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John Simkin

Madeleine McCann

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Jonathan Freedland wrote an interesting article in today's Guardian about the Madeleine McCann case.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2167113,00.html

Visit the Sky News website and you'll see in the menu of topics the single word Madeleine, sandwiched between UK News and World News. The story is now so big that it commands its own category, on a par with Politics or Business. There is, of course, no need to supply a last name or any other details: Madeleine refers to what is surely becoming the biggest human interest story of the decade. It's not just the hour-by-hour updates on television news or the you-the-jury phone-ins on the radio. A more reliable indicator is the chatter heard in offices, at bus stops or in queues at the shops. Thanks to the astonishing twist of recent days, the British collective conversation is not focused on the war in Iraq or the efficiency of the NHS, even if it should be. Instead, its great preoccupation is the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a story that gets ever more strange.

Even before last week, the case had gripped. The apparently random abduction and murder of children always does, whether it's Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Sarah Payne or the victims of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. We fear these crimes like no other; they touch fears with deep roots in the cultural soil. The child snatcher is a creature from myth, whether the oldest Gaelic folktales or Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. Modern storytelling is hardly immune: my own generation once cowered in terror from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's Child Catcher. So when the news first broke in May that a sleeping child had vanished from her bed in a Portuguese holiday resort, all the familiar fears were stirred.

But last week brought a dizzying twist, one that has left the watching public badly confused. The notion of a predatory stranger seizing Madeleine McCann was terrifying but uncomplicated: we knew how we were supposed to feel. The naming by Portuguese police of the little girl's parents as formal suspects has obliged us to contemplate not an ancient fear but a grave taboo: infanticide.

Of course, the grim reality is that cases of parents slaying their young are all too common. The boyfriend battering his lover's child to death has become a grisly staple of the news bulletin, usually consigned to halfway down the running order. The middle-class temptation in such cases is to comfort themselves with the thought that these families are dysfunctional, that they are nothing like them. The branding of the McCanns as suspects allows for no such lazy response. Their campaign enjoyed such widespread press backing in part because they are the very model of a middle-class, professional couple: both are doctors, still society's most trusted group. Indeed, since May, the sight of a distraught Kate McCann clutching Madeleine's toy Cuddle Cat had become the very image of parental love. Even to conceive of them as the suspected killers of the daughter whose loss they have been grieving is to experience cognitive dissonance.

Which is why people don't know how to react. Suddenly we have to hold two entirely contradictory thoughts in our head at the same time. For the McCanns have now either suffered the cruellest fate imaginable - not only to have innocently lost their beloved daughter but also to have been publicly accused of a wicked crime - or they are guilty of the most elaborate and heinous confidence trick in history, deceitfully winning the trust and sympathy of the world's media, a British prime minister, the wife of the American president and even the Pope, to say nothing of international public opinion. One of those statements, both of them extraordinary, describes the truth. As a senior tabloid journalist put it to me yesterday: "They're either the victims of a horrible smear which they will never fully escape or they are cold, psychotic killers" responsible for the death of their own child.

His own newspaper now covers this story with both possibilities in mind. Note the headlines in the Sun and the Mirror, carefully surrounded by caveats and qualifiers, just in case the other scenario proves to be true.

This is not how stories like this usually play out. Ordinarily, the popular papers, in particular, have a hunch about the culprit (and very often their hunches are right). Not this time, however. The press pack following the McCann case is apparently split into two camps, for and against the couple, with some reporters refusing to speak to those on the other side. One tabloid editor is changing his mind on where guilt lies "on an hourly basis".

It's easy to see why. Yesterday it was reported that the Portuguese police had found not just the odd DNA trace in the boot of the McCanns' hire car - rented weeks after Madeleine's disappearance - but substantial amounts of the child's hair and even bodily fluids. Suddenly, an entire narrative assembles itself, built from leaked nuggets and speculative fragments, which runs as follows. The McCanns had sedated their children so that they could have an undisturbed dinner with friends (hence the failure of the two younger McCann children to awake even during the loud chaos of the night of May 3). They returned to find Madeleine dead. Fearing their twins would be taken from them if they confessed the truth, they hid Madeleine's body, then hid it again in the spare wheel compartment of their rented car until finally burying it somewhere else. (Where? The anti-McCann view even has an answer to this question. Portuguese police are reported to be planning to search the Our Lady of the Light church in Praia da Luz, where the McCanns prayed regularly and to which they were given the keys, so they might visit day or night. Detectives are said to be set on digging up an area around the church - including one cobbled street where roadworks were under way when Madeleine disappeared.)

