The haunted, tortured expression on Kate McCann’s face has never altered
in the four long years since her Madeleine disappeared.
It’s an expression that gives no hint of hope, one that offers no
suggestion of mourning. It is the face of a woman incomplete. It’s the
empty, desperate, silently screaming look of a tormented mother torn
from her baby.
Four years. Such a very long time of cruel separation. Any period of
enforced distancing from their young children can feel interminable to
loving parents. But Kate and Gerry McCann have specific reasons for
feeling the pain of loss so keenly. They have no idea – beyond the
horror they imagine – what has happened to their little girl.
Kate McCann wears her suffering like a death mask. On it is painted
guilt, terror, the chronically anguishing imaginings of her Maddie’s
fate. And deep, deep loss.
The McCanns have never abandoned their belief that one day Maddie will
be home with them again. They can’t allow themselves to lose that. It
sustains them, facilitates their breathing, their ability to be parents
to their six-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.
And now their continued pleadings have persuaded David Cameron to agree
to have Scotland Yard take a fresh look at the evidence in the case of
missing Madeleine McCann.
The move comes after Kate and Gerry made an impassioned appeal for the
Prime Minister to help them revive the search for their daughter, who
vanished in Portugal in 2007, shortly before her fourth birthday.
Mr Cameron sent a letter to the McCanns promising action.
“Your ordeal is every parent’s worst nightmare and my heart goes out to
you both,” he wrote. “I simply cannot imagine the pain you must have
experienced over these four agonising years, and the strength and
determination you have both shown throughout is remarkable.
“That you have been so courageous over all this time, and have not given
up, speaks volumes.”
Remarkable is the least they have been. Their survival of an
unimaginable ordeal defies all known vocabulary. How could the PM have
dismissed their cries for help or turned his back on their unashamed
pleadings? How could anyone?
There, of course is the rub. Though Scotland Yard’s involvement in the
revived search for little Maddie McCann must surely be a step in the
right direction, an improvement on what has gone before, it can’t really
be expected to bring Maddie’s abductors to justice and return her to her
The harsh truth is that, after all this time, it’s unlikely there’ll be
a dramatic breakthrough anytime soon. But even so, who in all conscience
could close the book on little Maddie?
The McCanns have been to hell and back several times since that fateful
family holiday in Portugal. It had started with so much happiness and
without a care in the world. Then everything changed.
Kate and Gerry left their children in bed, asleep, alone and
unsupervised in their holiday apartment, while they dined out at a
nearby tapas restaurant with friends.
They took turns to check on the kids every half hour. It should have
been enough. It’s the kind of risk most parents have taken at some time
– having a quiet drink in the garden as the children sleep upstairs. It
happens. Most often without event.
But for Kate and Gerry McCann the events that followed were unspeakably
awful and have grown more grindingly unbearable with every passing day.
They have had to suffer criticism, outrage, scorn, disbelief and worse
since their daughter went missing – believed carried away by a kidnapper
in the night.
At more than one point in the past four years, I have been among those
convinced they had invited trouble by leaving the children without a
babysitter and that the hysteria, the bitter criticism of Portuguese
police which followed, had been a reaction to their guilt.
It still seems true to me that children left alone – particularly in a
foreign tourist resort – are at unacceptably high risk. It still seems
etched on Kate McCann’s now permanently pained face that she believes
that to be true too.
The 43-year-old GP says she wakes every morning thinking this might be
the day her daughter is found. She must have more “if only I’d done
things differently” moments than she can count, through all the waking
moments of her anguished days.
But behind the haunted expression on that facial mask which holds
everything together, there is still a reluctance to allow personal guilt
to override the more urgent business of finding Madeleine.
Life throws up all kinds of hard lessons, very many tough and agonising
traps into which we could fall at any time.
If we are very lucky we learn from other people’s mistakes. If we are
less fortunate we have to learn from our own. Lost causes learn nothing
Kate and Gerry McCann have been the tragic unfortunates to teach parents
everywhere that their children need every last moment of attention,
every ounce of cosseting love and round-the-clock, inconvenient care.
They learned just minutes too late that the tiniest of risks can have
the most awful consequences – the kind that live on and on.
Now they need all the help that can be raised to drag these poor people
back into the land of the living from their personal hell.
It’s bad enough that any parents should survive their child. But that
parents should have to live through long, empty, aching years never
knowing whether their child is dead or alive, happy without them or
abused and terrified, is too agonising to contemplate.
And that, I guess, is why when they came to him for help, David Cameron
– without any balking from his adversaries across the Commons – simply
couldn’t say no to a tortured mum and dad fighting tooth and nail for
the return of their missing baby.
Not a single soul could have done any different.
First published at 11:26, Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk