The long-term rehabilitation of the parents’ reputations depended primarily, of course, on the result of the Portuguese investigation. If, as the UK defence team believed, the evidence to proceed against the couple was lacking, their liberty was guaranteed. From the reputational viewpoint, however, much would depend on the wording of the Attorney-General’s report: a handsome and unequivocal release from their arguido status, together with an apology, would be the ideal while, at the other end of the spectrum, a grudging acceptance that there was merely insufficient evidence to prosecute would be a disaster. The signals coming out of Portugal from early 2008 were that the report would be somewhere between the two.
Having been warned by the McCanns’ lawyers that libel actions were coming, and still in disarray after discovering the evidence they’d been promised by their PJ sources didn’t exist, the media groups were showing understandable signs of searching for the exit doors. A pre-emptive “shock and awe” response by the Team to the report’s findings could ensure they found them, and very rapidly indeed – by forcibly convincing owners and editors that they had no chance in the courts, then or in the future, and no choice but to leave the parents in peace.
This would amount to the evolution of the “twin-track” criminal defence strategy fronted, but not designed, by Edward Smethurst, for use after the end of the case against them. In Smethurst’s famous if inelegant words on Panorama in November 2007:
“Part of the reason why we're here disclosing evidence to you today…is a recognition that there were two strands to this case, part of it is the criminal case, but part of it is the media speculation and the media perception, and we see it as incumbent upon us to portray the truth to the media and in particular to try and expunge any ill-founded theories about Gerry and Kate's involvement...”
In other words, if the criminal case ended with the defeat of the Portuguese prosecutors, as now seemed likely, the “expunging” of “any ill-founded theories about Gerry and Kate's involvement” could be extended into the distant future with the tools available – a now pliant media and the civil law – and targeted at the complete recovery of the pair’s reputation rather than just getting them out of trouble. Reputation by amnesia.
This exceptionally ambitious scheme, which developed, rather than being created from a blueprint, depended on a belief in the couple’s innocence by those financing and leading it: the reason for that is obvious - in the absence of innocence the entire scheme of Reputation Repair could be torpedoed at any time by the emergence of damning evidence which might wreck the reputations of the saviours themselves. Personally I find no reason to doubt the sincerity of their beliefs between 2007 and the eventual high point of “the project” in 2010/11, when Kate McCann’s still-available acknowledgements section in Madeleine – a vital part of the rehabilitation plan – ran to some 850 words. But most of those names are quieter now.
Despite all the good wishes, finance and expertise two further intractable obstacles apart from the Attorney-General's report lay ahead of the project for erasing doubts so the couple could lead a “normal” life one day. One, in the shape of the fearsomely unpredictable Goncalo Amaral, lay in the future; the other concerned September 6 2007.
The former we shall deal with elsewhere. The latter, less well-known except to readers of the Bureau, its implications still not widely understood outside the family circle, has always posed a single lethal question: how do you permanently “expunge ill-founded theories of involvement” about a couple who are known to have discussed, in depth and detail, admitting to the authorities that the child was dead and one of them had disposed of the body – and asking their lawyer for his opinion on the merits of doing so?
Memories Are Made Of This
On the miserable flight back to the UK ahead of their first meeting with lawyers Caplan and McBride that afternoon (!) the chances of ever escaping their troubles, let alone recovering their reputations, must have seemed almost zero. But the McCanns are special people, with a talent for repeatedly getting out of tight corners that amounts to something approaching genius, at least in the shorter term. No sketch of these events in the McCann Affair makes any sense without briefly considering the personalities of the couple, in particular their acute impenetrability to outsiders, their closed self-sufficiency and the iron bonds that join them.
As I wrote in the Cracked Mirror seven years ago, “nobody knows the McCanns” and it remains as true now as it was then. Everyone who encounters them seems to see a different couple, often, though not exclusively, with similar attributes to themselves. Some, those who have watched them disappearing into the distance, real or metaphorical, from Mathew Oldfield to Goncalo Amaral to the News of the World editor Colin Mylor, must have been left wondering – what did I miss? But most remain favourably disposed to the pair or at least stay silent, still convinced that they have seen the Real McCann.
The origins of their extreme self-sufficiency are unknown. Perhaps it was their separate early struggles in two of the most poor and violent cities in the UK – cities where at that time your religion could determine which streets were safe to use on the way to school and where the future was something to be fought, not embraced – that brought them so close together, but in the end we are left guessing. My own feeling is that there is another key element to their relationship, perhaps deriving from their eventually successful struggle with infertility, a conviction, steadily growing since 2007, that while each is alone and vulnerable separately, there is almost nothing they cannot accomplish together.
