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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Maddie McCann: The Crime of the Century

Chronology

03/05

The English girl Madeleine McCann, three years of age, disappears between 21h30 and 22h00, from Ocean Club Resort, Praia da Luz (Algarve, Portugal), from the room where she slept with the twin brother and sister. The parents were having dinner in a restaurant 50 meters away.

10/05

The Portuguese Judicial Police interrogates the father, Gerry McCann, during 14 hours. And the mother, Kate, during 7 hours. The Judicial Police underlines that the parents are not under suspicion.

14/05

Robert Murat, British, 32 years of age, is constituted “arguido” (formal witness). After 14 hours of inquiry in the Judicial Police of Portimão, he left in liberty. He lives 100 meters from the Ocean Club.

26/05

The British newspaper 'The Guardian' advances that Gordon Brown, recently-nominated prime minister, had (through the embassy in Lisbon) pressured the Judicial Police to reveal facts of the inquiry. The media, both Portuguese and foreign, speak unanimously of “abduction".

13/06

An anonymous letter received by the Dutch newspaper 'De Telegraaf' says that Madeleine can be dead and buried to 15 km from the place where she disappeared, in the Algarve. The Judicial Police search the area with dogs but abandon the trail.

01/07

The Italian Danilo Chemello and the Portuguese Aurora Vaz Pereira were heard in Spain. It was thought they were trying to extort money from the reward fund with information about Maddie.

03/08

Three months after the disappearance, a girl "very similar" to Madeleine is sighted in a Belgian café in Tongeren. The police collect DNA analysis from a juice bottle and a straw. Results reveal that it is not Maddie

04/08

The police collected analyses of vestiges from the apartment where Maddie disappeared from. The Judicial Police finished searches to the home of Robert Murat, only arguido in the trial, and admit the theory that the girl could be dead

05/09

British press divulges that results of the analyses obtained in a British laboratory were sent to Portugal. Hypothesis of arrests raised.

06 and 07/09

Kate and Gerry McCann are constituted arguidos and interrogated by the Judicial Police during two consecutive days. Suspicions of Maddie’s manslaughter and hiding her body start to be raised. These theories are welcomed by the Portuguese press, but disowned by the British press.

09/09

Kate and Gerry McCann return to England with the twins.

10/09

The press reports that the samples of DNA collected in the apartment of the Ocean Club and in a car rented by the McCann after 3rd May are, with 100% of certainty, those of Maddie. The Judicial Police does not confirm this allegation.

* * *

For over four months, the Maddie case has dominated the world press. That has happened in greater evidence in Portugal (where the disappearance took place) and the United Kingdom (homeland of the McCann family), but the interest has extended to everybody, so much so that the most widely read news is that at the beginning of September.

Several motives contributes towards this. First, the photogenic and telegenic qualities of

the protagonists. The McCanns are attractive, upper middle class, good communicators. The children are very pretty, mainly Maddie – whose picture ran round the world. Afterwards, the communication strategy adopted by the family, and which had broad disclosure in the media – in particular Sky News, true "official organ" of the campaign to find Maddie. Finally, the emotional aspect, that led barely all the spectators to identify themselves with this family which would have lived the most terrible nightmare – that of those who lose small children.

From a political viewpoint, the visible faces of the media campaign were Pope Benedict XVI (who the McCanns visited in the Vatican), footballers like David Beckham, and other personalities from show business. The intervention of the British Government was notorious, and the and the way it showed its preoccupation and endeavour in this case. Between May and August, Maddie McCann was the symbol of the fight against the pedophilia and child trafficking traffic networks, this being the hypothesis universally raised by the media.

Regarding the police, “sightings” of Maddie abounded all over Europe and North Africa, which were revealed as false trails, but which echoed the above-mentioned theory of abduction. The first criticisms of the actions of the Portuguese Judicial Police also began to arise: their communications were limited to some public apparitions of the Inspector Olegário de Sousa – who did not reveal concrete facts of the inquiry, since the Portuguese penal law obliges all of the procedural participants (arguidos, police, magistrates, lawyers, witnesses, experts, and others) to respect "secret of justice". It is forbidden for any of these persons to reveal facts about the trial, and they will be committing a crime if they do so, namely violation of the secret of justice.

From mid-August, the alteration of the route of inquiry was noticeable, centered now on the possibility of the child’s death on 3rd May. Diverse investigative exams were carried out, whose results are not known (despite the press having expressed knowledge of the alleged content of these, in particular the DNA analyses). In the scope of the inquiry, the parents of Maddie were constituted arguidos and heard by the Judicial Police.

Up to the moment, it has been this Police Force driving this inquiry. They were the agents of the Judicial Police that interrogated the different witnesses, and the three arguidos (Robert Murat and Gerry and Kate McCann). To the arguidos,was applied the so-called "term of identity and residence", which consists of the indication by the arguidos of the dwelling where they can be found and notified for effects arising from the trial. In case they depart from that dwelling for more than five days, the arguidos are obliged to indicate at which localities they where will be, so that they can be notified.

The Judicial Police is going to deliver to the Public Prosecutor a report about the inquiry, accompanied by the respective tests. It will now be up to the Proxy to decide to order more tests (new exams, new inquiries of witnesses or questioning of the arguidos, etc.), or demand from the Judge of Criminal Instruction the application of other measures to the arguidos (bail, obligation to present themselves to a police station one or more times weekly, house arrest, to be held on remand, or other), or profer a dispatch to archive the case or to make accusations.

In case of archiving, the Prosecutor will be able to decide to archive the case – relating to all or some of the arguidos. In that hypothesis, they will cease to have any obligations towards the Portuguese justice system unless the case is reopened in the future due to new evidence appearing.

In case of accusation, the Prosecutor will indicate which the arguidos is going to be accused and presented for trial, the facts against them and the corresponding crimes. The arguidos will be able to then defend themselves in court, or request the opening of an appeal – in that case, it will be the appeal judge that appreciates other tests that are presented him by the arguidos, and in view of these, decide to continue with the trial process (pronunciation), or cancel such decision (not pronunciation, indeed similar to the archiving of the case).

These are the developments that may occur. Independently of this, and of the tests that are presented (formally, all the news up to the moment is mere speculation), the case of Maddie McCann has already left its indelile mark on the current time of information and the collective imagination at the beginning of the 21st century. And, for good or for bad, it raised for the agenda such important questions as the relationship between the United Kingdom and the other European countries (not only in terms of criminal justice policy and judicial cooperation, but especially in cultural and political terms), or the relation of the Police and of the Portuguese Magistracy with the media (which oscillated from the unadept to the non-existent).

The coming days will bring important news on the inquiry and the evolution of the trial. We expect that, among all the background noise, the truth can be discovered – and Maddie McCann can have finally the right to the Justice that she deserves, and which the world owes her.

Luís ROLO

Lawyer and Expert in Criminal Law

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