Saturday, 14 June 2008

McCann couple goes to Strasbourg for a last ditch stand

Gerry and Kate McCann will be in Strasbourg next Tuesday in order to try to secure enough support from Members of the European Parliament for a “written declaration” concerning the creation of a European Amber Alert system covering all 27 EU states. But, in fact, this idea was originally proposed by the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Mr Franco Frattini, in 2006: a detail never mentioned by the McCanns, their media advisers nor by Clarence Mitchell. Mr Frattini proposed that each country should establish an EU alert system, but it was not an initiative for the European Parliament’s legislature.

However, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Bryan, a UK top ranking police officer, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers head of missing people, told the media in May 2007 that “there was no need to emulate the US system of immediate information broadcasts once children have been reported missing.”

According to the Times on-line edition, “Mr Bryan congratulated the McCanns on doing a 'sterling job' in raising the issue of how police deal with child abductions, but he said that police would rather use other investigative techniques to trace children before going public and potentially alerting abductors.”

The UK already has a national alert system for missing children, as Richard Bryan told the Times, “that has been in place since 2003 in Sussex and it was rolled out nationally by 2006. We have only had to use it on three occasions.”

Since 2006, Mr Frattini’s initial idea has taken shape. In February 2007, the European Commission decided to ask all member states to reserve a dedicated set of national phone numbers starting with “116”. The idea was that they should be used as a hotline in the event of a missing child. So far, 10 EU countries have adopted the idea, but the UK is not one of them.

On April 21, following a meeting with the McCanns, five Members of the European Parliament (Edward McMillan-Scott, Roberta Angelilli, Glenys Kinnock, Evelyne Gebhardt and Diana Wallis) submitted a written declaration to the European Parliament concerning “Emergency Cooperation in Recovering Missing Children.” The declaration “calls on Member States to introduce a missing child alert system” and asks for the creation of a “common organisation to provide assistance and training” to police forces in the 27 EU countries.

In order to have the “written declaration” sent to the EU President and published, the McCanns still need the signatures of 182 more Members of the European Parliament to reach the required number of 393. The “written declaration” is just a way to “launch or relaunch a debate on a subject that comes within the EU’s remit”, but it has no legal implications for the EU state members.

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