Illustration: Peter Hanan
PROFILE: KATE AND GERRY McCANN: For four years the deeply private parents of
Madeleine McCann have exposed themselves to the media to keep the search
for their daughter in the public eye, writes KATHY SHERIDAN . Now
they're publishing a book about it
ISSUES FLUSH out more self-righteous bile than other people's parenting.
For critics of Kate and Gerry McCann the loss of a daughter was never
sufficient punishment for a bad parenting decision. They have had to
shoulder accusations of neglect and murder, in screaming headlines,
across several countries. Message boards call for them to be lynched.
McCanns were from Norris Green [a troubled Liverpool housing estate] and
their child had gone missing while they were playing bingo, they would
be national hate figures,' commented one poster this week on a report of
a Mass in the city to mark the fourth anniversary of Madeleine's
McCanns' error was to leave their small children sleeping in an unlocked
ground-floor apartment while they dined with seven friends at a tapas
bar about 120m away, in the Portuguese resort town of Praia da Luz. They
left the apartments unlocked for fear of fire, they later explained;
they chose not to use the babysitting service because they didn't want
to leave their children with strangers. Members of the party were to
take turns checking on all the children at 30-minute intervals. The
catastrophic outcome was the disappearance of Madeleine from her bed.
She was a few days short of her fourth birthday.
traditional media 'Maddy' was circulation gold. For the pseudonymous
bloggers and message-board posters, her parents became a magnet for
poisonous, malicious speculation. The case became 'a sort of blogging
Viagra', as one journalist put it in a remark related by Roy Greenslade
of the Guardian. Every new reference to the McCanns triggered a surge of
casual savagery online, fuelled by the traditional media's gleeful
splashes of unsubstantiated leaks.
least of the accusations was that the McCanns had escaped censure for
child neglect because they were white, middle-class and attractive.
worst, wildest accusation was that Kate had killed her daughter and
Gerry had helped to cover it up. Always entangled among them were
baseless allegations that he was not the natural father, that she was on
medication, that the children had been sedated, that the couple's
relentless campaigning was all about the money.
McCann's problem from the start was that she failed to fit the role of
grieving mother. Too controlled, too fit, too good looking, too
middle-class, too attached to 'parading herself before the world',
clutching her missing daughter's favourite toy.
online supersleuths believed they had her measure early on: 'It was Kate
McCann NEVER appearing in any pictures for weeks after Madeleine went
missing without Cuddle Cat being superglued to her hand that made me
start to suspect that everything they did was totally false and stage
managed. One face for the cameras and another one behind closed doors,'
commented one of the most printable posters.
McCann's stoicism, natural reserve and grimly maintained jogging routine
merely inflamed delicate tabloid sensibilities. Her unwillingness to
break into choking sobs for the cameras or to claw the earth in remorse
for her admitted parenting mistakes supposedly proved she wasn't a
natural mother. Leaks from inside the investigation claimed that her
controlled public appearance, and even her carefully applied make-up,
indicated a 'cold and manipulative' personality. Right from the
beginning, it was said, the Portuguese police suspected her because
their wives were telling them she looked too controlled, didn't weep
told her mother, Susan Healy, 'If I weighed another two stone, had a
bigger bosom and looked more maternal, people would be more
are sound precedents for her theory. In the so-called dingo baby case in
Australia, in 1980, Lindy Chamberlain was adjudged too 'cold' by jury
and media and convicted of murdering her baby, serving many years in
prison before fresh evidence led to her vindication.
McCann explained that he and his wife had been advised that self-control
might have most effect on a putative kidnapper tuning in to their many
television pleas. His wife gave self-flagellating interviews, admitting
their mistakes and revealing that their three much-loved babies were the
result of IVF treatment. The British and Portuguese news media had found
their own circulation Viagra, the gift that kept on giving: photogenic,
affluent, professional folk; strikingly pretty, blond missing child;
controversial parenting decisions; sunny foreign resort; suggestion of
lurking paedophiles; questionable police investigation; deepening
hostility between the two sides; and a resultant poisonous trickle of
HILL, THE now retired Daily Express editor, presided over stories that
suggested the couple were complicit in their daughter's disappearance.
For those libels and defamatory reports in the group's other titles,
Express Newspapers had to pay the McCanns '550,000 (plus '375,000 to the
Tapas Seven, who announced they would be giving the money to the Find
Madeleine fund). He now regrets it, 'of course', he told Greenslade.
did it happen' 'It was a huge story, and every adult in the country had
an opinion on it. I admit it helped to sell the paper. There were many
factors involved, such as the way Maddy's parents sought publicity in an
unprecedented way. All the way through our principal focus was on
'what's happened to Maddy'' The Portuguese police and British legal
sources were leaking stories that implied the McCanns were guilty in
some way. We were not to know that the Portuguese police were
ineffectual and, in some cases, corrupt.'
