Thursday, February 9, 2012

#McCann :Madeleine: -Is Robert Murat A Suspect Or A Scapegoat? by David Jones - Jones Who Suspected The McCanns

Last updated at 11:06 02 June 2007

In the eyes of many, Robert Murat has already been tried and found guilty of abducting Madeleine. But David Jones has had the first full interview with him - and comes to a very unsettling conclusion

Last Wednesday, while Gerry and Kate McCann were in Rome imploring the Pope to pray for the safe return of their four-year-old daughter, Madeleine, I spent a disquieting afternoon on the Algarve, drinking coffee with Robert Murat.
Depending on your point of view (and in a tragedy whose every grim twist is played out in the public gaze, everyone has an opinion), Murat is either the most vile creature on earth or the most unjustly vilified.

Eighteen days ago, this enigmatic, Portuguese-raised Englishman was arrested on suspicion of abducting Madeleine from a holiday apartment just 120 yards from the villa he shares with his widowed mother, Jenny.

murat Robert Murat: Suspect or scapegoat?
Murat was released without charge after 19 hours of questioning. Yet today - a month after Madeleine's hauntingly pretty face first became etched in our collective nightmares - he remains the only formally identified police suspect.

Ordinarily, of course, an accused man retains his innocence until proven guilty. But this is no ordinary case. The McCanns' increasingly desperate publicity campaign (yesterday they were in Madrid) has made it the most high-profile child abduction in history.

So, inevitably, every aspect of Robert Murat's life is being subjected to microscopic scrutiny. And in the absence of confirmed facts, wild rumours are circulating about his life and background.

If we believe some of what has been written about him, Murat is a pervert who fits the profile of a child abductor all too well. He may be the father of a four-year-old girl, but, according to unnamed sources, he is a social misfit who visits paedophile websites.

It has also been suggested that he coldly volunteered to assist in the hunt for Madeleine to glean inside information, and remain one step ahead of the police investigation, just as Ian Huntley did after the Soham murders.

Weighed with various accrued morsels of suspicion against him - an unexplained 11.40pm phone call on the night of the abduction; a car hired hastily two days later - some close observers have concluded that Murat is, indeed, the monster who took Madeleine, and that it is only a matter of time before he is formally charged with her abduction.

Over the forthcoming days, they may yet be proved right, though given the performance of the Portuguese police, this seems unlikely. For the story Murat had to tell me raises profound and disturbing questions about the nature of the Madeleine investigation.

"They held me for all that time, but they didn't even take a DNA sample from me," he told me, incredulously. "Can you believe that? I would happily have provided a swab."

Assuming Murat is telling the truth, this is a jaw- dropping omission, and throws the entire forensic operation into question.

Privately, it will doubtless appall the McCanns.

However, a source close to the couple assures me they do not believe Murat took their daughter, regarding him as a "sad loner" whose involvement has distracted attention which could have been usefully deployed elsewhere.

At the risk of being proved foolish, having spent 90 minutes with Murat - who chatted to me in the bar of his cousin's guesthouse near Praia da Luz - I believe the McCanns' instincts are probably right. Either that, or Murat is a consummate actor.

Madeleine McCann: Snatched from her apatrment, but RObert Murat remains the only named suspect
He was first thrust to the forefront of the investigation after a journalist found his behaviour sufficiently odd to merit reporting to the Portuguese police.

In a career spanning 30 years, I, too, have met some pretty despicable characters, but there was no aura of evil about the man I encountered last Wednesday.

Despite being under such stress that he has lost more than a stone, and has turned from a non-smoker into a 40-a-day man, Murat was reasonably articulate and polite. He even apologised for swearing.

Within the confines of Portuguese law, which forbids a suspected criminal to defend himself on peril of imprisonment, his denial of any involvement in Madeleine's abduction carried the ring of truth.

That said, he shows little insight into the way that some of his protestations leave him wide open to accusations of, at best, insensitivity and, at worst, utter callousness.

For example, at one stage in our conversation he compared his own suffering to that of Gerry and Kate McCann.

"I'm going through exactly the same experience as the McCanns, so I can empathise with them,' he told me, seemingly unable to understand that no one - not even a man perhaps wrongly accused of child abduction - could begin to understand their torment.

"Whenever there's a sighting of a little girl, my hopes rise. And when it's not Madeleine, they sink, just like the McCanns'. Why? Because if they find Madeleine my name will be cleared."

Later, when protesting his innocence, Murat made another wholly inappropriate remark.

"It might sound harsh, but if anyone has broken the law, then the McCanns have," he said, frowning behind the thick-lensed glasses he has worn since a motorcycle accident cost him the sight of an eye.

"Portuguese law says that you can't leave young children unattended. They say they were eating in the complex (the Ocean Club, where the family were holidaying). But actually the apartment is outside, across an alley. So, I'm sorry, but they broke the law.

"I would never leave my daughter (Sofia, who lives with his estranged wife, in Norfolk). I won't let her out of my sight because she gets up at night and walks off.

"That said, I wouldn't criticise them because children are different, and only they know how their kids behave."

Listening to Murat talk in this manner, one wonders whether even the PR guru Max Clifford - who has offered his services to him, if and when he is cleared - can salvage his reputation.

But whatever we make of Murat, one thing is plain: he inhabits such a different world from the McCanns - caring parents, brilliant medical professionals, devout Roman Catholics.

Ultimately, however, only one thing matters: is Robert Murat telling the truth?

Even to start addressing that question, we need to return to the night, one month ago, when Madeleine disappeared from her bed in apartment 5A of the Ocean Club, in Praia da Luz, some time between 9.10pm and 10pm, as her parents ate supper in a tapas restaurant roughly 40 yards away.

The most plausible theory holds that she was snatched by someone who had studied Gerry and Kate's movements, possibly for days, and knew their evening routine.

Madeleine and their two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelia, were left alone in the apartment, but were checked approximately every 30 minutes. And this provides the first inconsistency in the case against Murat. He says he returned to Portugal, after a lengthy spell in Britain, at 9.40am, on Tuesday, May 1, two days before Madeleine's disappearance.

"So I am supposed to have planned the kidnapping of a little girl inside 50 hours," he told me, shaking his head.

"In that time, I supposedly identified the apartment where she was sleeping and spied on her, and worked out the times her parents went to dinner each night, then took her away. It's ludicrous.

"If you want my opinion, it had to involve someone on the inside, who works at the Ocean Club.

"How else would the abductor know when it was safe to take Madeleine? Have the police started looking at the people who work there? If not, they should."

The answer to Murat's question is 'Yes'. The police have checked out the Ocean Club staff - after a fashion. In the early days, all who worked there were interviewed. Yet, typically in an investigation botched and lax almost beyond belief, the questions were hardly probing.

By contrast, Murat was grilled for 19 hours, during which time he claims to have been offered only water. Fearing being jailed for speaking out, he declines to describe his experience, but says "it wasn't very pleasant".
"I was moved from room to room and interviewed by different people. You wouldn't believe the sort of things they asked me."

Meanwhile, detectives combed his mother's villa inch by inch and took away her green Volkswagen camper van.

They also confiscated five computers: three belonging to Murat, and two owned by a former business partner.

The hard drives are still being examined, but when I ask him about the allegation, reported by the Portuguese Press, that pornography of the most depraved kind has been found on one of the computers, he snapped: "It's scandalous. It's just made up. Pure fantasy."

So what is the firm evidence against him? Does his background perhaps offer some insight into the cold-hearted man some suspect him to be?

Born Robert James Queriol Eveleigh Murat, on November 20, 1973, he hails from an old family of port wine exporters. His late father John's ancestors settled in Portugal in the early 1700s, a history he plays up proudly.

His appearance is uncomfortably close to the description of Madeleine's likely abductor, which was provided by one of the McCanns' holiday companions who witnessed a man carrying a child away from the resort - a key piece of evidence belatedly released by the police this week.

Aged 33, Murat is about 5ft 8in, clean-shaven, stockily built and has short brown hair.

He has a classless accent and behaves in the slightly superior, old-fashioned manner of an Englishman raised and educated abroad.

His early years were spent on the western tip of the Algarve, before it became an overdeveloped magnet for British expats-After leaving school, he sought work in the UK, drifting between menial jobs, including spells in a Norfolk garage and the Bernard Matthews turkey plant.

At 19, he began a relationship with a married woman eight years his senior, Dawn Chapman. She already had a son, aged six, but divorced and married Murat at Gretna Green, in March 2001. Their daughter, Sofia, was born 18 months later.

Murat's ambitions always extended beyond turkey-processing, but he never progressed in Britain. Finally, two years ago, he returned to Praia da Luz to forge a career in property sales.

