The Cracked Mirror  was written in 2009. It is not a blog but a study and perhaps deserved a different website – but Blogger was free and available so here it appeared.  It has never been amended since publication and since the Blogger format  is unfriendly to narrative structure – the beginning being found at the end and vice versa – readers may have had difficulty in  finding their bearings. There appears to be a continuing demand for the work so the running order has now been been corrected and the narrative can be read as the author intended.

It is based on two primary sources which became available at that time.  The first  was the  DVD released in summer 2008 containing virtually all the case  evidence: many thousands of pages of documentation in facsimile, interim assessments, correspondence with other forces and a final report on the case by the PJ (the Portuguese criminal investigation force) submitted to the Attorney-General's department, summarising and cross-referencing this mass of  material.

This summary, in turn, formed the skeleton of the prosecutors' own final report and recommendations, which led to the release of the three arguidos and the archiving, or shelving,  of the investigation. To avoid confusion readers should note that in writings on the case the DVD material is normally referred to as the case files, or simply the files. The AG department's summary is known, naturally enough, as the archiving summary or final report – but researchers should note the distinction between this document and the PJ report of similar length and content.

The bulk of the material is, of course, in Portuguese. Volunteers from that country have, over the years, translated and made available to the public via the internet most of the key documents. Controversialists have pointed to gaps and ambiguities in the translated material as evidence of bad faith by the translators. In fact the gaps mostly arise from the variable formatting of the DVD: some material could easily be copied and pasted for machine translation which, used as a basis for a final version, could greatly speed up the task.  Much could not, hence the late appearance of some sections.

Portuguese is not a difficult language and literate readers who wish to assess the reliability of the translations can use Net translator sites and common sense to evaluate any particular passages quite easily. The translations remain a remarkable tribute to unpaid volunteer effort.

The second primary source used in The Cracked Mirror is the collection of transcripts of interviews of the McCanns' holiday friends (the "Tapas 7") by Leicester police in spring 2008.  Unlike the DVD the transcripts  were  never officially released to the public but emerged anonymously from Portugal and were circulated to interested parties via email and the Net. With such a dubious provenance students of the case  might feel cautious about trusting the texts but they have been evaluated at length, by the author among others, and there is no possible doubt as to their authenticity. They are normally referred to as the "rogatory interviews", after the international treaty protocol for interviewing foreign witnesses known as the Letters Rogatory process. The transcripts  can be found on a number of websites.  

These two sources finally provided proper research material rather than the exceptionally unreliable media stories and leaks which had been the sole source of information until then. They work well together, since the thousands of pages of exhaustingly  dry  evidence in the DVD are complemented and brought to life by the words of the seven holidaymakers.

While the other material in The Cracked Mirror has not been source-noted the sources will be found without difficulty via the Net and, in particular, that Aladdin's Cave, the McCann Files. Media reports are only used here as verbatim  records of what people said at a given time, not as evidence of what they were actually up to – and then only when they are quoted directly and with  their names given. Full verifiability, in other words.

After some consideration no alterations have been made to the text. The only significant primary material to emerge since 2009 is Kate McCann's Madeleine, an extraordinary document but not one which throws any further light on the subject matter here. Since the Tapas 7 have declined to add to their Leicester depositions and since the Portuguese have refused to re-open the case, the material on which the Cracked Mirror is based remains both the last official word on the investigation and the last (and only) description of events by the McCanns' fellow holidaymakers. So  the original material, any errors included, remains: readers already familiar with the case can assess for themselves how well it has stood the test of time.

Where is the Cracked Mirror coming from? The answer is the PJ investigation itself, which  ended with a series of questions in its final report that remain unresolved to this day. The text here adds to and enlarges upon those questions, particularly in the light of the rogatory interviews and the comparison they offer with the police statements by the group to be found in the case files. It should be noted that the Portuguese police, having been informed that the seven were not willing to return to their country to clarify their previous evidence and activities, decided not to analyse the Leicester interviews in detail. 

So the Cracked Mirror, like the original investigation, like the PJ report, is filled with questions, not answers. Much has been written about the 2007 investigation, most of it, unfortunately, worthless. To understand it properly the reader should forget media comment and concentrate on the two issues that lay at its core.

The investigating officers and analysts found the evidence of the nine unconvincing virtually from the start, though the McCanns took great care to prevent this being known in the UK, publicly maintaining that they were not under suspicion before mid-August. In fact by May 10, when the first round of statements  had been checked, the investigators were accusing a number of the group of outright lying. One of them, Mathew Oldfield, was heard crying hysterically  in the interview room that day  when aggressively  questioned about his extraordinary "hear no evil, see no evil"  visit to apartment 5A on the evening of May3, although he made no mention of this in his Leicester interview . In court and under oath in the matter of McCanns v. Amaral in 2009 officers described the group's version of events as a childish "fairy story" which nobody with an ounce of critical judgement could take seriously.

But this in turn meant that the theory of abduction itself was in trouble: the group  lacked veracity, according to the police, yet it was the group who provided the evidence of abduction, notably in the statements of Kate McCann and Jane Tanner. The task of the investigators, therefore, lay in establishing the reliability of these witnesses and simultaneously searching for positive evidence of the abduction beyond the nine's claims.

