Monday, 9 November 2009

CHAPTER AND VERSE By Dr Martin Roberts

By Dr Martin Roberts
14 October 2009


"I disagree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

This statement, attributed to Voltaire and first articulated over two hundred years ago, is no cliché. As a cornerstone of democratic practice its significance is timeless. The principle it enshrines, however, is one to which some clearly find difficulty in subscribing, as illustrated by the following (translated) comments posted recently on a Spanish 'blog', beneath an article discussing the injunction against Gonçalo Amaral; an injunction banning both his book and any future comment thereon by himself and, in effect, outlawing his thesis (which, it is prudent to recognise, is not his uniquely, either in origin or derivation).

Manuel Carballal: Prohiben en Portugal el Libro sobre Madeleine McCann (Book on Madeleine McCann banned in Portugal).

"The police might perhaps be unable to find the girl, but what is clear is that they should have found those responsible for her disappearance.

"The Portuguese police were prevented from doing so on account of clear interference by the British government.

"What I find shameful is that people bend over backwards to defend a couple of parents who left their children alone every night in order to go out with their friends.

"To defend such negligent parents who have since refused to return to Portugal in order to reconstruct their actions, a mother who refused to answer 48 questions put to her by the police, despite being told that her refusal was compromising an investigation, the purpose of which was to find her daughter.

"This book is based on an official summary made public by a judge, but it seems there are still people more intent on defending negligent liars than freedom of expression."

Justice for Madeleine Beth McCann


Anonymous said...

"Manuel Carballal, I am both sorry and disgusted that you allow your interesting web site to host comments by people who still attempt to call the McCanns' suffering into question, and further to suggest they killed their own daughter. I do not propose to revisit your site while you permit these comments."

This is clearly one reader who would not shrink from censoring what they have just read or, given the opportunity, prohibiting its publication. Draconian enough perhaps, but what makes this dogmatic posture all the more alarming is that the type of comment to which 'anonymous' objects is nowhere represented among the observations they are criticising. Reactionary, yes. Illogical, certainly. And, if taken to extremes, dangerous.

Such is the case with The Truth of the Lie, a book banned in Portugal and thereby legally denied a readership elsewhere (Britain especially, since a version in English was on the cards).

Legal jousting aside, prohibition of this publication has no logical basis whatsoever. The ideas it contains, having first been made public by the Portuguese authorities themselves, have since been broadcast by numerous internet sites, including those maintained by the national dailies. Can it really be the case that a book written in the Portuguese language is capable of causing personal distress to two people who seem scarcely in command of their own, which is English? It has been claimed that widespread dissemination of the belief expressed by the author, i.e. that Madeleine McCann is dead, would jeopardise the on-going search for the child. But how can this be so, when the 'search' is being co-ordinated by private detectives; mercenaries contractually immunised against adverse opinion. And, as the Portuguese police have long since desisted in this case, what possible difference can a Portuguese publication make to their contribution? A thousand or more new leads, offered by the general public in the wake of a recent press conference by the parents, gives the lie to any notion that this book, or any like it, would have the effect of discouraging people from coming forward with information.

Hypocrisy is an insult to anyone's intelligence, but when dressed in lawyers' silks it becomes offensive. The following extract is taken from an interview, given by Gerry McCann to Vanity Fair magazine's Judy Bachrach, and published as a 'web exclusive' on September 10, 2008:

"Portuguese attorney general Fernando Pinto Monteiro suggested that one way or another the McCanns were responsible for their child's death. Specifically he said that if indeed Madeleine had been kidnapped, it was the carefully contrived publicity engineered by her parents that likely sealed her fate. 'With the whole world having Madeleine's photo,' he observed, any abductor would have been pushed to such a degree that 'there's a greater probability of the little girl being dead than alive.'

"And with this last devastating conclusion—namely that Madeleine will likely never reappear—Madeleine's own father haltingly agrees."

As far as the recent injunction is concerned, armchair strategists are bound to argue about motives and purposes, such as paving the way for libel action, pre-empting publication of an English Language version specifically, destroying the author personally etc., etc. In public at any rate, the objectionable core of the work is held to be the hypothesis of Madeleine's death - Chapter 16. But like so much of this case, this too may prove to be misdirection, on a grand scale. The casual observer, unfamiliar with prior examples of conceptual leger de main, such as forced/unforced entry, soft toys in the autopsy room and invisible passers by, may well be inclined to take this particular stance at face value. Others might rather consider whether the truly sensitive material in this publication resides elsewhere.

