SubScribe: Madeleine McCann latest: they're still looking Google+

Monday 14 October 2013

Madeleine McCann latest: they're still looking

The rest of Fleet Street fell in line with the Express today, making the hunt for Madeleine McCann front-page news.

The Independent was alone in resisting, but even it kept its nerve only as far as page three. The release of a couple of efit pictures and the promise of more revelations on television tonight made the splash for the Express, Star and Mirror, the main picture for the Telegraph, Guardian and Mail, a top single in the Sun and  a teaser for the Times and the i.

The two computer-generated pictures are quite different but are of the same man. Metropolitan Police say he was seen carrying a child to the harbour at Praia da Luz on the evening that Madeleine disappeared from her holiday apartment as her parents dined with friends.

The man is described as between 20 and 40, with medium brown hair. He is of medium height and medium build. Clearly someone anyone would remember six years on.

The efits were issued to coincide with tonight's Crimewatch programme, which featured a 25-minute reconstruction of the day the child vanished and an interview with Kate and Gerry McCann. The programme will also be shown in The Netherlands tomorrow and in Germany on Wednesday. This is because the man in the pictures may speak German. It will not be aired in Portugal.

Police there are reported still to be of the opinion that Madeleine died in an accident in May 2007, and Goncalo Amaral, who led the investigation, is in the middle of fighting a £1m libel action brought by the McCanns following publication of his book on the case.

Today's press coverage is intriguing because it essentially says 'No news yet, but we haven't given up.' Is that worth a quarter to a third of the Telegraph and Guardian front pages?

 Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said over the weekend:  'Our work to date has significantly changed the timeline and the accepted version of events that has been in the public domain to date.' We shall have to wait until 9 o'clock tonight to discover the extent of the changes. Since the 'accepted version of events in the public domain' has come largely from the McCanns and their friends, it promised to be interesting.

Up until now we had been told that the McCanns left Madeleine and her 18-month-old siblings in the apartment at 8.30pm and that Kate McCann discovered her daughter missing at 10pm. Redwood says that his team is focusing on those 90 minutes.

So far it has been reported that Gerry McCann checked on the children at 9.05pm and that a friend went to the apartment at 9.30pm but did not look in the bedroom. Another friend, Jane Tanner, has said from the word go that she saw a man carrying a child in pyjamas at 9.15pm. She says she thought nothing of it until Kate McCann emerged from the flat in a panic after seeing her daughter's bed empty. Tonight Redwood told Crimewatch that police had identified that man as a holidaymaker carrying his own daughter.

The new efit man was also apparently seen carrying a blonde girl aged about three towards the sea - but in a different direction and at a different time - about 10pm. The girl might have been wearing pyjamas, Redwood said. This was the 'significant change in the timeline'. It meant that the child might have been taken just before - or even as - her mother was in the flat checking on her.

Redwood also spoke about a spate of charity collectors, unusual in the resort, and a fourfold increase in burglaries in the weeks before Madeleine disappeared.

The police have been busy of late; checking the phone records of the 3,000 residents of Praia da Luz and as many tourists and seasonal workers as they can track down. This has led them to identify 41 'persons of interest', 15 of whom are Britons. Scotland Yard has promised further efits  and two more - of fair-haired men seen around the McCanns' apartment while they were on holiday - were shown on the programme last night.

There are two issues that trouble me about all this. The first is that so much effort is being devoted to a pretty white middle-class child when hundreds of thousands of other children have gone missing over the past five years - and most of us would be hard put to name one. (See the earlier SubScribe post  Missing: an opportunity.)

The second is that what we have today seen is not so much a significant advance in a long-running police investigation as one giant trailer for a television programme. 

It has been carefully orchestrated. First came hints from the police that they were making progress. Then snippets of the reconstruction were released, this morning we had publication of the efits, with Redwood promising that there are more to come. And finally David Cameron came out this afternoon to endorse the police efforts on a case that had 'touched the nation's hearts'.

Redwood is quoted in most papers as saying that detectives urgently want to trace the man in the efits. 'This man may or may not be the key to unlocking this investigation. Tracing and speaking to him is of vital importance to us.'

What a happy coincidence that in a hunt that has lasted for more than six years, two pictures created in 2008 should be ready for circulation on the very day of a Crimewatch special on the case. Surely the police wouldn't dream of holding them back for even a moment when they were so urgently seeking this man?

I do recognise that if you want maximum impact it makes sense to go for a big hit rather than Express-style drip feeding. And of course the BBC wants to promote its programmes, but was the release of two computer-generated images of an unremarkable-looking man of such national and international importance that it should lead the news hour after hour - on radio?

Most of us would be elated by a 'Madeleine found alive' headline and most of us would love to help to make the headline a reality. A police incident room was set up to deal with the response and, as expected, hundreds of people rang in. Some were on holiday in Praia da Luz at the same time as the McCanns and two are said to have put the same name to the man in the picture.

We can only hope that this is the lead the police were hoping for. But the chances of it leading to the discovery of the child remain remote. Whatever anyone says, everyone knows it.


Needless to say, there were plenty of people with plenty to say during and after the programme. Quite a few of Twitter's instant commentariat perceived a likeness between Gerry McCann and the man in one of the efits, above, although he doesn't look at all like the clearer of the two images.

Apart from those, the armchair detectives split into three camps.There was the gallows humour brigade with an endless supply of macabre and distasteful jokes. There were those who believed the McCanns were at fault for leaving the children alone, that Madeleine was dead and that the case was receiving disproportionate attention. And there were those whose hearts went out to the couple and still believed that their daughter would be found alive. Fleet Street Fox had a sobering message for all three groups on the Mirror website.

The Express has kept faith with Madeleine all through the years. She has appeared on the front page seven times in the past twelve days - six of them as the splash. In the weeks since SubScribe's analysis of Express news judgments in August, the paper has splashed on the McCanns nine times, used Madeleine as the front-page picture three times and put her in the puff twice. There are no prizes for guessing what will dominate the front tomorrow.

In the light of the paper's undiminished interest in the subject, it made perfect sense that it should lead on the story today - even though the copy went no further than the splash in its Sunday sister yesterday. But the across-the-board coverage smacked of news management - whether by the police, the BBC or the McCanns themselves.

Another view might be that editors aren't interested in real news; that they just print what they think will sell papers. It's an opinion that has been advanced frequently during the debate about press standards since the phone-hacking scandal.

That, of course, led to the formation of the Hacked Off organisation, the Leveson inquiry and the proposed royal charter to set up a new regulator for the Press.

Hugh Grant is generally seen as the celebrity face of Hacked Off, but another member stepped forward to argue the case for the pizza charter before Maria Miller's Commons statement last week: Gerry McCann.

It's comforting to know that at least one Hacked Off luminary should have had no complaints with Fleet Street today.



No comments:

Post a Comment