Madeleine McCann: The world took notice when a little girl went missing in paradise

A Portuguese police officer looks at a poster at the Ocean Club in Luz in the Algarve.

A decade after Maddie McCann disappeared, Barry Kitchener looks at how the case has descended into a feud between her parents and Portuguese police.

She’s the most famous missing person in the world, the girl at the centre of one of the great mysteries of our times.

Ten years ago this week Madeleine McCann, then three, vanished from her holiday apartment in the Algarve.

The ground floor apartment in Praia Da Luz from where Madeleine McCann went missing.
The ground floor apartment in Praia Da Luz from where Madeleine McCann went missing.

Since then the face of the blonde British toddler with the blemish in her eye has become instantly recognisable around the world.

Millions have been spent on a global search campaign, with supposed sightings spanning the continents.

Theories ranging from the frankly insane to the more mundane have gained traction or been dismissed.

Entire forests, rivers of ink and countless hours of airtime have been consumed by a media-feeding frenzy.

In the process Maddie’s parents Gerry and Kate — both practising Catholics — have gone through hell.

And ten years on investigators believe they have “one last throw of the dice” to find out what really happened to Madeleine.

“A horrible marker of stolen time”, ahead of this Wednesday’s anniversary, Kate, 49, and Gerry, 48, told supporters there was no easy way to “say, describe, accept” that it’s been so long.

Kate said: “Most days are similar to the rest — another day. May 3rd 2017 — another day. But ten years — a horrible marker of time, stolen time.

“The two themes that seem most appropriate to me as we reach this ten-year mark are perseverance and gratitude.

“We will go on, try our hardest, never give up and make the best of the life we have.”

Thanking what she described as the “quiet majority” for maintaining their faith in human goodness, she added: “While that is there, there will always be hope.”

That message of defiance was followed up with another glimmer of hope sent out by investigators in the UK.

Critical lines

Scotland Yard launched Operation Grange in 2011 under then-home secretary Theresa May with a team of 29 detectives and eight civilians.

Last week, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley revealed the force is working on a “critical line of enquiry”.

“I know we have a significant line of inquiry which is worth pursuing, and because it’s worth pursuing it could provide an answer, but until we’ve gone through it I won’t know whether we are going to get there or not.

“Ourselves and the Portuguese are doing a critical piece of work and we don’t want to spoil it by putting tidbits of information out publicly.”

Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) handout images showing how Madeleine McCann might look now, left, and with dark brown hair and tanned skin.
Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) handout images showing how Madeleine McCann might look now, left, and with dark brown hair and tanned skin.

However, Rowley also announced that the review’s four remaining officers had decided to rule out its four official suspects.

The men were suspected of being part of a burglary gang that panicked during a bungled break-in.

All protested their innocence when interviewed and were released without charge.

As part of the renewed push to find Madeleine ground-penetrating radar was deployed in the area around the apartment but found nothing.

The Met’s probe — which has so far cost at least £11m — was granted an extra £85,000 in March to carry on for a further six months.

But what will happen when those six months are up if that significant line of enquiry comes to nothing, like so many others have before?

The extra cash granted in March was described off-the-record as one “last throw of the dice”.

Meanwhile, Portugal’s Policia Judiciaria, slammed for botching the initial inquiry, reopened their case in 2013.

Pedro do Carmo, the force’s national assistant director, recently described it is a “thorn in its side”.

“We’d never had a case like it and we’ve never had one since,” the police chief said.

“The PJ knows that as time goes on, it will become more difficult to obtain answers and results.”

Red herrings

The truth is that every imaginable angle appears to have been examined and re-examined.

Red herrings have come and gone, leaving investigators frustrated at every turn.

One friend who was on holiday with the McCanns claimed she saw a man carrying a child in pink pyjamas similar to Madeleine’s just 45 minutes before she was reported missing.

A forensic artist created an image based on Jane Tanner’s account but police eventually identified the man as a British tourist and discarded him as a suspect.

Martin and Mary Smith, a couple from Drogheda, Co Louth, also saw a man with a girl near the McCanns’ apartment on the night of the crime.

Two “e-fit” images based on their description were released in 2013 but the man has so far not been found.

Robert Murat, an ex-pat property consultant living with his mother close to where Maddie went missing, was the Portuguese police’s first official suspect.

Madeleine McCann pictured two months before her disappearance on May 3, 2007.
Madeleine McCann pictured two months before her disappearance on May 3, 2007.

He was made an “arguido” (defendant) 12 days after Maddie disappeared when a Sunday Mirror journalist told police he had been asking a lot of questions about the case.

Police then controversially turned their attention to the McCanns themselves and claimed that Maddie had died in the apartment.

Former Inspector Gonçalo Amaral, who had been the lead investigator, went on to accuse the couple of disposing of the girl’s body.

Both the McCanns and Murat were eventually cleared by police and awarded libel damages by British newspaper groups.

The Met’s Operation Grange inquiry has since reviewed over 40,000 documents and looked into more than 600 people of interest.

Among them was Euclides Monteiro, a drug addict and convicted burglar who died in a tractor accident in 2009.

Mobile phone tracking showed he had been in the area on the night of the disappearance but DNA evidence eventually ruled him out.

Scotland Yard have also searched for a paedophile who sexually attacked five girls aged between seven and 10 in the Algarve in the two years leading up to Maddie’s disappearance.

The dark-haired man, said to have a “very, very unhealthy interest” in young white girls, has never been identified.

Other theories include claims Maddie was taken by traffickers and sold on to a rich family or wandered out of the apartment and died in an accident.

It was recently suggested she may have been smuggled by ferry to Africa.

For her part, Kate McCann has said she believes her daughter never left southern Portugal.

Outlandish conspiracy theories claim that shadowy operatives from Britain’s secret services were somehow involved in a high-level cover up.

Computer generated images created by forensic artists have been released to give the public a feel for what Madeleine would look like now.

Sightings have been reported over 8,000 times in more than 100 countries as far flung as Australia, Cuba and Vietnam.

To date, every one of them has been disputed, no further action taken against any suspect.

‘Marketing Madeleine’

Despite the lack of new information, the public’s appetite for the story remains strong 10 years on.

That is partly down to the formidable PR campaign that the McCanns — well-heeled, articulate and photogenic physicians — and their advisers have orchestrated.

The 10th anniversary has been marked with stories about how the couple have a pile of presents waiting for their missing daughter.

Others told how at the McCanns’ home in the village of Rothley, Leicestershire, green and yellow ribbons symbolising hope and solidarity have been tied to the gates.

After the full scale of the story became apparent the UK government took the unprecedented step of sending a PR man of their own to Portugal.

Former BBC journalist Clarence Mitchell — who had covered Princess Diana’s death — no longer works for the government but has remained at the McCanns’ side ever since.

Celebrity backing from the likes of Simon Cowell, Philip Green, Coleen Rooney, JK Rowling and Richard Branson brought in large amounts of cash from the start of the campaign.

A visit to Pope Benedict XVI — which would usually be years in the making — was sorted less than a month after Maddie disappeared.

Pope Benedict meets Gerry and Kate McCann during his weekly audience at St Peter’s Square in 2007.
Pope Benedict meets Gerry and Kate McCann during his weekly audience at St Peter’s Square in 2007.

In the early days the British tabloids boosted their circulation by tens of thousands with Maddie stories.

Broadcasters also saw a good Maddie scoop as the surest way to win the ratings war.

Just two days after the official Find Madeleine website had launched it had already received 58m hits. It was fully what the McCanns intended — to keep their little girl top of the news agenda until she was found.

Gerry went so far as to describe it as “marketing Madeleine”, a line often quoted by his critics.

The saturation coverage eventually exploded in the McCanns’ hands in more ways than one.

In typical British fashion, their countrymen divided along class lines on the matter.

Had Maddie been a boy from a working class or ethnic minority background she would have been off the front pages within days — so the argument goes.

A child is reported missing every three minutes in the UK, so why is the world still talking about Maddie 10 years on?

She no doubt ticks all the boxes — cute little girl from respectable middle-class family mysteriously goes missing in holiday paradise.

But the Maddie obsession became even more of a double edged sword after the McCanns were named suspects themselves.

Their daily courting of public attention had led to all kinds of innuendo, rumour and conspiracy theory.

Twitter, which was just one year old when Madeleine went missing, was the source of much of it.

Internet trolls went mainstream with the McCann case, using YouTube, Facebook, forums and blogs to spread lurid claims.