It hangs together well enough until you start asking questions. How could two people under constant media scrutiny possibly have carried out and hidden their daughter's body without being seen? If they really had concealed a corpse in their car, wouldn't the smell have been obvious? How could two people unfamiliar with the local landscape have found an eventual hiding place that would still, months later, remain undiscovered? Is it plausible to imagine that, in the moments after suffering the trauma of a dead child, two people could have constructed such an elaborate cover-up plan, executed it coolly and remained steady ever since? Could anybody maintain this front, a global lie, for so long without cracking?

Arguments like that are going on everywhere, in pubs or the train to work, as well as in newsrooms around the world. The McCanns must hate it but they cannot be surprised by it. For wholly understandable reasons, they chose to make the loss of their daughter public property, to recruit the media to their cause. So now we are like folk gathered in the village square, offering our two-pennyworth on the mysterious events that have befallen one benighted family.

How will this story end? That's what makes it so grimly compelling: none of us knows. Until we do, basic justice demands that we presume the McCanns are wholly innocent. Common decency demands the same. For if they are eventually found guilty, there will be plenty of time for condemnation. But if they are innocent, to presume otherwise is to commit a second crime against people who have already suffered enough.

Do members have strong feelings about this case? A journalist claimed on the radio the other day that he published a sympathetic article about the McCanns in the Sun. He said it triggered more abusive emails than any other article that he had published. The reason being that they felt the media had been too sympathetic to the McCanns because they were both middle-class doctors and that if a single parent on a council estate had left their children alone they would have been roundly condemned by the media.

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I must admit that I had never heard of Madeleine McCann. I don't watch American TV "news" programs anymore so I don't know to what extent this story has been covered on TV here. But I have seen nothing on it till now on the Internet, where I get most of my news. That said, the case sounds very similar to the Jon Benet Ramsey case here in the U.S. The well-to-do parents came under suspicion for the child's death, the case got saturation news coverage for months, but the parents were never charged (one has since died) and the case remains unsolved.

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Guest David Guyatt
Jonathan Freedland wrote an interesting article in today's Guardian about the Madeleine McCann case.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2167113,00.html

Visit the Sky News website and you'll see in the menu of topics the single word Madeleine, sandwiched between UK News and World News. The story is now so big that it commands its own category, on a par with Politics or Business. There is, of course, no need to supply a last name or any other details: Madeleine refers to what is surely becoming the biggest human interest story of the decade. It's not just the hour-by-hour updates on television news or the you-the-jury phone-ins on the radio. A more reliable indicator is the chatter heard in offices, at bus stops or in queues at the shops. Thanks to the astonishing twist of recent days, the British collective conversation is not focused on the war in Iraq or the efficiency of the NHS, even if it should be. Instead, its great preoccupation is the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a story that gets ever more strange.

Even before last week, the case had gripped. The apparently random abduction and murder of children always does, whether it's Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Sarah Payne or the victims of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. We fear these crimes like no other; they touch fears with deep roots in the cultural soil. The child snatcher is a creature from myth, whether the oldest Gaelic folktales or Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. Modern storytelling is hardly immune: my own generation once cowered in terror from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's Child Catcher. So when the news first broke in May that a sleeping child had vanished from her bed in a Portuguese holiday resort, all the familiar fears were stirred.

But last week brought a dizzying twist, one that has left the watching public badly confused. The notion of a predatory stranger seizing Madeleine McCann was terrifying but uncomplicated: we knew how we were supposed to feel. The naming by Portuguese police of the little girl's parents as formal suspects has obliged us to contemplate not an ancient fear but a grave taboo: infanticide.

Of course, the grim reality is that cases of parents slaying their young are all too common. The boyfriend battering his lover's child to death has become a grisly staple of the news bulletin, usually consigned to halfway down the running order. The middle-class temptation in such cases is to comfort themselves with the thought that these families are dysfunctional, that they are nothing like them. The branding of the McCanns as suspects allows for no such lazy response. Their campaign enjoyed such widespread press backing in part because they are the very model of a middle-class, professional couple: both are doctors, still society's most trusted group. Indeed, since May, the sight of a distraught Kate McCann clutching Madeleine's toy Cuddle Cat had become the very image of parental love. Even to conceive of them as the suspected killers of the daughter whose loss they have been grieving is to experience cognitive dissonance.

