What happened to Madeleine McCann?
In February last year on behalf of a UK newspaper, I travelled to Portugal to look at the investigation into the abduction of Madeleine McCann, and the circumstances surrounding the offence. My analysis, reasoning and conclusions are shown here, and until the announcement by the Metropolitan Police Review Team the following April, I was one of very few that believed that Madeleine may still be alive.
This has now been amended following new information just released by the Metropolitan Police. It therefore contains some minor, but fundamental changes in light of this potentially ‘new’ information.
What happened to Madeleine McCann? I obviously do not know; the following may be speculation, but contains inferences developed from the known facts, information available to myself, and from over 30 years experience as a police officer. The harsh reality is that only one, or in my view 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.
I will say from the start that after looking at the information available, I am still of the view that there is a chance that Madeleine is still alive. I will explain how I have come to this conclusion.
Having looked at the scene myself, it is easy to see how Madeleine could have been snatched and the abductor made good his escape in less than two minutes. I found that by turning right from the apartment he could have been totally out of sight within 30 seconds of leaving the apartment. However, information now released perhaps indicates that a different route was taken, although I must say I am not totally convinced of this.
I tried to look at this with fresh eyes untainted by what has been written in the past, much of which has been totally uninformed and not based upon any evidence, but on media reports, unreliable accounts, personal agendas, and sadly, often misguided vitriol. It is true to say that many of the police files have been released but these have not as yet led to any definitive conclusions.
Firstly, what are the options? The way I see it there are still principally four, and these remain unchanged.
- That Madeleine either died accidentally, or was killed by her parents.
- That Madeleine wandered out of the apartment and either became lost, or was taken by someone in the street.
- That Madeleine was abducted by one or two predatory paedophiles, and she was assaulted and either died, or was killed.
- That Madeleine was taken by a person or couple with the intention of keeping her, and raising her.
The talk of Madeleine being kidnapped by a paedophile ring, for a client in some distant place, or some of the even more farfetched theories are not worth discussion and equally are not credible. Should this have been the reason, sadly, there are many places throughout Europe and indeed the world where this is a far simpler task than in a busy holiday resort in Portugal.
Likewise the idea that a random burglar suddenly deciding to take a child instead of valuables is also I believe unlikely. There has recently been speculation that this is a possibility, although personally I do not believe this is what happened.
My belief is that it is either the third or fourth option, although I think that from looking at all the information available to me that the fourth is the most likely.
The thought that Kate and Gerry McCann had anything to do with the death of their daughter, whether being directly responsible, or covering it up is frankly preposterous. 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 most importantly, it is statistically unlikely, the main reason being that there is no family history that would point in any way to this. I 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 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 irrelevant points just fuel this uninformed and I must say 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 is extremely unlikely it needs to be covered. If Madeleine had left the apartment, she would 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 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 from shortly after they arrived at The Ocean Club. The McCann family arrived on Saturday 28th April 2007, and with the exception of Saturday evening, they 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.
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 quite dark by 9pm.
After observing previous routines, they would have known that they had at least 20 to 30 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 site. It is then simple to enter the apartment through the patio doors, which had been left unlocked.
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 in order to facilitate exit. If two were involved, Madeleine would have been handed out of the window to the second person. If one, then he could have climbed out the window with her, but I believe it to be more likely that he realised that this was not a simple task when carrying a child, and would then most likely have 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 and possibly caught.
It is clear in my mind that the plan and escape route were planned and probably rehearsed in advance. It was clearly well executed as it was successful. This was not an impulsive act; it was planned. It took patience as well as planning, and would have involved observing the McCann’s for some time. This view is possibly reinforced by the many sightings of a number of potentially suspicious males in the days and hours prior to Madeleine’s abduction. The person responsible for this offence is I believe both a controlled and controlling individual.
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 has to cross 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 site in an alleyway with high walls that leads directly from Rua Dr Agostinho da Silva to Rua Do Ramalhetete, the main road that leads 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. Although there are many apartments overlooking the car park, how many people were actually looking out and taking any notice. Also, the entrance is relatively secluded and once they are away from the apartment, there is no reason for anybody to notice them, and even if they did, to think twice about it.
However, recently released information possibly suggests that a child of Madeleine’s description was seen being carried about 400 yards away in Rua da Escola Primaria, near the junction with Rua 25 de Abril, shortly before 10pm.
This timing does not fit in with the sighting by Jane Tanner at 9.15pm. However, we are now told that the person who Jane Tanner saw has since come forward and been eliminated. I appreciate that I strongly believed that this was Madeleine, but I have to accept that if the police are 100% happy with this, then this person can be ruled out. I am however, still of the belief that there is a good chance that this may have been the route possibly taken by the abductor.
Although I initially dismissed the sighting by the Smith family, I do appreciate that in the absence of any other information that this could be a possibility. I do however remain sceptical about this. This sighting was about 400 yards away from the apartment, which is a lengthy distance to walk with a child if you have just abducted her. 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. Why increase the chances of being caught.
If this was the person who abducted Madeleine, then there is a good chance that he was either going home or to accommodation very nearby, the route being chosen by him in an attempt to be observed by as few people as possible.
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. I obviously do not know. All I can do is to provide a few thoughts and theories.
To answer the first question, was it one person or two. Although I do not know, I still believe that from the nature of the crime, the manner in which it was carried out and from examination of the scene and area, this would point to it being more likely that there were two people as opposed to one. This can obviously not be said for certain, and as with all the other points mentioned is simply my opinion. If the sighting by the Smith family proves to be correct, then I accept that in all likelihood, the person who took Madeleine was alone.
Now to one of the most difficult points, was it a paedophile or someone who wanted Madeleine as an extended member of their family. Again I do not know, but what can be done is to look at it logically, and see what is the most likely.
I remain of the view that Madeleine was not abducted with the intention of some sort of long term grooming and abuse similar to that experienced by Jaycee Dugard or Natascha Kampusch. In any event, both of these girls were substantially older when they were taken.
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, as was seen from the conviction in the UK in March 2012 of David Bryant. In his case however, he snatched his victims from the street, and did not kill any of them.
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 most likely taken by someone who wanted her as part of his or their family. Once they have made the decision to carry this out, 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 as would it be feasible that no one would make the connection to Madeleine. I do not think that they have any children of their own. I also believe that they could have rationalised it in their minds by thinking “they’ve got three, we haven’t got any”. In a perverse way they may see this as being alright, as they have left the family with two children. 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 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. The sighting by the Smith family, if correct, may indicate that the person was heading towards the beach. Regardless, I still do not accept that she was taken away on a boat.
Some may say that the e-fit recently issued is similar to Gerry McCann. Regardless, it cannot be him, as at the time the Smith family saw the person carrying the child, Mr McCann was either at the restaurant, or the apartment having just discovered that Madeleine was missing. This is without dispute.
Regardless of whether the e-fit is of the suspect, it is clear that the UK police review is the correct course of action, in spite of what some people may think. This is being conducted by experienced investigators, and hopefully any suggestions or guidance they make will be acted upon, and that where feasible they will continue to be allowed to become more involved in the investigative process.
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 now got a tan, is she speaking a different language, has her hair been cut short and perhaps being dressed as a boy. These are just a few of the many possible ways in which she could be being disguised to prevent identification.
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.
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 in order to preserve their ‘family’.
If she was not taken by someone local, then the reality is she could be anywhere. I appreciate this is not helpful, it is simply the reality. 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 by the police? It is evident that the UK Police are putting substantial resources into the investigation. It is now two years since the Metropolitan Police started reviewing this case, and in this time, we are told, they have interviewed 442 people, and examined a substantial amount of telephone data from the days around the offence. They have also identified 41 people, who they claim to be of interest, of which 15 are UK nationals. These clearly cannot all be suspects, but tracing them could significantly assist in the investigation. This is the correct course of action, and should be allowed to continue, until they either achieve a result, whatever that may be, or totally exhaust every avenue of investigation.
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 is still not the case.
The reality is that as in any 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, there would seem to be no apparent suspects, and therefore what is left are the witnesses. This is where the focus should continue to be.
Also, 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 six and a half years ago.
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. This is one line of enquiry that the police must obviously continue to investigate vigorously.
However I do not believe this to be the case, and have given my reasons why. I’m sure many will disagree with this; that is their prerogative. 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. Hopefully those continuing the investigation share this same belief.