IN THE SHAD­OWS

IT’S BEEN AL­MOST A DECADE SINCE MAD­DIE MCCANN DIS­AP­PEARED DUR­ING A FAM­ILY HOL­I­DAY IN POR­TU­GAL. AS STEL­LAR LEARNT DUR­ING A VISIT TO PRAIA DA LUZ, THE UN­SOLVED CASE CON­TIN­UES TO HAUNT THE SLEEPY BEACH­SIDE VIL­LAGE

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - By ELLEN WHIN­NETT

Ten years after Mad­die Mccann went miss­ing, Stel­lar vis­its the vil­lage where she dis­ap­peared.

Next month, a fam­ily in ru­ral Eng­land will mark a heartwrench­ing mile­stone. It will be 10 years since their daugh­ter and sis­ter, Mad­die Mccann, dis­ap­peared from their hol­i­day villa in a beach­side town in south­ern Por­tu­gal.

The search for Mad­die would run the length and breadth of Europe, de­stroy the ca­reers of in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­lice of­fi­cers, ruin the reputations of those on whom sus­pi­cion fell, dam­age the lo­cal econ­omy, and spark a $20 mil­lion UK po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

For Mad­die’s par­ents, Kate and Gerry, it has been a decade of pain, of false ac­cu­sa­tions, false leads and false hopes. Ten years of tears for their beau­ti­ful lit­tle girl, who went to bed in her pink py­ja­mas and was never seen again.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of Madeleine Beth Mccann, aged three, on May 3, 2007, is a well-known story around the world.

Mad­die van­ished from villa 5A on the ground floor of the Ocean Club in the vil­lage of Praia da Luz while her par­ents dined with seven friends at a nearby Ocean Club tapas restau­rant.

When her fa­ther, a con­sul­tant car­di­ol­o­gist, checked on her and her then two-year-old twin sib­lings at 9.05pm, she was sound asleep with her soft toy, Cud­dle Cat.

At 10pm when her mother, a GP, went to check again, she was gone.

Stand­ing out­side the white­washed walls of the villa a decade later, it’s still im­pos­si­ble to un­der­stand how some­one could have smug­gled a small child out of this sleepy lit­tle town.

Praia da Luz is clean, quiet and set on a steep slope down to the beach. It draws so many Bri­tish tourists, mainly on the Easy­jet cheap flights to nearby Faro, it’s some­times called Lit­tle Bri­tain.

The lo­cal pub, The Bull, shows English TV in the bar, serves Tet­ley tea and has Guin­ness on tap. The only way you would know you’re in Por­tu­gal is be­cause you can smoke in­side.

João Mira God­inho is a crime re­porter with news­pa­per Cor­reio da Manhã, and has cov­ered Mad­die’s dis­ap­pear­ance for the past 10 years.

His phone rang early on May 4, 2007, star­tling him from sleep.

“I had a friend in the Bri­tish press. He called me and said on May 3 a lit­tle girl had gone miss­ing from Praia da Luz,’’ he tells Stel­lar.

“Then the phone calls started all through May 4 and from May 4 to Septem­ber. I went to Praia da Luz ev­ery day, ev­ery day, ev­ery day.’’

There was some­thing about the lit­tle blonde English tod­dler lost in a strange country that struck a chord. The me­dia came from around the world. The Mad­die Mccann dis­ap­pear­ance be­came one of the most re­ported miss­ing per­sons cases in his­tory.

“The Bri­tish had all the in­for­ma­tion from the par­ents and Clarence Mitchell [the Mccann’s high-pow­ered me­dia spokesman]. We had the in­for­ma­tion from our sources in the PJS [Por­tuguese Polí­cia Ju­di­ciária],’’ God­inho says. “It was like a turf war.’’ No one re­ally wins in war. The po­lice were un­able to find any ev­i­dence a stranger had bro­ken into the villa and stolen Mad­die. So they be­gan to look closer to home.

“The Por­tuguese po­lice started to look to­wards the the­ory that the girl had been killed by the par­ents – I’m not say­ing that is right, I’m say­ing it was a the­ory,’’ God­inho ex­plains.

