By Nigel Moore
With thanks to A Miller
Peter Levy: Yes, here we are, BBC Radio
Humberside, BBC Lincolnshire and we're into the second
hour this Thursday. Thank you for being there. I hope
your day is good. Now, anyone who's followed the sad
case of the missing girl, Madeleine McCann, will know
the name of my next guest. Clarence Mitchell is a former
BBC journalist and television presenter who started his
career here, at the BBC. He's been spokesperson for Kate
and Gerry McCann since their daughter disappeared in May
2007 and Clarence is joining us on the programme today.
Clarence, good afternoon to you.
Clarence Mitchell: Peter, good
afternoon. How many years has it been since we last
Peter Levy: I don't know, it's, errr...
it's quite a few years, errr...
Clarence Mitchell: Too many.
Peter Levy: Too many... 'cause, errr...
for people... Clarence used to work at, errr... Look
North... in fact, you used to live... you used to live
in Hull, didn't you? Or some...
Clarence Mitchell: That's right, on
Sunny Bank, in Hull, errr... I... I... it was a great
city, and I very much enjoyed my time there. It was,
phwooah, some years ago now. It would have been 88/89,
around then; the last century, virtually.
Peter Levy: My... my, errr... memory,
well, there's memory... many memories of you, but... but
you actually were the... the journalist who... I think
you were... you were travelling back from London in your
car the night of the... of the terrible, errr... air
crash at Kegworth, weren't you?
Clarence Mitchell: I was. I'd actually
been down to London to visit my parents, errm... while
working on Look North during the week, errm... and I was
on the way back up on the M1. I was at Leicester, Forest
East Service Station, errm... and the first I was aware
of what seemed to be a major accident was the number of
ambulances and police cars flying under the... the
restaurant that straddles the motorway there. Errr...
And I immediately got in my car and basically followed
them, as... as reporters should do, and it became clear
very appar... very quickly that this wasn't a... a
simple, local, small accident, errr... this was a major
incident and, errr... yes, you're absolutely right. I...
I broadcast live, errr... using a early rudimentary
mobile phone from my car, errm... at the beginning of,
errr... from memory, that would have been 89.
Peter Levy: Coming up to... to date, or
more recently, how did you first meet the McCanns?
Clarence Mitchell: I met them, errm...
because of my role following the BBC, errm... I was with
the BBC, as you rightly said, for around twenty years. I
then joined the Cabinet Office, errm... as director of
the media monitoring unit for, errr... the government
which meant working at... with No. 10 and all of the
major Departments of State and because of my existing
media contacts, errm... whenever a big story came along,
errr... I was considered, errm... as a possible, errr...
press officer, if you like, for the government to go and
assist the media on the ground. Now I thought it would
be something like bird flu, or foot and mouth, or
perhaps another terrorist incident where government
press officers are... are sometimes sent out to assist
the police or the emergency services on the ground deal
with the media, errm... but as it was, errm... I was
told that a... a child had gone missing in Portugal and,
errr... the media interest was developing very rapidly
and that the ambassador in Portugal had asked for
assistance for his press office team, errm... So I was
effectively seconded to the Foreign Office and sent out
to Portugal. I actually met Gerry for the first time in
Leicestershire. He came back to collect some belongings
from home, errr... and he and I then flew back to
Portugal in May 2007 and I met Kate out there for the
first time. So that's... that's how it came about. I
went out as a civil servant and met them through the...
through the consular assistance that they were offered.
Peter Levy: What are they like as... as
people, because, I mean, they... they've been through,
you know, errr... hell and back really but... and also,
at one time, of course, everybody was pointing fingers
very much at... at them?
Clarence Mitchell: They are coping
as... as best they can under the circumstances. Nobody
ever expected that, errm... we'd be here, what, nearly
four years further down the line without Madeleine being
found, errr... without her being recovered and brought
home to... to her rightful place at home with them.
Errm... they have good days and bad days like anybody.
If they feel that there is momentum in the private
investigation that's still very much ongoing - they have
a small team of former British police officers working
on the case - errm... they feel, they... they draw
strength from that or if the campaigning side of the
work that they constantly do, errr... is going well,
again they... they draw strength from that. It's during
the quieter periods when nothing much appears to be
happening, errm... that they can... they can be knocked
back a little bit and that's only natural and perfectly
human. Errm... But they are very committed to the search
for their daughter. They want an answer. And until they
know what has happened to their daughter, and until this
awful situation is resolved, they will keep going. And
yes, you're right, there was a lot of criticism at
different times and a lot of leaked rubbish, frankly,
that came out in the Portuguese press and was then
repeated without any attempt to check it in the British
media and then recycled a third time into... back into
Portugal. Errm...This was a very difficult period for
them. They were, errr... part of the investigation as
'arguido'; the status that's given to people who,
errr... the police wish to speak to about incidents in
Portugal. But that status was ultimately lifted and the
Portuguese Attorney General made it clear there was
absolutely no evidence, errr... to, in any way, to
implicate them in Madeleine's disappearance which, of
course, there isn't because, errm... I know them well
enough now to say with with absolute confidence that...
that... of course, they were'nt involved. They are a
grieving family and they need all the help and support
they can get, errm... to keep the search for their
Peter Levy: You can't imagine what it
would be like as a...as a...as a parent to know that the
finger is pointed at...at you, when they're going
through that. I mean, it... it's extraordinary really,
Clarence Mitchell: Well, it... it is,
but it is also perfectly understandable. In any police
enquiry the police will look at those nearest and
dearest to the victim of the crime. It... it's a
standard procedure and... and, you know...
