30: Pupils at the school Madeleine was due to begin at say a poignant prayer in her absence. Her seat is left empty for her in class and her coat hook is unused. A candle is kept burning for her.

September 3: Friends say Sean and Amelie insist on putting a plate of food out for Madeleine at meal times. They also save gifts from well-wishers for Madeleine to unwrap when she is found. A pal said: “It is the children’s way of remembering Madeleine and including her.”

September 4: Kate and Gerry insist their marriage is as strong as ever and are seen holding hands on a beach near the holiday complex.

September 5: The McCanns are furious when police refuse to tell them if Madeleine’s blood was found in the apartment.Sources said analysis of samples produced “significant” new information that could lead to arrests within days. But the McCanns only learned of the breakthrough via The Sun.

A friend says Kate fears she and Gerry are being framed by police.

 continuing torment of her parents Kate and Gerry. In three Sun specials this week, JOHN PERRY sorts the fact from the fiction in the most complete account to date.

THREE weeks short of the first anniversary of Madeleine McCann’s abduction, her mother Kate spoke publicly for the first time in months. Whatever pain she and her husband Gerry continued to endure, she said, was as nothing compared with that of their daughter, which began on May 3, 2007 and which, for all they know, is ongoing.


“The pain of separation, the confusion, the fear, the absolute fear she has had to endure and is still enduring. She is only four years old,” said Kate.


Only four years old. But on May 12 she will be five. Madeleine was three when she last saw her mum and dad.


Her kidnapping, carried out without leaving a trace — at least none Portuguese police have managed to detect — shocked the world.

abduction, nightmarish though that was. It was that two parents would leave their children alone in an unlocked apartment in a foreign land while they had dinner nearby. The anger directed at the McCanns was amplified because here were two educated, well-paid doctors who should have known better. For some, their middle-classness worsened their guilt.


They were seen as having led a privileged life, having effortlessly produced three perfect children and then having casually, selfishly left them at the mercy of a predator.


For many reasons this could not be further from the truth.

Kate and Gerry McCann are self-made people, not born to privilege. Kate, 40, is a down-to-earth Scouser from a modest home in Liverpool. Gerry, also 40, is the youngest of five children raised in a south Glasgow tenement.


Their brains and talent won them lucrative careers, she as a GP and he as a hospital consultant cardiologist.


Their children were the result of considerable effort and emotional trauma for a couple who could not conceive naturally.


Kate and Gerry met as young doctors working in different departments of Glasgow’s Western Infirmary in the early 1990s.


The attraction was obvious, but any chance of a long-term future together looked doomed from the start when Kate’s wanderlust took her to a job on the other side of the world — in Wellington, New Zealand. Gerry had also landed a dream post — in America. But he is a man of steely resolve, as his relentless hunt for Madeleine would later prove. He wasn’t giving up on Kate. At the last minute, his heart ruled his head. He dropped everything and spent his savings flying Down Under to be with her.


It was quite a gamble. Gerry admits: “It was really only then that we started going out together.” And he joked: “I saw Kate on the other side of the river and I crossed it! She made sure that I followed her. I must have courted her for a long time.”


Kate reciprocated his devotion with hours spent on the touchlines as he captained amateur Kiwi soccer side Napier City Rovers. He had once been Scottish universities 800 metres champion and was a decent footballer tipped for a professional career before opting for medicine.


His team-mate and close friend Ian Gearey said: “He was such a down-to-earth, natural guy. Kate was a doctor in Wellington and Gerry was a surgeon here in Hawke’s Bay. Everyone said he was very talented and he was well regarded.


“But the work wasn’t the real reason for him coming to New Zealand. He told us he’d come for her, to woo her, really. He won her heart and they got together here.”


Kate was never in doubt about Gerry after he followed her more than 11,000 miles. By the time they returned to settle in Glasgow in 1998 they were already planning their wedding.


It took place that December, at Our Lady of the Annunciation in Catholic Kate’s home city of Liverpool.


Two years on, Gerry got a job as a registrar at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, and the family moved south.


Kate, desperate for children, gave up on a high-flying career in anaesthetics and gynaecology and started as a part-time GP in Melton Mowbray.


Natural conception proved beyond them. Kate said: “The one thing I had always been definite about is that I wanted a family. I wanted to be a mother. Then, when we were trying for a baby and it wasn’t happening, it was really hard.


“The longer it went on, the harder it was. I saw my friends having children and I was delighted for them, but it made me sad too. We tried unsuccessfully for several years to conceive.


