How inept police let Madeleine's kidnapper get away

How inept police let Madeleine's kidnapper get away
27 November 2007
The Daily Express
Robert Downing Adapted by Virginia Blackburn

It is one of the biggest mysteries of all time. Ever since Madeleine McCann vanished from a Portuguese resort just before her fourth birthday, Britain and the rest of the world has been gripped by the question: what has happened to her? The search for her has ranged across continents.

Haunting images of her have appeared in newspapers and on TV screens and posters across the globe.The investigation into her disappearance has provoked unprecedented controversy.

Today, in the second part of our exclusive book serialisation exploring the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, we reveal how the Portuguese police left Gerry and Kate distraught as they missed vital clues, enjoyed long lunches instead of stepping up the hunt and even called in psychics when they had run out of ideas.

IT WAS nearly three weeks since Madeleine had disappeared from Praia da Luz but her family were determined not to give up. The appeal had spread to Westminster: as a fund was launched to help the hunt, some of Madeleine's relatives met the then Chancellor Gordon Brown, alongside then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. It was a day of good cheer.

"Instead of a tidal wave of despair my brother Gerry is facing a tidal wave of hope, " said Philomena McCann, speaking outside Westminster. "Initially he was completely floored by what had happened and found it very difficult to cope. That was turned around by the support of the nation of Portugal, the support of Glasgow, the whole of Scotland and England."

Madeleine's parents felt they were going to start playing a more active role. The Find Madeleine Fund had been officially launched and Gerry started on what was to be the first of many trips around the globe in the search for his daughter when he flew back to Britain to consult advisers on how best to proceed. They would leave "no stone unturned" in the attempt to find their daughter, they said; nor did they want to leave Portugal without her. Support in Portugal and across the world was strong and on May 21 the nation observed a minute's silence to focus on attempts to recover the child.

The McCanns were comforted by the enormous wave of public support, the Church and a forthcoming visit to meet the Pope. Kate was constantly seen with Madeleine's Cuddle Cat, which had become something of a security blanket.

When asked if they thought Madeleine was still alive, Kate replied: "Absolutely." She then motioned to Madeleine's favourite toy and revealed: "It's something Madeleine has with her every night.

If she's upset or not well she has Cuddle Cat. It's provided me with a little bit of comfort, something of Madeleine close to me?" Back in Britain there was growing criticism of the Portuguese police. John Stalker, the former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, scathingly compared the handling of the case to the TV programme Life On Mars, in which a modern police officer finds himself in the altogether less professional world of the Seventies.

"British police are not perfect but they can never be accused of complacency when a three-year-old is reported missing, " he wrote. "In these cases they hit the ground running - which never happened in Portugal. From the moment Madeleine went missing Portuguese police moved too slowly. The feeling seems to have been that child abductions simply do not happen on the Algarve. Local police dealt with the inquiry during those precious first few hours when fastmoving investigations such as these are won or lost."

Doubts were growing about the competence of the Portuguese police, who now came under attack for not searching empty apartments close to Madeleine's. Many had metal shutters to keep the sun out which would have made it impossible to see if anyone was inside.

Michael Askew, 60, a British businessman who owns a two-bedroom apartment close to the complex, was astonished by what he saw as police ineptitude. "I'm amazed the police haven't searched my place, " said Mr Askew, who owns a building company in Derbyshire. "Soon after Madeleine was abducted I saw a TV interview with a Portuguese policeman who said they had master keys to all the nearby properties. He said they were going to be searched but mine certainly wasn't. My son Robert went out there this week for the first time since Madeleine went missing and it's obvious no one's been into the apartment. Neighbours say none of theirs have been searched, either. The complex managers say they haven't handed the master keys to anyone. I'm also surprised no one seems to have been asked whether they were staying in the apartments or who may have been renting them at the time. It makes you sceptical about how they have run their investigation."

Further evidence of ineptitude emerged when it became clear that a description of a man seen carrying a child on the night Madeleine disappeared was wrong - a mistake in the conversion from centimetres to inches put him three inches taller than the witness had described. It then emerged officers were turning to psychics and clairvoyants for help. While several said Madeleine had been taken over the border into Spain, the information rather suggested that police didn't have a great deal more to go on. "If there are indications there is enough to follow we will go, " said Chief Insp Olegario Sousa when asked about the danger of hoaxers. "If there aren't we cannot do anything."