The media began hunting for “what the McCanns are really like” stories within weeks of the disappearance and ten years on they still haven’t got any. Recollections of the pair by non-family members then were sparse, banal and numbingly uninformative; those who liked them seemed to be describing minor television personalities rather than real acquaintances: about Kate McCann oh she’s lovely was a common response from those supposed to be her friends but they seemed quite unable to point to the simple, easily recognized, qualities which make someone a friend. Nobody from their past seemed to have any really strong feelings about them, pro or con, but then, whether in New Zealand, the Netherlands or elsewhere, they always seem to have been just out of view, on the other side of the street, often leaving no memories whatever.
This impenetrability-beyond-appearances, the latter themselves mask-like and mutable, is like an unspoken background theme in the testimonies of their Lisbon witnesses, Loach, Trickey and Pike, for example, as well as in the famous newspaper portrait of the couple by Alex Woolfall in 2007.
All four believed themselves to be exceptionally sharp observers of the human personality: Pike and Trickey as trained professionals in its disorders, Woolfall as a practised and cynical survivor of the PR snake-pit, Loach, well, because she’s Emma Loach. Yet their supposedly objective witness evidence is packed with wilful discipleship and gullibility well beyond any possible professional brief, an unquestioning, almost submissive, loyalty that was clinically exposed under legal examination and ultimately demonstrated as being in conflict with the facts in the judgement. How could professionals, or in Loach’s case, “professionals”, have allowed themselves to wander so far from their areas of expertise and so far from the facts?
Each of them seems to have encountered a different mask: Pike, the self-described “trauma counsellor”, saw them as, yes, terribly traumatised and in dire need of counselling by people, preferably people like him; Trickey, the child psychologist, and the most objective of this quartet – which really isn’t saying much – encountered a dutiful, self-possessed couple concerned above all for their children, not themselves, and conscientiously seeking the best advice from specialists, preferably specialists like him. Loach, for what it’s worth, was simply besotted by Kate McCann. Readers will not be surprised that she was the trusted literary coach behind the execrable prose of Madeleine.
Listening to these well-meaning – except when it came to describing opponents of the couple – witnesses it was sometimes as though we were not in a court at all but in the audience watching the deluded victims of the con-artists in American Hustle – but the feel-good warmth and humanity of that fine film were quite absent: the screen that we were watching, despite the all-too-frequent mantra of suffering and compassion, portrayed an unremittingly stark, ice-cold world of people being ruthlessly used by those in need of them.
Woolfall, who was meant to be keeping an acute eye on the pair for Mark Warner, seems to have lost control of his senses when observing them, describing a series of masks – not his description, naturally – that nobody else has ever encountered. “Their early [week-long] assumption,” he insists bizarrely, “was that she had wandered off and had an accident or been taken in by a well-meaning stranger.”
Speaking of a later period and criticism of the pair’s TV appearances (by mere viewers, not experts like him) as rigid, controlled and “not quite right”, Woolfall was dismissive. “They were not at all controlled,” he says, of the most controlled pair in the history of UK television interviewing, “When I was with them, [my italics] they were between being completely distraught and trying to do what they felt was the right thing." Ah, that conscientiousness again.
Just as when he was with them they never mentioned the possibility of an abduction – the abduction that one of the Kate McCann masks had been literally screaming to everyone else about since 10.10PM on May 3.
So much for the presentation. And behind the masks? Perhaps one day we will get a better idea. There are hints, at least, of the dark, secret and hidden depths of their relationship in their performances under examination: in their first police interviews Gerry McCann somehow found a way of being present during the formal questioning of his wife – and not just present but sitting closely behind her, in firm physical contact; in television interviews they can be seen bound together as one, literally grasping, clutching and hanging on to each other throughout, as if they might drown separately. That isn’t, needless to say, wicked Gerry McCann cueing his wife with secret nudges: it’s something much, much deeper than that.
September 6 2007 is increasingly the “pivot”, as it were, of the entire McCann Affair to this day and Kate and Gerry McCann know better than anyone else how crucial it is. Three years later, when the subject was no longer too hot to touch, they tried to get themselves out of trouble in Madeleine by tackling the issue head on and, for once, apparently levelling with Kate’s readers, warts, tears, despair and all.
They failed. They will always fail because it’s on the record elsewhere, they know it’s on the record, they can’t unsay what was said in front of witnesses and they know that others involved, police and lawyers, have kept their own silence all too well – a silence that bodes ill. In attempting to single-handedly re-write history to evade these realities Kate McCann only entangled herself more deeply.