“There came a point when we admitted we needed help. I was so desperate to have a child I’d try anything. I know IVF isn’t everyone’s choice but I wanted to try it.”


An initial IVF cycle failed, but the couple remained united and strong. Kate finally fell pregnant with Madeleine in 2002. “It was just fantastic. It didn’t seem true,” she said.


“I did a test at home so I could handle the result if it wasn’t good. I was looking at it thinking, ‘I don’t believe that’. Then I went to the hospital and they checked it. I was really excited.


“It was a really uncomplicated pregnancy — I had no sickness, nothing.”


Madeleine was born on May 12, 2003. “There she was, perfect,” said Kate. “She was lovely. She had the most beautiful face. I’d thought I was going to have a boy, just based on instinct. That actually made it even more special that she was a girl. She took us by surprise.”


Gerry said: “It was incredibly special because we had been waiting for a long time.


“Others thought we were getting old and might end up not having our own children.


“She was close to the perfect child. I know all parents think that, but Madeleine really was.”


A friend, Alan Grieves, said: “After many years of hope, the birth of their beautiful Madeleine made their lives complete.


“We have never seen Kate and Gerry as happy as they were that day.”


Kate said: “The first five or six months were really difficult. Madeleine had very bad colic and cried about 18 hours a day.

“She had to be picked up all the time, so I spent many a day dancing round the living room holding her. Sometimes she looked so sad with colic and the three of us would cuddle together trying to get her through it.


But you go through that difficult, bad stage and it tightens the bond. We’ve both got an incredible bond with Madeleine.”


The McCanns and their baby girl moved to Holland for a year while Gerry worked on new heart imaging techniques.


They came back briefly for Madeleine’s baptism, carried out by Father Paul Seddon, who had married the couple five years earlier.


“It was a big family occasion — a wonderfully happy day,” said Father Seddon. “Madeleine had a whale of a time and really loved being the centre of attention. She had not long been walking and I have some great memories of trying to keep up with her as she ran around the church.”


In 2004, still in Holland, Kate fell pregnant again through IVF and the family moved back to England, buying a substantial home in rural Rothley.


Their twins, Sean and Amelie, were born in February 2005 and left little Madeleine awestruck. “She was amazing,” Kate said. “She was only 20 months old — still a baby herself — but she handled it all so well.


“Madeleine came in to see them for the first time and, oh . . . her little face! It was lovely.”


Madeleine was as bright as a button, outgoing, loving towards her brother and sister and prone to tantrums, as toddlers are.


“She’s got bags of character, that’s for sure,” Kate said. “She’s very loving, caring, she’s very funny, very chatty, very engaging, but she has her moments, like all children do. I do think she’s pretty special.”


Gerry added: “She is very funny and often a little ringleader in nursery and with her friends. She was running around shouting, ‘Be a monster, be a monster’ and we would chase her.”


The couple wanted a big family and were planning to try for a fourth baby. Kate’s dad Brian Healy said: “Children are the most important thing in their lives. Having another was something they’d been thinking about.


“But that was before Madeleine went missing.”


A grainy family video shot on April 28, 2007, is heartbreaking to watch now. Madeleine, wearing a pink Barbie backpack and holding another little girl’s hand, clambers excitedly up the steps of the plane taking the McCanns on their fateful holiday to Portugal.

The angel-faced three-year-old slips and grazes her shin on the third step, but cries for only a few seconds. It would take more than that to dampen her enthusiasm about the prospect of a week in the sunshine.


Madeleine, Kate, Gerry and two-year-olds Sean and Amelie were part of a group of 17 flying from East Midlands Airport to the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz. They caught the bmibaby flight at 9.30am.


They landed at Faro and hopped aboard the airport shuttle bus.


The video footage continues. Madeleine, a tiny blonde figure still holding her Barbie bag and wearing pink shorts, a pink top and trainers, swings her legs cheerfully as she sits next to Sean. Kate ruffles Sean’s hair and holds Amelie’s arm.


For some reason Gerry looks sombre. “Cheer up Gerry,” a friend jokes, to much laughter. “We’re on holiday.”


Gerry said later: “Madeleine was dead excited about going away with the rest of the kids. It was her first time to Portugal. She had her Barbie rucksack with a pull-up handle. It’s a really girlie one. We all had to have our own rucksacks — even Sean and Amelie — it was quite funny.”


The McCanns’ group arrived at the upmarket Mark Warner Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz, on the coast 120 miles south of Lisbon. They intended to stay for a week, returning home on May 5. The four families, nine adults and eight children, had rented apartments in Waterside Gardens Block 5. The McCanns’ flat, 5a, was on the ground floor, on a street corner. The other families had two flats next door, 5b and 5d, and another on the floor above.


