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What happened to Madeleine McCann?

Some time ago, I travelled to Portugal to look at the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and the circumstances surrounding it. My analysis, reasoning and conclusions are shown here. I am one of very few who continue to believe that Madeleine may still be alive. This document has been updated to reflect what has been going on more recently.

Madeleine Beth McCann would now be approaching 14 years old. She went missing ten years ago, on the 3rd May, 2007. So, what happened to her? I obviously do not know; the following may be speculation, but contains inferences developed from the known facts, information made available, and from over 30 years’ experience as a police officer. The harsh reality is that only one, or possibly two people know what happened on that night.

I am sure many will not agree; the following is simply my view and should be read as such.

Having visited the scene, it is easy to see how Madeleine could have been snatched and her abductor made good his escape in less than two minutes. By turning right from the apartment, he could have been totally out of sight within 30 seconds.

Firstly, what are the options? The way I see it there are still principally four, and these remain unchanged, albeit there are possibly variations to each: –

  • that Madeleine either died accidentally, or was killed by her parents.
  • that she wandered out of the apartment and was taken by someone in the street.
  • she was abducted by one or two predatory paedophiles, assaulted and either died, or was killed, and finally.
  • that she was taken by someone with the intention of keeping her, and raising her.

The talk of Madeleine being kidnapped by a paedophile ring, or people traffickers, for a client in some distant place, or some of the even more far-fetched theories may be worth discussion, but are not in my opinion credible. Likewise, the idea that a random burglar suddenly deciding to take a child instead of valuables is also unlikely. In saying that, there were a number of instances of burglary throughout that part of the Algarve that were not investigated adequately. Some of these involved sex attacks against young children. This is clearly an avenue that should have been fully investigated. Other theories have included her being accidentally knocked down and her body being disposed of by the driver. Although, as with many of the theories, nothing can be totally discounted, I do not think this is realistic.

The thought that Kate and Gerry McCann had anything to do with the death of their daughter, whether being directly responsible, or covering up an accident, is as far as I am concerned frankly preposterous. Although many believe this, as far as I am aware, there is not one shred of credible evidence, either direct or otherwise to indicate that this is even a remote possibility.

There are many reasons for saying this. Firstly, and importantly, there is no family history that would point in any way to this. I also do not believe that anyone with any sense believes that they killed Madeleine deliberately, so this leaves a tragic accident. Even if such an accident had happened, is it feasible that they would not immediately seek assistance and call for an ambulance?

Are we saying that they coldly decided that Madeleine was dead and then put together an elaborate plan to dispose of her body? Did Gerry McCann simply walk down the road with his daughter’s body and dispose of it, and then calmly go out for dinner. This is ridiculous in the extreme. Also, have they then maintained this pretence for so long, the simple answer is no. And as for it being a conspiracy between themselves and any or all of their group of friends, this stretches credibility beyond belief.

The farcical conspiracy theory that the last photo of Madeleine was photo shopped, the spurious and often inaccurately reported forensic findings, the irrelevant behaviour of the cadaver dogs, Mr and Mrs McCann’s perceived demeanour, as well as many other totally immaterial points, just fuel this uninformed and often offensive conjecture. The simple answer is, there is no information, let alone evidence to indicate their involvement in any way. Should they have supervised their children more closely that night; that is not for me to say, but regardless of the answer, it does not assist the investigation in any way. 

Although the second option mentioned is unlikely, it needs to be covered. If Madeleine had left the apartment, she would in all likelihood have gone out of the patio doors and walked towards where her parents were. It is also likely that she would have been seen by someone who would have reunited her with her family. She would not have wandered far, and the chance that at this very moment a predator being there who is attracted to victim of this age is so unlikely that it goes beyond reasonable consideration. This option therefore can also be discounted. Additionally, the most telling point that dismisses this theory is the open window and shutter.

Now to the third and fourth options. These I believe are very similar in how they were carried out, but with clearly different endings. I will describe how I believe she was in my opinion taken and then explain why I believe that the final option that Madeleine may still be alive is realistic.

It remains my belief that Madeleine was targeted, and her parents observed following their arrival at The Ocean Club. The McCann family arrived on Saturday 28th April 2007, and except for that evening, dined every night in the complex. This pattern could have been observed by anyone, so by Thursday they could have been watched for up to four nights during which time their routine was established. Whoever abducted Madeleine was then able to put their plan together. The routine of Mr and Mrs McCann and their friends, along with the regular checking of the children could have been easily observed, as well as the fact that access via the patio door was simple.

On the night itself, Gerry McCann checked the children at about 9.05pm and then rejoined the group. Mathew Oldfield checked at about 9.30pm, although he only listened at the door and did not actually see Madeleine. It was only when Kate McCann checked at about 10pm that it was discovered that Madeline was missing.

These actions could be seen from within the Ocean Club area, as well as from the alleyway that runs between this and the apartment. Due to the height of the wall and foliage on top of it, as well as the area inside being well lit, in contrast to the darkness elsewhere, those dining would have been easily observed whilst anyone in the alleyway could remain unseen. Sunset on the 3rd May 2007 was at 8.25pm, so it would have been getting quite dark by 9pm.

Anyone observing their routine would have known that they had at least 20 minutes between each check. They would have observed the group for a few minutes and then gone to the apartment. At the end of the alleyway they could see that the road was clear, it is then only literally a second for someone to go through the gate and into the garden area, where they would be virtually out of sight. It is then simple to enter the apartment through the patio doors, which although closed, had been left unlocked.

I believe the abductor then went into the bedroom where the twins and Madeleine were sleeping. He has no interest in the twins, he is looking for Madeleine. The window and blind were very likely opened to facilitate exit. If two people were involved, Madeleine could have been handed out of the window to the second person. If one, he could possibly have climbed out the window with her, but I believe it to be more likely that they left via the door leading to the car park. Although entry was gained via the patio doors, I do not believe this was the exit route as it is not only unnecessary and illogical, it would also substantially increase the chances of being seen.

I think the plan and escape route were planned. It was clearly well executed. This was not an impulsive act. It took patience as well as planning, and would have involved observing the McCann’s for some time.

Although floodlit, the window of the apartment and exit to the car park are not easily observed. Once out of the apartment car park there is a simple choice, turn left or right. By turning right, the abductor must pass Rua Dr Francisco Gentil Martins, the road leading down to the entrance to the Ocean Club. However, within less than 30 seconds, he could be totally out of sight in an alleyway with high walls that leads directly from Rua Dr Agostinho da Silva to Rua Do Ramalhetete, the main road out of the village. Turning left means he would have to walk a greater distance, initially uphill, and with a greater chance of being seen.

It has been suggested that a child of Madeleine’s description was seen by Martin Smith and his wife, being carried over 400 yards away in Rua da Escola Primaria, shortly before 10pm. This sighting was dismissed by the Portuguese Police, but appears to have been given substantial credibility by Operation Grange, the Metropolitan Police inquiry, who featured this on Crimewatch. I do however remain extremely sceptical about this. As far as I am concerned not only is this too late, but it is also too far away. If someone had abducted a child, they would not have carried them this far. If the plan was to take the child to a car, this would have been parked far closer. If the objective was to dispose of a body, then this person has walked past a lot of waste ground.

This timing also does not fit in with the sighting by Jane Tanner at 9.15pm. However, we are told that the person who Jane Tanner saw has come forward and been eliminated. I do not know how the police can be sure after so many years, that the person they spoke to is one and the same who was seen by Jane Tanner. Did she meet him, were the clothes identical to those she described? I obviously do not know, but regardless I still think that this is still the most likely route taken by the kidnapper.

Was it one person, was it two, were they locals, were they there on holiday or simply visiting, was she taken by a paedophile or by someone who wanted to raise her and look after her. All I can do is to provide a few thoughts and theories.

Now to one of the most difficult points, was it a paedophile or someone who wanted to keep Madeleine, whether for a caring, or more nefarious reason. Again, I do not know, but what can be done is to look at it logically, and see what is the most likely. A girl of Madeleine’s age is not the usual target age for a paedophile; she is substantially younger than most victims of these offences. This however cannot totally be discounted. Although it cannot be under estimated the amount of planning that a paedophile without a conscience is prepared to go, I believe in this case that the choice of Madeleine and her place of abduction underlines the fact that this was not a planned or even random paedophile attack.

I still believe on balance that when all the available information is examined logically and objectively, that Madeleine was not taken by a paedophile. Once they have made the decision to carry out the abduction, whoever was responsible would be prepared to take more risks than perhaps others would. These risks however are mitigated by the level of planning and control in the abduction process.

If this theory is correct, certain inferences can be made. The people responsible will not have a close extended family. If a family, I do not think that they have any children of their own. I am also of the view that whoever took Madeleine will speak English, albeit not essentially fluently, and not necessarily as a first language.

Now to one of the most significant questions. Were those responsible local to the area, or visitors, whether from elsewhere in Portugal or further afield. Again, no one other than the perpetrator knows. The reality is that they could be either. Whether they were local to the area or a visitor, I am of the view that Madeleine was seen early in the week, and from then the plan was developed to abduct her. If local, they could have initially stayed in the area, and if from further afield, would have left on Thursday, and possibly even vacated their accommodation before this. Talk of her being taken away on a boat from the beach, a local marina or on a ferry to Africa is not only unrealistic, it is also unhelpful.

I will only comment briefly on the investigation conducted by the Portuguese police. It is evident that more could, and should have been done in the immediate aftermath of her disappearance. Additionally, much of the focus of the investigation fell on Mr and Mrs McCann, when resources should have been directed elsewhere. Although it would be irresponsible not to look at the parents, in the absence of any credible evidence, this should have been dealt with, and the investigation moved on. However, the firm and in my opinion unrealistic assessment by Goncal Amaral, the original investigator, prompted it must be said by the unhelpful views of a UK based psychologist, muddied the whole investigation, and in effect set the whole tone for the inquiry.

I am also still at a loss as to why a Joint Investigation Team was not set up in the early stages of the enquiry. As far as I am aware, there was no valid reason for this.

It remains clear that the UK police review and investigation was the correct course of action, and still is, despite what some people may think. How many other British children have gone missing abroad with no clue whatsoever as to the identity of those responsible. As far as I am aware, other than Madeleine, the only other would be Ben Needham, who disappeared on the island of Kos in 1991.

Now to the main question. Where is Madeleine now, and why has she not been discovered. Many have said that with all the publicity, she would have been seen. This is not necessarily correct; there are many instances where this has not happened. Also, don’t forget that whoever took Madeleine knows that she could be recognised at any time and therefore they will go to any means necessary to ensure this does not happen. Could her hair be dyed a different colour, has she got a tan, is she now speaking a different language. These are just a few of the many possible ways in which she could be being disguised to prevent identification.

Albeit rare, there are several well publicised cases where children have been reunited with their families many years after they were abducted. Jaycee Dugard, Shawn Hornbeck, Steven Stayner, Carlina White, Natascha Kampusch, and Fusako Sano are just some of those who have been taken by strangers, and found many years later.

A child will often accept what they are told, particularly if said in a caring way, and will therefore act accordingly. Memories cannot be totally erased but behaviour can be controlled, influenced and to a degree changed. I also believe that there is a good chance that whoever took Madeleine may in all likelihood have subsequently moved, and therefore have new friends and neighbours who accept them for what they are, and not necessarily be suspicious. People generally accept what they are told by others, and are not naturally disbelieving.

However, Madeleine, if alive, is now a teenager. She may become curious as to her background. No one knows where this could lead.

I do not believe she is local to Praia de Luz, or even the Algarve, but if taken by someone who is Portuguese, she could still be in the country. It cannot be under estimated the lengths that people would go to preserve their new ‘family member’. The reality is, she could be anywhere. I appreciate this is not helpful, it is simply the truth. This could particularly be the case if the person who abducted her was a visitor in the complex, or staying nearby. There is also a good chance that whoever abducted Madeleine had most likely driven there.

What can now be done? It is evident that the UK Police have put substantial resources into the investigation. It is now six years since the Metropolitan Police started reviewing this case. How much of their investigation is speculative, and how much based on credible information and evidence, I clearly do not know.

I hesitate to criticise those making the decisions, but I do believe that resources could perhaps be used more appropriately. I understand that many documents have been translated from Portuguese; this is clearly necessary, but only where there is an investigative reason. The problem with such investigations is that often too many resources are expended dotting the t’s and crossing the i’s, when limited budgets can be better allocated. Also, in my view, the substantial cost of digging up a large section of the wasteland was unnecessary, and an example of resources being misused. Does anybody really think that a kidnapper came prepared with a shovel and had the time to dig a hole capable of hiding a body. This is no simple task, the ground in May would be extremely hard, and in my view did not happen. However, this comment is made with the caveat that I do not know if there was any evidential basis for this.

However, this investigation should be allowed to continue, until they either achieve a result, whatever that may be, or totally exhaust every avenue of investigation. It doesn’t have to be a standalone operation. Many other inquiries continue whilst officers are employed on other investigations.

I would by now have hoped that everyone who was in the Ocean Club and nearby at the time have been identified and interviewed, whether they were there as guests, residents or even staff. However, it is my belief that this may still not be the case.

The reality is that as in any such investigation and review what is needed is going back to the basics. To start at the beginning and work forward and not the other way round. There are three main avenues to solving any crime; forensics, witnesses and interviews. In this case, there are no reliable forensics other than telephone data, there would seem to be no apparent credible suspects, and therefore what is left are the witnesses. This is where the focus should continue to be.

The police have recently said that they are following up what they describe as ‘critical leads’. We obviously do not know what these are, but hopefully they are based on evidence, as opposed to speculation and guesswork.

Other avenues need to be both realistic, and achievable. Facial recognition, and social media searching, as has been mentioned recently in the media may be another way forward, if only to cover some of the basics.

As mentioned many times before, people both in the UK and throughout Europe should still be asking themselves, what was their son, brother or friend doing when they were in the Algarve that week ten years ago. It is never too late. Is there anyone who was there at the time who hasn’t been interviewed. These people need to come forward.

Many theories have been suggested, and in reality, very few can be discounted. However, some of these, particularly recently, are so farcical that they deserve to be treated with contempt. The latest suggestion that MI5 colluded with the McCann’s to cover up Madeleine’s death is one such example. Next will be that she was abducted by aliens. This shows the levels that some people, Goncal Amaral, included, will go to for publicity.

I also personally think that nothing can be gained by the McCann’s expending their time and limited resources on pursuing court cases against such people as Amaral. This only gives his deluded theories more publicity than they deserve. However, this is clearly a matter for them, and may in some small way, assist in their grief.

In conclusion, I still obviously cannot dismiss the possibility that Madeleine was abducted by a paedophile for a sinister purpose, and that she is now dead. However, I remain of the opinion that this is not the case, and have shown my reasons why. Also, as an investigator, I think it is important to believe that the person you are searching for is alive, however unrealistic some people may think this is. Until such time as a body is found, or there is irrefutable evidence that she is dead, there must always be hope. Hopefully those continuing the investigation continue to share this belief.

I’m sure many will disagree with my views; that is their prerogative. Many people have their own entrenched views on what happened, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Is believing that Madeleine is alive being overly and unrealistically optimistic. I do not think so, and until there is categoric evidence to the contrary, I will continue to believe this.

Ian Horrocks

May 2017