Tuesday, 5 June 2007

A real gentleman...

I received an email from Mr K.G. (let's call him just that, to respect his privacy..), asking if I “ever question the actions“ of Portuguese Police force. And just one more phrase: “And so many straw men in your argument.” I said “yes I do, as soon as I can find evidence that they have been negligent or incompetent.” I told him that I was preparing some material to post, including a reference to a superb opinion column by João Barradas (I am a suspect, he is a journalist and my good friend). He wrote that Portuguese Police main handicap is dealing with the Press. The leave an "empty space" that is filled with speculation, because they don't answer on time - Press time.

Than I send him this long email, about the so-called blunders of Portuguese Police and my arguments to disagree:

About closing the borders, I referred to a list of Ten Blunders made by Portuguese Police, according to the Daily Mail. That one, as far as I remember, was the first "blunder". Let me reflect a little bit about secrecy laws in Portugal (the same, exactly, exists in Holland and very similar one in France and other Europeans countries). I know British Law, also, and as a freelance on-line journalist, I spend a lot of time at home, typing in my computer and zapping between Sky News, BBC, CNN and Sic Notícias, a 24 hours Portuguese news channel.

I remember the coverage of Soham murders. There is, apart from the a different legal framework, also a different investigation procedure and philosophy, between Portuguese Police and British Police. Public appeals are not a tradition, in Portugal. By law, any public appeal about a missing person only can be issued 48 hours after the event. Of course, may times, Police finds a way to jump over this law, giving journalists information about it, when they think it's necessary to divulge, quickly the case. In Madeleine's case, every newspaper, TV, radio, the all media, had the story and her picture, on May 4. For more than a week, all TV news bulletins started with Madeleine's face and news of her disappearance. A characteristic of Portuguese people, more evident in cases like that, is the willingness to help and go immediately to Police, if they think they saw something related with the case.

About public appeals, in this kind of cases, there are two sides of the question, and I saw both in British Media: those who think it's positive and those who think that a large public appeals brings an influx of calls that are 95 % or more, useless. After the campaign about Madeleine (News of the World started it, I think) Portuguese Police received an average of 30 calls, every day, only about sightings of Madeleine, all over the country.

A important detail: in Algarve, you can see many blond girls, like Madeleine. All over Portugal that is a rare thing. A blond girl is something that calls the attention of people. Some British newspapers criticized that lack of posters, in Portugal. Well, every newspaper or magazine had her face, on front page, every day, for the first two weeks. This is so efficient (or more...) than having posters placed all over the country.

I understand police can't reveal details of the investigation, because it can jeopardize it. About the description of a suspect, I know that Portuguese Police was reluctant to made it public. That description can be applied to 1 or 2 million Portuguese... I can fit on it ( 1.75 mar, Caucasian, male, short hair in front, long hair in the neck..)

Newspapers speculation is another subject. This is newspaper's responsibility and we need, in Portugal, something like Press Complaints Commission. We have a enforcement body, but it deals basically with situations where there is a crime of defamation or injury, through media.
Whenever a crime is committed, Police investigates, collects evidence, and then send it to Public Prosecutor's Magistrate who oversees the investigation. A police investigation is always directed and controlled by a magistrate of the Public Prosecutor's Office. Than the magistrate analyses the evidence and, if he thinks h has a case, he sends it to the Criminal Investigation Judge. He will decide what to do: issue a warrant, like he did about Robert Murat, putting him in the position of "arguido" - something between a "suspect" and a "defendant". Murat is more that a suspect, but not yet a defendant, according to Portuguese Law.

What are the legal steps in a case like this (and every other crime cases)? When the investigation is closed by Police, all evidence is send to the Public Prosecutor's Office. They prepare it, on a legal form, and send it to the Criminal Investigation Court. The judge of that court decide it he case is to be prosecuted or not, if all the "arguidos" should be formally accused or not, and what preventive measures must be taken about each one. Murat, as an "arguido", can't leave his "Concelho" - an administrative unit of Portuguese territory, like the geographical area of a Municipal Council, and his passport is retained by police. This is the "softest" measure, but he could be in jail, until he was either formally accused or the accusations against him drooped, if there was a risk he could put the investigation in danger or cause "public alarm", for being free. This last situation was the reason a few VIP (an ambassador, the nº1 Portuguese TV star, Mr Carlos Cruz, and others, where put in jail, in the paedophilia case of Casa Pia.

About searches after the disappearance, as far as I know, Police has did it “by the book”. On the night of May 3 to May 4, at 03:15 am, several dog units of GNR left Lisbon, to reinforce the other dog units that were already in place, searching for Madeleine. As you know, in the first hours after a kidnap, dogs are very efficient. Madeleine's parents were throughout investigate. As some of their children (don't remember if it's Madeleine or the twins) were "in vitro" babies, Police checked their DNA to confirm if the father was Mr. McCan. McCann's couple life was investigated, by British Police, since they were born.