That first evening, Saturday, April 28, the group ate dinner at the Millennium Restaurant and Terrace, another Ocean Club property ten minutes away. For the rest of their stay they established a practice of giving the kids tea, playing with them for an hour and then putting them to bed in their apartments before going out to the nearby tapas bar for dinner.


The bar was within sight of the apartments and less than a minute’s walk away.


They took it in turns to make regular checks on the kids. Whatever doubts they should have had about this arrangement were quelled by the sense of security the resort gave them. They could barely imagine a safer place for the children.


But on the morning of May 3, the date the McCanns’ lives changed for ever, Madeleine gave her parents pause for thought.


At breakfast she told them she and the twins had been awake and upset in bed the night before, but no one came to help.


“Mummy,” she said, “Why didn’t you come when we were crying last night?” Kate said later: “Gerry and I spoke for a couple of minutes and agreed to keep a closer watch over the children” — which meant more frequent returns from the tapas bar to check on them.


“With hindsight Kate and Gerry think someone could have disturbed Madeleine that night,” their spokesman Clarence Mitchell said later. “But they felt she and the twins were safe and secure.


“They decided to be even more careful in the times they checked on the children.”


Madeleine spent a happy day at the resort’s children’s club, where she was left with Sean and Amelie while Gerry and Kate had a stroll. “She had a ball,” Kate said. “They did swimming, went on a little boat, went to a beach, did lots of colouring-in and face painting.”


The couple collected the children at 12.30pm for lunch at the apartment, then took them back to the kids’ club while they played tennis. Madeleine had tea with staff at 5.30pm and was picked up just before 6pm.


All three kids were put to bed at about 7pm. Madeleine was in her pink Marks and Spencer pyjamas featuring a picture of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.


Kate said: “Before she went to bed, Madeleine said, ‘Mummy, I’ve had the best day ever. I’m having lots of fun’. They had a little dance prepared for Friday. I don’t know what it was. I never got to see it.”


By 8pm Kate and Gerry were enjoying a bottle of white wine he had bought from the local supermarket. It was a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, a favourite from their days in New Zealand.

They were six days into their holiday and chatted about how it was all working so well — they were relaxed and the children were loving it.


Madeleine, Sean and Amelie were asleep in the front bedroom of the apartment, overlooking the small car park and the street beyond. Madeleine had a single bed nearest the door. The twins were next to her in two travel cots.


At about 8.30pm the McCanns, as they had done since their second night there, strolled to the tapas bar about 50 metres away.


“For us, it wasn’t very much different to having dinner in your garden, in the proximity of the location,” Gerry said later. “We’ve been assured by thousands of people who’ve either done exactly the same or say they would have done the same.”

But the sense of security the McCanns felt proved false.


From the tapas bar they could just see the rear of their apartment, where closed but unlocked patio doors led to the lounge and kitchen. They could not see the children’s bedroom, next to the locked front door.


The diners at the table, later nicknamed the “Tapas Nine”, were Gerry, Kate, Dr Russell O’Brien, then 36, (a consultant from Exeter and a friend of Gerry), his partner Jane Tanner, 37, Dr Matthew Oldfield, 37, wife Rachael, 36, David Payne, 41, a research fellow in cardiovascular sciences at Leicester University, wife Fiona, 34, and her mother Dianne Webster.

During a fun-filled evening they drank four bottles of wine between them.


The meal was punctuated almost constantly by one parent or another leaving the table to check on their children. They often crossed paths on their way to the apartments and back.


Gerry went back to 5a to check on Madeleine, Sean and Amelie at about 9.05pm. They were safely asleep. Gerry saw Madeleine snuggled up with her favourite toy, Cuddle Cat, bought by her godfather. The blanket was up near her head.


Something was slightly odd. Gerry was sure he’d shut the children’s bedroom door when he left for the tapas bar. Now it was open.


In hindsight he is convinced her abductor had opened it, then hurriedly hid inside the flat as he heard Gerry enter.


At the time, though, Gerry had no reason to worry — he assumed Madeleine had opened the door earlier to get a drink of water and gone back to bed. The window was closed and the shutter down. All was fine. Gerry closed the bedroom door again and left the apartment through the patio doors to rejoin his friends. Madeleine, it now seems, was snatched in the few seconds that followed.


The kidnapper had only one viable escape route — the bedroom window — since the front door was locked and Gerry had only just left via the patio doors.


On his way back to the bar, Gerry came across Jeremy Wilkins, another holidaymaker he had met at the resort’s tennis courts.