The subsequent story of the investigation is, despite all the glare and uproar, essentially  simple: it was impossible to establish the veracity (by supporting evidence, reconstruction, CCTV, statement analysis and telecommunication links) of the group; and it was impossible to find independent (CCTV, forensic science material, eye-witnesses) evidence to confirm the abduction theory.

There have been claims that the focus on the parents and their friends led to the neglect of other lines of inquiry and the PJ itself has been willing to accept such a possibility. Is there any evidence demonstrating the reality of such a supposition? In other words has evidence emerged to show that the group were the victims of misunderstanding and that their veracity has now been demonstrated? And has the passage of years turned up evidence showing that an abduction probably occurred?

The answer to both questions is an objective and categorical no. At no time have the seven friends co-operated in exercises to confirm the truth of their accounts, despite the specific warnings of the Attorney-General's department that failure to do so would mean that the innocence of the parents would never be demonstrated. For the parents themselves the picture is even bleaker. The record since the investigation was shelved shows conclusive evidence of deception and untruth. In Madeleine, for example, Kate McCann described deceiving journalists – and hence the British public – about the true level of police activity against them and it is now clear that her husband did the same in his so-called "blogs".

Unimpeachable documentary evidence also demonstrates that the parents claimed to be observing the legal ban on discussion of  case evidence in Portugal while breaching it on a regular and widespread basis in their own interests. Nor were such deceptions confined to the crisis of 2007:  Gerry McCann gave numerous press conferences explaining in detail why he had returned  to Portugal in 2009 but Madeleine reveals that these were all fictitious, a measure of  the care the couple can take to disguise their motivation when they feel it is necessary.  Finally, in an official statement from a source independent of the investigation team, José de Magalhaes e Menezes, co-author of the archiving summary said under oath in McCanns v. Amaral that  the group "had not told the truth" in their accounts of the evening of May 3. The police, therefore, were correct in their doubts about  the group's veracity.

It is reasonable to suppose that if  the PJ had failed to pursue other leads or lines of inquiry through their supposed "obsession" with the holiday group, rather than the absence of any such evidence, then subsequent inquiries without that narrow focus should turn up some sign at least of what these missed leads might be.  The various private investigations paid for by the McCanns using the case files as a starting point have produced many headlines and zero results; two years and £4.5 million of the Scotland Yard review have produced a number of encouraging statements and zero results. So the 2007/8 police position that there was no evidence of abduction beyond the claims of the group remains valid.

To look at the case through the eyes of the investigators is not to impute guilt. The archiving summary ends, after all, with the unassailable statement that there is no evidence of the commission of any crime by the McCanns and, as we know, abductions do happen: when something with a very low probability does occur then suspicion can easily attach itself to innocent people. Unfortunately, innocence rarely means "free of character flaws" in the way beloved of film and drama; all human beings are flawed and few of us can be certain that, when our lives are put under a harsh spotlight by the police, our history and personalities will immediately demonstrate how innocent we are. False accusations in themselves can have a devastating effect, leaving us distressed, confused and unsure whether sticking to the truth will actually help – after all it failed to protect us from the false accusation in the first place – or whether we should avail ourselves of tactical silence, or even flight. Accusations under a foreign and unfamiliar jurisdiction, of course, make everything much more terrifying.

The Portuguese have made it clear that they will only re-open the case if important new evidence is uncovered. Their refusal to do so at present indicates  that Scotland Yard has not provided any. Robert Murat, the third of the arguidos, has now called for others to return to Portugal for a re-enactment which, he says, might provide it. The parents have not backed his call  and the other seven, as usual, have said nothing.  All nine remain trapped  in the limbo of uncertainty – undemonstrated innocence – which the archiving summary, the last act of the investigation, both warned them of  and condemned them to. For them, as for the child, there is no escape.


Back to basics

The summary of the case by the Portuguese police for the prosecutors runs to just over 56 pages. It is the last official word on the affair and the summation of their findings and, as such, an extremely important document. The English translation available is a poor one and its windiness and lack of clarity have done its conclusions no favours. In the extract below I have re-translated the document with minor alterations to the grammar and sense. For those who wish to compare my version with the indigestible existing translation the latter can be consulted on numerous sites, the McCann Files being one of them.

The concluding pages (54-57) run thus:

"We turn now to the question of the "reconstruction" (Article 150º of the Penal Process Code),which was not performed due to the refusal of some of the members of the holiday group to return to our country, as documented in the Inquiry.

