Portuguese police: "flabby, unintelligent and plain slack" ? Oh really?

Too many ‘if onlys’
08 July 2011
The Witness

Madeleine is the disquieting account of the disappearance and subsequent search for the British girl Madeleine ­McCann, written by her mother Kate, and includes excerpts of the ­diary Kate kept over that harrowing period.

It’s a riveting personal account of the incident, which many of us have read much about in the years since Madeleine was snatched, but at the same time, the enormity and horror of what happened to the gorgeous three-year-old, and what might have happened to her subsequently, make it a harrowing read. Madeleine’s happy wide-eyed photo on the cover is heart-wrenching.

It’s hard not to make judgment calls on the parents, medical doctors Kate and Gerry, who while holidaying at a resort in Portugal with other couples, left Madeleine and their two-year-old twins in their unlocked holiday apartment, 120 metres away from where they dined with the other adults in their party each night. Besides the threat of abduction, what if the children had awoken from a bad dream and needed a cuddle, or got out of bed and hurt themselves, or a fire had started? There was also a swimming pool in the complex. In terms of basic child care, I felt the two doctors were disappointingly misguided and naïve to think it was acceptable to leave their children alone in a strange environment.

On the morning of May 3, 2007, the night Madeleine was abducted, Kate writes that Madeleine asked her mother why she had not come the previous night, when she and her brother had cried for her. The ­McCanns, both medical doctors, brushed that off, and went out again that night, something they will no doubt regret for the rest of their lives. When they checked on the children later, Madeleine was gone. The question that haunts the reader is: why were the children crying that night? Had someone come into their apartment and frightened them?

Kate McCann rails against aspects of the ensuing media frenzy, accusing various publishers of denigrating her and her husband after they were named as suspects by the Portuguese police. She must also, however, acknowledge her debt to the same media that has kept her daughter’s image on the front pages and the television screens of millions of people, and continues to do so five years later. Kate comes across as very defensive. Understandably, she is often very angry. The couple have made many enemies, and have not been above suspicion. The international media have simply reflected all this because of the way the McCanns themselves introduced the world to their plight. Madeleine became the focal point for global hope. She was gone, and the public yearned for a happy ending and wanted her back safely. Incidentally, Madeleine, as young as she was, hated being called Maddy, according to Kate. The media preferred the contraction of the name though, as it fitted better into headlines and poster bills.

I found the diary notes in which Kate addresses the missing Madeleine, to be flat at best. If there were outpourings of abject apology, poignant expressions of love, and intensely emotional accounts of how she missed her beautiful little girl, they have been excluded from the book. Kate and her somewhat enigmatic husband clearly love their daughter, and want her back, but I found there was an odd tone to the book, and my overriding response to both parents was an uneasy disdain. As full-time doctors, they led busy lives career-wise, and one assumes they had scant quality time with their three children, who were under four-years-old at the time. Yet, when they found time for a family holiday abroad, they quickly booked their children into crèche at the resort, getting them out the way so they could spend time doing their own thing. That in itself astounded me.

The sinister story of the subsequent police investigation serves as a very poor indictment on the Portuguese police, whose reaction was flabby, unintelligent and plain slack. One hopes they have put protocols in place to correct their procedures now. It is also terrifying to read that subsequent investigations revealed that in the three years prior to the McCann’s visit to Portugal, five cases of children being sexually assaulted in their beds, while their parents slept in adjoining rooms, within an hour’s drive of where they stayed, had been recorded. 

There are too many “if onlys” — and each one on its own was enough to fail Madeleine.

So where is Madeleine now, and who is searching for her? The book reveals an age-progressed photo of what Madeleine would look like now. Sadly, there is no active search going on, besides that which the McCanns themselves are driving.

The book will resonate with anyone who ever wondered where Madeleine is, or worried about their children and stranger danger. While this review is being written, a child of a similar age is missing from his home in Slangspruit, near Edendale. Mcebisi Zondi disappeared from his home at the end of May, without a trace.

The Witness published a story of another toddler who went missing from his rural home near Otto’s Bluff, about two years ago. He too was never found. There are others unaccounted for, including 12-year-old Fiona Harvey, who went missing on December 22, 1988, whose story will also haunt this city for years to come.

Madeleine is a book well worth reading, although some may find aspects of the story disturbing. As for Kate and Gerry McCann, you decide.

Madeleine by Kate McCann is  published by Bantam Press.

Winnower note: 
Please read the McCann investigation files released by the Portuguese police to decide for yourself whether this book reviewer's opinion of the Policia Judiciaria (PJ) has any merit.

There is research underway regarding Kate McCann's claim that she was informed of "FIVE cases of British children on holiday being sexually abused in their beds while their parents slept in another room." 

I will edit this post to add more information once I am comfortable that reliable sources can be quoted and that specifics related to the alleged "five cases" can be determined.

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