Gonçalo Amaral, author of The Truth of the Lie, has been widely vilified in the British press. 'Disgraced', 'bungling', 'incompetent' are three epithets which spring to mind. But what, exactly, precipitated his fall from grace? There can be little doubt that the Portuguese authorities were pressured by Gordon Brown to remove Sr. Amaral from office, as his dismissal was notified to our Prime Minister before even it was made apparent to the then PJ co-ordinator himself. Suddenly, the team leader had become persona non grata. Why? Because he obstinately refused to renounce the hypothesis that Madeleine had not been abducted, but was instead deceased? Not at all. That hypothesis had become a collective opinion in relatively short order, following scrutiny of the circumstances by British expert Mark Harrison, who had as good as said, 'Start looking for a body.'

No, Sr Amaral was not removed on account of any intransigent anti-McCann stance. His abrupt dismissal followed directly upon comments to a journalist criticising the English police and, by implication, the Leicestershire Police, since it was they, rather than Scotland Yard, who had become directly involved in the investigation; an involvement sought by the McCanns from the outset apparently.

Whilst the off-hand remarks may have drawn unwelcome attention to the British investigative contingent at the time, they were by no means as revelatory as the observations published since. If impounding, with a view to destruction, copies of The Truth of the Lie is reminiscent of the role of the Fireman in the story Fahrenheit 451, i.e. to start (book) fires not extinguish them, then it is not an altogether surprising development, given other precedents in this case.

The fundamental role of the police in any developed society is that of crime prevention and detection, in which context it is by no means unknown for individuals to take their personal contribution to extremes, even going so far as to falsify evidence in an attempt to ensure a conviction. Ironically, whilst this is something Gerry McCann voiced as a suspicion of the Portuguese, during a September 2007 conversation with Ed Smart (father of abductee Elizabeth Smart), it is, perversely, a charge that might be laid at the door of the British, whom Amaral portrays as having introduced false evidence, not with a view to securing a conviction, but forestalling one. How else might one describe investigative attention being suddenly and deliberately drawn to a video purporting to show Madeleine present at an orgy engaged in by wealthy arabs, when the video in question had been in police hands since February/March of that year, weeks before the announcement of Madeleine's disappearance on May 3! Whilst Chapter 16 may be significant, Chapter 18 is truly revealing.

As a younger man I once enjoyed the company of a mathematically adept colleague, whose principal out-of-hours interest was the 'Sport of Kings'. He would study The Sporting Life assiduously, and wasn't so much in the habit of placing a bet as making a calculated investment. When assessing the odds, this individual typically thought 'outside the box', well before that phrase was ever coined. He had a sharp eye for the unusual, and one memorable observation of his has stayed with me ever since: 'You won't find a trainer in the North of England sending his horse all the way to a small track in the South if he doesn't have a very good reason for believing it will win.'

Now, this is not quite the irrelevant anecdote it may appear. Soon after attending at apartment 5A of the Ocean Complex on the night of May 3, 2007, the GNR decided they were out of their depth and called in the PJ, an organisation the McCanns would go on to criticise in no uncertain terms, Gerry making it perfectly clear that, in his view, the British had more experience in handling child abduction cases. So there he was, a visitor to the Iberian peninsular, whose child was inexplicably missing from a resort of little consequence and, as the local police, recognising the potential seriousness of the crime, defer instinctively to their senior investigative colleagues, what does Gerry McCann do? By way of bringing the full resources of the more experienced British police to bear, he encourages the PJ to collaborate, not with Scotland Yard, but a provincial constabulary.

Are we to suppose that the expertise to which Gerry McCann was necessarily appealing was particularly well represented by Leicestershire Police? Simply observing the law of averages, as well as the highly skewed distribution of the UK population, specialist expertise in all manner of things is most likely to reside in or around London and the South East. So was experience in the handling of missing child cases a Leicestershire forte or the criterion which singled them out as the most appropriate authority to co-ordinate the UK contribution? If not, what made their affiliation to the enquiry so important for the McCanns? Like the horse being sent a long way to compete in a small race meeting, the specific engagement of a provincial police force on a case with international parameters cannot have been without purpose. And that purpose cannot have been simply facilitating subsequent liaison back home in the UK, since no-one, outside of the protagonists, can pre-determine the length of time for which a missing person might remain so. It could all have been over inside a week. Still, there is no denying the quality of the liaison, with guidance, in the form of police manuals, later finding its way onto Gerry McCann's bedside cabinet.