The reconstruction, at the actual location where the events took place, would have provided due clarification of the following extremely important details, amongst others:

  • The relative distances between JANE TANNER,GERALD McCANN and JEREMY WILKINS at the moment when the former passed them which coincided with the sighting of the supposed suspect carrying a child. We find it unusual that neither GERALD McCANN nor JEREMY WILKINS saw her nor the alleged abductor, despite the restricted area.
  • Matters concerning the window of the bedroom where MADELEINE slept with the twins, which was open according to KATE. Clarification as to whether there could have been a draught causing movement of the curtains and pressure under the bedroom door, as described by the witness.
  • Establishing a timeline which includes the checking of the children left inside the apartments, given that if the checking was as tight as the witnesses and the arguidos describe, it would be to say the least, very difficult under such conditions for an abductor to enter the residence and leave with the child through a window of limited dimensions. We would add that the supposed abductor could only pass that window holding the child in a different position (vertical) from the one that was described by witness JANE TANNER (horizontal).
  • What happened during the interval between 5.30 p.m. (the time at which MADELEINE was seen for the last time by anyone other than her family and the time at which the disappearance was reported by KATE HEALY (at around 10 p.m.)
The requested assistance and investigation from the British authorities mentioned above, despite the fact that it was almost completely carried out, added nothing new to the investigation. The questioning of the holiday group merely corroborated what had already been established during the investigation, without providing any additional significant detail.
In conclusion, despite the efforts that were made and the exploration of all lines of investigation, it is not possible to obtain a solid and objective conclusion about what really happened that night, nor about the present location of the missing child. It should be remembered, however, that this investigation took place under conditions of exceptional media exposure, with the publication of much “news” of imprecise, inexact or even false content. This did not help in the discovery of the truth and frequently created a climate of unusual commotion and lack of calm.
Therefore, as we do not currently envision the pursuit of any other line of enquiry within the process that might produce any useful result I submit our findings for your consideration, for you to determine and decide accordingly.

Portimão, 20th of June 2008"

It is a notable summary and while the strangulated prose of the original testifies to the bitter experience of confessing failure its conclusions are significant. Reading from the final sentence back:
  • They state that they are pursuing no new lines of enquiry and nor do they envision any.
  • That their investigation was hampered by unprecedented media exposure and "commotion".
  • That the UK "rogatory letter" interviewees, principally the "Tapas 7" , provided no additional information.
  • That they are still lacking information about what happened within the holiday group between 5.30 & 10PM on May 3.
  • That the "timeline" provided by the holiday group makes it "at the least very difficult" for an abductor to have entered and left.
  • That the information (provided by Kate McCann) that a draught had alerted her to a previously unopened window needed clarification or replication.
  • That the circumstances of the Jane Tanner sighting were hard to reconcile with the geography of the location and the close proximity of others.
  • And that clarification of these and other matters could not be obtained due to the "refusal" of members of the holiday group to return to Portugal for the necessary reconstruction of events.
Readers will note that these are the only constraints on the investigation described in these final pages: no reference is made to any burdens or problems involved in getting at the truth of events outside the holiday group itself, save for a reference to media coverage. There is no mention of any other witness inadequacies outside the holiday circle affecting the outcome of the investigation.
Leaving aside the extreme reserve with which the parents are treated in this document, when an investigating team states that it has no plans to pursue new lines of enquiry,adds that there are "very important" aspects of the investigation still unresolved, names the witnesses who could help resolve them and states that a number of them - walking around freely in the UK - have "refused" to come back to do so, then it is hardly surprising that many people agree with the Portuguese police that there are urgent questions surrounding the holiday group still requiring an answer. And that is whether one believes in the possibility of an abduction - as I do - or not.


To the outsider there is something forlorn about the Tapas 7 and the McCann's Portuguese holiday and reading the former's accounts of it is a numbing experience. Quite how the group could have believed that a holiday abroad in dispersed accomodation with nine children at their most demanding ages, and with the assistance of only one in-law and no nannies, would be "relaxing" is a mystery. And the experience itself was reminiscent of out-takes from Carry On Camping: the resort was semi-deserted, there were disputes about the facilities, the weather was miserable until May 3, the pool was freezing and unusable, the sea required a wet suit, the beach was like a grey morass, and a stomach bug, complete with vomiting such as one of them "had never experienced before", ran through almost all of them for the whole week.

In these unpromising conditions the 9 spent their time schlepping the juniors to and from creche, kids' club, play area, eateries and (occasionally) the sea-side in between lengthy - when their bowels permitted - jogging runs, windswept watersports and tennis - before another whirl of bed, biscuit and bath time followed by execrable English food at the "tapas" bar gobbled down in the intervals between the famous checking. And early to bed on most nights.

Surprisingly, perhaps, not one of the 7 appears to have had anything except a wonderful time, with none of the bitching or depression that such circumstances can often unleash. Or so they say. To the questions of the investigating officers, some of them with rueful memories of the stress of small children - with one of them, a woman, the eyebrows can almost be seen rising at these sunny responses - the answers were always the same: everyone got along just fine, everybody was really happy. Everything was lovely.

Were they fibbing? In the strict sense I think not, with some important exceptions. The explanation for much of their behaviour is surely in the personalities and experience of this naive and thoroughly unsophisticated crowd, meritocrats all, "outer-directed" people to whom careers have been everything and whose children have all been placed in the optimum planned birth slot after the completed first lap on the way to success and the "civilised" life - mid to late thirties.

