In a frank, exclusive interview, Kate
McCann tells Siān Merrylees how she and
her family have coped over the
four years since her daughter's disappearance
Edition: 23 May 2011, Published: 16 May 2011
This week, Kate McCann, 42,
should celebrating her daughter Madeleine's eighth birthday at home in
Rothley, Leicester. It's been a long and painful four years for her,
husband Gerry, 42, and twins Sean and Amelie, now six, since Madeleine
vanished while on a family holiday in Portugal.
About four months after Madeleine disappeared, I dreamt about her. In
the dream, someone at her nursery rang to tell me she had been found
there and suddenly she was smiling at me and I was holding her. But then
I woke up.
Waking crucified me, because holding her had felt so real. At times,
I've felt as if I'd embarked on a slow, painful death.
Not knowing where your child is, how she is, who she is with, and when
you will see her again is a glimpse of hell.
For the first two years I couldn't let myself relax or do anything
enjoyable. I couldn't watch TV, read or go out for a meal. Taking
pleasure in anything felt so wrong. With Madeleine still missing, I felt
guilty that we weren't spending every second looking for her.
I also felt slight resentment in the early weeks that my husband Gerry
seemed able to do normal things, like playing tennis. I couldn't
understand how he wasn't totally consumed with grief. But he was just
dealing with his despair differently, and now I'm glad that he did.
It wasn't until the summer of 2008, when we went to stay with my aunt in
Canada, that I let myself relax. I'd had a run and was soaking in a warm
bath with a glass of red wine. For the first time, I felt the full
weight of our lives lift. But even as I acknowledged that, I had a wave
Four years on, we still don't know what's happened to Madeleine. I just
with all my heart she wasn't taken by a child sex offender, although of
course I know it's one of the possible scenarios.
In the days after her disappearance, I was tormented with a macabre
slide show of images that no sane human being would want in her head. I
would see her lying cold and mottled on a big grey stone slab, and awful
pictures of her being torn apart scrolled through my mind.
I was desperate to talk to someone about them, and when Gerry and I took
a walk on the beach in Portugal, I confided in him. Of course, he'd had
similar thoughts, so we could comfort each other and it brought us even
When Gerry returned to work as a heart specialist in Leicester, in
November 2007, I had a lot of time to grieve. I cried every day for 18
months, went to church several times a day and also spent a lot of time
analysing our relationship. I was worried that I would never again be
the Kate that Gerry had fallen in love with.
Somehow, life goes on
And as it was hard to get those horrific images out of my head, it
is not surprising that the idea of sex repulsed me. But I was determined
not to let the evil person who had taken Madeleine destroy anything else
in our life. I knew sex is important, so I focused on what Gerry meant
to me, how special he was, and the beautiful family we'd created
together, and gradually worked through it.
We were determined to let everyone realise our little girl was missing
but suddenly becoming well-known ourselves was difficult.
I've always been self-conscious, not one to stand out in a crowd, but
now I found myself worrying that if I nipped into a shop to buy some
fruit, somebody would be thinking: 'They're asking us for money for
their fund, but they're buying strawberries in M&S. Why don't they shop
at Aldi and save some pennies''
And when the twins had tantrums, I wondered if onlookers were thinking
sympathetically: 'All kids do that,' or judging me and saying: 'Her
unhappy.' It all added to the stress.
The day Madeleine was due to start school was awful, as she was so
looking forward to it. On every one of the twins' milestones, from
starting school to celebrating their fourth birthday (and every birthday
since), I inevitably dwell on what I haven't had with Madeleine.
The twins often talk about her and we have a keepsake box next to her
bed where we put pictures they have drawn, leaves they've collected for
her - even the last sweet in a packet. We've been overwhelmed with gifts
for her, so her room is now full of teddy bears, hand-knitted blankets
and prayer books.
I go in every day to open and close the curtains, and sometimes just sit
there thinking of her.
Before all this happened, I remember thinking how lucky Gerry and I
were. We'd been through IVF and ended up with three wonderful children.
I was so grateful. I know that other families who have lost children go
on to have others and although you can never replace a child, I can see
the joy can have a slightly healing effect. But for us, having another
child would mean IVF treatment, and that would be a very conscious
decision. And we'd be under constant scrutiny.