They chatted for a few minutes and were seen doing so at 9.15pm by Jane Tanner, a “Tapas Nine” friend. She was on her way back to her flat to check on boyfriend Russell O’Brien, who was nursing their sick child.


As she passed them she saw up ahead a man walking briskly across the top of the road, away from the apartments and towards the outer road of the complex. He was swarthy, about 5ft 7ins, between 35 and 40 and with dark, curly hair.


A little girl wrapped in a blanket hung limply from his arms.


All Tanner saw of her was her bare feet dangling down and pink and white pyjamas. Such a sighting was not unusual in a family holiday resort. “There is a crèche nearby,” she said later. “I thought he might be a father picking up his child.”


Unknown to her, Madeleine’s pyjamas were pink and white.


Tanner thought nothing further of it. Aside from anything else, she knew Gerry had just looked in on his kids and presumably found all was well. When she returned to the tapas bar around 9.25pm she understandably did not think it significant enough to mention.


The next check took place shortly after 9.30pm. O’Brien went back to look in on his child, accompanied by another friend, Matthew Oldfield, who had offered to save Kate the trouble by checking on her children as well as his.


Oldfield went into the McCanns’ apartment and found the children’s door open but had no reason to suspect anything — he was not to know Gerry had closed it half an hour earlier.


During his quick check he saw Sean and Amelie asleep but did not set eyes on Madeleine, whose bed was behind the door. However, the room was silent and he assumed everything was fine.


The men rejoined the table just before 10pm. Not long afterwards, Kate decided to make her own check. It took less than a minute to walk to the apartment and enter through the patio doors.


She knew something was wrong right away. The window was open, causing a draught which slammed their bedroom door.


A friend said later: “She knew the window had been closed. She then saw Madeleine was missing but it took a few seconds to register.


“She searched the flat three times and realised she was gone.” Cuddle Cat was abandoned in the bedroom. Kate was frantic. She searched the apartment but knew immediately Madeleine had been abducted. “I never thought for one second that she’d walked out,” she said. “I knew someone had been in the apartment because of the way it had been left. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind she’d been taken.


“There was about 20 seconds of disbelief when I thought, ‘That can’t be right.’ I was checking for her. Then there was panic and fear. I was screaming her name.”


Her screams echoed round the complex. She ran from the apartment to the restaurant, crying: “Madeleine has gone. Someone has taken her.”


Gerry ran to 5a and rechecked everywhere Kate had looked, then dashed round the apartment block.


A friend was despatched to the resort’s 24-hour reception desk to phone the police.


The call was made at around 10.15pm — but the local police, ill-equipped for anything of this magnitude, began a catalogue of incompetence by taking almost an hour to arrive. The two officers who turned up at 11.10pm spoke no English and needed a translator.


Panic set in. Kate was already sure Madeleine had been taken by paedophiles and would be dead. Gerry tried his best to comfort her but his fears were identical.


At 11.40pm he rang his sister Trish in Scotland. He was almost incoherent — and Trish tried to calm him down. It is hard now to imagine this of a man who has remained so calm and measured in public ever since.


At midnight the Policia Judiciaria, the PJ, who investigate serious crimes, were called in, arriving at 1am. They, along with the McCanns, their friends, other holidaymakers and locals, scoured the area for two and a half hours.


At 3am Kate rang friends Jon and Michelle Corner, Sean and Amelie’s godparents, at their Merseyside home. Jon said: “She just blurted out that Maddie had been abducted. She said, ‘They’ve taken my little girl’.”


Child abductions are so rare in Portugal that there was a general feeling among the authorities that Madeleine would turn up asleep under a bush. Apathy and incredulity set the tone for the police investigation.


The PJ gave up the search for the night at around 3.30am.


Gerry went back out again at about 4am with his friend David Payne.


At 6am Gerry and Kate held hands as they walked around scrubland on the outskirts of the village calling Madeleine’s name.


The British embassy issued a statement declaring Madeleine missing. But there was no physical evidence she had been kidnapped. Gerry and Kate alone were convinced of that.


The backlash against the McCanns began immediately. Most parents wondered why an educated couple left three tiny children unattended to sleep in their holiday flat while they went out to dinner nearby. Many wondered if they would have done the same and most concluded they wouldn’t.


Most also concluded that the point wasn’t worth making publicly while Madeleine was still missing and her parents enduring a living hell. Accusations of neglect wouldn’t help her or them.


But in Portugal and the UK a vocal minority wasted no time. The speed and ferocity of the attacks was astonishing. BBC’s Radio Five Live held an ill-judged debate on the McCanns’ parenting standards only 24 hours after Madeleine was snatched. Only a few callers found that their sympathy outweighed the urge to attack the couple for “abandoning their daughter” to her kidnapper.


It was just the beginning. On May 6 a senior Portuguese cop said the McCanns might be charged for leaving the children alone, which he said was illegal there.


In Britain the NSPCC said babies and children should never be left alone even for a short time.


The chorus of disapproval grew, especially when the McCanns admitted they had left the children the same way several nights running. Some newspaper columnists could not resist kicking the good-looking middle-class doctors while they were down.


Not all parents disapproved, however — many sent messages of support to Kate and Gerry saying they would not have hesitated to do the same thing.


Some newspaper commentators, too, saw nothing wrong with it and pointed out that the chances of a kidnapper snatching a child from their bed were almost infinitesimally small.


It was a debate Kate and Gerry were by now having endlessly in their minds. “Every hour now, I still ask, ‘Why did I think that was safe?’ But it did feel safe and so right,” Kate said later. Her mum Susan Healy defended them: “They know this was a mistake. But it wasn’t child neglect, it wasn’t not caring for your children.


“Why would you think something like this would happen? You make a decision and think it’s OK. This time it wasn’t and Kate and Gerry have to live with that. That’s dreadful and they don’t need pressure from other people.


“Kate and Gerry went to a family-friendly resort where there has never been any crime or any trouble.


“They felt their children were safe, with the shutters down. They were also maybe lulled into a false sense of security by the fact they went on holiday with three other couples.


“They were quite happy about the checks they were doing on the children. You couldn’t have more caring parents.


“Kate and Gerry are absolutely devastated. I have heard my daughter wailing like a wild animal.”




Published: 28 Apr 2008

The police hunt for Madeleine was a shambles from the outset. For several crucial days detectives failed even to take seriously the idea she had been abducted — a stance that infected every aspect of the probe.


Evidence was contaminated, Portugal’s borders left wide open and the investigation fatally compromised in virtually every conceivable way by a local force ill-equipped to handle it.


It was bad enough for the McCanns that their child was snatched. It was worse luck still for it to happen in a backwater policed by incompetents.


In Britain and America, such an abduction would have triggered an almost instant police dragnet — sniffer dogs and helicopters would have scoured the area while the child’s picture would have been handed to the Press and TV to make public as fast as possible.


None of this happened. The Portuguese police decided an almost total LACK of publicity was the best option, to keep suspects in the dark about the investigation’s progress. In the first and possibly most elementary blunder, police failed to seal off the crime scene — the McCanns’ apartment — until 10am the morning after Madeleine went missing. Before then family, friends and a wide variety of police officers and “helpers” traipsed through the property, rendering any DNA clues found there as good as useless.


A friend of the McCanns said: “On the night Madeleine was taken there were loads of people in and out. Once it was obvious she had not wandered off it should have been immediately sealed.


“Then there were police officers smoking and dropping ash and butt ends.”


Even one of the first officers to arrive admitted the area was “totally contaminated” within an hour because his bosses failed to secure it. The apartment was trampled “by the world and his dog”, the cop, speaking anonymously, told The Sun.


“By the time we got there it was chaos,” he said. “When we arrive and see our superiors on the scene we expect the situation to be under control. It was like they weren’t even there.

“Family, friends, neighbours, staff, people off the street — everyone was in and out of the bedroom to check under the bed. The damage had been done.”


His partner added: “Any disappearance should be treated as a potential crime. It’s not brain surgery.”


Portugal’s top forensic expert Jose Anes later said he doubted anyone would ever stand trial because the evidence was too contaminated for any safe prosecution.


One of the cops leading the search blamed the McCanns. Police chief Olegario Sousa said more than 20 people entered the apartment early on, touching furniture and opening and closing doors and windows.


He added: “The presence of so many people — especially in the room where the little girl slept with her brother and sister — could have at least complicated the work of the forensic team.


“At the very worst they would have destroyed all the evidence. This could prove to be fatal for the investigation.”


The McCanns hit back via a friend, who said: “Of course the family are going to search the apartment. If your child goes missing, you search under beds, in wardrobes, behind doors — everywhere.”


Yet another gaffe within hours of the abduction only emerged months later.


Police allowed Robert Murat, who later became their first suspect, to sit in as translator at the first witness interviews. They never checked his background or his alibi — they used him simply because he spoke Portuguese. Regardless of Murat’s innocence, the information he heard would have been like gold-dust for anyone constructing a cover story.