Reflective about their emotions, their present circumstances or anything else? Hardly at all. Capable of real insight into themselves? Not on the evidence so far. If you want a Hamlet meditation on the tragedy that has enveloped them you'd better go elsewhere for these are, in the most literal sense, deprived people. Everything is not false but pasteboard, as in those appalling, self-delusory, round-robin Christmas letters that we sometimes receive: holidays are "wonderful", friendships terrific, parenthood an unalloyed pleasure, while the possible abductor is, of course, a monster, never seen in human terms but through filters, as the drawings of Jane Tanner illustrate.
Did something...
Even the weird and disturbing premonition of disaster that Kate McCann had about the holiday fails to raise much reflection. Fiona Payne: "Kate...what she said, when I was sort of twisting her arm really, she was unsure, I think Gerry was immediately quite come and Kate had said, when I rang up, she said ‘I don’t know why I’ve just got an uneasy feeling about it’. And I don’t know why she said that, I don’t think she even knows, I never mentioned it to her since." These people are not practised liars on the model beloved of some amateur detectives, very unlikely "swingers" indeed, and the unsatisfactory nature of their descriptions of what happened does not look like group conspiracy. The weaknesses in their story, again with important exceptions, are connected with their inability to tell, or grasp unaided, the truth about what is happening to them.

...happen to us?

Why us?

The inability to make sense of what has happened, and the resentment at the fate that has befallen them for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, runs like a thread through the UK police interviews. And understandably so: they had by then been run through the rumour mill in a particularly crushing way, accused of almost everything, from gross child neglect, through sexual perversion to premeditated murder. Jane Tanner, for example, the most emotional and expressive of this emotionally rather buttoned-up crowd, breaks down as she describes her shock at being called a liar and fantasist. Her partner Russell O’Brien is bitter and talks of getting revenge on the media one day. Mathew Oldfield, on the right of the High Court photo, is clearly still so cross that he might just burst out of his shockingly ill-fitting jacket. Their feelings are reflected to a greater or lesser extent by the entire group: how, they ask, could “anyone in a million years” – a frequent phrase - have predicted what would happen on May 3? Any sense of having helped shape events by their decisions, however well-meaning, or that their own personalities might have played a role in what happened, is absent: instead there is a slightly strange, teenager-like, attitude that the world has let them down. They are, genuinely, innocents abroad.

But perhaps not that strange. Many of us have known one of these tight-knit provincial university groups who somehow manage to keep in touch with each other - sometimes with the dreaded round-robins or their Facebook equivalents - for decades after graduating, and whose aims and interests, such as they are, are deeply entwined. This one seems to have shared, in career terms, the long view, a determination to make the most of their middling talents and a willingness to forgo youthful diversions on the steady upward march to “success”, that beguiling phantom of the future, with children scheduled for the appropriate time, accommodation increasing steadily in size – the McCanns’ Rothley house providing a stunning example of their domestic tastes – and, eventually, no doubt, a Mediterranean villa to linger in or retire to, probably the first in their respective families.

The National Health Service, that vast, over-inflated monopoly bureaucracy, so often more welcoming to its employees than to its patients, was the comforting arena for their dreams and struggles, the latter rarely involving any risk to pocket or possessions. So, single minded, decent, in many ways admirable people these, sharing the slightly mindless interests of medical students, growing apart, in the modern way, from their family origins, sharing also, due to their institutionalization in the NHS and despite their exposure to the sufferings of patients, a certain blinkered innocence about the teeth and claws of real life waiting in the shadows for all of us.

And, indeed, with these interests, their very young children and their collective boyishness, which embraces the ladies as well, with the exception of the aging in-law Diane Webster, it is easy to forget just how old they are. The running joke which caused so much mirth at the chilly dinner table on May 3 - that Jane Tanner was going to “relieve”, snigger, giggle, her partner back at the apartment – seems more suited to a university bar or rugby changing room than to the evening meal of a hospital consultant with receding hair, his colleagues and their partners. Perhaps this collective naivety, now coming under pressure from the realities of approaching middle age, is the key to the first of a series of failures of judgement that they made: their absolute unwillingness to accept that having infants in the family changes everything for ever, including such trivia as the planning of holidays.

Dr David Payne, our consultant on the left of the picture, and his wife - the stance and expression of the latter reflecting a certain admirable je ne regrette rien - were the initiators of the holiday. Clearly comfortable in the role of organiser, if a slightly bumbling one, and accepted as the “leader” of the group, whether through his talent or through a certain lofty, if amiable, presence, Doctor Payne described its origins (the italics are all mine) thus:

"The first ... concept of a group holiday was when we went to Italy for our wedding... we had all of the guests staying there for that weekend, and it was fantastic. We had children staying there and everyone came and said what a fantastic time they’d had so that was the beginning.”

He added, “Subsequently…we had holidays with other people, we went away with Kate and Gerry and other friends to Majorca and …although it was very hard, difficulties with our child sleeping wise and it’s hard work, still you appreciated the fact that there’s a group of you there and we subsequently had been away with Russell, Jane, and Matt and Rachael on another group holiday the year after that, and …it is much easier when you have a group of children, it’s great for the parents and you’re all at a similar stage in life with the way that they’re growing up. We were always looking to continue that yearly holiday.”