Which is why people don't know how to react. Suddenly we have to hold two entirely contradictory thoughts in our head at the same time. For the McCanns have now either suffered the cruellest fate imaginable - not only to have innocently lost their beloved daughter but also to have been publicly accused of a wicked crime - or they are guilty of the most elaborate and heinous confidence trick in history, deceitfully winning the trust and sympathy of the world's media, a British prime minister, the wife of the American president and even the Pope, to say nothing of international public opinion. One of those statements, both of them extraordinary, describes the truth. As a senior tabloid journalist put it to me yesterday: "They're either the victims of a horrible smear which they will never fully escape or they are cold, psychotic killers" responsible for the death of their own child.

His own newspaper now covers this story with both possibilities in mind. Note the headlines in the Sun and the Mirror, carefully surrounded by caveats and qualifiers, just in case the other scenario proves to be true.

This is not how stories like this usually play out. Ordinarily, the popular papers, in particular, have a hunch about the culprit (and very often their hunches are right). Not this time, however. The press pack following the McCann case is apparently split into two camps, for and against the couple, with some reporters refusing to speak to those on the other side. One tabloid editor is changing his mind on where guilt lies "on an hourly basis".

It's easy to see why. Yesterday it was reported that the Portuguese police had found not just the odd DNA trace in the boot of the McCanns' hire car - rented weeks after Madeleine's disappearance - but substantial amounts of the child's hair and even bodily fluids. Suddenly, an entire narrative assembles itself, built from leaked nuggets and speculative fragments, which runs as follows. The McCanns had sedated their children so that they could have an undisturbed dinner with friends (hence the failure of the two younger McCann children to awake even during the loud chaos of the night of May 3). They returned to find Madeleine dead. Fearing their twins would be taken from them if they confessed the truth, they hid Madeleine's body, then hid it again in the spare wheel compartment of their rented car until finally burying it somewhere else. (Where? The anti-McCann view even has an answer to this question. Portuguese police are reported to be planning to search the Our Lady of the Light church in Praia da Luz, where the McCanns prayed regularly and to which they were given the keys, so they might visit day or night. Detectives are said to be set on digging up an area around the church - including one cobbled street where roadworks were under way when Madeleine disappeared.)

It hangs together well enough until you start asking questions. How could two people under constant media scrutiny possibly have carried out and hidden their daughter's body without being seen? If they really had concealed a corpse in their car, wouldn't the smell have been obvious? How could two people unfamiliar with the local landscape have found an eventual hiding place that would still, months later, remain undiscovered? Is it plausible to imagine that, in the moments after suffering the trauma of a dead child, two people could have constructed such an elaborate cover-up plan, executed it coolly and remained steady ever since? Could anybody maintain this front, a global lie, for so long without cracking?

Arguments like that are going on everywhere, in pubs or the train to work, as well as in newsrooms around the world. The McCanns must hate it but they cannot be surprised by it. For wholly understandable reasons, they chose to make the loss of their daughter public property, to recruit the media to their cause. So now we are like folk gathered in the village square, offering our two-pennyworth on the mysterious events that have befallen one benighted family.

How will this story end? That's what makes it so grimly compelling: none of us knows. Until we do, basic justice demands that we presume the McCanns are wholly innocent. Common decency demands the same. For if they are eventually found guilty, there will be plenty of time for condemnation. But if they are innocent, to presume otherwise is to commit a second crime against people who have already suffered enough.

Do members have strong feelings about this case? A journalist claimed on the radio the other day that he published a sympathetic article about the McCanns in the Sun. He said it triggered more abusive emails than any other article that he had published. The reason being that they felt the media had been too sympathetic to the McCanns because they were both middle-class doctors and that if a single parent on a council estate had left their children alone they would have been roundly condemned by the media.

From day one (literally) I have harboured a suspicion that this was the work of a well connected and protected paedophile ring. One only needs to look at the Belgian paedo background of Marc Dutroux -- where connections apparently led the police (screaming and kicking) to the King.

Dutroux is on the record as saying that he was part of a wider ring that the authorities did not want to investigate:

"I maintained regular contact with people in this ring. However, the law does not want to investigate this lead." He said.

I also suspect that this paedo ring extends to the headquarters of NATO.

Absolutely no proof, but if one follows the threads of the international paedo tentacles, then there is evidence of protection of major figures said to be involved -- political, military, intelligence and business elites.

In Portugal, it remains baffling why the police haven't arrested or interviewed anyone other than British citizens?

