Sunday, May 13, 2007

Q&A: Madeleine McCann


Steven Morris in Praia da Luz, Portugal
Tuesday May 8, 2007
Guardian Unlimited


When did Madeleine vanish?

Between 9.30pm and 10pm on Thursday. Her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were dining at a tapas bar in a Mark Warner resort around 100 metres from the apartment where Madeleine and her twin siblings were sleeping. The McCanns checked on the children at around half-hourly intervals. Mr McCann checked at 9.30pm, but when the couple returned at about 10pm, Madeleine had gone. A pool, hedge, wall and alleyway are between the bar and the apartment.

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How could a kidnapper have got into the apartment?

There are three likely routes. The bedroom in which Madeleine was sleeping has a window with a plastic shutter and a door leading to a narrow car park and a quiet residential street. This side of the apartment cannot be seen from the tapas bar. At the back of the apartment, which can partially be seen from the bar, are French windows. These were the doors the parents were coming in through when they checked the children, and may have been left unlocked.

Were the doors or window forced?

Members of Madeleine's family said the shutter on the street window was forced, and police have fingerprinted it. However, the Mark Warner holiday company said there was no sign of a forced break-in. A kidnapper could have come through the street window and left via the street door. It is unlikely he or she would have entered or left via the French windows, because they face the tapas bar and the rest of the complex.

Do the police have any suspects?

At the weekend, they seemed to say they had a suspect in mind. However, it became clear earlier this week that this was not a named person but a man who witnesses had seen acting suspiciously. A sketch of the man has been made but not published - normal procedure for the police in Portugal - but it is not a clear image.

Why has so little information been published?

The Portuguese police claim their judicial system makes it impossible to release information for fear of prejudicing any future case. However, Madeleine's family are known to be frustrated at the way the investigation is being handled. It was their decision to make the direct appeal to any kidnapper and to release details of what Madeleine was wearing - the police had not done so.

Has the search been thorough?

Many people, including some family members, believe not. Criticism that the police did not even begin searching immediately, however, seems unfounded - officers and members of the public began a search as soon as Madeleine was reported missing.

However, there is scant evidence of an organised, exhaustive search. Neither border nor marine police were given descriptions of Madeleine for many hours after she vanished, and officers have not been seen making extensive door-to-door inquiries.

What about the police investigation?

Again, it appears unsatisfactory. The scene has not been secured as tightly as it would have been in the UK. Passers-by are allowed to go right up to the shutters of the window that Madeleine's parents say were forced. The lack of appeals for help and information has upset the family and surprised police experts.

There have been suggestions that the police are hiding behind the idea that they cannot release information because they might prejudice the case. Article 86 of the Portuguese processo penal says information must not be released, apart from in exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, the lack of information has created a vaccuum that has been filled by speculation and theories ranging from the idea that a paedophile ring is behind the kidnapping to the claim that she may have been abducted to order.