Sunday, 2 September 2007

Under the McCann's shadow

Gordon Brown suggestions and the changes to “Findmadeleine” campaign strategy


"How many parents that had a child kidnapped got advisers paid by the British Government?” The question is raised by Moita Flores, a former CID Chief-Inspector, reputed criminologist, successful TV script-writer and mayor of Santarém, who gave a phone interview, yesterday, to Gazeta Digital and SOS Madeleine. It was Tony Blair who sent the advanced guard of government civil servants to help the McCann. Clarence Mitchell was the first Press Adviser of McCann family. He is a former BBC man who, now, sits again at the helm of Media Monitoring Unit, a Tony Blair creation. But the nº 10 of Downing Street has another occupant: Gordon Brown, a man born in Glasgow, home of the McCann clan.

The scaling down of the campaign to find Madeleine was a suggestion from the Prime-Minister’s Office, as Gazeta Digital and SOS Madeleine revealed, on August 26. Two days after that, the Daily Express confirmed that story: “A source close to the (McCann) family claimed they had spoken to Gordon Brown on a number of occasions and had been advised that it was time to take a step back.” The newly appointed British Prime-Minister, who took office at June 27, has showed his support and commitment to the campaign set up by the McCann circle of friends even before moving to Downing Street. On May 16, Gordon Brown met with members of McCann family and “pledged to help search for their missing daughter, Madeleine, 'in any way he can”, according to Sky News.

Clarence Mitchell made clear to the Press, on May 26, that Gordon Brown’s phrase “in any way he can” was more than the usual empty words of a seasoned politician: "I can confirm that telephone conversations have taken place between Gerry McCann and Chancellor Gordon Brown. During them, Mr Brown offered both Gerry and Kate his full support in their efforts to find Madeleine, although details of the conversations will remain private”, the spokesman for McCann family told to The Telegraph. Another prestigious British institution, the Royal Family, came forward with a strong and public expression of support for the two previously unknown doctors of Rothley: the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall referred their “deep concern for the parents” and the heir of the British throne said that his “thoughts and prayers" remained with Mr and Dr McCann "at this very difficult time."

British Media and Police adjust their strategy

At the same time that Gerry McCann announced his acceptance of Gordon Brown advice to “take a step back”; British Media started a similar tactical manoeuvre. The number of British journalists in Praia da Luz was reduced and several of them were replaced. Portuguese CID investigators were allowed to have a break and lunch quietly, as British tabloids aimed their guns at the Portuguese Press. Following an old Chinese say – kill the chicken to frighten the monkey - “Tal & Qual” was the final choice. Gerry McCann justified the decision to sue because the weekly tabloid made a “lurid allegation (…) so serious and wide of the mark” that he felt it could not “go unchallenged”. His Portuguese lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, was more blunt: “"The press has engaged in a horrific exercise in scandal mongering, replete with rumours and lurid commentaries which are all aimed at one thing: to sell more TV time and newspaper space to advertisers.”

Last week, the British Police liaison officers were changed. Among them, a man who has a close relationship with people in charge of Scotland Yard and has replaced Joe Sullivan. This change of team “is a disaster that may damage the investigation”, considers the criminologist and former CID Chief-Inspector Moita Flores, who criticizes strongly the fact that British police officers were “allowed to cooperate actively in the investigation, instead of acting just like liaison officers”. The group of advisers that works closely with Justine McGuiness, the new Press Adviser of McCann family, who changed places with Clarence Mitchell, has now the help of a profiler and a specialist in information analysis, both recent residents of Praia da Luz.

A train starts to roll

Conflicting reports emerged in the first hours after Madeleine disappearance. Jill Renwick, a family’s friend in UK to whom Kate McCann spoke, at the early morning of May 4, said that Madeleine’s mother told her they have been searching for the child “all night until 4.30am”. But Kate McCann himself told the Sunday Mirror, on May 5, that she “never thought for one second” Madeleine had walked out: “I knew someone had been in the apartment because of the way it had been left. But I knew she wouldn't walk out anyway. There wasn't a shadow of a doubt in my mind she'd been taken." According to Jill Renwick, quoted by The Guardian, Madeleine’s mother also complained that nobody was there, helping in the search, that “everybody left us” and “there was only one police officer at the door.”

John Hill, manager of Ocean Club and one the first persons to arrive at the apartment of McCann family, after their group of friends, told The Guardian online edition on May 4 that around 60 staff and guests at the complex had searched until 4.30am while police notified border police, Spanish police and airports. "There is a criminal investigator here in charge of the situation and around 20 officers but unfortunately there is still no information," Mr Hill said.” But Jill Renwick moved fast. She “phoned the McCanns' wider circle of friends, who mobilised to phone anyone they could think of to beg for help. Renwick's sister called someone she knew in CID, someone had a connection with Des Browne, the defence secretary”, according to The Guardian, on its June 2 edition. Contacts start rolling on, and BBC Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and Gordon Brown's brother were alerted about Madeleine’s disappearance, in the following 24 hours.

Holiday firm Mark Warner, owner of Ocean Resort, had its managing director and UK operations director at Praia da Luz, on Saturday, May 5. They brought with him Alex Woolfall, head of crisis management from one of the world leading PR firms, Bell Pottinger. Woolfall was hired by Monsanto to handle the scandal of the genetically modified crops, in UK, in 1999. For almost two weeks, he directed the Media strategy, “ensuring a controlled but regular supply of statements and images”, as The Scotsman wrote: “It was noticeable that on days when little appeared to be happening in Praia da Luz, the parents would on occasion walk before the cameras without speaking. It sounds a simple detail, but even that is enough to give the cameras fresh picture and enough to update a news bulletin.” Alex Woolfall went back to UK the day before the “Foreign and Commonwealth Office installed one of its own press officers as the McCann family's official press contact in Praia da Luz.” The most difficult part of the work was finished, the train was already rolling and gaining speed.

The forgotten laboratory

With British Media shifting its attention to the “hate campaign” that Portuguese Press is throwing against the McCann couple, the Forensic Science Service is working quietly in the tests of a few dozen samples, collected at Ocean Club 5A apartment, several other locations in Praia da Luz and 12 cars and vans. The samples were collected with the help of a British Police special team, in the last weeks of July. The final report, which is ready for some time, will be sent to Portugal in a few days. Polícia Judiciária asked the McCann couple to stay until the results arrived, in order to help in further inquires that will take place, as soon as all the results are with Portuguese CID. Results for the analysis of two of the most important samples, from a Media point of view, have been available since a few weeks.

The blood found at one of the apartment walls was not from Madeleine, but from a male, as Times (*) reported, on August 16. Analysis of traces of human fluids found at two cars searched by Police is also finished, since several weeks. Meanwhile, Daily Mail published a story, on August 31, about the results of the analysis going to Leicestershire police. The story only can be classified as a “joke”, because the analysis were requested directly to the Forensic Science Service by the Public Prosecutor’s Magistrate that is in charge of the investigation and, as the criminologist Moita Flores said, “that Magistrate is the only person with the legal capacity and authority to receive those results. They never could be sent to British Police.”

While waiting for the official report about the tests, Portuguese CID, with the help of the British Police, has been searching for contacts and information about personal, professional and business connections of other family members of McCann clan. This search is intended to help to clarify the many contradictory statements that witnesses in this case have made. Several family members of the McCann couple referred to journalists that Gerry and Kate told them “they feared they were being watched in the hours leading up to the kidnapping”, as The Scotsman wrote. But they both denied saying that, when talking with Police.

Paulo Reis and Duarte Levy