Monday, 11 August 2008

Madeleine McCann Madness

I see the whole "Maddie" thing is back in the news, now that the investigations papers have been handed over. At the time, I wasn't at all surprised to read that the parents had been declared suspects, and, indeed, I felt that the declaration was long overdue.

I'm still keeping an open mind on that score, but the newly revealed documentation raises some very interesting points. That credible sightings of the missing child were received and ignored at a time when it was at least plausible that she could still have been alive is nothing short of appalling. Suspicious though they might - and probably should - have been (it's their job to be suspicious, after all), the police officers involved had little more than their suspicions to go on. Suspicion is not proof, and is no reason to ignore leads that contradict those suspicions - unless, of course, you're lazy, incompetent and looking for a "quick fix".

As it is, it is at least possible, and maybe even probable, that the McCanns have been subjected to an awful lot of undeserved adverse publicity, at an already incredibly stressful time, purely because the police didn't seem able to do their job. Shame, indeed, and I begin to understand why they tended to look SOOOOOOOO bloody annoyed in media photos. If, in fact, the were not involved in Maddie's "disappearance", they have done incredibly well to hold things together for as long as they have, and some respect is very definitely due to them.

BUT, and it's a very big but, these new "sightings" of Madeleine McCann that are sprouting like crops of blonde mushrooms in the media every day are not helpful. The Sun is a prime culprit, today running a story under the headline, "I sold an ice cream to 'Maddie'". Antonio Migliardi, a Brussels street vendor, claims to have sold a chocolate ice cream (apparently Maddie's favourite) to an English child of Maddie's age, who had a mark in her eye and was (apparently) unhappy.

"It happened outside a KBC bank minutes after CCTV cameras on the building picked up a girl like Maddie with the North African-looking woman," the Sun says, and proudly displays the said CCTV footage from no less than 5 cameras. Oh, and they breathlessly report that the McCann's have seen the pictures. I just bet they have. I should imagine the poor buggers are desperately scouring every possible clue.

But it doesn't mean the child in the video is Maddie, any more than the many other reported sightings in Belgium and Holland are Madeleine McCann. IF she was spirited away from her hotel room alive, and that is certainly looking more likely than it did previously, it must surely have been a well organised operation.

Madeleine McCann's face is probably one of THE most famous images in the world, having been plastered across the TV, newspapers, the internet, posters and goodness knows where else since practically the moment she vanished. Is it likely that people with the resources to carry out such a snatch would leave her looking just exactly like she does in those images? Hair dye, a change of style, glasses would be in order. For a world fixated, however well-meaningly, on the publicity photos, even small changes would be enough to make the stolen child invisible, just one of the crowd.

These props are hardly difficult to obtain, and I can't imagine many people not having access to them. Even if, for some reason, they wanted to maintain her original appearance, would the kidnappers really risk taking the child out, in public, when her story and images - looking remarkably like she does now - are once again high profile issues? Surely not.

It is foolish beyond belief to imagine that they could mastermind a kidnap, snatch the poor kid from within her own apartment, make her vanish so completely that the whole world couldn't find her (I exclude the Portuguese police from that, on the basis that they couldn't find their own bum), and then parade her around the streets of a major city, in and out of buildings and shops, past security guards, in full view of CCTV indoors and out, to say nothing of street traders and members of the public. And what about local bobbies? Not all coppers are as spectacularly inept as the Portuguese specimens. It would only take one on-the-ball beat bobby to spot the unlikely pairing of an unhappy blonde English child and a surly North-African-looking woman. A few awkward questions, and the whole thing would fall apart right there.

It all seems very unlikely, but there can't be all that many possible explanations for the CCTV images so prominently displayed in the Sun.

1) It's an innocent mistake, like all the previous sighting, and the girl is not Madeleine McCann. Most likely explanation, I'd say.
2) The girl IS Madeleine McCann, and her kidnappers want to be caught or have very good reason for believing they won't be.
3) It's Maddie, and the kidnappers are stupid / arrogant / careless / all of the above.
4) The woman with the child is, for some reason, completely unaware that the girl is Madeleine McCann, the most famous kidnap victim in the world. Highly unlikely, but I suppose it's just about possible.
5) It isn't Madeleine McCann, but it IS a child deliberately made to look like her, and paraded around places where she will be seen until someone notices. That seems pretty unlikely too, but the fact that the kid couldn't easily look more like Maddie if she tried might be suggestive. Who would do that, and why? The same kind of person who tried to get the McCanns to pay a "ransom" for their missing daughter, for one - the world is full of weirdos. But there could also be more nefarious explanations, ranging from publicity stunts (by or on behalf of several possible people or groups) to alibis and all points between.

I very much hope that it is Madeleine McCann, alive and well, and that she will soon be found and returned to her parents. But I also very much doubt it. IF she's alive at all, and I'm not optimistic about that, either, she won't look anything like she did when she was taken unless the kidnappers / keepers are inconceivably stupid.

In the meantime, this constant stream of media images that probably aren't anything to do with their daughter must be hell for the McCanns. Still, I suppose it sells newspapers, eh?

Billy Seggars.

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