With Dawn and Sofia, he moved into his mother's spacious £350,000 villa, Casa Liliana, barely visible behind a tall stand of pine trees amid unprepossessing breeze-block holiday apartments.

Murat's grand scheme foundered after barely three months. In September 2005, after a series of rows about his long working hours, his wife and daughter flew back to Britain.

He has since formed a relationship with a thirty-something German property saleswoman, Michaela Walczuch, who lives with her husband in nearby Lagos.

They have been described as lovers, but Murat denies this. "She's my partner, and we are very, very, very close - but she's not my girlfriend because she can't be. She's a Jehovah's Witness and she's still married. I'm not a Witness, but I attend study classes."

In recent months, Murat says, he has been striving to set up an on-line property sales business. His website was being designed by Sergey Malinka, 22, one of many Russians eking out a living on the Algarve.

However, Murat spent the spring in Sidmouth, Devon, renovating a house bequeathed to his mother, Jennifer, 71. He says it was she who collected him from Faro airport on May 1, a story she confirmed to me.

If we believe him, Murat spent the two days before the abduction in meetings about his website.

On Thursday, May 3, he returned home at about 8pm and ate supper with his mother. He thinks they had cheese and ham sandwiches. "I'm not much of a one for eating in the evening."

He claims to have passed the evening chatting with his mother and, again, she supports his alibi.

"It's an absolute nightmare," Mrs Murat told me. She is weatherbeaten and wears her long grey hair in a bun.

"I've lived in this area for 40 years. Now I can't walk into the supermarket. It's the biggest character assassination ever. Robert's older sister, Samantha, says he's the cleanest person she's ever known."

By Murat's account, he first learned about Madeleine's disappearance around 7.30am the following morning, when Samantha phoned from Devon after watching the news on TV.

Feeling the need to help, he quickly headed to the Ocean Club, mingling with the throng of police officers, family members and search volunteers.

As he is bilingual, he offered to interpret, and was later requested by the police to sign an oath of secrecy. "That's a matter of public record.'

At some stage, he recalls, he spoke to Gerry McCann, but he can't remember what passed between them.

I ask him if he would like to meet the McCanns now? "I don't think that would serve any purpose for either of us," he replies, deadpan.

According to one witness, Murat went in and out of the McCanns' apartment.

It has been suggested that he did this quite deliberately, so that he would have an explanation if and when his DNA was found inside.

However, he told me adamantly that he has never been inside apartment 5A, and knows its layout only because he searched a similar flat in the same block.

All this sounded plausible enough.

His manner was less assured when I asked about the late-night mobile phone call to Sergey Malinka on the night of Madeleine's disappearance - a call he initially denied making, leaving some to suggest that the two men were in league. "I've checked my phone records and I admit they do show I made a call at 11.40pm," he says, lighting another cigarette.

"It lasted 30 seconds, so we must have talked, but I honestly can't remember what about. He was setting up my website, so it was probably that.

"It might seem very late to call someone, but that's how we live here.

Afterwards, I phoned my sister. I rarely go to bed before midnight or 1am."
Ironically, Murat believes his mobile phone offers the best hope of proving his innocence.

He claims it is always switched on and in his possession.

British experts are said to have been coopted to pinpoint its precise whereabouts between 9.10pm and 10pm on May 3, using data about its position in relation to nearby phone masts, which can provide a mobile's location accurate to a radius of a few yards.

But this would be significant only if Murat could prove the phone was with him during that crucial window of time. Until these tests are complete, he is left in limbo.

"Basically, I'm just an ordinary, straightforward guy who's the victim of the biggest f***-up on this planet - if you'll excuse the language," he said.

Murat's gay American designer friend, Tuck Price, 43, who flitted in and out of the room during our interview, hardly helps his cause.

"When this is all over, I hope he makes a buck or two out of it," Price said shamelessly. "He bloody deserves it."

If Murat does, indeed, "make a buck", we may come to regard him in the same vein as Colin Stagg, who was wrongly accused of the Rachel Nickell murder on Wimbledon Common, for little reason other than that he was a local oddball who seemed to fit the frame. He is about to receive a huge police compensation pay-out.

Or will he turn out to be another Ian Huntley?

For Gerry and Kate McCann's sake, we can only hope that we find out unequivocally, one way or the other - and soon.

Read more: