Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lies,damned lies


By Dr Martin Roberts
12 January 2011


Such are the hallmarks, regrettably, of the McCann case, the first two in particular. But let's begin by allowing the McCann with a professional interest in epidemiology to dispense with the third.
Gerry McCann (to Ian Woods of Sky News): "...If you think about the millions and millions of British families who go to the Mediterranean each year, really the chances of this happening are in the order of a hundred million to one."
Or more than seven times the odds against winning the U.K. national lottery jackpot (1 in 13,983,816).

Are the McCanns really that unlucky?

Now to more current affairs.

At last, for anyone hoping the McCanns would be brought to book, that wish is on the verge of being granted. A recent facebook statement by the pair explains:
"We have pushed back the release of our book to Madeleine's birthday. May 12, 2011. We need as much exposure for the book so we can get Madeleine home."
As much exposure as what, may I ask?. 'So that' = 'in order to.' Hence the purpose of book exposure is to 'get Madeleine home.' Put another way, the return of Madeleine McCann is dependent upon the number of people aware of / the number who will have purchased / the number who will have read the McCanns' forthcoming opus. How does that work? How many individuals are required to read the Book of Revelation before its prophecies are enacted?

Clarification appears to be in order.
Clarence Mitchell (to Stephen Nolan, BBC Radio Five Live, 7.1.2011): "No, it's going to be Kate's story. Kate is writing it. Gerry, of course, is... is helping her but essentially it will be Kate's work. For... virtually from the first day it happened, errr... I was coming under pressure from various publishers, some of them very polite, but very persistent, saying they should write a book, or it should be ghost written. Kate and Gerry always said they didn't want to do that, they didn't feel the time was right, they had far more important things to do in the search for their daughter. They've now decided, and it's largely been driven by the need for funds for the... for the search to continue, that the time is right for the book to be written. Kate has been writing it for some months. She's probably finished about sixty to seventy thousand words and, errm... it's coming out on May 12th which is Madeleine's eighth birthday. It is designed to keep the search for her going. That is the simple reason."
Jolly noble of Clarence to withstand pressure from the publishers from 'the first day it happened.' Experience being a great teacher, he doubtless found the subsequent days when it happened rather easier to deal with. Whatever. The official line, via that ubiquitous 'source close to the McCanns' is clearly that the book is being written to raise money (no surprise there then), not as some catalytic precursor to Madeleine's safe return, which would hardly be contingent upon 'Kate's story' in any case.
Clarence Mitchell: "Errr... All sorts of enquiries, interview requests, suggestions for features, sightings of possibly Madeleine. All sorts of things. They all have to either be passed on to the private investigators or we take decisions as to how we deal with them."
The search for Madeleine must be maintained. But notice how the vigilant are now to be accredited, not with the likelihood of sighting Madeleine, whose feasible presence was previously a given, but the categorical sighting of someone who might be Madeleine. It is a subtle shift in emphasis, but 'possible' is less an attribute of sightings per se than of the object's very existence. There are clearly two principal agents in this investigative process, private investigators and the decision-making 'team.' No other body is included in the rosta. How therefore can Mitchell go on to make the following claim?
Clarence Mitchell: "Anything that develops a profile, errr... as high as this case has, does attract all sorts of people. You're quite right. Errm... most of them, the vast majority, are well meaning and if information can be checked out and is credible or potentially credible then it goes through, not only to the British police, it goes through to the Portuguese police, and it goes through to the private investigators to be assessed; prioritised. It's very much a police operation. It's former British policemen that are working on it and then they will act upon it. Now amongst those, of course, there are the occasional slightly more lunatic things that are said."
Here the 'private investigators' are third in line, and yet they do the assessment and prioritise the information. Neither the British nor Portuguese police receive information before it is 'checked out' and adjudged to be credible or even potentially so. Hence primacy is still vested in the private enterprise. The batting order has been cunningly inverted. This was made clear previously elsewhere (to Peter Levy - BBC Radio Humberside - 6.1.2011):
"But currently, errm... it's the... the investigation is a private investigation being led by Dave Edgar, who's a former RUC officer, errr... retired, errr... and he calls in assistance, errr... from his colleague, former colleagues in various police forces, as and when he needs it. Errr... And there is work going on in Britain and in Portugal at different times but, because of the sensitive nature of it, obviously I can't go into any detail, but it's very much ongoing."
It is very much not a police operation, and its conduct by former members of the RUC does not make it so. What it does do is make it illegal in Portugal. One can understand Mitchell's circumspection when it comes to discussing it therefore.

'Follow the money' say some. For now we should follow the grammar - the logic.
Stephen Nolan: "How possible do you think it is though, Clarence... how possible is it that Madeleine is still alive given that level of publicity?"

