“Thank you and sorry”
Breaking a silence lasting several months, the father of missing toddler Madeleine McCann this week spoke exclusively to The Portugal News about the ongoing search to find his daughter. He also spoke of the effects Madeleine’s disappearance has had on his family. Gerry McCann singled out the local community for praise and expressed appreciation for all the sacrifices they have been forced to endure the past two years, such as the negative impact the case has had on jobs and tourism in the area. He also admitted that cash in the Find Madeleine Fund is now only a few months away from being exhausted.
Shortly before leaving for Faro Airport on Sunday afternoon culminating what had been a whirlwind visit to Praia da Luz, Gerry McCann sat down in a Praia da Luz hotel room for his first media interview in months.
“I can totally understand that people want to move on”, said Mr McCann when questioned over the apparent animosity towards him on Saturday when he visited the site of his daughter’s disappearance.
“They don’t want the media intrusion and the negative association with Madeleine’s abduction. For me, and this is going right back to 2007 – I didn’t feel any evil around Praia da Luz or anywhere else in Portugal. What happened here could have happened anywhere in the world”, argued a composed and soft-spoken Mr McCann.
“Actually, the amazing response we had from the community was incredibly important to us”, he said.
As for the heckling by a small group of middle-aged locals who had been monitoring filming closely since Saturday morning, Mr McCann said: “That aspect was everything I had hoped could be avoided”, by keeping the visit under wraps.
He had demanded the utmost secrecy from all those involved in the weeks leading up to the filming of the television documentary by Mentorn Media for the May 7th showing of the programme Cutting Edge on Channel 4.
He repeatedly expressed regret at the negative impact his daughter’s disappearance has had on the region.
“I am sorry for any harm caused to Praia da Luz”, he said, before repeating an earlier request: “I specifically want to thank the local population for all their support and tolerance.”
But news of the sacking of more than half of the staff at Ocean Club resort shortly before his fleeting visit was met with regret by the man whose leftist political stance is well-documented, while his background includes growing up in a working class family on a council estate in Glasgow.
There have also been murmurings that former employees are contemplating legal action against the McCanns for loss of income, especially as the ‘Maddie Case’ is cited as one of the reasons for their dismissal.
Mr McCann put this down to “the need to blame someone” for what has happened, saying that if any legal proceedings were to be instituted, they should be directed at “Madeleine’s abductor”.
On his return to Praia da Luz and the absence of his wife Kate, Mr McCann explained: “Kate and I have been desperate to come back to Praia da Luz, but we haven’t done so due to the media exposure and the controversy such a visit would pose.
We want to come back and meet the people, without it being highlighted. There is nothing bad about this resort, it is beautiful. In these difficult economic times we don’t want to worsen things. But I do hope people understand why we are doing what we’ve done. This is a key factor in an investigation strategy. Madeleine is still missing. We need to do everything reasonable to get any information. The best thing for everyone is that she is found and that whoever took her is caught”.
Mr McCann ruled out any other visits to Portugal in the near future and as for Madeleine’s mother, said: “She’d love to come back. But we will not be returning for the anniversary. We wanted to come here and do this as quietly as possible and not to disrupt”, with last weekend’s media attention not aiding this desire.
“We want to get to the stage where Kate and I coming to Portugal is not a news story”, he said.
“Walking down into the Ocean Club felt like we were going backwards, that bit of it at least - I was the story with the media focussing on me.
“The reason we are doing this documentary is that it should be about Madeleine. I can understand why people don’t like it or that our level of child care was not to their standard, but the focus should be on an innocent child and that someone has taken her.
“There’s one thing that has been revealed in the case files which is that there is no evidence that Madeleine is dead and there is no evidence to suggest that Kate and I were involved in any theories. It’s about Madeleine. As her parents, I hope people understand that we have to do what we are doing”, argued Mr McCann.
Visibly uncomfortable at the question, Mr McCann, when asked about the toll Madeleine’s disappearance has had on his marriage, responded by saying: “We are united in our search for Madeleine and we are very strong in our relationship”.
And how have the twins been coping with their sister’s prolonged absence?
“They talk about her everyday. They are great. Literally, saying: ‘When Madeleine comes home…’. When we are having bad days [these comments] drive you on”.
But Gerry McCann refused to answer a question on whether or not Madeleine’s room has been left unchanged in the event she is found.
“If Madeleine came through the door, Sean and Amelie would react like she went missing yesterday. She is still a huge part of their life and it’s refreshing”.
What have they been told about where Madeleine might be?
“They completely understand she is missing and they understand someone has taken her. There is not a lot more. We had counselling on how to cope with the twins, given to us by a child psychologist who has dealt with child abduction who said we should fill in the gaps as they get older. But, with us, the psychologist said the problem you have is that there is very little to fill in.
The fact remains, she was there one minute and gone the next”.