One troll killed herself after she was exposed on Sky News for sending hundreds of abusive tweets about the McCanns.

At first the anti-McCann brigade latched on to questions about why Kate wasn’t crying, why Gerry seemed so defensive.

But once the couple were made “arguidos” in July 2007 it was open season for the trolls and the British press too.

Former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade described it as “no journalistic accident, but a sustained campaign of vitriol against a grief-stricken family”.

The McCanns hit back by singling out the Express newspaper group for a libel suit settled for over £500,000 and front page apologies.

Lord Leveson concluded at his inquiry into UK press standards that headlines such as “McCanns or a friend must be to blame” were “complete piffle” and “tittle tattle”.

It helped push suspicions against the McCanns into the darker corners of the internet, at least in Britain.

Yet it is fair to say public opinion in Portugal — where the most vital information was most likely to be found — remains firmly suspicious of the McCanns.

This is partly due to wounded national pride and the view that the media circus has harmed the country’s tourist industry.

Mainly it goes back to the night that Maddie disappeared and what many in Portugal see as a clear case of child neglect that was never prosecuted.

Kate McCann discovered her daughter had disappeared at 10pm on Thursday, May 3, 2007.

The McCanns had travelled to Praia da Luz for a spring break with Maddie, her two-year-old twin siblings and a group of friends.

Known as “Little Britain”, the family-friendly resort is popular with Brit homeowners and holidaymakers.

Disaster struck in this idyllic setting on the penultimate evening of the family’s seven-night holiday.

Kate and Gerry fatefully left the kids sleeping to join their friends for dinner at a poolside restaurant 180ft away from the apartment.

The couple and their group of friends — who became known as the Tapas Seven — regularly checked in on the children.

However, when it was Kate’s turn to have a look she noticed the children’s bedroom door was wide open.

She closed it and it slammed shut as though there was a draught. It was then she noticed the bedroom window and its shutter were wide open.

Madeleine’s Cuddle Cat and pink blanket were still on the bed, but the toddler was not.

Kate sprinted back in a panic to the restaurant, screaming: “Madeleine’s gone! Someone’s taken her!” That night 60 staff and guests from the Ocean Club resort next to the apartment searched into the early hours.

One witness described how people could be heard calling the girl’s name from one end of the village to the other.

Overnight sleepy Praia da Luz became the epicentre of the world’s most high-profile criminal investigation.

It is well-established that the Portuguese police made mistakes in the early “golden hours”.

Crucially, officers failed to secure the McCann’s apartment to protect the scene of the crime.

Border and marine police were not given descriptions of Madeleine for hours after she went missing.

Officers did not conduct thorough house-to-house searches or initially request motorway surveillance pictures for vehicles leaving Praia da Luz that night.

It took Interpol five days to send out a global missing persons alert.

Facing strong criticism in the British media, Portuguese police and media soon took an us-against-them view.

Once British police became involved they were accused of acting as a “colonial power”.

Portuguese officers also resented the Madeleine Fund’s decision to hire several private investigator firms to work on the case.

And they were suspicious of the McCanns suggestion that they request help from a former South African cop who had developed a bizarre “matter orientation system” body-finder device.

The arrival of two specially trained British crime scene sniffer dogs hardened the PJ’s view of the McCanns.

One was trained to sniff out human blood while the other gave out alerts at the scent of dead bodies.

Pictures show aerial view of the Ocean Club in Luz, on the Algarve, Portugal, where three-year-old Maddie McCann went missing from her room while her parents had dinner in the complex tapas restaurant.
Pictures show aerial view of the Ocean Club in Luz, on the Algarve, Portugal, where three-year-old Maddie McCann went missing from her room while her parents had dinner in the complex tapas restaurant.

Both were taken to several locations linked to the investigation but only gave out alerts in apartment 5A.

The scent of dead body was also picked up in the car that the couple had hired 25 days after Maddie’s disappearance.

Experts questioned the accuracy of such evidence obtained three months after Madeleine disappeared but it confirmed what the Portuguese police were already thinking.

Meanwhile, DNA tests on samples taken from the car proved inconclusive, but journalists were wrongly told they were a “100% match” for Madeleine.

The mistakes and the mistrust established in the early days has crippled the quest to find Maddie ever since.

The truth of the lie

That fraught relationship between the McCanns and the Portuguese police exploded into an all out war with Inspector Gonçalo Amaral that goes on to this day.

