INTERVIEW: MADELEINE ONE YEAR ON
Why every parent must read this
On the first anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance
and Gerry McCann talk exclusively about their campaign to help missing children – backed by Hello! Magazine
a very good chance that Madeleine is alive out there and she needs to be found. That drives us on'
This Saturday will mark the most traumatic milestone in the lives of Kate and Gerry McCann. For it was on 3 May, one
year ago exactly, that their daughter Madeleine disappeared from their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal.
a difference a year has made to their former, happily anonymous existence. After their family of five suddenly became a family
of four, they were variously perceived as both victims and villains, caring and careless, emotional and detached.
As they still come to terms with this ambivalence towards them, another date on their calendar looks closer. On 12
May, Madeleine will be five years old. She should, of course, be at school in their village of Rothley in
Leicestershire, making friends and playing with sibling twins, three-year-old Sean and Amelie. But 40-year-old Kate and Gerry,
39, have in no way given up hope.
Kate today, she looks physically strong, her skin is glowing and her eyes have regained their sparkle. Contrary to accusations
of coldness in her manner, she comes across as warm, friendly, emotional.
when Madeleine's name is mentioned does her face cloud over with sadness. As we talk, Kate unconsciously strokes Cuddle Cat,
Madeleine's favourite toy, which sits at the top of her handbag, a poignant reminder of the little girl who has not hugged
it for a year.
meanwhile, is methodical, linear and focussed in his thinking, a stoic Scot. "There's no use running around like a headless
chicken in a crisis," he declares. "You need to plan your goals and put them into action. That’s what’s helped
me this last year."
is also determined not to be punished any further for what he acknowledges, in hindsight, was the couple's "mistake" in leaving
their children alone (but frequently checked) on the night that Madeleine disappeared. "We are paying more for that than anyone
could ever possibly imagine," he said last week.
Kate and Gerry would like to use their public profile to help other missing children. While the Find Madeleine campaign remains
their number one priority, the couple are also dedicating much of their time to publicising the AMBER Alert system, which
is immediately activated when a child is abducted.
So successful is this scheme in America that Kate and Gerry recently lobbied the European Parliament in Brussels to implement
an identical system across Europe.
their first ever interview about their commitment to AMBER Alert, Kate and Gerry speak exclusively to HELLO!
at a country hotel near their home. Their body language, frequent eye contact and occasional humorous and affectionate repartee
belie the rumour that their marriage is under strain. If anything, their joint goals seem to have brought them closer together.
Kate and Gerry, when did you first learn about AMBER Alert?
"The very night Madeleine was taken. A friend phoned one of his friends, asking for help, and he told us about this American
system. I had a vague memory of hearing about AMBER Alert from a news item, but it was only after what happened to Madeleine
that we started looking at what 'missing children' organisations there were.
"Towards the end of May after Madeleine was abducted, Kate and I read about the successful cases around AMBER Alert.
What surprised me most was that, considering there had been so many child abductions and murders in the UK,
we still haven’t implemented the system here."
Kate: "It seems a 'no brainer', really, that not just the UK but the whole of Europe should have it in
Do you think it would have saved Madeleine?
K: "There's a possibility it could have, but that's something we'll never know for sure. But it stands to
reason that she would have had a better chance of being found, released or not being taken over the border to Spain
if AMBER Alert existed there."
How does AMBER Alert work?
"When a child is abducted, a description of that child, plus any other information, such as the suspect's appearance or his
car registration number, is flashed up on screens on motorways, outside petrol stations, on radios, television, text messages,
emails and electronic traffic condition signs. If a child is not found within a certain time in a big metropolis, the AMBER
Alert spreads across borders to local states.
"Although some European countries, such as France and Greece,
have similar alert systems already, the scheme needs to be across the whole of Europe. At the moment, it is too easy for abductors and
child traffickers to move children around without detection."
You recently lobbied European Parliament with your declaration on AMBER Alert. After the grief you've experienced,
where do you gather your strength to see this through?
"Despite the negative comments we've had about the publicity surrounding Madeleine, we're committed to making a change for
the better for the future.
"Here is a system so simple, that costs very little and yet is so efficient, and that could be used to save other children.
The statistics speak for themselves. Around 393 children have been rescued in the US over
the last five-and-a-half years because of AMBER Alert.
year alone, 16 abductors released the children they'd taken when they heard the alert on radio or TV. They knew the net was
closing in on them."
Are you both working on it together?
"Kate does most of it at the moment because I’m working all day. Over the last three months, there has only been one
night a week when we haven't done anything in relation to AMBER Alert or Find Madeleine. But even on those nights off, when
we have friends or family staying, the conversation soon turns to both subjects."
"I guess it's because of Madeleine that we can capitalise on this and turn our terrible experience into something positive
for others. It's hard work, and we go to bed a lot later than we used to. We're usually so shattered that we sleep until Sean
and Amelie run in to see us in the morning. They know we're looking for Madeleine…"
Do you help each other out of the abyss when you are feeling down?
"It is rare for us both to feel low on the same day."
"We encourage each other to think positive. There's a very good chance Madeleine is alive out there and she needs to be found.
That drives me on, too."
What makes you believe Madeleine is still alive?
K: "The statistics and what we have learned from world experts on missing children. Madeleine doesn't fall
within the expected age range – which is older than three – of children taken for sexual abuse. According to data
in America, there are about 115 cases of a stereotypical kidnapping, where a child is taken by a
stranger, or distant acquaintance. Only 40 to 50 of those children are killed. Although one murder is horrific, it means the
majority of these children are kept alive.
"Last year, 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck from Missouri was found after being abducted four-and-a-half years earlier."
G: "Who would have given him any chance of being alive? The police told Ed Smart, whose 14-year-old daughter
Elizabeth was kidnapped from her bedroom in Utah in 2002, to give up hope. They said she was probably dead and buried in the desert. But
she was found alive nine months later with a couple who wanted to make her the captor's 'second wife'.
can't give up, as parents, we just can't. I can't think of a single parent who would say, without evidence, that their child
is dead. There would have to be absolute concrete evidence for us to believe that of Madeleine."
"I don't feel as if Madeleine is dead. I really feel she is out there and we will find her. The chances of her being alive
are as good now, if not better, than they were after the first three days of her going missing."
"The experts with the most experience of child abduction anywhere in the world told us this, and not just to make us feel
better. Some people think we're mad, that we’re living in a dream world, but actually experts are telling us that there
is a very good chance Madeleine is alive.
knows what happened to her that night. They don't live in isolation, so someone close to them must know, too.
problem is finding her. We are under no illusion that this will be difficult. But there are cases where children have been
found alive years later. We have the resources and are looking at every possible avenue, and will continue to do so."
Kate, in your research into child abductions you said that the horrors you discovered "burst the bubble of your
life". In what way did it affect you both?
G: "In most European countries it is legal to watch child pornography. I think it's only illegal in about
30 countries in the world, the UK being one of them. Few people seem to be aware of this.
were astounded when we read about the proportion of young children exploited in child pornography. Nineteen per cent of images
involve children younger than three. We've been told twice that this proportion is increasing as perpetrators use children
who are too young to verbalise what’s happening."
"It's a billion-dollar industry. In the States alone there are 100,000 child pornography websites. How can this be acceptable
in a so-called civilised society? Children need to be protected."
As parents of a missing child, these shocking facts must have been doubly painful for you to digest?
"Yes, it's really difficult because when we started reading around these things, we didn't – and don't – know
what happened to Madeleine. Then you start entering into the realms of speculation and why children are abducted. A large
proportion of children are abducted for financial gain, trafficking, prostitution and child pornography.
learned that it doesn't help find Madeleine if we dwell on this; it just makes us feel worse, so we try to remain focussed
"I have my bad days but at the same time I find myself wanting to know what happened. It is the not knowing that is particularly
"We knew the night she was taken that some children are murdered and, of course, that was our worst fear. But I try to focus
on the positive instead of moping ad wallowing in self-pity. What I've learned, the sickening truths about child abduction,
spurs me on. It makes me feel all the more determined that something good has to come out of it, that we have to make a difference.
When there was no evidence of any serious harm to Madeleine we became more positive."
Tell us about your visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
G: "We met the artist who does age progression portraits at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
(NCMEC) and he showed us a picture that went out of a missing girl. Although it didn't look like her once her appearance had
changed, a friend of hers in class at school recognised her.
"NCMEC sends out 80 million cards every week across America with two missing children
on. One little girl was having breakfast with her mum and said, 'That’s Sophie. Why are they calling her by another
How did you feel addressing the European Parliament in Brussels?
"I felt less nervous than I anticipated because I hate speaking in public. I did have a photograph of Madeleine clipped to
my notepad to keep me focused and remind me exactly why we were there. Just looking at her face gave me confidence."
"Obviously in my job I do a lot of lecturing and presenting, although it is not my favourite aspect of the job. But in the
context of everything that has happened to us in the last year these events are really not as nerve-wracking as they could
have been ordinarily. The presentation was 15 to 20 minutes long and the questions lasted for another 20 minutes. We both
felt pleased with how the day went."
When might AMBER Alert become official European policy?
"We'll know in three months' time if our declaration has been successful. We need 393 out of 785 MEPs to support this declaration
by the end of July. We would like people to lobby their MEPs. Only seven declarations out of 116-plus over the last five years
have been successful. That's why everyone needs to contact their MEP about it.
has had an abducted child rescue system in place since 2006 called 'Alerte Enlèvement'. It has been used five times and all
five children have been recovered alive, which is a fantastic achievement. With France
taking over the EU presidency in July this year, we're hopeful they will make it a policy priority and encourage other member
states to implement similar systems."
G: "After the presentation we also met with representatives of the EU commission, the Slovenian presidency
and the British Ambassador to the EU to ask how we could get the system taken up throughout Europe."
"It is really important to emphasise that we are only a small part of a coalition, including Missing Children Europe, Parents
and Abducted Children Together (PACT), Missing People and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (MCMEC),
campaigning for this change. A lot of hard work has already been done but we are frustrated at how slow and bureaucratic the
process can be. Hopefully more parents are now aware of what an AMBER Alert is and that is now higher up the political agenda."
"It can be frustrating. What are people waiting for? Let's get this rolled out and set up."
Finally, how do you envisage the future?
"As long as we're looking for Madeleine, we will continue to work with AMBER Alert and child safety measures. Even after Madeleine
is home with us, we will continue with it."
"I try not to look too far into the future. It's best to take one day at a time."
Interview: Sally Morgan