(and their lawyers) deemed these stories fit to print anyway, inflicting
collateral damage on innocent lives, but paid a price for it. The
bloggers and posters pursue their agenda with impunity, never pausing to
wonder why, if they had killed their child, the McCanns worked
tirelessly to keep the case alive.
interview to mark the first anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance
Gerry McCann felt obliged to remind people that they were real people:
'We are not characters in a soap opera or a fiction.'
returned to work as a consultant cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital in
Leicester about six months after the tragedy, often cycling the eight
kilometres to work. His wife, who never returned to her position as a
GP, jogs around the country lanes of Rothley, the Leicestershire village
where they live, after getting the children off to school; then she
returns to their new-build house, in a quiet cul de sac, to work on the
campaign to find their daughter. Though not a shrine, Madeleine's
bedroom remains largely untouched, awaiting her return, according to the
COUPLE ARE caught in a desperate dilemma: give up the search, and spare
themselves the torture of the alleged sightings, the con men, the
rumours, the malice and the abuse, or continue to ride the media tiger
in the hope that it will flush out Madeleine's whereabouts.
relentless, costly Leaving No Stone Unturned campaign, ensuring that the
public continues to be alert for the little girl, has been distinguished
by its quasi-corporate professionalism. Staffing has included a campaign
manager and a media manager, plus teams of full-time private
investigators (currently led by two British former policemen). Services
include a 24-hour multilingual call centre, travel packs for people
going away on holiday, posters and multilingual prayer cards with
photographs and contact details.
Clarence Mitchell, a former BBC journalist, resigned from his job with
the British government's media-monitoring unit to become spokesman, his
salary paid by a Cheshire businessman, Brian Kennedy. High-profile names
such as Richard Branson have also donated generously; Branson gave
'100,000 towards their legal costs.
fund supporter, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is
believed to have introduced Kate McCann to her agent, Christopher
Little, when Kate McCann's forthcoming book was proposed. The account of
their ordeal, which Kate wrote herself, and is to be published next
Thursday, Madeleine's eighth birthday, is expected to be hard-hitting,
particularly about the Portuguese police.
she will also relive the first days after Madeleine's disappearance and
chart the media storms in the following months, when the couple became
suspects. The legal firm Carter-Ruck has combed through the manuscript
for possible libels.
McCann, a deeply private woman, undertook to write the book with a heavy
heart, and only because the campaign fund needs the '1 million she hopes
it will raise. Although she has become notably more confident in her
dealings with the press, marketing plans do not include public book
signings, for fear of verbal or even physical abuse.
WAYS, however, the tide is against them. Although Kate McCann is
reported to have made several secret trips back to Praia da Luz, where
she stays with an Anglican priest and his wife, and finds strength
there, local businesspeople are desperate to shake off the dark legacy.
Unsurprisingly, there is a marked reluctance in the town to discuss the
story, reports the Daily Telegraph. The once ubiquitous photographs of
the little girl around the little church of Our Lady of Light are gone.
Apartment 5a of the Ocean Club complex, from which Madeleine
disappeared, has remained unoccupied and was put on the market two years
ago at '50,000 below the market price, but it hasn't received a single
inquiry. Instead it has become a ghoulish attraction for tourists who
want their photographs taken outside. The infamous tapas bar is now a
pizzeria and no longer opens in the evenings.
years on Kate McCann is sustained by her devout Catholic faith: 'I know
the truth and God knows the truth and nothing else matters.' Gerry
McCann has said that his own faith has deepened since Madeleine's
disappearance, and the family attend Sunday Mass together. In an
interview on BBC Radio Kate said that she includes in her prayers the
police and investigators and other children who are missing or have been
exploited, but also 'the people who have taken Madeleine, the people who
know what's happened to Madeleine and the people around and related to
the person who's taken Madeleine'.
Who are they' A Leicestershire cardiologist and GP whose daughter Madeleine
vanished in Portugal while they ate in a nearby tapas bar in 2007.
are they in the news' Kate McCann's book, Madeleine , will be
published on Thursday, the child's eighth birthday.
What makes them so different' White, good looking professionals;
controversial parenting decisions.
Hmm. Anything else' A relentless, multimillion euro global campaign to keep the