For four years
Kate McCann has wrestled with despair, crippled by a world staring at
her in judgment. She tells of her slow emergence from the dark
would be Madeleine’s eighth birthday this Thursday (PA Wire)
was the fourth anniversary of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance last
Tuesday and, with a sinking feeling, Kate McCann answered the door to
the family home at the end of a neat cul-de-sac in Leicester to find a
stranger on the doorstep. He wanted to wish her well, but it still felt
like an intrusion.
“The twins asked, ‘Who was that man at the door, Mummy?’ I said, ‘Oh,
just someone who wants to help.’ They are used to it,” she says. “People
want to get close to us, but it can feel strange, and draining. It’s not
a two-minute thing, either. Even if it’s someone well-meaning, it’s 20
minutes on the doorstep, politely trying to get away.”
The fascination with Madeleine’s disappearance means such visits are
regular — some comic, some exasperating, some sinister. Psychics have
turned up, claiming to have clues to Madeleine’s whereabouts. So have a
number of psychiatric patients, fixated with her plight. One persistent
caller tried to break in and was carted off by the police. Someone
turned up as the McCanns were eating dinner on Christmas Day. “That one
did upset me, I have to admit,” Gerry says.
They have talked about moving house but Kate says people will always
find out where they are. In any case, Gerry says, though they dreaded
the thought of coming back from Portugal 3½ years ago without Madeleine
to a house so full of memories, “it felt good to be home”.
Kate, 43, wants “to be in the house where Madeleine lived so if we found
her it would be familiar to her. It would be hard for me to leave”. So
there they have stayed, with Madeleine’s pink bedroom as it was before
they left for the fateful holiday in Portugal, but now filled with gifts
of teddy bears and rosary beads sent by strangers, a keepsake box in
which her six-year-old twin brother and sister, Sean and Amelie, put
little things for her — the last sweet from a packet, a drawing or a
little leaf that has taken their fancy — and a growing pile of birthday
presents given by family and friends, awaiting her return.
It will be — or would have been, who knows? — Madeleine’s eighth
birthday this Thursday. For the first time, the family will not be
holding the usual tea party, with cake, balloons and cards. Instead, the
McCanns will be in London for the launch of Kate’s heart-wrenching book.
It is a coincidence, she insists, but you can sense a relief at the
break in routine. How long can you go on hoping, letting the presents
pile up until they reach the ceiling? Balancing hope with practicality
is tricky, to say the least.
We can’t sit back and wait in the hope that Madeleine will discover who
she is. We have to keep going Kate was back home in Liverpool two years
ago when the story of Jacyee Lee Dugard appeared on the news. Dugard had
been discovered near San Francisco, 18 years after being snatched from a
bus stop, aged 11. She had been held prisoner by a convicted rapist and
sexually abused, but she was alive. Kate could hardly bear to watch.
“I tried to block it out, I didn’t want to hear how long she’d been
away, but my dad said ‘Listen, listen’ and I realised it was another
cause for hope,” she says. “It shows how easy it is for children to be
taken off the radar and to be alive years — decades, God forbid — down
the line. Though we can’t sit back and wait in the hope that Madeleine
will discover who she is. We have to keep going.”
These days the Find Madeleine campaign has a small number of trusted
employees and helpers who sift through the mail that still arrives every
day, sort emails and answer phones. (They are never called “Team
McCann”, the nickname that stirred up hostility after Madeleine
disappeared, when Kate’s sad, fragile face graced the front pages every
day.) Gerry, 42, a feisty Glaswegian and consultant cardiologist at
Glenfield hospital in Leicester, spends Wednesdays working on the
campaign. Kate, a former GP, could not face going back to work, fearing
the curious eyes of patients, and now stays at home, looking after the
twins and working flat out while they are at school on anything that
might help find Madeleine.
The book is the latest attempt to keep her name in the headlines and
raise money to fund the McCanns’ continuing search. For the sad fact is
that, four years after what must be the most highly publicised child
abduction since the Lindbergh baby in the 1930s, they are on their own.
No law enforcement agency anywhere is looking for Madeleine.
The farcical Portuguese-led investigation that ended with her parents
being cast as suspects was closed in July 2008. Going through the police
files afterwards, Kate felt “physically sick” to read of five British
children on holiday in the Algarve who had been sexually abused in their
beds while their parents slept in another room and three who reported
intruders in their bedrooms. None of the incidents had been properly
“Obviously if a crime like that isn't deal with properly that person wll
go on to affect another family," says Kate.
The trauma of losing their daughter and the surreal, looking-glass world
it flung them into, have taken a huge toll on the McCanns. Kate’s book
reveals her moments of utter desperation and the way their relationship
threatened to unravel as they struggled to cope in different ways.
A month after the abduction she wrote in her diary: “Crying in bed again
– can’t help it . . . The thought of Madeleine’s fear and pain tears me
apart. The thought of paedophiles makes me want to rip my skin off.”
Gerry’s ability to “switch off”, his urge to go back to work and regain
an element of normality — which gave him renewed energy to put into the
campaign — seemed callous at times: “Gerry was functioning much sooner
than I was. I felt a tinge of resentment that he was managing to operate
and I wasn’t; sometimes I found it almost offensive, as if somehow he
wasn’t grieving enough.”
He became exasperated by Kate’s unending sorrow, feeling he had not only
lost his daughter, but his wife. Kate’s every waking moment was suffused
with a sense of Madeleine’s suffering and fear.
“I couldn’t watch television, read a book, listen to music or follow the
football as I might have done to relax in my old life,” she writes. “I
couldn’t go to the cinema or out for a meal ... How could I possibly
take pleasure in anything without my daughter?”
“We’re on the same page now as far as recovery, but there were times
when I was thinking, ‘Will Kate ever get there?’” Gerry says, and she
agrees: “He wanted his Kate, the old Kate, and I didn’t know if she
would ever be back.”
It was not just grieving for Madeleine that weighed her down, but a deep
sense of guilt that she hadn’t protected her precious daughter. The
McCanns came under fierce criticism for having left their children alone
in their holiday apartment, much of it directed at — and keenly felt by
— Kate, whose apparently cool demeanour was interpreted by some as