Thursday, 10 May 2018

Why I went undercover to Praia da Luz

In 2007, I wrote in my blog “Madeleine McCann Disappearance” that I went to Praia da Luz once. That is not truth. But this not exactly a lie. I went once, as a journalist. I was there three other times, acting not as a journalist, but playing the “role” of another “Portuguese native”, curious like all the other inhabitants of the small village about what was going on with Madeleine McCann’s police investigation.
Before going there, those three times, I took some precautions. I shaved my hair just like a skinhead (I had it medium to long-sized), cut my moustache and, to help the “disguise”, at the time I already had to use glasses. It’s amazing how much these little details can change your appearance. I didn’t want to be recognized by other colleagues, journalist that knew me before.

I had something in my favor. In 1986, I went to Macau and stayed there until 1997. Came back to Portugal, worked on a national weekly newspaper “O Independente”, between 1989 and 2004. I had editorial responsibilities, so spend most of my time in the office, not in the street, reporting and getting in touch with other journalists. Between 2004 and 2008, I worked as a freelance journalist.
Many of the colleagues that knew me before 1986 had a successful career and are, actually, working at top jobs, in newspapers, radios and TV. The actual editor of “Correio da Manhã”, the leading daily newspaper in Portugal, Octávio Ribeiro, around 1984/85, was just a young man, friend of a fiend of mine, also journalist and, at the time, I think he wasn’t planning a career in journalism. My good friend António Ribeiro Ferreira, who I know since 1981 as we started as journalists at the same time, in the same newspaper, was until recently editor of a daily newspaper, the “i”. Nuno Tiago Pinto, who was a trainee at “O Independente”, now is deputy-editor of “Sábado”, a weekly news magazine. They just stay in the office, don't go out for reporting.
 
PLAYING A GAME OF CAT AND MOUSE

While I was at Praia da Luz, I kept a closed eye on Portuguese journalists that were there, reporting. They had the natural tendency of bundling together, exchanging tips and information, so it was easy to spot them. During those three stays at Praia da Luz, I detected only two journalists that knew me: Rui Gustavo, from the weekly “Expresso” and Francisco Leong, a photographer from Agence France Press.
I was sleeping in a tent with capacity only for one person, at a camping park, a few miles from Praia da Luz and I always parked my Honda CB 500 far from the place where action was going on, near the Ocean Club resort. I approached the area carefully, trying to spot those two friends and, in case of a “positive identification”, I just change my path and went to a coffee-shop near by, waiting until they left the area. 
 
When there was no risk to meet them, I approached the crowd of onlookers, tried to be close to the British journalists, listening what they were talking about. As it happens with most British coming to Portugal (and don’t take me wrong, I don’t want to be offensive) they believe “natives” could not understand English, so they talked. And talked  a lot.
After lunch, I spend time at the terrace of supermarket Batista, very close to Ocean Park and the only place where you could buy all British newspapers. But I never bought a single one, always choose one or two Portuguese newspaper and spend a long time reading them. Many British journalists spend their free time in that sunny terrace. They had laptops, mobile connection to Internet, fresh beer and some snacks. They sat down in groups of three or four and, once again, they talked among them with the same lack of basic precautions, convinced that the few “natives” sitting there English illiterates. 
 
At the end of the afternoon and after dinner time, I used to made a round up through a few bars were retired British expatriates met, for a couple of beers and a small chat. Late at night, I had the routine of going to the two only places that were open until dawn. There was a big disco, but I don’t remember the name, and a bar, I think it was known as the “Carlos Bar” – but I’m not absolutely sure.
There, I played the role of a joyful “native” who had a couple of beers more that he should, but always in a good and happy mood, choosing carefully my “targets” (groups of British journalists), making toasts with them, trying to make “contact”, and speaking in a rather primitive and basic English. 
 
THE REASONS WHY I DID IT

Some people may question the ethics of this behavior, from the point of view of the Deontological Code of Portuguese Journalists, “spying” on his own colleagues. May be this a matter for discussion and debate and there will be, of course different views. I did what I did because, since the beginning of this case, when I was in Lisbon, sleeping 5/6 hours and spending the remaining of the day (and night) zapping through Sky News, BBC, ITV, checking dozens of British website newspapers and online news sites, I had the feeling that there was something strange, in the way UK Media was reporting the case.
I remember one of the first details that called my attention: the alleged broken shutters, and the Press reports “quoting” that “Gerry and Kate reportedly believed someone had ‘jemmied open’ the shutters to get into (Madeleine) her bedroom”.
A direct testimony of Kate McCann was more clear: at 10.00pm she checked the children and she becomes alarmed when she reaches out to the children's bedroom door and it blows shut. Inside the room, the window is open and the shutter is up. The twins are sleeping but Madeleine's bed is empty.” More details came from Gerry McCann. He told Polícia Judiciária “that, when he was first alerted to the disappearance, he had lowered the shutter, then had gone outside and discovered that it could be raised only from the outside”. Against this, the police said the shutter could not be raised from the outside without being forced, but there was no sign of forced entry; they also said forcing the shutter open would have caused a lot of noise. 
 
"Trish Cameron and Philomena McCann, Gerry’s sisters, Jill Renwick, a family friend and Jon Corner, Madeleine’s godparent were important key players in the McCann’s campaign of manipulation and distortion, since the early hours. Despite the clear and blunt denials of John Hill, the Ocean resort manager, Portuguese police and witnesses, they insisted that the shutters of apartment 5A were “jemmied” or “broken” and – small but interesting detail – the door, which had been locked, was open.”

 
The comments of John Hill were published and broadcasted by the British Media only in the first couple of days after Maddie disappeared. Than, as people was used to see in Soviet Union, something happened to Mr. John Hill: he just vanished from the newspapers pages and TV reports, like the rivals or supposed enemies of Stalin were erased from official pictures.
I collected a lot of information, during those three times I stayed “incognito” at Praia da Luz. I had the opportunity to find how the system set up byAlex Woolfall, from Bell Pottinger, worked, “managing” information realesed by PJ to the McCann couple and "feeding" it to be published and broadcasted (after some“adaptations”…) by British Media. It will be the subject, soon, of another detailed post in my blog
 
I must tell one of the most curious stories of this case. Around September 2007, after the McCann were made “arguidos”, his British lawyers fromCarter-Ruck asked for meetings with the editorial board of several UK Media organizations. One of the newspapers that got the request was a little bit uncomfortable, expecting something bad, from that meeting. So, minutes before, the team of lawyers from the newspaper came in and waited in another room, ready for a confrontation with Carter-Ruck lawyers, as they were expecting some kind of legal threat that could take them to court.
But the newspaper’s lawyers spend around 30 minutes waiting for nothing. All that theCarter-Ruck lawyers wanted to explain to the editorial board of that newspaper (and they did the same with other Media organizations) was that, according to the Portuguese Law, if there was no body found,the McCann never could be accused of nothing… 

That, is not truth. Recently, a group pf criminals kidnaped a Portuguese businessman, to demand a ransom. They killed him and dissolved his body in a tank with sulfuric acid, leaving no trace, not even a small piece that could be used for a DNA analysis. But they were arrested, went on trial and sentenced, because their phones were wiretapped and PJ collected other strong evidence, enough to convince the court send them to prison for 25v years.

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