The precise issue is this: the Kate McCann answer to our question above – why would any truly innocent couple have discussed a plan formally admitting that their child was indeed dead, after claiming for months that she’d been abducted? – is that they were forced towards making such a desperate admission not because it was true but because the only alternative was a life sentence for murder in a foreign, worse, Portuguese, hellhole of a prison. And the life-sentence would be doubly wicked in its effects – not to her, for she could bear it, proud, innocent wounded creature that she was, devoid of any self-pity – but with her slowly rotting behind bars who would search for Madeleine? Tell me, sweet God, who?
The police claimed to possess, she writes, and had told her lawyer they possessed, “overwhelming” evidence that would bring about that fate unless she did a “deal”, in which case she would get a minor sentence. Faced with such a terrifying and inhuman threat, already in shock at even being suspected, surely any innocent person might at least consider briefly the lesser of two vile alternatives before rising to the occasion and proudly rejecting any deal, come what may.
The resemblance to third-rate hack literature and a thousand Hollywood B-weepies of Kate McCann's overblown tale of tragedy and heroism is no coincidence – because it too is bad fiction, poorly executed: it is a demonstrable invention from beginning to end.
The Indisputable Facts
The evidence that it is all, without exception, lies is openly available and much more "overwhelming" than anything the police might have possessed, as any reader can easily establish for themselves.
Let’s take the details one by one. First, the foundation of all the claims, the offered "deal”. There never was an offered deal. Not only is there no documentary or witnessed evidence of one, not even Kate McCann claims any actual knowledge of one, partly perhaps for the same reason that she has always kept very quiet indeed about her own direct experiences with the police that day. Her claim that a deal was offered, is based, she says, on nothing but hearsay: what her lawyer, Abreu, told her suggested that such must be the plan.
But there has never been any confirmation, independent or otherwise, that Abreu did this. The police have denied the existence of a deal repeatedly and vehemently, the prosecutors have dismissed it as not only untrue but impossible under the Portuguese legal system and guaranteed to cause the failure of any prosecution; no-one else has ever heard of it before or since and, finally Abreu himself, who supposedly started it all, has said in his only recorded comment on the matter that no such deal was ever offered and that Kate McCann’s suggestion of one was “based on a misunderstanding”. A misunderstanding! Lawyers have a way with words, haven’t they?
But it gets worse. Not only did the deal not exist but the terms of the deal that Kate McCann invents are hopelessly confused, contradictory and, in the strict sense of the words, make no sense. The “overwhelming” evidence that would supposedly guarantee a murder charge and the hellhole unless she did a “deal” for a lesser sentence had already been spelled out to her by Abreu. What did it amount to?
The video of the sniffing dogs, a crumpled page from a Bible referring to a missing child, her request for a priest on the night of the disappearance and a claim that they had been carrying a “big black bag” on the same night. But that was not at all a shock and certainly not "overwhelming". At the very worst, if the dog stuff was confirmed, it was putative evidence that, as Amaral maintains to this day, the child had somehow died in the apartment and the parents had concealed the fact, not that anyone had harmed anyone, let alone intentionally. None of that was new to the McCanns since their August PJ interviews had made essentially the same accusations. If Abreu really said, “If you were Portuguese, this would be enough to put you in prison,” then he should have been despatched back to law school that night, not retained for years to come, for none of it amounted to a row of beans.
So the “deal” as described by Kate McCann was “in exchange for you admitting the death of the child you’ll only get two years, and if you don’t agree to the deal then with the evidence we’ve got you will also get about two years!" – which is palpable nonsense.
Ask The Dogs
No, the elaborate web of lies that Kate McCann, after three years preparation and brooding, has spun has simply enmeshed her in a highly coloured but incoherent mass of contradictions, much more damaging than the original “green light” to claim a deal that she gave the benighted McGuinness and her terrified family to spin the next morning.
There is, after all that, a much simpler and much more truthful explanation of the night of September 6. It is that, given their interviews and given that their lawyer believed there was some sort of evidence against them, enough at least to constitute them as arguidos, they had to explore, like all criminal suspects, the least painful way to get out of the jam they were in, particularly given the presence of the dogs. And that is what they did, that is what they were discussing with their lawyer. But admitting that is to admit that they knew the child was dead, something that Kate McCann can never do.
Next time we conclude with the impact of the Archiving Summary, then and now, and the actions of Goncalo Amaral. Together with the issues of September 6 they guarantee that the McCanns, despite all the efforts and all the money, can never, ever, sleep easy.