Amaral was removed as lead investigator in October 2007 after he accused British police of only pursuing leads which helped the McCanns.

He cited their decision to follow up an anonymous tip emailed to Prince Charles that a former Ocean Club employee had taken Madeleine.

The following year he retired to write a book provocatively titled The Truth of the Lie, which claims Madeleine died at the apartment and the McCanns faked an abduction.

Three days after the case closed the book was published in Portugal, selling 180,000 in its first month alone.

It was translated into six languages and a documentary based on it was broadcast on Portuguese TV to an audience of 2.2m viewers.

Kate and Gerry McCann during the launch of Kate McCann’s book ‘Madeleine’.
Kate and Gerry McCann during the launch of Kate McCann’s book ‘Madeleine’.

The McCanns soon hit back in the courts and the libel case has been back and forth until Portugal’s Supreme Court ruled against them earlier this year.

It meant that a ruling to ban further publication and sale of the book was lifted.

Amaral — who is seen as a hero among anti-McCann bloggers — is expected to retaliate.

The former policeman now has the option of taking legal action of his own against the McCanns for tarnishing his reputation.

He may also have a new book about the case in the pipeline.

And so the McCanns’ decade-long battle and the baffling mystery of Madeleine’s disappearance goes on.

‘Misinformation, half-truths and lies’

Hayden Smith

Madeleine McCann’s mother has described the tenth anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance as a “horrible marker of time, stolen time”.

In a message on the Official Find Madeleine Campaign Facebook page, Kate McCann added: “We are bracing ourselves for the next couple of weeks.

“It’s likely to be stressful and painful and more so given the rehashing of old ‘stories’, misinformation, half-truths and downright lies which will be doing the rounds in the newspapers, social media and ‘special edition’ TV programmes.”

Three-year-old Madeleine vanished from the family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in Portugal on May 3, 2007.

Kate and her husband Gerry McCann, of Rothley, Leicestershire, have always vowed to never give up hope of finding their daughter.

In the message Mrs McCann said they “couldn’t even begin to consider anything in terms of years” when their daughter first disappeared.

She wrote: “Ten years — there’s no easy way to say it, describe it, accept it. And now here we are... Madeleine, our Madeleine — ten years.

“Most days are similar to the rest — another day. May 3rd 2017 — another day. But ten years — a horrible marker of time, stolen time.”

However, she insisted “there will always be hope”.

Mrs McCann, 49, said the two themes that seem most appropriate as they reach the 10-year mark are perseverance and gratitude.

She said: “We will go on, try our hardest, never give up and make the best of the life we have.

“We consider ourselves immensely fortunate to have received the love, solidarity and support from so many kind and decent people over the last decade.

“There have been many challenges and low points along the way but the warmth, encouragement and positivity we have experienced from the ‘quiet majority’ has undoubtedly sustained us and maintained our faith in human goodness.

“And while that is there, there will always be hope.”

The message, signed by both Mrs McCann and her 48-year-old husband, concluded: “Thank you so much from all of our family.”

Mrs McCann described media appearances as “draining and on occasion, unhelpful to the only thing we want, finding Madeleine”.

She continued: “They need to have a purpose. We could spend all our time and energy trying to defend ourselves by correcting inaccuracies and lies, but then we would have no strength left to look for Madeleine, look after our other children and to live our life.”

Mrs McCann expressed hope that “those reporting on the ‘story’ over the next couple of weeks will have a conscience”.

She said: “Even if little consideration for Gerry and me is shown, they will at least bear in mind the effect such unfounded and unwarranted negativity could have on our other children — and of course Madeleine.”

There is an “active” police investigation to try to find Madeleine and bring her abductor to justice, her mother said.

She added: “There are no new appeals that the police wish to make at this moment in time and so we are keeping any media involvement marking this unwanted milestone to a minimum.”

Madeleine’s disappearance sparked one of the most high-profile police investigations of recent times.

Scotland Yard has been assisting with the inquiry since 2011 .Last month the British Home Office confirmed it has granted officers £85,000 to carry on with the case for a further six months.More than £11 million has been spent on the UK probe.

Kate McCann passes by a poster displaying police and news desk’s numbers for their missing daughter.
Kate McCann passes by a poster displaying police and news desk’s numbers for their missing daughter.

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