Peter Levy: Because, very often... very
often it is those people.
Clarence Mitchell: Well, in this case,
it isn't! And, but... you know, Kate and Gerry would be
the first people to say they welcomed the police looking
at them so that they could be ruled out. You know, they
made that point themselves several times early on,
errm... that the police should do whatever they need to
do to find the true abductor; the person responsible for
Madeleine's disappearance. Errm... and, as I say, that
process was a lengthy, drawn out one and there were
very, errr... a great number of unhelpful leaks at
times, speculative things that weren't factually
correct, then got repeated, errr... there were language
difficulties, translation difficulties, all sorts of
things that led to this storm around them, errm... and
it was... at times it was very bleak for them to have to
cope with that, but they got through it and, as I say,
they... they are as strong as ever as a couple and
they're doing their best to... to cope and maintain
momentum behind the search for their daughter.
Peter Levy: Well, you've given them,
errr... amazing support your... yourself. Errm...
What... how do they... when you say there's teams of
people working, are these... these are not, errr...
errr... ordinary police, these are... these are... are
'paid for' hired police, are they? Working on it, still?
Clarence Mitchell: There is... there is
no official police search, if you like, for Madeleine
going on, errm... at all. When... when the Portuguese
authorities shelved the case, errr... that effectively
ended the formal police work. Of course, if any
significant new leads were to develop, then the police
may well re-visit it. But, at the moment, the only
people actively looking for Madeleine are a small team
employed by the McCanns, errr... through their Fund, and
the pub... British public - in fact, the international
public have been very, very generous to them - errr...
money still occasionally comes in. Errm... They've also
had a number of settlements with various newspaper
groups, because of some of the libels that were written
about them and their friends, and all of the proceeds of
those actions have gone into the Fund to... to keep it
going. Errm... And that money is used to employ...
they've had a number of agencies, private detective
agencies over the years, errr... on short term
contracts. But currently, errm... it's the... the
investigation is a private investigation being led by
Dave Edgar, who's a former RUC officer, errr... retired,
errr... and he calls in assistance, errr... from his
colleague, former colleagues in various police forces,
as and when he needs it. Errr... And there is work going
on in Britain and in Portugal at different times but,
because of the sensitive nature of it, obviously I can't
go into any detail, but it's very much ongoing.
Peter Levy: No, I... I... I understand
that to... totally. What... again, don't answer if you
don't want to, but I know that every parent listening
will be interested to know the answer to this. What do
they... because it is a... the whole thing is a mystery;
what... what do they believe, what do they think
is the strongest possibility of... of what happened to
Clarence Mitchell: Kate and Gerry know
Mad... know their daughter well enough to know she
didn't wander out of the apartment, as has often been
only assumption they can make is that somebody took her
out of the apartment. That is the working hypothesis on
which the private investigation is also based.
That there is somebody, perhaps one, or just two or
three people out there who know what happened and that
there was an element of pre-meditation, pre-planning
went into it. Possibly because of the location of the
apartment; it was on a fairly remote corner of that
particular resort. Errm... Children would have been
coming and going over months/weeks beforehand and
there... it... the private investigation believes there
was a degree of pre-meditation and planning, errm... and
the very fact that nothing has been found of Madeleine
since, not a trace, tends to suggest that she has been
taken somewhere else and has been... hopefully, is being
looked after, or at least cared for, errr... with
someone. Errr... That is... that is the working
hypothesis. In some cases, if... if God forbid, she had
been harmed, she probably would have been found long ago
but she hasn't been and that's why they keep going.
Peter Levy: So the belief is that she
is... she is alive and being looked after, and probably
still in Portugal?
Clarence Mitchell: As... as Kate and
Gerry have always said, until they have the answer as to
what has happened and until they are presented with
incontrovertible proof that she has been harmed, they
will continue to believe - just as logically, without
any evidence to the contrary - that she could still just
as easily be alive. And every time... even if they ever
begin to doubt that themselves, which they don't, but if
they ever do, something like Jaycee Lee Dugard in the
Peter Levy: Yeah.