To each his own. It is surprising that Payne talked about the work involved and yet still felt that a group of children was “easier” and it is also questionable if the successful Italian weekend in 2003, when only the McCanns had a child, had any relevance to later times, particularly 2007 when five of the children were under three and three of them were only one. “We were looking to go on that type of holiday where we had all the amenities that Mark Warner offer so they’ve got the sporting facilities, they’ve got the crèche facilities for the children... so that, that kind of holiday was what we were looking for.”

Fiona Payne: “all those Mark Warner holidays were very much the same, different resorts but the same sort of layout, the same hypothesis of having kid time and adult time”. She also said, “They all offered a babysitting service. When Dave and I went we didn’t have children, but we were very aware, we met lots of couples that were using the baby listening service.”

And Mathew Oldfield, roped in by the Paynes said, "... some of us had been to various Mark Warner resorts before, the Greek one in Lemnos, originally before Grace was born, a last minute deal and it was great, it was all inclusive, we all like sport and sunshine it was...just a very relaxing place to go, and we were quite keen to do that again because everybody in the group is pretty sporty, if you have a lot of people together you can share sort of the child care arrangements and it’s also very relaxing for everybody.” And then added, bemusingly, “...when we went to Greece it was like the fastest holiday I’d ever been on because there was only about an hour when they [the children] were asleep at lunch each day and a couple of hours in the evening where you were actually sort of off child care duties, so the week went by in about sort of six hours, it was all sort of, it was very quick.”

Jane Tanner was asked the obvious question at her interview – what plans had she made for what she would be doing and what the children would be doing on the forthcoming Praia de Luz trip?

"Er,” she replied, “we didn’t really think. I think we thought Ella would definitely be going to the kids club because I almost felt bad that she wasn’t getting that much kid attention in Exeter. And Evie probably to the kids club in the morning but then stay with us in the afternoon and that morning would give, well me a break you know to do, to do something else but at that point I hadn’t really, I hadn’t really thought about what that would be or, you know, whatever.”
It should be clear by now that none of the group, save possibly Kate McCann with her premonitory worries, were thinking clearly about the holiday, for reasons outlined above and, no doubt, because young children can make you loopy. At no time were they able to answer the question of whether it was a group of families or a group holiday with children attached. There was nothing reprehensible or neglectful about this and clearly there is no evidence of any hidden motives: it was just a lousy, lousy, decision, of the sort that we can all make at different times but worsened, in this case, by the tight psychological similarities of a group that still, deep-down, saw themselves as couples.

It has to be said, however, that the Paynes, having roped everyone into a venture that started with their own inner needs - “we were always looking to continue that yearly [group] holiday” - and having unintentionally chosen a resort which made a bad decision worse, made some pretty appropriate follow-up choices: they took Fiona’s mother with them, they made sure they got a large apartment and they took a highly effective baby-monitor along, neglecting, perhaps, to suggest that the others do the same. The result was that for them the holiday was indeed reasonably relaxing, more or less what they wanted, and they were able to sit at the supper table floating free of the time consuming and frantic silent-movie “checking” routine apparently taking place on all sides.

Looking again at the photo on the court steps it is very easy to picture the chronically unpunctual but otherwise unruffled Dr Payne, sitting, slightly smugly, with his wine glass close to hand,at the misleadingly named “tapas” bar table. One rather gets the feeling that that’s how things have often turned out for David and Fiona Payne, but not necessarily for others around them.

Why, welcome!

In late 2008 the author Paul Richardson read extracts from his book A Late Dinner, on BBC UK radio. Richardson lives in Spain and in his book, which was described as exploring the Iberian culture and way of life through its food, he lovingly described the sense of revelation he felt when, as a young man in Santander, he was invited for the first time to join one of those long, tumbling, family meals in a seaside restaurant where time seemed to stand still and which, for him, conjured up a feeling for life and its joys which he had somehow never experienced in Britain.

Richardson was writing primarily about Spain but such ritualised gatherings are a regular feature throughout the southern European littoral, stretching in a huge arc from the Bay of Biscay to Naples and Calabria. As well as being the source of sheer enjoyment they affirm the centrality of a certain vision of family life to Latin Catholic culture, buffeted at is it by so-called globalization and the atomizing tendencies of modern life. What strikes interested northerners at once is the way all generations are accommodated into these unhurried three hour feasts, whatever time of day or night, and the way the prolonged consumption of wine almost never explodes into argumentative drunkenness on the British model. It is an event which, like the seafood itself, is strongly bound to its locality: to have the children present in numbers without wrecking things – to have them greatly adding, in fact, the to the pleasure of the occasion – means having grandparents, the avos, nonnas and abuellas, at the table to control and indulge them while others talk. The acute fragmentation of family life in post-modern Britain, where the grandparents end up living in their own reservations hundreds of miles from their children, has not – yet — destroyed the traditions of the Catholic south.

The good, perhaps...

An interest in local culture, including its cuisine, is not exactly a Unique Selling Point in the Mark Warner experience. Its gated compounds, in fact, announce the reality – that an MW holiday should have nothing to do with its host location but be nicely and predictably the same whether it takes place in Lemnos or Ulan Bator: the same sports and sportiness, as many English staff as possible, the same execrable food and – a reflection of the fragmented society from which it originates - the same generational apartheid. “Suitable for”, conclude typical holiday puffs - or “reviews” as they are known - “suitable for: couples, young families with children etc. Unsuitable for: families with teenagers, the elderly, the disabled.”

...the bad...

The firewall against the local community which protected those who signed up for the Mark Warner Experience, however, was breached radically in the charmless Ocean Club development in Praia de Luz, a once remote fishing village, initially by the nature of the MW facility itself and, ultimately, by the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. In their UK police interviews the seven talked repeatedly of “knowing what Mark Warner offered” and signing up for PDL on the basis of successful past trips, but when the cumbersome, seventeen strong party and its paraphernalia was eventually discharged from the people movers and mini-buses, they might have wondered if they were the victims of a practical joke.
Instead of the welcoming – if grotesque - embrace of an MW hotel building, some examples of which can be seen here, they found themselves staring at a chilly and semi-deserted mish-mash of facilities rented from the Ocean Club and dispersed over a hillside area about as big, and nearly as cold, as a Premier League football field, an area so large, indeed, that the group had been unable to find each other on arrival and had resorted to making contact via text messages. True there were the famous cordon sanitaire MW gates but their accommodation, and thus their supervision and security, was beyond the walls, in apartment blocks further up the hill. This was not exactly the realization of past dreams – the early morning gleeful dash in the sunlight from the door of your thatched chalet, past the palms and into the communal pool: on the contrary the doors of the ground floor apartments faced onto nothing more romantic than an excessively gloomy five-foot concrete wall and, while the rear balcony doors did indeed overlook a pool, they were separated from it by a wall, an embankment and, well below them, an alley.

...and a postcard from heaven...

David Payne, ever willing to put a favourable gloss on the consequences of his own decisions, claimed, rather optimistically, that it was possible to have a conversation with people in the pool while enjoying a drink on the balcony. Leaving aside the fact that it would probably have required a megaphone, or perhaps a baby monitor, to do so, the rest of the party might have been forgiven for not having this vision in mind as they waited for buses to take them from reception to their apartments. In any case on April 28th the pool itself was about as warm and welcoming as an Arctic seal hole.

“Basically,” said Rachael Oldfield, “Dave had chosen the resort and hadn’t really read the small print.” A remarkably generous assessment, but by the time she told the UK police this they had all been through experiences that put such relatively minor annoyances in the shade. This, and perhaps an awareness that they need their friendships intact, mean that their states of mind regarding those and other irritations are hard to gauge from their statements. Still, there is no escape from it: Dr Payne had comprehensively dropped them all in the shit.

He had, it is true, made them to a certain extent aware of some of his increasingly complex hassles with Mark Warner before they left, leading at one point to a farcical and embarrassing mix-up in which a copy of his insulting statements about MW, together with added comments of a “Get ‘em, Dave” nature by the recipient, was emailed by one of the seven to Mark Warner themselves. Payne suspected afterwards that Mark Warner had, in revenge, deliberately put the Payne entourage on a different floor from the others. He had also made the group aware, sotto voce, that there might be “some differences” (!) from other MW resorts that his friends were familiar with, but it was clearly not until their arrival that it sunk in just how great their difficulties were, and that it was now too late – because of Payne’s prior formal acceptance of the facilities, including the non-existence of baby listening and the lack of MW security overview of the apartments – to claim that they had been misled.

Still, any thoughts of lynching their Leader must have been dismissed by this extremely tolerant group and, after some hours of settling in, welcome meetings and activity choices, the group assembled to perk themselves up with the first collective meal of their holiday. Due to yet another of the “some differences” described by Doctor Payne, this was not to be in a hotel dining room, since there wasn’t one, so the group, who must by now have been half-dead from tiredness and hunger, found themselves in unknown territory, stepping out for the first time for a Portuguese, multi-generation, friends and family meal at the “Millennium” restaurant.

It was, of course, yet another disaster.

Fiona Payne said, “I think we all went to the Millennium Restaurant, which had a sort of kids supper and that was certainly sort of, sort of early evening, I can’t remember whether it was six or seven, that sort of time, I remember the kids being very tired but we all trooped across and had a massive table, you know, overtook the restaurant, it was a bit of a walk and certainly with the younger kids it, you know, imagine we’re having to pick them up and put them down and they’re wanting to walk, it just took ages and it was quite sort of late for the children, they were sort of not behaving particularly well and just very tired and wanted to go to bed...”

Mathew Oldfield confirmed the details of this trek and added some of his own: “The Millennium was a good ten minute walk along roads with sort of, where you had to actually cross into the road to get round ...obstructions on the pavement and there was quite a lot of traffic that did come occasionally through quite fast, so it was quite a long walk to get there.” And Rachael said that the “dinner at the Millennium, was all,you know, was quite chaotic because there were eight, you know, eight kids and nine adults.” She then added the final detail to this latest scene from Carry On Doctors, “it was like... well Matt, Matt wasn’t well that night, he threw up a few times.” Fiona Payne’s understated verdict on this first encounter with the Algarve? “It was not,” she said, “a success.”