Sean and Amelie have always known their sister is missing, but recently
we explained that a man took her. When I told Sean he couldn't stay in
the car while I went into the petrol station the other day, he asked:
'Because someone might take me''
They are very matter-of-fact about it, rather than fearful. Sean
suggested we ask
the police to help us find Madeleine.
But shockingly, no official organisation is looking for her. The
Portuguese authorities have priority over the case.
They shelved it in July 2008, and no one else is allowed to reopen it or
work on it unless requested by them. We're currently lobbying the
British and Portuguese governments to review the case, and we continue
paying private investigators to
follow up leads. Many, frustratingly, come to nothing but they have to
The search continues
Even when there is only a couple of thousand pounds in the fund, it
seems like a lot of money to me.
But when the accountant told us last year that we only had enough to
cover six more months of investigations, we organised three
fund-raisers. And I hope the sales of the book I've written will help
with funds and bring in information.
We have to keep appealing for leads, as someone is carrying around a big
Whoever took Madeleine is someone's son, cousin or neighbour. We have to
keep prodding that someone's conscience until if s the right time for
them to pass details on.
I've come to accept that taking time out from our search is important
so, since writing the book, I am stepping back from the investigation
for a bit. It will coincide with the children's summer holidays but, to
be honest, I'm not sure what I will do.
I still havea restless, anxious sense that we have to be doing something
to find her in every waking moment.
When we do find her, I know it's going to be a challenge, but bring it
We'll deal with anything. It's upsetting thinking she might be living a
different life and calling someone else 'Mummy'.
And I've stopped speculating on other possible scenarios.
We had such a great four years together with Madeleine, I'm sure there's
something that would help us reconnect.
We just need to be given that chance.
The Questions l Ask Myself
'There have been so many
questions in my brain and there have been many days when all I wanted
was to pull the duvet over my head,' says Kate.
Did the tapas bar booking
tip off the abductor'
Although not usual, the receptionist at the holiday resort let Kate and
friends book the tapas restaurant near their apartments for the week
ahead. Kate noticed in police reports that the receptionist had left a
note at the pool reception explaining she'd let them do so because they
were leaving their kids sleeping alone in nearby apartments. When she
saw the note, Kate was horrified as It was accessible to staff, guests
and visitors to the complex, and obviously a risk'.
Who is this man'
'My friend Jane noticed a man carrying a child a few minutes' walk from
our apartment the night Madeleine disappeared. A family from Ireland saw
him too and all had noticed, despite the chilly night, that the child
was barefoot, not covered in a blanket and the man looked as if he was
not used to carrying a child.' Kate points out that if he was an
innocent father, surely he would have come forward to be eliminated from
Why did we leave the kids
The listening service at the resort involved staff periodically
checking on sleeping children by standing outside their doors. Kate and
her friends chose to leave their children alone, but go one better and
check them themselves. This is a decision they 'now bitterly regret and
will do so until the end of our days'.
Was Madeleine drugged'
'The day she went missing, Madeleine was pale and tired and asked me
to carry her from the pool back to the apartment,' says Kate. 'It was
odd as usually she has loads of energy.' Was her daughter tired from
holiday activities or had she been given something during that day - or
the previous night - to make her sleepy' einforcing Kate's fears is the
fact that despite the chaos, lights and screaming that went on after
their sister's disappearance was discovered, the twins slept soundly on.
Were they drugged too'
Was someone in the room the
The day before she went missing Madeleine asked why her parents hadn't
them when she and Sean had cried in the middle of the night. 'I'm
haunted by those words,' says Kate. 'I'm convinced someone was in their
room to wake them and blame myself for not sitting down with Madeleine
and drawing more information out of her.'
Why did we become suspects'
Kate and Gerry became suspects in September 2007 and were not
cleared till 10 months later. Kate was incensed that while the police
focused on them, the man she thinks took Madeleine was free. 'He was
probably smiling and thinking: 'Keep blaming the parents and I'll keep
on taking children."
What was the stain on
'I didn't think of it at the time but the day Madeleine disappeared I
noticed what I thought was a tea stain on her Disney pyjama top,' she
says. 'I washed it without thinking but looking back, the children hadnt
drunk any tea that day and I can't remember her mentioning that she'd
Does she miss her Cuddle Cat'
'Madeleine's favourite toy, Cuddle Cat, goes everywhere with me now!
And when Sean or Amelie have lost their own toys, they always ask to