David

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From day one (literally) I have harboured a suspicion that this was the work of a well connected and protected paedophile ring. One only needs to look at the Belgian paedo background of Marc Dutroux -- where connections apparently led the police (screaming and kicking) to the King.

Didn't a convicted paedophile from Switzerland commit suicide soon after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann?

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As Ron mentioned, this is very similar to the Jon Benet Ramsey case. I think what we have here is pretty simple; wealthy parents (the mother being very attractive doesn't hurt), who were obviously extremely negligent at the least, and most likely responsible for their daughter's death in some way. If this were a poor, uneducated couple, or a working-class couple, you can bet that they wouldn't be given the benefit of the doubt, or any sympathy at all by the police, the press and the public at large. In all likelihood, they'd have their other children taken away instantly by Social Services, who would immediately suspect them. They certainly wouldn't be given softball appearances on television and goodness knows there is no chance they'd be able to meet the Pope.

In the Ramsey case, there was absolutely no evidence of an intruder, and the absurd "ransom note" was unlike any in the history of kidnapping; what kidnapper leaves both a note and the body of the victim in the parents' home? Still, this totally unconvincing couple was given very positive press coverage (except in the tabloids and on the internet), despite a story that was simply impossible.

While I haven't followed the McCann case closely, I think the idea that any responsible parent would leave three children that young unattended, while they ate dinner with other couples, is simply not believable. Any poor or working-class parents who came up that kind of ridiculous excuse would be instantly arrested, and they would be laughed out of any courtroom. Just as in the Jon Benet Ramsey case, I can't imagine they intentionally plotted to murder their child, but it's pretty clear, to me at least, that they must bear the responsibility for her being missing. Once again, it is crystal clear just how uneven our systems of justice are. One system for the poor and average folks; another one entirely for those who have the financial means to hire a good attorney and seemingly are always accorded what most defendents never are- thoughtful juries, lenient judges and a true presumption of innocence.

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As Ron mentioned, this is very similar to the Jon Benet Ramsey case. I think what we have here is pretty simple; wealthy parents (the mother being very attractive doesn't hurt), who were obviously extremely negligent at the least, and most likely responsible for their daughter's death in some way. If this were a poor, uneducated couple, or a working-class couple, you can bet that they wouldn't be given the benefit of the doubt, or any sympathy at all by the police, the press and the public at large. In all likelihood, they'd have their other children taken away instantly by Social Services, who would immediately suspect them. They certainly wouldn't be given softball appearances on television and goodness knows there is no chance they'd be able to meet the Pope.

In the Ramsey case, there was absolutely no evidence of an intruder, and the absurd "ransom note" was unlike any in the history of kidnapping; what kidnapper leaves both a note and the body of the victim in the parents' home? Still, this totally unconvincing couple was given very positive press coverage (except in the tabloids and on the internet), despite a story that was simply impossible.

While I haven't followed the McCann case closely, I think the idea that any responsible parent would leave three children that young unattended, while they ate dinner with other couples, is simply not believable. Any poor or working-class parents who came up that kind of ridiculous excuse would be instantly arrested, and they would be laughed out of any courtroom. Just as in the Jon Benet Ramsey case, I can't imagine they intentionally plotted to murder their child, but it's pretty clear, to me at least, that they must bear the responsibility for her being missing. Once again, it is crystal clear just how uneven our systems of justice are. One system for the poor and average folks; another one entirely for those who have the financial means to hire a good attorney and seemingly are always accorded what most defendents never are- thoughtful juries, lenient judges and a true presumption of innocence.

You should be hung drawn and quartered for posting bullxxxx like this you utter clot. Or is the above intended as an ironic post, cursed as you are with that notorious monicker?

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Michael Chapman,

What kind of asinine, inflammatory and inappropriate response is that? Why don't you be a bit more specific about why I am an "utter clot?" As an American, I'm not familiar with that term, but it doesn't sound complimentary. Are you naive enough to believe that rich and poor alike receive the same standard of justice? Finally, why is my name "notorious?"

I hope a mod looks at your post- it's totally out of line.

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You (DJ) should be hung drawn and quartered for posting bullxxxx like this you utter clot. Or is the above intended as an ironic post, cursed as you are with that notorious monicker?

Not only is this post ugly and crude, it makes no sense whatsoever. It does however seem to be a glove fit with the person that authored it.

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You (DJ) should be hung drawn and quartered for posting bullxxxx like this you utter clot. Or is the above intended as an ironic post, cursed as you are with that notorious monicker?

