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Sebastian Ross
Sebastian Ross

The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann

Madeleine Beth McCann (born 12 May 2003) is a British missing person who disappeared from her bed in a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on the evening of 3 May 2007, at the age of 3. The Daily Telegraph described the disappearance as "the most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history".[5] Madeleine's whereabouts remain unknown,[6] although German prosecutors believe she is dead.[2]

The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann

Madeleine's parents continued the investigation using private detectives until Scotland Yard opened its own inquiry, Operation Grange, in 2011. The senior investigating officer announced that he was treating the disappearance as "a criminal act by a stranger", most likely a planned abduction or burglary gone wrong.[10] In 2013, Scotland Yard released e-fit images of men they wanted to trace, including one of a man seen carrying a child toward the beach on the night Madeleine vanished.[11] Shortly after this, Portuguese police reopened their inquiry.[12] Operation Grange was scaled back in 2015, but the remaining detectives continued to pursue a small number of inquiries described in April 2017 as significant.[13][14]

In 2020, police in the German city of Braunschweig stated there was a new suspect in Madeleine's disappearance,[15][2] whom public prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters was convinced had abducted and murdered the child.[16]

Madeleine's disappearance attracted sustained international interest and saturation coverage in the UK, reminiscent of the death of Princess Diana in 1997.[17] Her parents were subjected to intense scrutiny and baseless allegations of involvement in their daughter's death,[a] particularly in the tabloid press and on Twitter.[21][22] In 2008 they and their travelling companions received damages and apologies from Express Newspapers,[23] and in 2011 the McCanns testified before the Leveson Inquiry into British press misconduct, lending support to those arguing for tighter press regulation.[24][25]

Madeleine McCann was born in Leicester and lived with her family in Rothley, Leicestershire. At her parents' request, she was made a ward of court in England shortly after the disappearance, which gave the court statutory powers to act on her behalf.[26] Police described Madeleine as blonde-haired, with blue-green eyes, a small brown spot on her left calf, and a distinctive dark strip on the iris of her right eye.[4][b] In 2009 the McCanns released age-progressed images of how she may have looked at age six, and in 2012 Scotland Yard commissioned one of her at age nine.[29][30]

Thursday, 3 May, was the penultimate day of the family's holiday. Over breakfast Madeleine asked: "Why didn't you come when [my brother] and I cried last night?" After the disappearance, her parents wondered whether this meant someone had entered the children's bedroom. Her mother also noticed a large brown stain on Madeleine's pyjama top.[46]

The rejection of the Tanner sighting as crucial to the timeline allowed investigators to focus on another sighting of a man carrying a child on the night of Madeleine's disappearance, this one reported to Portuguese police on 26 May 2007 by Martin and Mary Smith, who had been in Praia da Luz on holiday from Ireland.[63] Scotland Yard concluded in 2013 that the Smith sighting offered the approximate time of Madeleine's kidnap.[11][64]

It was widely acknowledged that mistakes were made during the so-called "golden hours" soon after the disappearance. Neither border nor marine police were given descriptions of Madeleine for many hours, and officers did not make house-to-house searches.[79][80] According to Kate, roadblocks were first put in place at 10:00 the next morning.[65] Police did not request motorway surveillance pictures of vehicles leaving Praia da Luz the night of the disappearance, or of the road between Lagos and Vila Real de Santo António on the Spanish border. Euroscut, the company that monitors the road, said they were not approached for information.[81] It took Interpol five days to issue a global missing-person alert.[65] Not everyone in the resort at the time was interviewed; holidaymakers later contacted the British police to say no one had spoken to them.[80]

Twelve days after Madeleine's disappearance, Robert Murat, a 34-year-old British-Portuguese property consultant, became the first arguido (suspect) in the case.[101][102] Born in Hammersmith, West London, Murat lived in his mother's house, Casa Liliana, 150 yards (137 m) from apartment 5A in the direction in which the man in the Tanner sighting had walked.[101] He was named a suspect after a Sunday Mirror journalist told Portuguese police he had been asking about the case. The PJ had briefly signed Murat up as an official interpreter; he said he had wanted to help because he had a daughter in England around Madeleine's age.[103][104]

There was nothing to link Murat or his friends to the disappearance, and Murat's arguido status was lifted on 21 July 2008 when the case was archived.[8] In April 2008 he received 600,000 in out-of-court settlements for libel in what The Observer said was the largest number of separate libel actions brought in the UK by the same person in relation to one issue; his friends received 100,000 each.[110] In July 2014, during Operation Grange, one of those friends was questioned again as a witness, this time by the PJ on behalf of Scotland Yard.[111] In December that year Murat and his wife were questioned, also on behalf of Scotland Yard, along with eight others.[112] In 2017 Murat's mother added her voice to those who had witnessed suspicious events around 5A that night: she told the BBC that she had driven past apartment 5A that night and had seen a young woman in a plum-coloured top behaving suspiciously just outside it, information she said she passed to the police at the time. She also said she had seen a small brown rental car speeding toward the apartment, driving the wrong way down a one-way street.[113]

In statements to the PJ, witnesses described men behaving oddly near apartment 5A in the days before the disappearance and on the day itself. Scotland Yard came to believe that these men may have been engaged in reconnaissance for an abduction or burglary. There had been a fourfold increase in burglaries between January and May 2007, including two in the McCanns' block in the seventeen days before the disappearance, during which burglars had entered through windows.[51][114]

Several witnesses reported men collecting for charity. On 20 April, a bedraggled-looking man asked a tourist in her apartment near 5A for money for an orphanage in nearby Espiche; apparently there were no orphanages or similar in or near Espiche at the time. The witness described the man as pushy and intimidating.[115] On 25 or 26 April, the tourist who rented apartment 5A before the McCanns found a man on his balcony who had entered via the steps from the street.[116] Polite and clean-shaven, the visitor asked for money for an orphanage.[117] On the day of the disappearance, 3 May, there were four charity collections by two men in the streets around 5A.[116] At 4:00 p.m. two black-haired men approached a British homeowner looking for funds for a hostel or hospice in or near Espiche, and at 5:00 p.m two men approached another British tourist with a similar story.[118]

The first indication that the media were turning against the McCanns came on 6 June 2007, when a German journalist asked them during a Berlin press conference whether they were involved in the disappearance.[123][124] On 30 June a 3,000-word article entitled "The Madeleine Case: A Pact of Silence" appeared in Sol, a Portuguese weekly, stating that the McCanns were suspects, highlighting alleged inconsistencies between their statements and implying that the Tanner sighting had been invented.[125] The reporters had obtained the Tapas Sevens' mobile numbers and that of another witness, so it was apparent that the inquiry had a leak.[53][124][126]

This and later articles in the Portuguese press, invariably followed up in the UK, made several allegations, based on no evidence, which would engulf the McCanns for years on social media. They included that the McCanns and Tapas Seven were "swingers", that the McCanns had been sedating their children, and that the group had formed a "pact of silence" regarding what had happened on the night of the disappearance.[103] Much was made of apparent inconsistencies within and between the McCanns' and Tapas Seven's statements. The police had asked the group questions in Portuguese, and an interpreter had translated the replies. According to Kate, the statements were then typed up in Portuguese and verbally translated back into English for the interviewees to sign.[68][103]

Another issue was whether the exterior shutter over Madeleine's bedroom window could be opened from outside. According to journalist Danny Collins, the shutter was made of non-ferrous metal slats on a roller blind that was housed in a box at the top of the inside window, controlled by pulling on a strap. Once rolled down, the slats locked in place outside the window and could be raised only by using the strap on the inside.[129] Kate said the shutter and window were closed when Madeleine was put to bed, but open when she discovered Madeleine was missing. Gerry told the PJ that, when he was first alerted to the disappearance, he had lowered the shutter, then had gone outside and discovered that it could be raised only from the outside.[130] Against this, Portuguese police said the shutter could not be raised from the outside without being forced, but there was no sign of forced entry; they also said forcing the shutter open would have caused a lot of noise.[129]

Amaral was himself made an arguido one day after Madeleine's disappearance, in relation to his investigation of another case, the disappearance of Joana Cipriano. The following month he was charged with making a false statement, and four other officers were charged with assault. Eight-year-old Joana Cipriano had vanished in 2004 from Figueira, seven miles (11 km) from Praia da Luz. Her body was never found, and no murder weapon was identified. Cipriano's mother and uncle were convicted of her murder after confessing, but the mother retracted her confession, saying she had been beaten by police. Amaral was not present when the beating is alleged to have taken place, but he was accused of having covered up for others. The other detectives were acquitted. Amaral was convicted of perjury in May 2009 and received an eighteen-month suspended sentence.[182] 041b061a72


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