The McCanns: Innocent until tried by the newspapers

As British police swoop in six years on, Kate and Gerry McCann face weeks of press chatter

Share

There is often a moment in old-fashioned detective fiction when someone decides to "call in the Yard". Bumbling local cops are sidelined as worldly-wise detectives arrive from London, spotting missed clues and identifying suspects. Hence the sense of déjà vu I experienced a couple of days ago when there was a "breakthrough" in the Madeleine McCann case. Scotland Yard has launched a new investigation, detectives are supposedly about to "swoop" and arrests could be made "within weeks".

The popular press has always treated this abduction as a completely irresistible mystery. Since she disappeared in Portugal in 2007, Madeleine has been "spotted" I don't know how many times, while one "suspect" after another has been dismissed from the inquiry. There is a difference this time, which is that Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, are being treated with kid gloves. I suspect this has more to do with their successful libel action against Express newspapers, in which they were awarded damages of £550,000, than a sudden outbreak of compassion and decency.

In other respects, the announcement produced the usual round of febrile speculation, despite an attempt by Scotland Yard to manage expectations. All we know for certain is that detectives have identified 38 "persons of interest", including known sex offenders, during a lengthy review of the case. Twelve are UK nationals whom the police believe were in Portugal when Madeleine went missing.

But a "person of interest" is not the same as a prime suspect. Logic dictates that most, if not all, of the 38 will turn out to have nothing to do with the case, while the police have been careful to talk about no more than the "possibility" that Madeleine is alive. The review which preceded the inquiry involved 30,500 documents, material collected by both British and Portuguese police forces and the findings of seven private-detective agencies. The fact that so much material has been amassed without producing hard evidence shows how difficult this case is; vital leads are usually generated within hours of a crime, and detectives are dealing with events that took place six years ago.

I'm sure Kate and Gerry McCann, whom I've met on several occasions, are desperately hoping they will finally discover what happened to their daughter. No one who heard their testimony to the Leveson inquiry could doubt how much they've suffered because of the loss of their child, but I can't help wondering about the timing of the decision. It comes after a dreadful few weeks for the Metropolitan Police, whose reputation seems to become ever more battered with every news bulletin.

Already the McCann inquiry has produced headlines suggesting that Scotland Yard will succeed where their Portuguese colleagues failed, but it's a risky strategy. Meanwhile, the McCanns will have to brace themselves for weeks of speculation – and what could be a big test of the conduct of the popular press after the drubbing it received in the Leveson report.

politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

£18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sales - Trainee Recruitment Co...

Day In a Page

 

Careful, Mr Cameron. Don't flirt with us on tax

Chris Blackhurst
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices