Monday, September 10, 2007

The Madeline McCann Case

I am going back into current affairs territory.

I have purposely not written previously about this case. I did not have a lot to say that had not been said elsewhere. When Maddie went missing it was a very tragic tale of a missing child. I did think perhaps that the media campaign seemed to be orchestrated and wondered whether it was so big because she was such a sweet girl from middle class parents. Would the response have been the same for an average girl from council estate parents from Birmingham.

I did not write about those things because I thought it was sour grapes, when anyone goes missing it is a very tragic loss and if all the publicity meant that she was safely returned to her parents then the end would of course justify the means.

The story has evolved in the last few weeks, now the parents are suspect, all sorts of rumours are flying round the net. The search for Maddie has all but vanished.

I want to write about some of the technicalities in the case but find it difficult to do so without thinking that I might appear like some uncaring monster. That is not my intention and I still hope for a happy outcome. So the following is an attempt to separate emotion from reason and look at events in a way that historians might be able to objectively examine some of the facts in many years time.

The first thing is the media hype,for what is often a 24 hour news cycle this story has stayed in the headlines for months. Given that all events did not even happen in this country, the lack of information from the police and the lack of any new information the continuing headlines are unprecedented.

Of course the press have portrayed this as a tragic family ordeal but at this point it could equally be a criminal act or a tragic accident (which could still be a criminal act). However the public through the media are very emotionally involved, a bit like Princess Diana although having some mental health issues was never portrayed as a nutter can Kate McCann ever be portrayed as a murderer. My feeling is that unless a body is found a significant proportion of the public will never believe Maddie was murdered and even if a body does turn up a proportion will never believe that Kate did it even if convicted.

This is at the moment a hypothetical though experiment, there is no body and at the moment it seems that Kate McCann has only been declared a suspect due to a Portuguese law necessity. That is she has to be a suspect to protect her rights and allow the police to ask specific questions. As far as I can make out no evidence has yet been put forward for Kate McCann's involvement in a criminal act. Although there has been a lot of rumours and speculation.

The public also like a good cover up theory. The media were a bit confused in the early days with the reticence of the Portuguese police over the search for Maddie. In Portugal there are restrictions on commenting on current cases which is different from the police culture in Britain. The press in the absence of hard facts took rumours and second hand comments passing it off as news. There are two sides to ever story and when only the McCann's were telling it, how objective were the media in what they reported.

Would the story have been different if it happened in the UK. The Police would have been more open and there would be no unsubtle hints about the lack of trust in the police. No one has come out and said it but I have felt the media were only one step short of saying "Come on of course something funny is going on they are Portuguese."

A lot of people are watching this story with mixed feeling not knowing quite what to believe any more and the outcome may effect people and our society more than they realise.

This story is at a turning point, it is difficult to know what answers we can expect in the next few days. They may not be the ones any one expects.

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