Thursday, February 23, 2012

Was Madeleine Abducted?

Four years after she disappeared in Portugal, Madeleine McCann has not been found. Kate McCann has written her account of her daughter's disappearance and the aftermath By Enid O'Dowd

Town and Village, June 2011

You're meeting seven neighbours, with eight children under four between you, in one of Ranelagh's many restaurants, only 120 metres or so from your homes which you can't see from the restaurant; what do you do about childcare?

That was the 'almost' equivalent dilemma faced by Kate and Gerry McCann and their friends on their holiday in Praia da Luz in May 2007 – except they were not on their home patch as you were in Ranelagh. The group, which became known as the Tapas nine and six of whom were doctors, decided to make 30 minute checks. This system, Kate claims, had worked on previous evenings but when she checked at 10 pm on Thursday May 3rd, Madeleine was not there and, despite an international search involving the Portuguese and UK police and private detectives, she has still not been found.

Last month Kate McCann published "Madeleine - our daughter's disappearance and the continuing search for her". In the foreword of the book she states that her "reason for writing the book is to give an account of the truth". Isn't that odd phraseology - surely there can only be one version of the truth? All kinds of tales have circulated about Madeleine's disappearance according to Kate, and indeed they have; the publication of this "truthful" book seems to have accelerated the internet debates on the discrepancies in the McCanns' story.

The book is actually the story of Kate's life to date. It covers her childhood, her education, her meeting and marriage to Gerry McCann and the births of their three children. The McCanns needed a series of IVF treatments to become parents which makes it all the more odd that they would leave three children under four in an unlocked apartment on the ground floor in a foreign country.

According to Kate, all three children were good sleepers. She did not want to use the evening crèche provided by the holiday company; understandable as her children had a routine and were in bed by the time the crèche opened at 7.30 pm.

She argues on p. 54 that it would have been unwise to leave the children with someone neither they nor themselves knew. Yet her children were happy in the day childcare facilities and had come to know the staff who were available, at extra cost, to babysit for clients in the evening.

She states "we felt so secure we simply didn't think it was necessary (to hire a babysitter) and our own apartment was only 30-45 seconds away".

An astonishing statement.

Surely security concerns are not the main reason parents organise babysitters? As a GP, she more than anyone, would appreciate that the risks of leaving children alone at night do not relate to "security" but to other factors, like vomiting and choking, waking up from a nightmare, wetting the bed, and febrile convulsions which affect one in twenty children under five.

Kate does not mention a witness statement by Pamela Fenn who lived in the apartment above stating that she heard a child crying for 75 minutes on Tuesday May 1st calling for "daddy". This contradicts Kate's statement of 30 minute checks.

The book cover proclaims that all royalties are donated to the Madeleine Fund. A company called Madeleine Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd was incorporated on 15 May 2007. According to Kate, over the weekend of 11th, 12th and 13th May she and Gerry had meetings in Praia da Luz with a paralegal from the International Family Law Group and a barrister. The barrister told them "our behaviour (in leaving the children unattended) could not be deemed negligent" and was "well within the bounds of reasonable parenting".

The legal pair suggested the McCanns use London solicitors Bates Wells and Braithwaite to set up a company to manage the funds that would be donated. On p.137 she records that this firm drew up articles of association for the fighting fund (limited com and talked to the Charity Commission who ruled that the proposed company did not meet the requirements for charity status as it focussed on one child and did not meet the public benefit test. Hence Kate says, the decision was that "it would be a 'not for profit' private limited company. It was set up with great care and due diligence by experts in the field".

From the dates Kate gives, it would appear that Bates Wells and Braithwaite could not have had instructions to act until Monday May 14th, yet they were able to incorporate the company the very next day.

A day is very little time for the solicitors to have drafted company documents for this proposed company which was not an ordinary trading company, to have agreed the documents with their clients the McCanns who were in Portugal and also to have obtained a ruling from the Charity Commission.

And what was the hurry given that Madeleine could have been found at this early stage of the investigation?

On p.138 Kate says "everyone agreed that despite the costs involved it (the company) must be run to the highest standards of transparency".

To date, three sets of accounts have been filed with the UK Company's office. In the first set going to March 2008 an analysis of expenditure is given though this is not a statutory requirement under UK law. However the accounts filed for the years to March 2009 and to March 2010 give no expenditure analysis. Now this is perfectly legal but not the "transparency" to which Kate referred. In 2009 for example the only expenditure information filed gives the merchandising and campaign costs as £974,786 and the administration expenses as £30,865. Not very informative!

When the McCanns were made arguidos (suspects) in September 2007 Kate refused on legal advice to answer the 48 questions put to her. This was her legal right but the refusal fuelled the doubts about her story. It is understandable why she might not want to answer questions in a foreign country with the possibility of mistranslations complicating her difficult situation but surely there is no reason now not to put the record straight by answering the questions in her book. She doesn't do so.

British sniffer dogs Eddie and Keela and their handler Martin Grime were used by the Portuguese authorities. These dogs had a 100% accuracy rate in 200 cases and found both blood and cadaver (dead body) traces in various places in the holiday apartment and in the boot of the car rented after the disappearance. Kate says that research Gerry conducted after the Portuguese police showed them the video of the dogs' search revealed that dog evidence is unreliable. She quotes Gerry as dismissing the sniffer dog video as "the most subjective piece of evidence gathering imaginable". She claims that the dogs had merely been trying to please their instructor.

If you read this book without having read the other material available which questions the abduction theory, you could not fail to have the greatest of sympathy for the McCanns. However, it is a statistical fact that in the majority of missing children cases, a family member, a neighbour or someone known to the child, is involved. The Portuguese police would have been negligent if they did not consider this possibility. They did not find any forensic evidence of an intruder in the apartment which had been to some extent contaminated by the Tapas group searching the apartment when Kate raised the alarm.

Since the book was published last month, Scotland Yard has agreed to conduct a review. A reconstruction of that evening which the Tapas nine initially agreed to do but which never happened would help. Hopefully the review will be independent with the co-operation of all and with no possibilities excluded.

The book costs €15.99 in local shops and is published by Bantamress.

Relevant Websites
(includes Portuguese police files) ... une_11.pdf