Such were the realities of their long-planned trip, their first battle with real Portuguese streets [“all cobbled!” runs another internet review of Praia de Luz, “disastrous for pushchairs and young families] and the nearest they came to an encounter with the culture of the Algarve before meeting its police officers on May 3. It was, of course, not just a graphic reminder that the holiday they had vaguely envisaged was simply impracticable and not just a collision between two different ways of life - but a harbinger of things to come. The British had been bringing their beefy physiques, their weird emphasis on sports and games - suggestive to southerners of sexual frustration - their curiously unsubtle ways of thinking, their politely hidden but deep-seated feelings of the superiority of their own culture, their virtual, colonially-minded, indifference to that of others and, most of all, their irritating wealth and potential power, to Portugal since the sixteenth century and, despite the old alliance, it could easily trigger some very complex emotions: soon the gap that opened up between England and the UK over the McCann affair was as great as it had been in centuries.
Food as a reflection of culture? Well, perhaps only in England could a senior police officer, Doctor Goncarlo Amaral, within a couple of months be mocked and vilified as a "disgrace" for the crime of taking “two hour lunches,” rather than, presumably, snatching the tea and dogmeat burgers that their English equivalents are apparently happy to manage with.

Never in a million years...

Matthew Oldfield: “It’s just we are sort of fairly similar...we’re sort of from the same background, we have similar issues about child rearing, which is why we sort of get on.”

Matthew Oldfield, despite the anger that could overtake him at their collective fate, was one of the more laid-back members of the group. Not querulous, like Russell O’Brien, who typically spent some hours of his UK police interview making nit-picking and sometimes self-serving corrections to his statement, Oldfield described himself as “somewhere between” the fumbling David Payne and the thoroughly driven motormouth Glaswegian Gerry McCann. Tall and fit, greying, conventionally good looking, the granite face, without a sensual feature to it, speaks of a certain decency, strength and determination in the eyes and mouth as well as a sense of modesty. The latter might well have contributed to the swelling discomfort manifest on the High Court steps: Matthew Oldfield, in contrast to his wife, doesn’t like being the centre of attention.

Not only does Rachael Oldfield look a great deal more comfortable in the limelight than her partner but all the women in the group, with the exception of the virtually invisible Dianne Webster, overshadow their men in one way or another. Fiona Payne’s mother may have been a mindless nonentity but the glamorous Fiona, whose outfits look like they may have eaten up a fair chunk of the family budget, is clearly one of those ladies who straightens her husband’s tie before they step out of doors. Kate McCann’s blonde, ambiguous, looks constantly and notoriously stole the public attention from her husband, whose greyish, pin-eyed and argumentative face is, admittedly, about as photogenic as the River Clyde on a November day. Rachael, the self-possessed networker, an amusing, amused but coldly ambitious lady who looks very happy indeed to be Rachael Oldfield, clearly has enough oomph for both she and partner Matthew, with possibly some left over. As does the dark haired, slightly Celtic looking, Jane Tanner, the least conventionally pretty but in many ways the most interesting-looking, as well as the most thoughtful, of the ladies: pictured in her company the weak and rather unconvincing features of her partner Russell O Brien look as though they’ve had an airbrush run over them. Of none of the ladies, despite their ages, does the word maternal spring to mind.

That this combination of talent, flair and ambition could make such an utter hash of their childcare arrangements once the Millennium restaurant (of which, Dianne Webster said, getting her priorities right as usual, that “the food wasn’t very good either”) had proved its unsuitability, has been a source of perplexity and suspicion for investigators and many of the public alike, particularly among the Latin Catholic Portuguese of the Algarve, where the idea of excluding the children from meal times, let alone leaving them on their own, is, as we have seen, simply incomprehensible.

The choices, after all, were simple enough: with the daytime activities sorted out on the Sunday the sole question was what to do about the evening meals. Given that none of them, understandably, fancied the idea of carting the children to an evening crèche some distance away, the obvious solution was to find someone, either a local person, or one of the off-duty English staff, to act as a patrolling baby sitter with access to their apartments. At between ten and fifteen euros an hour, say, three hours a night would cost the three couples – one does not get the impression that the Paynes were going to hurl money into the kitty – around eighty euros each to cover the remainder of the holiday.

Dr Gerald McCann has made a great many comments about his ill-fated trip and, indeed, about a vast number of other things but explaining just why such an obvious step wasn’t taken doesn’t appear among them. Nor have the 7 felt able to enlighten us. Perhaps it was, indeed, money: they are a notably careful lot and at this stage of their lives may have felt there wasn’t much to spare on top of the holiday costs. It can’t have been intellectual stupidity. And – here come the sleuths! - the idea that it was a deliberate act to avoid outside scrutiny of their activities accords neither with what we know of their personalities, nor with any supporting evidence. Certainly finding and organizing such assistance would have bitten into another day or so of their holiday, just as the inferior alternative of buying more baby monitors would have done, assuming that these were even available in Lagos. Even so the decision to do the evening supervision themselves is hard to explain, contradicting as it does their expressed desire for some – by no means undeserved - “social time on our own”.