Clarence Mitchell: "It is still possible that she is alive because there is no evidence to suggest that she isn't and that's the whole basis on which the investigation, the private investigation, continues to this day. In the absence of anything to suggest that she has been harmed or, as you suggest, has been killed, and there is no evidence to suggest that, then not only Kate and Gerry but everybody working with them will continue to keep going until an answer is found."
Let's not forget that this is a media interview, not a court of law, hence the word 'evidence' should carry rather fewer constraints; one is entitled to consider indicators beyond the wholly tangible. That being the case, Mitchell's opening statement here is false and the 'whole basis on which the private investigation continues' is in turn a falsehood. Mitchell goes on to re-iterate the logic of the absurd - and more than once.
Stephen Nolan: "What's your gut instinct now as to what's happened? Are you comfortable sharing that?"

Clarence Mitchell: "My instinct has been, and remains, that there is a chance that she's alive and that's the basis we're all doing this. We wouldn't... if we thought there was no hope, you know, what would be the point of going on? But, because there is that absence of anything to suggest what's happened, it is just as logical to keep going. That's certainly what keeps Kate and Gerry going. Obviously, as her parents, they will maintain that. But for all of their supporters, people who are trying to help them, myself included, I honestly don't know what happened and therefore I've got to keep going, and as long as they want me to keep helping them then I'm happy to do that."
'Evidence' has become 'anything to suggest' and anyone who has followed this case with even a degree of care will know that there is plenty to suggest what didn't happen as well as what did. Something happened. Something didn't happen. Kate McCann is on record as telling all-and-sundry that she 'knows what happened' because she was there. Perhaps Mitchell has been out of the loop for too long.
Peter Levy: "What do they (the McCanns) believe, what do they think is the strongest possibility of... of what happened to little Madeleine?"

Clarence Mitchell: "Kate and Gerry know Mad... know their daughter well enough to know she didn't wander out of the apartment, as has often been speculated. The only assumption they can make is that somebody took her out of the apartment. That is the working hypothesis on which the private investigation is also based. That there is somebody, perhaps one, or just two or three people out there who know what happened and that there was an element of pre-meditation, pre-planning went into it. Possibly because of the location of the apartment; it was on a fairly remote corner of that particular resort. Errm... Children would have been coming and going over months/weeks beforehand and there... it... the private investigation believes there was a degree of pre-meditation and planning, errm... and the very fact that nothing has been found of Madeleine since, not a trace, tends to suggest that she has been taken somewhere else and has been... hopefully, is being looked after, or at least cared for, errr... with someone. Errr... That is... that is the working hypothesis. In some cases, if... if God forbid, she had been harmed, she probably would have been found long ago but she hasn't been and that's why they keep going."
Have you ever heard such nonsense? The McCanns, who know what happened ("I knew immediately, she'd been taken" - Kate McCann) are reduced to making a solitary assumption, which in turn becomes the fulcrum for the private (British police) investigation, and the belief that an element of planning is entailed, on account of the comings and goings of children in Praia da Luz weeks and months beforehand! ("They'd been watching us for several days I'm sure" - Kate McCann). Oh, and "the very fact that nothing has been found of Madeleine since, not a trace, tends to suggest that she has been taken somewhere else." You don't say.
Peter Levy: "So the belief is that she is... she is alive and being looked after, and probably still in Portugal?"

Clarence Mitchell: "As... as Kate and Gerry have always said, until they have the answer as to what has happened and until they are presented with incontrovertible proof that she has been harmed, they will continue to believe - just as logically, without any evidence to the contrary - that she could still just as easily be alive."
Surely someone with professional credentials sufficient to have seen him seconded to the Foreign Office should realise that 'belief' and 'logic' are not stable mates. Clarence Mitchell probably does realise that. Just as probably he, as well as the McCanns, is banking on the rest of us not doing so.
Clarence Mitchell: "...To this day there is a very small but highly vocal minority online; the joys of the Internet. The Internet is a wonderful thing but it has its downside, as we all know. There is a very vocal but very small minority of people who believe Kate and Gerry were negligent and to this day they rail and rant against them. They are powerless, they know nothing and it... it's totally irrelevant. But we keep a... a weather eye on what they're saying and if action needs to be taken, in certain cases, then it is."
Oh what wishful thinking! Mitchell's Lurkio moment ('Woe, woe and thrice woe.') may well return to haunt him. The 'very small minority… are powerless (wrong), know nothing (wrong), and it's totally irrelevant.' (wrong again).

And so we progress from the disingenuous to the downright deceitful.
Stephen Nolan: "Did the campaign cost a lot of money?"

Clarence Mitchell: "...It was all spent in terms of the investigation and running a private investigation in two countries, sometimes in several continents where if things have to be followed up around the world, is a very expensive business. All of that's been spent on various contracts, on various private agencies, errm... since... since it happened."
Lawyers with expertise in extradition and libel were most certainly contracted after 'it happened', the latter having spent rather longer in the crease to date, although the innings is far from over and the tail-enders may yet get to take their turn.
Stephen Nolan: "And presumably, Clarence, you're on the phone to the editors of those newspapers warning them about legal threats. The lawyers are on the phone. You're on the phone trying to stop them doing this and continuing to do this?"
(We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a previous exchange on the subject of 'negligence,' a factor defined earlier to Stephen Nolan as 'irrelevant'):
Peter Levy: "Why did it capture the imagination so much?"

Clarence Mitchell: "Oh, how long's your programme? There are all sorts of reasons but essentially, errm... it... it played into the... every parental nightmare of losing your children whilst on holiday, errr... it raised the whole question of parental responsibility. Kate and Gerry felt they and their friends were mounting a perfectly correct and proper checking system on the... on the... given the... the lack of resources available to them, at the time, but they made a mistake and they... they got it wrong.”

"...there's a very small vocal minority online who... who attack them for being negligent. That is completely misplaced and entirely wrong."
How come the case raised such an 'irrelevant' question? That the parents opted not to pay for additional child minding does not imply a lack of resource - the same resource they'd availed themselves of on a daily basis. And if a stranger steals a child, how is that the parents' mistake? Unless, of course, they made the mistake of 'contributory negligence.' But then the subject would not be altogether irrelevant, misplaced or entirely wrong, would it?

(We return you now to Clarence Mitchell answering Stephen Nolan)
Clarence Mitchell: "...the whole thing was a nonsense but it was driving sales of papers…obviously there were legitimate questions about child safety and, errr... parental responsibility….We would talk to journalists on the ground and we would talk to editors. It made a difference sometimes. Overall, in certain cases, it made not jot... not a jot of difference."
Well I take back what was said earlier about Mitchell's awareness of belief versus logic. Anyone capable of equating the general with the specific in such an ad hoc manner is likely not to appreciate the difference between empiricism and blind faith after all. Rather more importantly, CM makes it abundantly clear that questions pertaining to child safety and parental responsibility, i.e. questions of negligence, were both legitimate and inevitable. And in case you should have missed this devious operative's earlier remark on the subject, here it is again:
"...there's a very small vocal minority online who... who attack them for being negligent. That is completely misplaced and entirely wrong."
Not misplaced then. And when one takes into account the parents' own admissions, e.g. 'extraordinarily we went to the Tapas bar', by way of explanation for their leaving three children under five alone and unattended for more than an hour, 'entirely wrong' doesn't seem to fit the subsequent questioning either. Still, something should be done about maverick reporting shouldn't it? Let's conclude with the authoritative view of a PR professional, as adept at employing 'weasels' as any other in his line of work.
Stephen Nolan: "So, Clarence, what... what needs to happen? Does... does the PCC work, the Press Complaints Commission? Errr... Does there need to be a change of legislation? What needs to happen?"

Clarence Mitchell: "Well, we... we tried to resort to the PCC, at times, and they were very helpful in terms of logistical things, like keeping photographers away from the McCann's home. There were photographers camped outside their house, at the end of their drive, for six months. We even had paparazzi photographers, who normally do celebrity jobs in... in Los Angeles, turning up looking for them. And, you know, we had to patiently explain the McCanns were not celebrities, they didn't warrant this sort of intrusion and these photographers needed to be moved. Now the PCC were fantastic in that case, they were really helpful. But in terms of making the news desks and the editors in certain papers sit up and really listen, I'm afraid we had to, reluctantly, pick up the rather large hammer of defamation action and say, 'You will apologise, you will settle this, errr... on our terms, or we will go further'. And thankfully, after a lot of discussion - the Express group being the best example - finally agreed with us. Errm... But it was a reluctant action. You know, it shouldn't have got to that stage. But it wasn't of our making."
For those unfamiliar with the copywriter's technique, 'We tried to resort to the PCC at times' means exactly what it says. Most of the time they did not resort to the PCC at all, and on those occasions when they might have done so they only tried.

The PCC for their part have long since explained that their role is not to pre-judge the outcome of reportage but to take action in the event that they receive a complaint. The McCanns did not complain to the PCC about the Express group coverage, for example. The 'large hammer of defamation' was not an instrument of last resort, except in the chronological sense. The majority of what was written in the press during the torrid period for which the McCanns claimed damages could easily have been nipped in the bud by them early on. It wasn't. Kate's 'story,' all important for bringing Madeleine home, could have been written and published long before now, there being a sense of urgency attaching to any child's disappearance, or that of an adult. It wasn't.

Four years on. We have journeyed with the McCanns and their spokespersons from 'jemmied shutters' to wanting the case re-viewed (as a pre-cursor to its being re-opened). And still they are no nearer telling the truth.

With thanks to the brilliant mccannfiles