Garbage sites were searched (there is no garbage incinerator in Algarve) and nothing was found. I believe, sincerely and I'm convinced that Portuguese Police followed (and is following...) every possible lead. A massive search for Madeleine was set up the following hours of Madeleine's disappearance. Polícia Judiciária (our CID force) has 2.200 inspectors. On May 5, 200 (two hundred) CID inspectors were already in Algarve – this is 10 % of our national Police force. And you must add a few thousand GNR (our rural police), PSP (urban Police) Fireman and volunteers that helped in searches.

I told Mr K.G. also, that Since Madeleine's abduction until May 27, UK Police received 800 reports of missing children. Portuguese Police received none. It is obvious that, with so many cases, British Media don't put all of them in front page. That's the reason why (I think...) British Police must start a public appeal campaign, in those cases they have evidence that it's not only an adolescent running from home. As this crime is so rare, in Portugal, headlines in the Press and breaking news on TV's are immediate and they run it during two weeks, at least – more, in the case of British-tabloids similar newspaper, "24 Hours". So, the best and more efficient public appeal campaign, in Madeleine's case, was done by Portuguese Media, during the first two weeks after Madeleine's transparency.

After this email, Mr K. G. was furious. Look what he wrote:

“There have been NO stranger abductions of young children in the UK recently. We have roughly 800 disappearances in one year, figures can be found by looking at official European Union websites, not in your own gutter press, so it is a surprise that we should have had 800 cases in one month and you have none.

Can you provide the source please, ‘journalist’, or don’t you bother with those. And I mean original source, not the Portuguese equivalent of the Sun. Anyway, the vast majority of these cases are runaways, and some are custody cases. Very, very few are stranger abductions. Don’t believe everything you read in your own gutter press.

I must say it really frightens, but doesn’t surprise me, that you claim to be a journalist.”

Anyway, I send him the links for the sources I used. I even phoned Mr. Ross Miller (mobile:7872 600 178) spokesman of charity organization " Missing People", the same organization that was mentioned as source by Diário de Notícias, when they published a story about the fact that UK Police received 800 reports of missing children, since Madeleine's abduction.

And these are my sources:

- Christine Beddoe, director of ECPAT UK's ("Protecting Children Everywhere", a UK NGO) in a interview with Portuguese weekly "Sol":
- "We don't' believe this case is related at all with child trafficking";- "Portugal was never referred, in international reports (about child trafficking) as a 'source or destiny of children (trafficking)";

"(…) in 2006, 48 (*) children were missing only in the Birmingham and Newcastle area";

- "Child abductions and attempted abductions take place almost once a month in Cambridgeshire", writes the Cambridge Evening News;

- "(...) in UK, according to the UK National Police Missing Persons Bureau , there was an average of 124 unsolved cases of missing children under 14, on the last four years. In Portugal, from the 80 cases of missing persons still open, from a legal point of view [missing for more than one year] only nine are children and one of them is Madeleine."

- "In 2006, the Instituto de Apoio à Criança (IAC, a government department in charge of monitoring child abuse) registered 31 cases of missing under-age (-18 years) persons. 24 of them were found by the police. This is a rate of 77, 43 % of success in finding missing children. Two of them were found to be dead (*). So let's put these figures very clear: Portuguese Police has a track record of finding 77, 43 % of missing children, even if 6,45 % of those children were found dead, and 22,58 % are still missing [mainly adolescents running from home]. From those 31 missing children, only 5 [ 6.45] were between one and five years old. (*) - In both cases, disappearance was simulated, the children were killed by their stepfathers. They hide the bodies and reported a child disappearance to Police;"

- "Since Madeleine's abduction until May 27, UK police received 800 reports of missing children"; (Diário de Notícias)

- I phoned Mr. Ross Miller (mobile:7872 600 178) spokesman of charity organization "Missing People", the same organization that is the source mentioned by Diário de Notícias. Mr. Ross Miller told me this: "Since May 3, a total of 1.500 reports of missing children, 16 years old or under that age, have been received by UK Police. Of course many of this cases are already solved, because most of them are about adolescents running from home".

- In Portugal, there are, today, 72 confirmed cases of missing persons, still open from a legal point of view (meaning, they were not found dead or alive). The oldest case is from 1994. (Thirteen years ago). Eight of those cases are children under 16 years old (one of them is Madeleine McCann).

- Mr K.G. told me, after I send him another email, that he was furious, because I used his surname, to address him, in one of my replies, and he doesn't like to be referred as Mr. G. Well, it is better to change your surname, Mr G.

Choose something like “Idiot”. Seems more suitable to your profile.