The Mc­canns were of­fi­cially named as sus­pects in Septem­ber 2007. The

“FOR A FA­THER AND A MOTHER WHO ARE STILL SUF­FER­ING ABOUT WHAT HAP­PENED 10 YEARS AGO, THEY’LL FIGHT TO THE END”

sta­tus was re­voked just a few months later, but the dam­age to their reputations was done. On­line, blogs and web­sites started to spring up from peo­ple pin­ning the blame on the Mc­canns.

The fam­ily’s Por­tuguese lawyer, Rogério Alves, tells Stel­lar it was a “se­ri­ous mis­take’’ by the po­lice to name the Mc­canns as sus­pects.

“Later on, the main of­fi­cer of the Ju­di­cial Po­lice tes­ti­fied that it had been a mis­take to have those sus­pi­cions about them and make them be­come de­fen­dants. There was noth­ing in the file that could sus­tain the in­crim­i­na­tion. The in­quiry fin­ished and the pub­lic prose­cu­tor de­cided there was noth­ing against them.’’

De­spite this, the Mc­canns have been sub­jected to a vi­cious decade­long cam­paign of abuse, much of it on so­cial me­dia.

A study by Eng­land’s Univer­sity of Hud­der­s­field ear­lier this year found that the Mc­canns were still bom­barded with an av­er­age of 150 crit­i­cal mes­sages a day, ev­ery day, posted on Twit­ter, Face­book and var­i­ous on­line mes­sage boards.

While the main vic­tims of the mystery have been Mad­die and her fam­ily, the case has also caused much dam­age to oth­ers who came into con­tact with it.

Guil­her­mino En­car­nação, who was the head of po­lice in the Faro district, had the first re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Mccann case. He died in 2010 from stom­ach can­cer, his ca­reer over­shad­owed by the fail­ure to find Mad­die, and an ear­lier con­tro­versy in­volv­ing an­other miss­ing girl.

Then there was Gonçalo Amaral, the de­tec­tive who led the field in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mad­die’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

He was later stood down from the po­lice force over in­ter­views he gave to the press, and went on to write a book, Mad­die: The Truth Of The Lie, ac­cus­ing the Mc­canns of in­volve­ment in Mad­die’s dis­ap­pear­ance. The Mc­canns sued him for li­bel, but after three court cases the Por­tuguese courts this year dis­missed their case. But by then the for­mer cop’s ca­reer and health were de­stroyed, his fledg­ling se­cu­rity con­sul­tancy failed to take off, his book was pulped and he was out of money.

He left the district and moved to the cap­i­tal Lis­bon, where he is avoid­ing the me­dia and, through his lawyer Miguel Cruz Ro­drigues, de­clined to com­ment to Stel­lar, say­ing the case was in the “ju­di­cial se­crecy phase’’.

Robert Mu­rat was an­other per­son who be­came col­lat­eral dam­age.

The ex-pat Bri­tish-por­tuguese man lived just down the road from where Mad­die’s villa was, and vol­un­teered to trans­late for the Mc­canns, who didn’t speak Por­tuguese.

Sus­pi­cion fell on him and, al­though he was never ar­rested, he was in­ter­ro­gated sev­eral times, in­clud­ing un­der cau­tion, and his yard was dug up in an ul­ti­mately fruit­less search.

At the walled villa he used to call home with his mother, the place is now bar­ri­caded shut with roller shut­ters on the win­dows. At the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket

“NO­BODY RE­ALLY KNOWS WHERE MADELEINE IS AT THIS MO­MENT. WE DON’T KNOW IF SHE’S DEAD OR ALIVE”

and shops, peo­ple be­lieve he has left town, say­ing they haven’t seen him, or his el­derly mother, for years.

God­inho says Mu­rat be­came a sus­pect on an anony­mous tip sim­ply be­cause peo­ple were so des­per­ate for a so­lu­tion.

“He was an odd guy. He had a glass eye and he lived 50 me­tres to 100 me­tres from the villa. He be­came a sus­pect be­cause an English jour­nal­ist thought he was strange,’’ God­inho ex­plains.

The publicity it brought to Praia da Luz drove tourists away, dam­aged the lo­cal econ­omy and cost lo­cals their jobs as the hotel rooms, restau­rants and cof­fee shops sat empty for sev­eral years.

The lo­cals are now re­luc­tant to re­visit those times, and are ap­pre­hen­sive about the 10-year an­niver­sary.

One woman, who’s worked in a bar in Praia da Luz for 17 years, says that peo­ple came for years ask­ing ques­tions about the villa, and the church where the Mc­canns would go to pray.

Now, she adds, it’s just jour­nal­ists who come around ask­ing ques­tions.

The idea that the Mc­canns might have had in­volve­ment in their daugh­ter’s dis­ap­pear­ance con­tin­ues to fester in Por­tu­gal. For many peo­ple, it’s based on noth­ing more than dis­com­fort that the Mc­canns left such young chil­dren sleep­ing alone in their unit while they ate with friends. The restau­rant was only 55 me­tres away, but the front door was out of line of sight, and in­volved a walk around the pool, onto the street, and up a hand­ful of steps to the door.

Money mat­ters lit­tle when a child is miss­ing, but the eco­nomic im­pact of Mad­die’s case was sig­nif­i­cant.

The owner of villa 5A where Mad­die went miss­ing, re­tired teacher Ruth Mccann (no re­la­tion), tried for years to sell it, even­tu­ally let­ting it go to an­other English­woman re­cently for just $185,000, less than half the orig­i­nal ask­ing price of $419,000.

The hotel and villa com­plex has changed its name from Ocean Club to Luz Ocean Club. The lo­cal coun­cil­lor for Praia da Luz, Vic­tor Mata, tells Stel­lar that lo­cals be­lieve it’s now time for the case to be “erased and for­got­ten”.

“It did have an im­pact not only on the vil­lage but also on the whole country,’’ he says.

“Back then we no­ticed there were fewer tourists for a while, but now we have fully booked ho­tels at this time of the year.’’

In Eng­land, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice launched their own in­quiry in 2011. Oper­a­tion Grange was re­cently given a fund­ing boost, tak­ing the cost of the probe to more than $20 mil­lion. It’s due to wrap up in Septem­ber this year. Its main fo­cus has been on whether Mad­die was taken by a Euro­pean hu­man traf­fick­ing gang.

The Mc­canns de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle. Over the years, they have made fre­quent trips to Por­tu­gal and to Praia da Luz, chas­ing leads, deal­ing with le­gal issues, some­times just to pray at the pic­turesque church on the wa­ter­front, a few hun­dred me­tres away from where Mad­die dis­ap­peared on that fate­ful day.

Alves meets them when­ever they come to Lis­bon.

“The case is like be­ing asleep, wait­ing for some­one to wake [it] up and say, well, we have a clue, let’s go [chase] that clue,’’ he says.

“The most im­por­tant thing would be… what can we do now, what can the po­lice do to find Mad­die?

“No­body re­ally knows where Mad­die is at this mo­ment. We don’t know if she’s dead or alive.”

Alves is also think­ing about her par­ents and sib­lings.

“I think ev­ery­body will un­der­stand that for a fa­ther and a mother who are still suf­fer­ing about what hap­pened 10 years ago, they will fight un­til the end.

“They are suf­fer­ing for the past 10 years. They are suf­fer­ing some­thing that ev­ery­one un­der­stands is ter­ri­ble, one of the most painful things you can imag­ine that may hap­pen to a child.

“This is not a le­gal mat­ter, a ju­di­cial mat­ter, this is a hu­man mat­ter.’’

Mad­die Mccann dis­ap­peared nine days be­fore her fourth birth­day. If she’s still alive, she will be al­most 14 years old.

Praia da Luz means “beach of the light’’ in Por­tuguese, but a dark shadow will for­ever fall on the quiet lit­tle vil­lage so in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with one miss­ing lit­tle girl.

HOLD­ING ON TO HOPE Kate and Gerry Mccann hold an “age pro­gres­sion” im­age of Mad­die as she would have looked aged nine in 2012; (opposite) Mad­die at age three, shortly be­fore her dis­ap­pear­ance.

EN­DUR­ING MYSTERY (from top) Luz Ocean Club in Praia da Luz; jour­nal­ist João Mira God­inho; lawyer Rogério Alves; the church in Praia da Luz where the Mc­canns go to pray; (opposite, from top) lit­tle Mad­die; her par­ents face the press after her 2007 dis­ap­pear­ance.

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