Madeleine McCann: Unearthing Nothing But Pain And Media In Another Praia da Luz Summer
MADELEINE McCann: A round-up of reporting on the missing child:
The Times: “New hunt for Maddie opens old wounds in Praia da Luz”
David Brown is the latest journalist to holiday in Praia da Luz:
Seven years after Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, the quiet Algarve town where she vanished is preparing to become the centre of world attention all over again.
It never really stopped, though, did it? Until the story has an ending, Praia da Luz is home to the Praia da Luz Mystery.
The dark shadow cast over Praia da Luz has returned with the announcement that a new police search is to begin just as the town is preparing for the tourist season. Madeleine… is the subject of a £5 million Scotland Yard investigation involving up to 40 officers. It was ordered by David Cameron after Portuguese police closed the case. A judge has authorised a request from the British team for the Portuguese police to examine one privately-owned site using ground-penetrating radar. This has upset residents and business owners, who fear the search will put the town back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Who holds the spotlight: police or media?
Television news crews have been scurrying through the narrow, cobbled, roads leading down to the beach trying to identify possible search sites.
Answer: media. The police are low key.
Indeed, the Belfast Telegraph quotes the parents, Gerry and Kate McCann asking the media to back off:
“We are dismayed with the way the media has behaved over the last couple of days in relation to our daughter’s case. There is an on-going, already challenging, police investigation taking place and media interference in this way not only makes the work of the police more difficult, it can potentially damage and destroy the investigation altogether – and hence the chances of us finding Madeleine and discovering what has happened to her.
As Madeleine’s parents, this just compounds our distress. We urge the media to let the police get on with their work and please show some respect and consideration to Madeleine and all our family.”
Roy Greenslade asks:
Madeleine McCann: is it time for the press regulator to step in?
Why would it be? Are the anonymous “sources” quoted in newspaper reports unhelpful?
This came the day after the Metropolitan police assistant commissioner, Mark Rowley, sent a letter to editors appealing for restraint because of the potential for the Portuguese to halt the investigation.
Rowley explained that the British police were operating under Portuguese law and his opposite number in Portugal, in the policia judiciaria, did not intend – as had been the Met’s practice – to brief the media on the search.
He said that the Portuguese police chief had been clear “that if we provide any briefings or information on the work they are undertaking on our behalf, or if reporters cause any disruption to their work in Portugal, activity will cease”.
It would mean that Scotland Yard detectives would be unable to excavate sites around the resort of Praia da Luz where the then three-year-old Madeleine went missing on 3 May 2007.
But where exactly should the press draw the line? What happens if reporters discover facts without having had police briefings? Is it wrong for British papers to reproduce every story appearing in the Portuguese press? Where does factual reporting stop and intrusion into grief begin?
Although it is obvious that editors would not wish to repeat the sins of the past, they are fascinated by the story and remain wedded, as always, to the kind of scoop journalism that can lead them to overstep the mark.
I can accept that it is difficult to suppress information – and, of course, to accept the diktats of the Portuguese authority – but editors will surely wish to avoid scuppering the police operation.
One aspect of the reporting, however, does require more attention. The Mirror’s article on Wednesday quoted “a source close to the McCanns” as saying: “This is an emotional time for them.”
And the inside story, drawing again on the unnamed source, referred to the couple as “tormented parents” facing “their worst nightmare”. Some people may not be regard it as intrusive. But it is surely bordering on poor taste to attribute feelings to this couple in such circumstances.
That depends who the source is, no? It depends on how the police are using the media?
Back to the Times.
Lina Verissimo was a waitress on May 3, 2007, when the child vanished and the voracious media created ‘Our Maddie’. She says:
“Everyone would like to know what happened, but maybe we will never know. For the first year the tourists stopped coming, but not any more. It is a safe place to be. It is the first time and last time anything like this happened.”
For all the talk of the paedo paradise, no other child has vanished.
Another local woman adds:
“Everyone knows Praia da Luz because of Madeleine. Why are they doing this in May? It is so badly timed. The McCanns should be prosecuted for negligence.”
Joyce Daffey, a warden at the town’s Anglican church, is quoted:
“We pray at every service for Madeleine. She is not forgotten. Her mother visits the town but it is all done very quietly.”
But nothing else is quiet. The media is full of no news of the mystery. Ever summer, the tabloids leads with a summer of Our Maddie, a single thread story pulled over acres of newsprint.
Victor Mata, president of the Parish of Luz council, adds:
“The population is fed up with the Maddie case. Seven years after the disappearance the police are coming here? Who knows what happened in that time?”
As for the search area…?
Locally, there is bemusement among the population at the proposed search areas, even though all the work will be paid for by British taxpayers. One area that will be explored is the road just below the Ocean Club, where construction trenches were filled in shortly after Madeleine disappeared. It is a main route out of the town.
Would workers not have seen the child has she been there?
Another is a fenced-off patch of waste ground to the east of the Ocean Club, where some witnesses have claimed to have seen a man carrying a child, was searched by dozens of police officers in the weeks after the youngster’s disappearance. A third search site is a rocky car park located between the 18th-century church and the beach that had been used for burials.
No stone unturned.
There is clearly a clash of policing cultures. The Portuguese force, whose powers are strictly regulated as a result of the legacy of the overthrow of a fascist dictatorship just 40 years ago, struggle to understand Scotland Yard’s pressure for wide-scale speculative investigations. One Portuguese detective told the English language The Portugal News yesterday: “To be sincere, it is not easy to understand them. But I’m sure they know what they are doing. How many holes do you have to dig to rule out the existence of a body?”
Such are the facts…