It was not long before eyebrows were raised again by police behaviour, though this time the problem was a culture clash as much as anything else. The problem appeared to be lunchtime drinking. At the same time as the McCanns were facing that brutal press conference in Berlin, Sousa and detective Goncalo Amaral were pictured enjoying a two-hour lunch with drinks.

Sousa was defensive: "It is very, very sad but a person's free time is for lunch. That is a normal thing to do."

Worse still, the men were heard discussing the case in front of other diners. "If it were detectives from Scotland Yard there would be an uproar, " said Philomena McCann.

"But we have to let them get on with their work because that's all we have to rely on.

"We have to accept their approach because the British Government will not intervene. It is a different culture where they have lunches and siestas but we hope the work is made up at other times."

SHORTLY afterwards Philomena and a cousin went to Lisbon airport to put up "missing" posters (incredibly, none had been hung there, allegedly because of the Portuguese government's fear of damaging the tourist trade), and were expelled from the airport by gun-toting police. "They just don't want to admit a child was snatched in their country, " she said.

Amaral, one of the most senior detectives in the hunt, was revealed to be one of five officers formally accused of torturing a confession from Leonor Cipriano. She was alleged to have been attacked in September, 2004, after her nineyear-old daughter Joana had gone missing from the village of Figueira, just seven miles from Praia da Luz.

The parallels with Madeleine's case were eerie. The police had failed to seal off the house, allowed hundreds of police and friends of the family to trample over the crime scene and ended up accusing Joana's mother of the crime.

The body was never found but Leonor and her brother Joao were convicted of killing her. She later claimed police had beaten a confession out of her. Pictures showed her face and body covered in bruises, which police said occurred when she fell downstairs. She lodged a complaint which was taken up by the public prosecutor's office. Five policemen were said to be involved:

three accused of torture, a fourth for failing to stop the attack and a fifth for falsifying paperwork.

Amaral was one of the five yet he remained on the Madeleine case.

The McCanns said nothing publicly but they must have foreseen that the Portuguese police would try to implicate them. The investigation was a mess. Sousa decided to blame the family for allowing so many people into their apartment in the immediate aftermath of Madeleine's disappearance, as if the family wasn't desperate to enlist as much help as possible.

"The presence of so many people in the room where the little girl slept with her brother and sister could have complicated the work of the forensic team, " he said. "At worst, they would have destroyed all the evidence. This could prove fatal for the investigation." It looked very much as if he was trying to shift the blame for incompetence away from the police force.

While the McCanns remained silent, sources close to the family voiced their dismay. "It's insensitive, " said one. "Of course the family are going to search the apartment. If your child goes missing, you search under beds, everywhere."

Increasingly it seemed as if the McCanns were having to do the job of police. Attending a church service in Praia da Luz - Kate was still clutching Cuddle Cat - Gerry recalled that it was Father's Day back home. He had already had to undergo both his and Madeleine's birthday without her and thoughts of this occasion the previous year were too painful. "I can't think about how we spent it, " he said. "I can't think about anything except how to get Madeleine back."

The police investigation seemed to have stalled. There was widespread criticism when officers again searched the apartment from which Madeleine had gone missing - seven weeks after her disappearance. Why, observers asked, was there any doubt the crime scene had not already been properly searched?

ONE CRITIC declared: "It is astonishing that they are still at the stage of scouring the crime scene for clues. You would think that everything that could have yielded information had already been gathered up. It's a pretty damning sign that the investigation is going nowhere."

Towards the end of June arrests finally were made in connection with the case but they were not the arrests everyone was hoping for.

Rather, Italian Danilo Chemello and his Portuguese girlfriend Aurora Pereira Vaz were taken in by the police after a dawn raid on the Costa del Sol town of Sotogrande, on suspicion of trying to extort reward money from the McCanns.

It was thought that they had claimed to know where Madeleine was being held and wanted £2.5million to relay the information. It hadn't worked.

To pre-order a copy of Madeleine: A Most Heartrbreaking And Extraordinary Disappearance, by Robert Downing, £12.99 (Northern &Shell Publishing), published on December 10, with free UK delivery, send a cheque/PO payable to Express Bookshop to Madeleine book offer, Express Bookshop, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ or call 0871 521 1301 with card details or order online at www. expressbookshop. co. uk.

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