I’m aware that I want the McCanns to be innocent, though I am not entirely sure why. On the day that Jacqueline Simpson, Ellie Lawrenson’s reportedly drunken, dope-head grandmother was judged innocent of manslaughter though guilty of a terrible mistake, I want Madeleine McCann’s presumably hard-working, professional parents to be innocent too. It was right that Jacqueline Simpson was brought to trial, and I think it was probably right that she was acquitted. Maybe it is right that the McCanns should be brought to trial too. The long and the short is that both sets of adults were culpably stupid, and on each occasion it has been a child who has paid the price.
I am not used to finding it this hard to disentangle what I think from what I feel, and so much of both is clouded by what I have read in an emotional and partisan press. These cases say so much about the world we live in, about class in our society, about the media and the internet, that I’m finding it impossible to absorb it all and work out what I think.
I feel deep pity for the McCanns, as I feel deep pity for all adults whose children are killed by family pets, for the family of Rosemary Edwards the 15 year old who ran away this week, and the family in Halifax where one sister killed the other with a kitchen knife. So much tight domestic tragedy folded in upon itself. The seemingly random killing of Rhys Jones is healthy by comparison.
At first sight the McCanns do appear to have been fecklessly stupid, but on the other hand child abductions of this kind are incredibly rare. As doctors they are used to assessing statistical risks based on evidence; it is certainly possible that they judged their children to be at less risk if left alone but checked every half hour or so, than if they were put into the care of strangers. Most child abuse is committed by adults known either to the child or to the parents. What standards of Criminal Records Checks are employed by the resort for their baby sitters? I suspect the odds really were in the McCanns’ favour and that they were devastatingly unlucky.
I’m aware though, that I do want them to be innocent and I don’t know if I am being overly generous in my interpretation of the facts.
We all want our doctors to be able to think calmly and dispassionately in a crisis, but if the McCanns are guilty of inadvertently killing Madeleine and then deciding to dispose of her body then that suggests that they are so unskilled as doctors that they could accidentally kill a child, and contrariwise that they are sufficiently cool under pressure to calmly get rid of of her body and call a press conference. People will do the most extraordinary things and doctors are cooler customers than most, but I don’t want my doctors to be that calm and controlled, thank you. Which is, I suppose, another reason I want them to be innocent. To be honest, I find it hard to believe in parents who will put their careers ahead of the process of closure, grieving and letting go, which is what the whole hoopla of post mortems, inquests and funerals is all about. Surely if they were that concerned about their careers they’d have been back in Leicester seeing patients three months ago?
Before events took their unpleasant and disturbing turn at the weekend, Gerry McCann had apparently already commented on how frightening it is to deal with an unfamiliar and foreign judicial and criminal process. I know nothing of Portuguese police procedure, but it strikes me as extraordinary that the apartment, the McCanns’ possessions in the apartment, the Renault, and everything else which was latterly tested for evidence were not all roped off and investigated as early as possible. Why is there no CCTV footage of the resort? Who hired the Renault at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance? Does raw meat have “the smell of a corpse” or can the dogs distinguish dead people from dead animals? Just how dead does the person have to be for the dog to smell them? I have loads and loads of questions.
So, applying Occam’s razor to the little information we have, is it not more likely that the police were at first disgusted by the British couple’s fecklessness in not taking the children with them in the evenings, then indolent in their initial investigations because they expected the two Brits to be shamed into shutting up and going home, and finally goaded into pinning whatever they can onto the source of all their problems, the pesky McCanns, whose persistence has highlighted early Police incompetence.
But is that Occam’s razor, or is it just a cynical naivete and wishful thinking on my part?
Writing this down, it’s become pretty clear what I think; I think that the child was abducted and is probably dead. I think the police took an immediate dislike to the McCanns based on cultural differences and that this dislike was compounded when the McCanns just would not go away. And I fear that the police have decided to close the case in any way they can, and devil take the hindmost.
I fear that we are about to witness a horrible miscarriage of justice, similar to the miscarriages of justice that put Sally Clarke and the Guildford 6 in jail. Forensic science is incredible these days, but in all practical sciences the newer and less tried and tested the technique, the more subjective judgement is involved in interpreting the results. And then there’s the fact that if you put police under enough pressure to make arrests, they will make arrests, regardless. I fear that the Portuguese police have decided that the simplest way to make the McCanns to go away is to put them away.
I think we will be lucky if we ever find the truth of this. I think we are watching events which are turning into a conspiracy theory even as I type, and where journalists are even now squabbling to secure the paperback rights.
I also think that all these cases underline the wisdom of Katherine Whitehorn’s advice to parents to always, always, always ask the sanity-checking question: “What would the coroner say?”