Monday, 2 June 2008

The McCanns and the winning trio (*)

The results of an opinion poll carried out in the UK among a thousand businessmen at the “Leaders in London International Leadership Summit” show that the three most influential people in the UK (after Her Majesty, the Queen) are Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the billionaire Richard Branson.

These three winners are - in the same order – strong supporters of Madeleine McCann parents, the little British girl who disappeared from one of the most peaceful villages on the southern coast of Portugal. The results of the poll have the merit of shedding light on how – and perhaps why – an apparently common couple of doctors continue to flout the judicial system of two sovereign democratic states, to the point of refusing to assist the British and Portuguese police detectives in finding out what actually happened to their own daughter.

Since Madeleine disappeared in May 2007, her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, have received extraordinary support from two of the most influential people in the UK: former prime minister Tony Blair and his Party colleague, Gordon Brown, the current resident of nº 10, Downing Street. Moreover, it seems that it was the support of these two personalities that helped to open the door for the financial backing offered by the third one. It was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who were behind the instructions given to the UK ambassador, John Buck, and to the British consul, Bill Henderson (the two senior UK diplomats in Portugal at the time she disappeared), to make sure Gerry and Kate McCann were given all possible assistance.

It was the ambassador, John Buck, who made the trip from Lisbon to the Algarve, after having alerted the Portuguese minister of Foreign Affairs and the director of the Policia Judiciaria (PJ) about the disappearance. This was before even the local police (GNR) or the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the PJ in Portimão had been alerted. They were only notified by a phone call from the Ocean Club at around 22:45.

A vanishing act

Strangely, John Buck left his position in Portugal (and his diplomatic career) on September 10, 2007, the day after Kate and Gerry McCann fled to the UK, after having been made arguidos (suspects). Before him, two other British diplomats had left their positions: the consul, Bill Henderson, and Sheree Dodd, who has been sent over by the Foreign Office at Blair’s direct request. She was replaced by Clarence Mitchell, after having called the attention for some inconsistencies about the McCanns, namely their behaviour and their lack of cooperation with the Portuguese PJ and the British police.
Bill Henderson surprised everyone by announcing his resignation. He retired at the end of August, a few days before took place the police interviews that ended with the McCanns getting the arguido status. After their departure, Celia Edwards became the UK consul for the Algarve. She accompanied Kate and Gerry McCann during their interviews with the PJ in September 2007.

John Buck was replaced by Alexander Wykeham Ellis, the ambassador who turned up in Portimão on the very day the PJ detectives returned from a trip to Enderby. His wife is Portuguese and he has an in-depth knowledge of Portugal, where he had previously worked between 1992 and 1996. He had come from Brussels, where he worked with the president of the European Commission, Durão Barroso.
On several occasions, Tony Blair used his prerogative and contacts to enable the McCanns to be received by the authorities in selected countries, to launch the Madeleine Fund, notably the Vatican, where they met Pope Benedict XVI and stay at the guest house of the UK ambassador Francis Campbell, a privilege normally reserved for distinguished guests.

During a phone call to the McCanns, last June, it was Blair in person who assured them of his on-going and increased support and told them that they need not hesitate to contact him if there was anything he could do. This support continues today, despite the parents’ situation vis-à-vis the official investigation into the disappearance of their daughter.
When Gordon Brown came to power, the UK government’s support not only intensified, but also became more visible. And the new prime minister had no trouble admitting that he was in personal contact with Gerry McCann to discuss the case, as he had done at the end of May. The same day, the UK authorities put a discrete pressure on the PJ to reveal more information about the case. It was he who – on several occasions – talked to journalists about the McCann case, referring his contacts with the Portuguese authorities. He did it on a more visible way, on June 9, 2007, when the Portuguese prime minister, José Socrates, visited London in the context of the rotating European Union presidency.

Outside nº 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown told the UK media that he had discussed the McCann case with José Socrates and had asked him to ensure maximum assistance to Kate and Gerry McCann. In September, just after they had been made arguidos, the McCanns called on Gordon Brown and David Miliband, the UK Foreign Secretary, to ask them to intervene as they said they were victims of “an injustice”. On September 10, the Foreign Office was described as being “firing all canons” in its efforts to help the McCanns.
On October 2007, in Lisbon, even though Kate and Gerry McCann were (and are) already arguidos in the investigation into their daughter’s disappearance, it was once again Gordon Brown who surprised journalists during a press conference when he announced that he was going checking the McCanns’ situation and the status of the investigation led by the PJ, in cooperation with the UK police. At the same time, in the UK, a police detective commented on the difficulties the police was having with the Home Office, concerning the UK side of the investigation.

A wise advice

Despite the growing negative public opinion about the McCanns (which has even led some media sites to ban comments about the case), when the Lisbon Treaty was signed, it was yet again David Miliband and Gordon Brown who used the opportunity to take the subject with several members of the Portuguese government, including prime minister José Socrates. But this time, it was done in secret, far from the eyes of the media.
It was also from the Gordon Brown's office that came the suggestion to scale down the media exposure of McCann couple and the campaign to find Madeleine, according to a source close to McCann family. Gordon Brown’s advisers are worried about the possibility that the next steps of the investigation of Madeleine’s disappearance, which was following a new line of inquiry, may produce results that could damage the Prime-Minister´s image, due to his close relationship with Gerry McCann. This was revealed by Gazeta Digital and SOS Madeleine on August 26, 2007.
Richard Branson’s generous financial support becomes more understandable when we look better at his close relationship with Tony Blair. Moreover, the influential former Labour leader and prime minister, a Kate and Gerry McCann staunch supporter, was able to discuss the subject during his recent meeting with Branson on his private island, where they were accompanied by Elon Musk (Paypal), Larry Page (Google) and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), among others.
But the McCanns’ financial backing does not stop there. Yet again, thanks to some of his friends excellent contacts, the couple received financial support from Stephen Winyard, Brian Kennedy and JK Rowling, who is herself one of the most influential women in the UK.

Knocking On Heaven's Door

Another interesting and revealing episode took place on September 12, when Justine McGuinness and David Hughes, press advisers for the McCann, accompanied by the powerful Angus McBride, held meetings with editors of most of the major British newspapers. During the meetings, it was explained to the editors that the fact that Portuguese Police couldn't find a body would it make impossible for a court to sentence them, even if the McCann were formally charged and went on trial. The McCann send, at the same time, a strong challenge to Portuguese police: "Find Madeleine's body and prove we killed her”, as the Daily Mail wrote, in the same day edition.

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Duarte Levy & Paulo Reis