Clarence Mitchell: ...or other people
emerge from diff... very different situations but it
can happen. It is rare, errm... but it can happen
and each of those cases do give them a renewed hope that
one day they too will get that call that says Madeleine
has been recovered safe and well.
Peter Levy: They must be very heartened
by the huge amount of... of public interest and... and
concern and care for... for them, that there's been over
the last 3 and half years?
Clarence Mitchell: They... they are
immensely grateful to everybody who continues to support
them, to the media as well. The very fact that you and I
are now talking about it, so far down the line. Many
other families of missing children, errr... have not had
that luxury, if you like, of the continued media
Peter Levy: Why did it capture the
imagination so much?
Clarence Mitchell: Oh, how long's your
programme? There are all sorts of reasons but
essentially, errm... it... it played into the... every
parental nightmare of losing your children whilst on
holiday, errr... it raised the whole question of
parental responsibility. Kate and Gerry felt they and
their friends were mounting a perfectly correct and
proper checking system on the... on the... given the...
the lack of resources available to them, at the time,
but they made a mistake and they... they got it wrong.
Peter Levy: And it's kicking... it's
kicking yourself isn't it? You know, it's... it's the...
it's... it's the... you know, it... and that... they've
got to live with that, haven't they?
Clarence Mitchell: Yes, they do and,
God forbid, they may have to live with that, you know,
for the rest of their lives. Let's hope not, but... but
they accept that they made a judgement call and... and,
that million-to-one chance, it went wrong and, as you
say, they... they have to live with that now. And some
of the recriminations and online... there's a very small
vocal minority online who... who attack them for being
negligent. That is completely misplaced and entirely
wrong and doesn't actually help find Madeleine in any
shape or form. Errr... But the vast majority of
right-thinking, decent people understand the awful
situation that they find themselves in, errr... and are
supportive and, of course, wish them well and hope that
Madeleine will be found.
Peter Levy: And, of course, errr... we
all do, and everybody listening as well. And they were
planning a book to raise some money but they've delayed
the publication because they didn't want it to... to
clash with the royal wedding?
Clarence Mitchell: Well, that was a
decision that was taken by... by the publishers. Errm...
As I'm sure you know, any book publication involves
quite lengthy lead in times with dates for printing, and
distribution, and promotion and all the rest of it,
errm... and they had announced... the publishers had
announced, it would be April the 28th. Errr... Kate is
still writing the book, at the moment. Errm... She's
well on with it, but she's still writing it, and,
errm... then, of course, the royal wedding was announced
just after that as being the very next day, so
logistically the media and all the distribution
processes will be dominated by the royal wedding, in the
run-up to that date, and probably slightly beyond. So it
made... it made sense from the publisher's point of view
to move the production deadline, errr... and the
production... the publication date. Errr... This is
quite common with many book... book launches. Errr...
its only been moved on a fortnight and it's on May the
12th now - will be the day it appears - which, of
course, is Madeleine's eighth birthday, which is also
highly appropriate, and it will still be very much tied
into the... the fourth anniversary of Madeleine going
missing if... if, God forbid, we... we have to get that
far. Errm... and of course by then some of the royal
wedding coverage may well have moved on, errm... and
hopefully people will be able to see the book and see
what Kate and Gerry are saying, errr... much more
Peter Levy: Okay, well listen, errr...
Clarence, it's, errr... it's good of you to, errr...
come on the programme and, errr... and talk about them
and when you next speak to, errr... Gerry and Kate do
give them our, errr... best wishes. Errr... Very good to
have you on the programme. I wish you well, onward. And,
errr... and how do you spend your days, these days, when
you're not, errr... when you're not, errr... doing the
wonderful work for them that you are?
Clarence Mitchell: Well, thank you for
the good wishes Peter, and, of course, I will pass those
on... on to them. Errr... I speak to them pretty much
virtually every day. I either phone or email or contact.
Errr... And I will certainly make it clear to them
that... that you... you've said that. Errm... I'm now
working as a result of moving into Public Relations, if
you like, with the Madeleine, errm... situation. I now
work for a PR agency in London, Lewis PR. I'm the
Director of Media Strategy and Public Affairs which
means that I work with a number of their clients as
well, advising them on their media contact. And if any
particular stories flare up involving those clients I...
I generally act as a... a bit of a go-between, in much
the same way as I do for Kate and Gerry, with... with
the media, the print, broadcast and online media.
Errm... And on the public affairs side because of my
governmental work, errm... I'm able to assist as well,
where I can, with, errr... governmental contact for some
of the clients too. So it's... it's a busy old agenda,
errr... just as frenetic as... as the BBC in many ways;
if it's on the other side of the fence.
Peter Levy: Well, I know you're a
workaholic. That's what... that's what I can tell
people, errr... but, errr... people, errr... in glass
houses shouldn't throw stones. Errr... Very good to have
you on the programme, Clarence.
Clarence Mitchell: Peter, lovely to
speak again, thanks very much.
Peter Levy: Bye.