Scottish Daily Mail


Maddie’s bedroom is piled high with a decade of unopened gifts. Kate’s given up work to care for their twins — while Gerry’s now a world-renowned heart doctor. As police reveal a ‘significan­t’ new line of inquiry . . .

- by Barbara Davies

TO THE unenlighte­ned eye, the scene at the Luz Ocean Club in Portugal’s Algarve this week was nothing short of picture perfect. Beneath the brilliant sunshine and under the watchful gaze of their parents, children frolicked in the turquoise waters of the hotel’s three swimming pools. Families meandered through the sub-tropical gardens and along the tree-lined promenade to watch the white-tipped waves from the Atlantic rolling into the sandy bay.

Certainly there was nothing tangible to remind hotel guests of the terrible events that occurred here exactly ten years ago. The disappeara­nce of three-year-old Madeleine McCann from her family’s rented two-bedroom holiday apartment at the Ocean Club sparked one of the most baffling mysteries of modern times.

Yesterday, detectives said a ‘significan­t line of inquiry’ is the final throw of the dice which could end a decade of heartbreak for her family, and have returned to the theory burglars are linked to her disappeara­nce.

For her parents Kate and Gerry, this has become their new ‘normal’. Scraps of hope proffered and then snatched away over the past ten years.

Back in the McCanns’ home village of Rothley, Leicesters­hire, green and yellow ribbons, symbolisin­g hope and solidarity, are permanentl­y tied to the gates of the family house.

Inside, Madeleine’s untouched bedroom is piled high with a decade’s worth of unopened birthday and Christmas presents — a symbol of the couple’s unwavering conviction their eldest daughter could come home one day.

They have coped in different ways with the tragedy. Back then, they were profession­al doctors: he a consultant cardiologi­st, she a family GP. Today, Kate, 49, still hasn’t returned to her job, choosing instead to be a full-time mother to the couple’s now 12-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie. A fitness fanatic, she finds comfort in daily workouts at the gym.

Glasgow-born Gerry McCann, 48, is now a professor of cardiac imaging at Leicester University as well as an internatio­nally renowned cardiologi­st at Glenfield General Hospital in Leicester.

He was recently praised for saving the life of former Leicester City footballer Alan Birchenall after he suffered a heart attack and ‘died’ for seven minutes.

The events of Thursday, May 3, 2007, have been subject to endless speculatio­n in the decade that has passed since, but only one fact remains clear: that, two days before they were due to return to the UK, Madeleine disappeare­d from her bed while her parents dined with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant.

She was reported missing at 10.14pm after her mother returned to the apartment to check on her and her two-year-old siblings.

DESPITE being the subject of one of the biggest missing person investigat­ions of all time, no trace of the little girl, who was about to turn four, has ever been found.

While every possible theory has been investigat­ed — that Madeleine was abducted by a paedophile or child trafficker­s, that she was killed during a bungled burglary or that she simply wandered out of the apartment and died in an accident — Kate and Gerry McCann have doggedly refused to give up the search for her.

A source close to the family, who still live in the same large detached house, told the Mail this week that the couple ‘have come a long way’ over the past decade.

‘The McCanns are incredibly strong as a family,’ said the source. ‘There was a time when Kate never left the house, but she has found some normality for herself.

‘She goes to the gym almost every day. She is extremely fit and attends spinning and pilates classes and a running club. exercising clearly helps her. She looks really well, much better than she has for a long time. I am so pleased for her.’ The family, the source added, speak ‘openly and often’ of Maddie.

On May 3, the McCanns, who are devout Catholics, will also join supporters to pray for Madeleine’s safe return at an informal outdoor gathering in Rothley.

The prayers will be led by the local Anglican vicar, the Rev Rob Gladstone, in front of the village war memorial where a candle continues to burn around the clock in her memory.

The McCanns are also preparing for a one-off television interview at the end of this month to mark the anniversar­y of their daughter’s disappeara­nce.

It is not known if they will be joined by the friends who were with them in Portugal at the time Madeleine disappeare­d, but the McCanns remain close to the socalled ‘Tapas Seven’ whose lives were also transforme­d by the tragedy.

Among the closeknit group of friends were Dr David Payne, now 51, and his wife, Dr Fiona Payne, now 44. The couple flew to Praia da Luz with the McCanns from east Midlands airport in April 2007, along with Fiona’s mother Dianne Webster, now 73, and their two daughters.

Also among the group were Dr Russell O’Brien, now a 46year-old consultant at Royal Devon and exeter Hospital and his partner, marketing consultant Jane Tanner, also 46, along with their daughter who was born a month after Madeleine.

The last couple to join the McCanns were Dr Matthew Oldfield, now a 48-year-old consultant at Kingston Hospital in Surrey, and his recruitmen­t consultant wife Rachael, 46, as well as their daughter.

None of the McCanns’ friends have ever spoken about the events that took place that night. In Praia da Luz, however, locals are keen to put the mystery behind them.

Leader of Praia da Luz parish council, Victor Mata, told the Mail this week that people living there wanted to ‘forget, not remember’ that night’s events and that the town was ‘deeply scarred by something that we still haven’t got answers for.’

He said: ‘We’re not going to be doing anything officially to mark the anniversar­y. People here want to forget and put this behind them, not dwell on it.’

The retired 71-year-old businessma­n said: ‘Madeleine’s disappeara­nce affected this town very badly. What happened — a little girl vanishing in mysterious circumstan­ces, was terrible in itself and it was compounded by the years of publicity which led to Luz’s name becoming known worldwide for all the wrong reasons.

‘This town depends on tourism and for four years after it happened, holidaymak­ers stayed away. It’s only been in the last two years or so that the tourists have been coming back in greater numbers.

‘This year we’re expecting a record year that is going to be even better than the period before Madeleine disappeare­d.

‘When I’m out on the streets here I see happy, relaxed families with smiling children from Britain and elsewhere, enjoying this beautiful place for what it is.’

AROUND the Ocean Club, there are superficia­l changes. The tapas bar and restaurant where the McCanns dined with their friends has been replaced with a snack bar only open at lunchtimes.

Gone, too, are the childcare centres where Madeleine and the twins spent time painting and playing, although the Ocean Club does offer a ‘Kids Club’ during the summer season and a baby-sitting service charged by the hour.

Holiday company Mark Warner, which arranged the McCanns’ holiday, pulled out of the resort in January 2015, and since then bookings for the resort are made in the UK via Thomas Cook.

At the heart of the resort is the now-infamous apartment 5A, on the ground floor of a five-storey apartment block, which was left empty for years after Madeleine disappeare­d from it.

Its then owner, 63-year-old Ruth McCann, who is unrelated to Madeleine’s parents, spent years trying to sell the two-bedroom flat with an asking price of £255,000 — £50,000 less than similar properties nearby.

But potential buyers were put off by the property’s history and she eventually took it off the market, continuing to rent it out via the Ocean Club before selling in January 2014 for the knock-down price of just £113,000.

The apartment’s new owner, a retired widow, said at the time that

she planned to live in the apartment herself for most of the year but declined to comment when she answered the door this week.

Also unfortunat­ely linked with the mystery is 44-year-old Robert Murat, the British ex-pat businessma­n who acted as a translator for Portuguese police in the early days of their investigat­ion before being made an ‘arguido’ — an official police suspect — less than two weeks later.

His life was turned upside down by Madeleine’s disappeara­nce. At the time he was living with his mother Jenny in a house just 100 yards away from the apartment from which she was taken. She said he was at home with her on the night Madeleine vanished.

Mr Murat, who was totally cleared of any involvemen­t in the disappeara­nce, said he had gone ‘to hell and back without doing anything wrong’ and had to wait months for his ‘arguido’ status to be dropped. He now owns an Appleautho­rised computer store in the town of Lagoa, a 30-minute drive east of Praia da Luz and lives in an apartment with his second wife, German-born Michaela Walczuch, 41.

The couple, who married on the beach near Praia da Luz in April 2009, were questioned as witnesses in 2014 as part of a new Scotland Yard investigat­ion.

Speaking in June 2014, as British forensic officers searched new areas of Praia da Luz, Mr Murat said: ‘Unfortunat­ely, I’m always going to be linked to it. It’s always going to have an effect on me because people’s opinions of what happened are so varied.

‘I was cleared of everything in 2008, but the fact is that in some people’s minds there’s still going to be a link and so finding out the truth of what happened will conclusive­ly take me out of that so it’s really important that they do find out what happened.’

Indeed, while the truth about what happened to Madeleine remains unknown, it is impossible for those who were there that night to let go of the past.

LAST week, one of the nannies working at the resort at the time Madeleine vanished told how she was still haunted by the memory of seeing Kate and Gerry McCann desperatel­y searching for their little girl.

Kate, she said, ‘was crying, but almost in a catatonic state and Gerry was very distressed. That’s the one thing I really remember from him, looking under the cars. I can’t forget that.’

The McCanns’ official spokesman, former BBC journalist Clarence Mitchell, told the Mail this week: ‘There is no evidence to suggest Madeleine has come to physical harm and it is perfectly logical to think she is alive, as Kate and Gerry believe, as it is illogical to assume without any evidence that she is dead.’

The father of three, who has scaled back his work for the McCanns since Scotland Yard began reinvestig­ating the case six years ago, and has since set his sights on becoming a Conservati­ve MP, has worked on a voluntary basis since last summer to help cut costs for Madeleine’s Fund.

A decade on, the Fund still has more than £700,000 in the bank — the majority of the income has come from libel damages paid to the McCanns and their friends and royalties from the book Kate McCann wrote about her daughter. Last month, the Home Office granted Scotland Yard officers an extra £85,000 to extend their search for Madeleine for another six months between April and September, taking the total amount spent on what is formally known as ‘Operation Grange’ to £11.1 million.

Despite this and the struggles yet to come, Kate and Gerry believe that their elder daughter is still out there somewhere, a 13-year-old waiting to be found by her loving family.

And until they find out the truth about what happened to Madeleine, they will never stop looking for her.

 ??  ?? Refusing to give up: Kate and Gerry McCann believe Madeleine, below left, is alive. Below right: An image of Madeleine using police age-enhancing software
Refusing to give up: Kate and Gerry McCann believe Madeleine, below left, is alive. Below right: An image of Madeleine using police age-enhancing software

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