Not only is this post ugly and crude, it makes no sense whatsoever. It does however seem to be a glove fit with the person that authored it.

Michael Chapman has already being on moderation in the past for offensive comments like this. He promised he would behave and was released from moderation. Following this outburst he will be put on permanent moderation.

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One thing we can be sure of: the McCann's are at least partially responsible for the disappearance of their daughter. It's very easy to clamber on one's high horse over their child-care regime, but the cold hard facts of the matter boil down to them abandoning three children while they went out for a meal for a couple of hours. The fact that they could see the balcony from a hundred yards away is irrelevant, it was a hugely irresponsible thing to do. I can understand why they didn't get much of a bashing in the press over this at the time: it was more important to try and get Maddy back, and they must have been guilt-ridden and distraught enough anyway. The "middle-class GP syndrome" simply made it easier for the press not to say these things.

So what did happen to Maddy? My gut instinct is with David on this one: dragged out of her bed by a paedophile. Save yourself from nightmares by not imaging what she may have gone through (or indeed, still is going through). This is tempered by the disturbing thought that one or both of her parents could be responsible for accidental death, and subsequent cover-up. It's a dreadful thing to even harbour suspicions against someone who in all likelihood is innocent, and still coming to terms with the disappearance of their girl. Are the Portugese Police on the right lines, or is it a witch-hunt? The only part of me that hopes they're right is the part that would be relieved that Maddy didn't ultimately suffer the dreadful abuse and possible death that I suspect she has.

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Guest Stephen Turner

Whilst the disappearence of Madeleine is an undoubted tragedy, in the long view she is simply one of literally thousands of young children who go missing every year. Most of these unfortunates make neary a ripple in our nationalistic, and class obsessed media, their ultimate fate unreported, and in many cases unrecorded. These "disappeared" constitute a palpable stain on our collective Humanity.

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Branson pledges 100,000 pounds for McCanns' legal fees

Virgin boss Richard Branson has pledged 100,000 pounds for a legal fund to defend the parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann, the Sunday Times reported.

Gerry and Kate McCann have been named as formal suspects by Portuguese police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine in May.

"Sir Richard wants to ensure the McCanns get access to the best legal advice," the weekly newspaper quoted a source close to Branson as saying.

"He has a good instinct on these things. It will help to ensure that they get a fair hearing and that all of the facts become available."

Full report: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/16/2034220.htm

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Branson pledges 100,000 pounds for McCanns' legal fees

Virgin boss Richard Branson has pledged 100,000 pounds for a legal fund to defend the parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann, the Sunday Times reported.

Gerry and Kate McCann have been named as formal suspects by Portuguese police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine in May.

"Sir Richard wants to ensure the McCanns get access to the best legal advice," the weekly newspaper quoted a source close to Branson as saying.

"He has a good instinct on these things. It will help to ensure that they get a fair hearing and that all of the facts become available."

Full report: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/16/2034220.htm

I'm all for people getting the best possible legal representation. Playing Devil's Advocate, would the Virginal purse have been quite as generous to Wayne and Waynetta Slob if they'd left poor little Ashtray all alone for the evening?

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Guest Gary Loughran
Branson pledges 100,000 pounds for McCanns' legal fees

Virgin boss Richard Branson has pledged 100,000 pounds for a legal fund to defend the parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann, the Sunday Times reported.

Gerry and Kate McCann have been named as formal suspects by Portuguese police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine in May.

"Sir Richard wants to ensure the McCanns get access to the best legal advice," the weekly newspaper quoted a source close to Branson as saying.

"He has a good instinct on these things. It will help to ensure that they get a fair hearing and that all of the facts become available."

Full report: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/16/2034220.htm

I'm all for people getting the best possible legal representation. Playing Devil's Advocate, would the Virginal purse have been quite as generous to Wayne and Waynetta Slob if they'd left poor little Ashtray all alone for the evening?

Dave,

That is uncanny. I swear that's the precise argument I've used since the beginning re: Wayne & Waynetta

Gary

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Dave,

That is uncanny. I swear that's the precise argument I've used since the beginning re: Wayne & Waynetta

Gary

The essence of this position, and those of other "fine" minds on this forum, would seem to be that the media would have been quicker to condemn the parents had they been stupid and working class - better still ugly as well.

Didn't a convicted paedophile from Switzerland commit suicide soon after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann?

That proves it surely :rolleyes:

Another victory for rational analysis I think not.

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