Dr Vernon Coleman
Thousands of people
go missing every year but the media doesn't usually bother.
However, the disappearance of a three-year-old British girl from her
parents' holiday accommodation in Portugal has become a massive news
I suspect that the media has persuaded us that the Drs McCanns
deserve our sympathy because they are nice middle class parents and
Madeleine is a pretty photogenic child. The fact that there are lots
of pictures available helps.
Family and friends have used a compliant media to build the story
into a variety of mass hysteria matching that which followed Diana's
The disappearance of Madeleine McCann has been considered such a
good story that British television has consistently led with it as
the main news item for weeks. Most newspapers have kept the story on
their front page.
But has this really been the most important news story? For example,
on May 17th, one of days that the two week old story of the
disappearance of Madeleine McCann was considered the most important
news item in Britain, here are some of the news stories that were
considered less important:
* Gordon Brown was officially announced as Britain's next Prime
* The World Bank met to consider whether or not to get rid of its
President Paul Wolfowitz
* The Government announced that it would close a fifth of all Post
Offices in the country. (A total of 2,500 villages and communities
deprived of their link with the outside world.)
* The Israelis launched air strikes on Palestinians in Gaza
* The British Army and the Government decided that Prince Harry
would not serve in Iraq because it was too dangerous for a member of
the Royal Family to fight there. (Despite this, Harry decided that
he would stay in the army though it was not made clear precisely
what he would do.)
* War criminals Tony Blair and George Bush met in the USA to defend
their war record. Blair described Bush as a great leader.
* British soldiers continued to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
(though without members of the Royal family).
When three-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared she was alone with
her younger siblings in a ground floor holiday apartment rented by
her parents. They had gone out to dinner.
Let's get this straight.
The Drs McCann didn't have to rush out in an emergency. They could,
presumably, have hired a baby sitter. They chose not to. They chose
to leave their three very small children in a flat in a foreign
country while they went out to have a good time in a restaurant.
What is going on here?
Why haven't the parents been interviewed by social workers?
Is it now legal for British parents to leave their tiny children
alone while they go out for fun?
The McCanns left three children alone. The oldest was
The last time I looked, teenage mothers got into trouble if they
popped out to the shops to get a pint of milk and a loaf of bread
and left their children alone.
Under British law parents can be charged with neglect or abandonment
if they leave their children alone if it is unsafe to do so.
It clearly was unsafe to leave these three small children alone. One
of them is now missing.
The McCanns chose to go out to have a good time leaving three small
children alone in a flat in a foreign country.
These were not impoverished teenagers who didn't know any better.
They are thirty-eight-year-old doctors.
What sort of example were they setting?
What sort of example are media commentators who excuse them setting?
Where are the interfering, busy body social workers when they're
Most media commentators seem to think that the McCanns did nothing
wrong. The arguments seem to be that parents must be able to leave
their small children alone in the world and that parents are
entitled to lead lives without having their children around them all
People who become parents take on enormous responsibilities.
Small children are vulnerable. They fall over. They wake up
frightened. They see ghosts in shadows. They fall out of bed. They
Small children are vulnerable.
But society rewards parents in many ways for their decision. And
having children is a choice.
If the Drs McCann wanted to have romantic holidays in the Algarve
without having their fun evenings spoilt by children they shouldn't
have had any children.
(And they could, remember, have hired a baby sitter.)
They chose to have children. And they chose to take them away to
Portugal. And they chose to leave them alone while they went out to
Personally, I'd arrest the pair of them for child neglect.
Whatever happened to Madeleine they must take a huge amount of
Personally, I don't think either of them are responsible enough to
work as doctors.
Responsible parents don't leave their children alone in a foreign
Being a parent is a 24 hour responsibility.
The media and the public seem to regard this pair as victims.
But in my view there is only one victim.
Madeleine is the victim.
Whatever has happened to her is clearly awful.
I feel so, so sorry for her.
But the parents?
Sorry, but I just don't think they deserve our sympathy.
The parents have now taken indefinite leave from their jobs.
(I wonder if they're still getting paid for any NHS work they aren't
doing? Just a thought.)
They and their family and friends seem to have become media
celebrities. Other celebrities are falling over themselves to get
The parents are alleged to be hiring a professional public relations
adviser and two London lawyers. A trust is allegedly being set up to
handle the money being raised. Why? What the hell is going on?
Why do they need lawyers and a publicity adviser?
And why do they need a trust?
These aren't impoverished people. They are both doctors.
Their combined annual income is probably the best part of £200,000.
Personally, I would not be surprised to see the Drs McCann on
Celebrity Big Brother next year.
A cynic might say that at least they won't need to bother getting
babysitters for whatever children they might have got left by then.
They could just leave 'em at home alone.
Copyright Vernon Coleman 2007