Experience being the culmination of prior knowledge, perhaps one should enquire as to the class of prior knowledge which recommended the Leicestershire Police in this instance and, if it was not missing persons related, what was it? Logic dictates that no wisdom could have been applied to the problem before the problem had arisen. Knowing how best to go about searching for a missing child is clearly only an advantage after a disappearance has occurred. Surely, in this case, there wasn't something of importance that might have been known beforehand. There was no 'beforehand', was there?

Perhaps we should turn our attention from Chapter 18, to Chapter 12; not of the Truth of the Lie this time, but the Old Testament's second book of Samuel. There, is recounted the story of how King David, having put the Hittite Uriah to death, takes his widow for a wife, incurs the wrath of God in so doing, and is punished by the death of the one child to have resulted from the unacceptable union (verses 15 - 19). PJ investigators discovered a Bible in the apartment to which the McCanns had adjourned, following the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine from 5A of the Ocean Club complex, and this is the episode retold at that point where its pages were noted to be marked or crumpled.

Kate McCann summarily dismissed the PJ's view that this passage was of significance, referring as it does to the death of a sick child. In truth, there does appear to be little more than coincidence attaching to the seemingly allegorical connection. Madeleine McCann had inexplicably disappeared. She had not fallen ill and died as a consequence. But there is something more to the biblical scribe's story. Not only is the reader told that a child of David dies, but we are also told why; not in terms of causality, but God's justification for inflicting the punishment: Avarice, Lust, Adultery - take your pick. David had wives enough.

Careful scrutiny of the telecomms traffic around the time of Madeleine's disappearance has previously yielded an indication that, on the night of Tuesday 1st May, Kate McCann was actually back in the family apartment some 14 minutes before Mrs Fenn claims she heard a child start crying. This is the night when aerobics instructor and sometime quiz hostess, Miss Najoua Chekaya, was on duty for the Mark Warner resort, and the only night when an invitation to join the McCann table can have been extended to her (she did not work on Thursdays). There has to have been a reason, therefore, why the impression was freely given that Miss Chekaya joined the Tapas diners at their table on that fateful Thursday night, when she clearly could not have done so. There has also to be a reason why a young child should cry for "Daddy" in "Mummy's" presence.

When interviewed for Expresso TV, on 6 September 2008, Kate and Gerry collaborated in circumnavigating a question put to them regarding the deletion of 16 text messages, which Gerry was known, through police analysis, to have received. Their joint answer was unconvincingly dressed in an explanation of Gerry's own reticence about sending text messages prior to Madeleine's disappearance. While the content of communications sent and received is perforce of interest, even a skeletal call history has a tale to tell, being a record of who was in contact, even if not what information was shared. The devil, as always, is in the detail.

One has to question why, in such alarming circumstances as the disappearance of their daughter, both Kate and Gerry saw fit to engage in some electronic 'pruning' when there was no casual need to do so. It does rather raise the suspicion that there was a need, and not a casual one at that, to protect the identity of earlier contacts which might, upon later scrutiny, appear to have been untimely, inappropriate or both. In much the same way as the ready availability of photographic enlargements was perceived by the PJ to have been premature, there is at least a hint here of 'prior knowledge', i.e., that there was a 'beforehand' after all, and that someone outside of the McCanns' immediate circle knew what it was.

That ubiquitous 'source close to the McCanns' told the Daily Mirror ( News, 29 May, 2008) that, as far as Gerry was concerned, "The only time his phone rang was when work called and he explained he was on holiday. There are no mystery texts. Gerry has nothing to hide. It's yet more nonsense coming from Portugal."

When one surveys the data sheet itemising Gerry McCann's deleted text messages, two things at least become immediately obvious: that this source is lying, and that another forensic 'shadow' is clearly visible.

Having discovered that Gerry McCann was on holiday, 'work' is unlikely to have called repeatedly thereafter. And whilst 'Work' may not have sent Gerry fourteen text messages on May 2nd somebody clearly did. There was a constantly changing situation somewhere of which Gerry McCann was being kept informed via messages transmitted in close-knit batches, approximately hourly at first, then precisely two hourly. The tell-tale timings are:

8.07.12, 8.07.17
9.10.45, 9.13.01, 9.18.15
10.35.50, 10.47.56
13.46.23, 13.48.33, 13.59.32

The phrase 'regular updates' comes readily to mind. The mendacious 'source close to the McCanns' would no doubt try to convince people that these calls were unrelated to each other, but the timings between salvos, as well as the tight proximity within them, tell us otherwise. Of course we may never know who this mystery contact was, but being unusually optimistic for once, I should like to think that the word 'never' does not apply in this instance.