One of those quizzed was holidaymaker Bridget O’Donnell, an ex-BBC producer who worked on Crimewatch and was horrified by the amateurish investigation.


She was questioned the day after the kidnapping in her apartment near the McCanns’. Bridget said: “Murat was breathless, perhaps a little excited. 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.”


Worse was to come. It emerged that police failed to send Madeleine’s bedding for forensic tests. By the time they revisited the apartment 24 hours after she was taken, cleaners had washed the sheets, blankets and pillowcase. Vital fibres from the abductor’s clothing, or even their fingerprints, may have been lost.


Only hair samples were sent for testing at a Portuguese forensic lab. An insider there said half the evidence needed to find out what happened was not tested.


He said: “It is obvious it would have been good if they had sent sheets, blankets, pillows and even the mattress. Some important clue could have been found.”


It took 48 hours for police to take witnesses’ fingerprints. Some were carried out so shoddily they had to be redone.


To their horror the McCanns discovered another glaring error. The frontier with Spain is almost 100 miles from Praia da Luz, about 1 hour 45 minutes’ drive. But border guards were only alerted to Madeleine’s disappearance 12 HOURS later, giving her abductor ample time to flee with her to Spain and beyond.


Even more disgracefully it was 48 hours before police got round to searching vehicles at the border. Incredibly, weeks later the border was closed almost immediately after reports of a CAR being stolen.


Further errors eroded the McCanns’ confidence in the investigation. With police keeping silent about any leads to avoid alerting suspects, Kate and Gerry were forced of their own accord to invite TV crews to their apartment to broadcast an appeal for information.

It was THEY, not police, who decided to release details of the pink and white Eeyore pyjamas Madeleine was wearing.


The mistakes went on and on.


A police description of Madeleine’s suspected kidnapper was released, based on Jane Tanner’s sighting of the man carrying a child outside the apartment.


Cops said he was 5ft 10in. But Tanner saw a man of about 5ft 7in — they had simply given out the wrong height in the description. It might have been crucial.


British crime experts remain convinced Portuguese police were simply not up to such a major investigation.


Retired Det Chief Supt Chris Stevenson — who nailed Ian Huntley for murdering Soham girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman — conducted a three-day review of the Madeleine probe alongside other British crime experts for a TV documentary.


He insisted: “The intention was never to do a hatchet job on the Portuguese police — but the inescapable conclusion was that they were totally ill-equipped for the job.


“If you don’t immediately realise what you are dealing with, you can get caught and make major forensic errors.


“That’s what appears to have happened in the Maddie case. This was a child missing from home but they didn’t seem to have thought anything suspicious might have happened at first.


“In Britain we refer to this period immediately after a child vanishes as the ‘golden hours’.”


On Friday, May 4, the day after Madeleine’s disappearance, police brought in sniffer dogs and finally alerted border authorities and the Spanish police.


Gerry and Kate, clearly distraught but maintaining their dignity, faced the Press outside apartment 5a. They realised right away that their most valuable aid in finding Madeleine was publicity. Kate was clutching Cuddle Cat for comfort.


Gerry said: “Words cannot describe the anguish and despair we are feeling as the parents of a beautiful daughter.


“We request anyone with any information relating to Madeleine’s disappearance should please contact Portuguese police to help us get her back to safety.


“Please, if you have Madeleine, please let her come home to her mummy, daddy, brother and sister. Everyone can understand how distressing this current situation is.”


Portuguese police, however — in a taste of what was to come — announced that under the country’s secrecy laws they could not reveal any details of the investigation.


This vacuum of information was to result in unsubstantiated police theories and claims being leaked daily to the Portuguese Press and re-reported in Britain.


Relatives including Madeleine’s grandparents flew to Portugal. Britain’s Ambassador to the country, John Stephen Buck, went to the resort, as did Craig Mayhew, director of Mark Warner UK Operations.


By Saturday, May 5, the McCanns’ family were already expressing misgivings about the police. Madeleine’s aunt Philomena McCann claimed they were playing down her disappearance and being “uncommunicative”.


Gerry, by contrast, issued a new appeal and diplomatically thanked police for their efforts.


Despite their initial reluctance to face reality, detectives announced that they DID now believe Madeleine was abducted.


They further revealed that they believed she was still alive, in Portugal and may have been kidnapped to be abused by paedophiles. They revealed they had a sketch of a “suspect”.


It was one of a host of bold and unsubstantiated announcements they were to make.


Three Family Liaison Officers from Leicestershire Police arrived in Portugal to support the McCanns and a colleague of Kate’s offered a £100,000 reward for help in finding Madeleine.


The McCanns attended a Mother’s Day service on Sunday, May 6, in Praia Da Luz where prayers were said for Madeleine in English and Portuguese. Kate broke down while telling reporters how grateful she was for the support of locals.


The police sketch, meanwhile, appeared to be little more than the back of a man’s head.


Four days after Madeleine’s abduction, on Monday, May 7, Kate made a personal plea to her kidnapper on TV. Comforted by Gerry and holding a picture of their daughter, she said: “We would like to say a few words to the person who is with our Madeleine, or has been with Madeleine.


“Madeleine is a beautiful, bright, sunny and caring little girl. She is so special. Please, please, do not hurt her.


“Please do not scare her, please let us know where to find Madeleine or put her in a place of safety and tell somebody where. We beg you to let Madeleine come home.


“Sean and Amelie need Madeleine and she needs us. Please give our little girl back.”

She repeated that sentence in Portuguese: “Por favor, devolva a nossa menina.”


Gerry leaned towards her, bowed his head and rested it on her cheek.


In the first of many wild theories reported in Portugal, it was said that police believed Madeleine’s kidnapper to be British.


Officers did not confirm it. Instead they held a chaotic Press conference where, contradicting earlier remarks, they said they could not reassure the McCanns that Madeleine was still alive or still in the area.


The following day Manchester United’s Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo made an appeal for help in tracing Madeleine, followed by Chelsea’s John Terry and Paulo Ferreira.


A silent vigil was held in the family’s home village of Rothley and detectives were said to be probing British paedophiles with links to the Algarve.


The same day British holidaymaker Amanda Mills revealed that she saw a prowler tampering with bedroom window shutters yards from Madeleine’s holiday flat days before she was abducted. The “weird” man, middle-aged, dark-skinned and unshaven, tried to grab a child’s buggy but ran off when confronted.

What seemed the first real breakthrough came on May 9. CCTV footage from

 a petrol station near Praia da Luz appeared to show a woman with a girl resembling Madeleine. Police were investigating the possibility she was snatched by two men and a woman. The CCTV footage, they said, was “the key”.


Gerry and Kate insisted they remained positive and an internet appeal was launched in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Crimestoppers created a hotline for information.


A week after Madeleine’s disappearance, on Thursday, May 10, Kate led villagers and tourists in prayer at the church in Praia Da Luz.


Crimestoppers passed on four pieces of “very useful” information from hundreds of calls to their hotline and police issued a picture of pyjamas identical to Madeleine’s.


Moved by images of her distraught parents, tycoon Stephen Winyard offered a £1million reward on Friday, May 11, for information leading to Madeleine’s return.


David Beckham made a TV appeal, saying: “If you have seen this little girl please go to the local authorities or the police with any genuine information. Please, please help us.”


Gerry said he was grateful for the worldwide support and said he would leave “no stone unturned”.

On Saturday, May 12, Madeleine’s fourth birthday, The Sun launched a campaign for people to wear yellow in her honour and to show they stood side by side with her parents. Locals near the McCanns’ home in Rothley had already tied yellow ribbons to railings in the village.

Gerry and Kate launched an international appeal using posters and a logo highlighting Madeleine’s distinctive right eye, the pupil of which runs into the blue-green iris. “We want to make the most of it, because we know her hair potentially could be cut or dyed,” Gerry said.


Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, said: “We’ll be thinking of Maddie today and praying for good news.” Tory leader David Cameron said: “I feel desperately for the McCann family. Of course I want to mark her birthday by wearing a yellow ribbon.”


Gerry and Kate urged people to redouble their efforts to find her. Business tycoons, celebrities and newspapers swelled the reward fund to £2.5million.


But by Sunday, May 13, ten days on, the hunt was nowhere.


Police chief Olegario Sousa admitted there were no leads nor suspects. “Everything that we have looked at so far has been discounted,” he said.


Tormented Gerry and Kate walked hand-in-hand along the bay at Praia da Luz. Kate wore a yellow ribbon and carried Cuddle Cat, holding it to her nose to smell Madeleine’s scent.


On May 14 Gerry issued a statement: “Until there is concrete evidence to the contrary, we believe Madeleine is safe and is being looked after.”


Kate said they would not consider returning to the UK while she was missing.

London lawyers from the International Family Law Group set up a “fighting fund” to allow the public to donate to the search.


Then, dramatically, it was revealed that a Briton living with his mother just over 100 yards from the McCanns’ holiday apartment was being quizzed.


He was Robert Murat.