Mr McCann also admitted that their approach to raising their other two children has been significantly altered by Madeleine’s disappearance.
“I am undoubtedly much more aware of potential danger or a threat to the kids now and things which we previously considered safe, and probably still are, are no longer.
“It’s a horrible balance we as parents now face between being cosseting and allowing the kids freedom, and at what age. I grew up in a very child-orientated environment, playing in parks, with minimal adult supervision. I think that’s healthy”, he explains as he leads up to the question about regrets they have over their actions as parents on the evening Madeleine went missing.
“Obviously what we did [leaving the children alone while dining at the nearby restaurant] we thought was safe.
“The whole aspect of a foreign child being abducted while on holiday never entered our thought process for even one moment, because if it had, we wouldn’t have done what we did”, he said.
An Ocean Club employee has said you were playing tennis on the Monday after your daughter’s disappearance while others were looking for your daughter, is that true?
“That is not true.
The first time I think I hit a tennis ball was about three weeks later.
We stayed in the Ocean Club for two months.
What we were told in terms of counselling was that it was really important we get back into doing things for our mental well-being.
Jogging was the first thing we did. It was only weeks later that we played tennis and that was primarily because my sister was over and she plays more tennis than I do.
“About six weeks after returning home, I played some golf due to the solitude and privacy it affords me, but I was followed onto the course by a photographer and that was just horrible - the invasion of privacy.
I think Kate has played tennis once in the two years - it has become much harder for us to enjoy the simple things in life”.
On returning to the apartment last Saturday and how he felt re-entering it almost two years after last being there, Mr McCann said: “The apartment doesn’t hold any bad karma. It was just a couple of thoughts really, it was about re-enacting [the events on the night of her disappearance] and it was where I last saw Madeleine. But actually, I felt more emotional at church this morning [last Sunday] with the support and seeing the photograph of Madeleine with the words ‘Help me’ along with the green and yellow ribbons around it was more difficult to cope with.”
Gerry McCann explained his involvement with the documentary, which will be aired next month and shown in several European countries including Portugal shortly afterwards, was purely aimed at finding Madeleine.
He also recalled that failed attempts to stage a police reconstruction were not of their doing.
“We would have been obliged to come back [due to their status as arguidos that was only lifted last July].
It did not fall on us to do it, but other people.
Don’t get me wrong, we had major concerns as to why the reconstruction was being done.
As opposed to this reconstruction, which will be broadcast with a view to getting new information, the police reconstruction was not aimed at finding Madeleine, but rather to look for inconsistencies.
There were 12 or 15 people involved and it is inevitable there would be inconsistencies”, he said. A response which led to the question over his disagreement with Jane Tanner [a member of the so-called Tapas 7] over where he was standing as Miss Tanner walked passed him the night she spotted a man taking what she believed to be a man carrying a child:
“In my mind, I am 100 percent certain I was on the other side of the road, though Jane Tanner and Jez Wilkins said I was on the side closest to the apartment. I can’t resolve that, I remember making a conscious decision to cross the road”.
Mr McCann also revealed that the family has made peace with the fact they might never see Madeleine again, but would never give up the search for her.
“We have always known that’s a possibility and that is why we have to rely on other people.
And we have that incredibly difficult balance between doing this [filming the reconstruction] and the human interest aspect. While we also want our lives to be private and normal for the sake of Sean and Amelie, we also need to do as much as we can. It’s a possibility we might never see her again, but until we have absolute definitive evidence of what happened to Madeleine, we can’t stop searching.”
Do you think the Portuguese PJ police did everything within their powers to find Madeleine?
“I think the way you are asking the question is right. PJ did more in this case than on many other occasions and worked extremely hard.
And there were many different pressures.
If you look back there were probably mistakes made on all sides.”
As for the role of private investigators and reconstructions, Mr McCann said it was a way of ensuring no stone is left unturned in the search for his daughter.
“At the minute there is no law enforcement agency actively looking for Madeleine and by that, I mean looking at the evidence saying; where are the gaps and what more can we do?
And that’s what we need.
We have severe limitations and issues of jurisdiction and we realise we have to work with the authorities. We will hand over all relative information we obtain as we do not want to waste resources nor do we want to duplicate things.”
The Find Madeleine Fund, which has received around 2.5 million pounds since it was set up shortly after Madeleine’s disappearance in 2007, now appears to be running out of financial resources.
“There’s still money in it”, says Mr McCann, adding: “I can’t give you the exact figure, but we have spent and continue to spend a lot of money with the aim of trying to enhance the chance of finding her.
On the chances of the Fund drying up completely he responded: “It won’t dry up in the next few months, but probably by the end of the year, at the rate we are running.”
He concluded that fundraising is presently being considered as an option to boost funds and thus ensure an ongoing interest in finding Madeleine.
Brendan de Beer
© The Portugal News