MURAT’S life changed for ever the moment police knocked on the door of his mother’s villa, Casa Liliana, at 7am on May 14, 2007. He was interrogated for 19 hours.


The house was sealed off and searched from top to bottom and the swimming pool drained. Murat’s computer was seized. Two cars used by the Murats were examined.


Later he was named as an “arguido” — the Portuguese legal term for a suspect — but there was not enough evidence to arrest him or keep him in custody. He was never charged with any offence.


So why him?


Murat, 34, is a half-Portuguese, half-English property salesman whose daughter Sofia is Madeleine’s age and lives with his ex-wife Dawn in Norfolk. They had all lived at Casa Liliana until two years earlier when Dawn took Sofia back to the UK. She had found life hard in Portugal and the marriage had broken down.

Murat insisted the first he knew of Madeleine’s disappearance was when his sister phoned him about it the next day. His alibi never changed: On the evening of May 3 he went to bed early at his mother’s home after dinner with her. His mother, Jennie, 71, backed him up.


As Madeleine’s kidnapping cast the spotlight on his town, Murat, once an interpreter for Norfolk police, began getting involved in the case. Using his language skills he volunteered to help detectives and acted as a go-between with Madeleine’s parents. His mother set up a poster stall appealing for witnesses.


Murat was also keen to help the Press and claimed to have been inside the McCanns’ apartment as the probe began.


Some reporters dismissed him as an attention-seeker. Others were more suspicious.


One reported him to the police, who put him under surveillance. He was watched and his phone calls logged.


Murat’s business associate, Russian computer expert Sergey Malinka, 22, was also questioned but quickly cleared.


Murat’s German girlfriend Michaela Walczuch and her estranged Portuguese husband Luis Antonio were questioned as witnesses.


There was nothing to connect Murat to the abduction, despite many hours of questioning and comprehensive checks on his background, movements and property.


British holidaymakers, including the McCanns’ friends, repeatedly claimed they saw him near the complex on the night of May 3, seemingly contradicting his alibi.


But in January it emerged that a local estate agent, also in Praia that night, is a remarkable lookalike of Murat. Perhaps it was him they saw and not Murat — and thus his alibi was sound.


Murat’s loyal band of friends insist he is an entirely innocent man enduring a long nightmare. Former work colleague Veronica Fennell said: “He is a perfectly normal, outgoing, friendly guy.”


Another ex-workmate, Gareth Bailey, said he would trust Murat with his own daughter. He added: “He’s one of those overly helpful people who like to get involved.


“It sounds exactly what he’s done with the police and reporters. It is the way he is. I can see how it could be misconstrued.”


Murat’s lawyer Francisco Paragete defended him to the hilt, even by making a vitriolic attack on the McCanns.


He said: “If the police never clear this matter up, Robert Murat will always be pointed at in the street as the No1 suspect. It has been a nightmare for him and a long one.”


Of the McCanns, he said: “They deserve to be cursed for leaving three children unprotected. I only lament that there are people funding a couple who abandoned three children and who swan around with bulging bank balances.

“My client, his mother and his girlfriend, who have nothing to do with the case, see their names daily dragged through the mud and they are virtually bankrupt.”


Murat’s aunt Sally Eveleigh said: “Robert’s life has been ruined by the most disgusting, cruel allegations imaginable.


“His only crime was wanting to do anything he could to help find a missing four-year-old girl.


“As a father, he knew Kate and Gerry McCann must have been going through hell. Robert has gone through some very dark moments and wondered if there was any point carrying on. But then he says, ‘I’ve got my daughter to think about’.” Under Portugal’s strict secrecy laws, Murat was barred from defending himself publicly. But he did say this: “I can’t carry on living like this, no human being could.

“I am an innocent man. I am not a paedophile or any of the other things I have been called. I have done nothing wrong. I wake up with this nightmare every morning and I go to bed with it every night.”


The next three and a half months saw the McCanns go from victims of a predatory child-snatcher to suspects in their own daughter’s killing. With no leads or solid evidence, the increasingly desperate Portuguese police decided they disposed of her body and concocted an elaborate lie to dupe the world.


Even supposedly rational people began wondering aloud if the detectives were on to something. The theory held that they knew they would lose their jobs, home and children if found to have killed Madeleine — and would go to any lengths to avoid it.


It was nonsense. But the McCanns, in the midst of their torment, had to fend off the allegations again and again.


See the timeline above right for how the story that gripped the world unfolded

  • GO TO PART 2 SUN 29-04-2008




    GO TO PART 2 SUN 29-04-2008


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