The tendency to inadequate judgement outside their own narrow vocational fields which I have described and characterised earlier seems to have been, once again, the cause, coupled, perhaps, with holiday inertia. The way in which they implemented the decision, as we shall see though, involved something more, something relatively unusual in a group of nine adults - the absence, temporary or otherwise, of anyone with adult common sense and concentration. This apparently average “middle-class” group – as our class obsessed UK media love to describe them – was as I wrote before, seriously deprived in imagination and experience and, underneath the apparently conventional surface, rather weird.

Fiona's somewhat blurred mother

Quite where the hazy and indistinct figure of Dianne Webster fits into this pattern is another matter. Subject to none of the constraints of the rest of the group in upbringing and occupation, she should, surely, have provided perspective and perhaps even wisdom for her daughter and her younger companions in their approach to family life. Some hope. At an age when many people are at the peak of their careers with all their marbles intact she gives the impression of a badly worn ninety-four-year old clutching a glass of port, with neither advice, impressions, observations, judgement, a hint of wisdom or even memory, to contribute to anybody or anything.

By the time of the UK interviews this lady may well have been in neurotic fear that something, somewhere, had gone very wrong and that her obvious ability to put her foot in her mouth unless closely watched – one can almost see her husband’s glare - might unintentionally make her daughter and the others look neglectful of their children. Under such circumstances an apparently poor memory is by no means a crippling burden. In any event her recollection of events is comprehensively worthless, typified by the contrast between her May 4 2007 interview and her UK deposition. Had she noticed anything unusual on the holiday, she was asked in May, anything which could be linked to the investigation? Nothing at all. A year later she remarked, with a sort of dull, sit-com, certainty, that oh, yes, they’d clearly been under observation by a potential abductor at all times. He’d chloroformed the McCann children too. The kindest things one can say about her are that she does not seem a liar and that she may well have aged prematurely, and leave it at that.

But the whole question of supervision and “checking” has become so loaded since May 3 that most of the statements made about it by all those involved, not just Dianne Webster, are of debatable value, not because the 7 (I exclude the McCanns) were liars but because the issue was tied up, in both their statements and their own minds, with problems of guilt, shame, self-preservation, loyalty to the unfortunate McCanns and bewilderment. They spoke, for example, about the decision to eat at the tapas bar and look after the children themselves as if it had somehow “emerged” without much discussion.

“We just saw the tapas bar,” said Fiona, “and thought, oh that’s great, we’ve got somewhere to eat, it’s easy, we could keep an eye on the kids, get them to bed when they’re tired and, erm, you know everyone’s a winner really.” And at another point she said, “I think, you know, once we, the following day we got more to grips with the layout of the place ... we sort of saw the Tapas Bar and that well that looks ideal, you know, to eat.” And Jayne Tanner added, "...we sort of thought, at that point we thought we can either do it between ourselves and one night one couple you know stay back and then do the baby listening when we found where we were and the proximity to the restaurant we just thought if we are checking and doing the baby listening as is done in other Mark Warner resorts we should be okay, which it obviously wasn’t, but that was, that was the thought process behind it.”

Just how much the subject, and its implications, were actually discussed is smothered under a certain amount of flannel. It is quite clear that none of the 7 were willing to admit that any one person suggested the idea, or that is was a consciously agreed decision in the knowledge that there were risks. “In relation to the child care issues it was a collective decision made as a group,” said Russell O’Brien to the UK police, in one of his characteristically pompous comments, suggestive of a certain, shall we say, defensiveness. As often in his interviews, Dr O’Brien sounded more like a tight-lipped social worker defending his performance to a tribunal rather than a witness trying to help reconstruct the truth of events. And the line that, far from worrying about potential risk – which implies ultimate legal responsibility - they were simply duplicating exactly what Health & Safety compliant Mark Warner would have done, speaks more about the advice of expensive lawyers than the reality.

“So what sort of arrangements did you come to as a group in respect of checking on the children?” Rachael Oldfield was asked by her police questioner. “That we would just check our own children,” she replied briskly, ( Rachael does a lot of brisk) “we’d go and have dinner [at the tapas bar]and then we’d sort of run back you know every fifteen twenty minutes and have a listen at the door and make sure nobody’s screaming their head off.”

And she added, “Because The Millennium had been a bit of trek and a bit too stressful with all the kids and it was thought it would be quite nice to have dinner by ourselves, so I booked a table for eight thirty in the Tapas...we thought we’d do our own baby listening as if we’d been in another Mark Warner resort where that would have happened.”

All very simple. Like having the kids in the bedroom of your own home while you sit in the garden fifty - or is it twenty? - metres away. Jane Tanner, slightly contradicting her comments above, made it clear that it wasn’t like supper in your own garden at all – after all such homely events are not normally preceded by a Risk Assessment. She admitted, “...we were just weighing it up and it seemed a reasonable risk, well I did think of it as a reasonable risk then it just, we thought it would be fine.”

At this point alert readers may have noted that the McCanns make no appearance at all at this crucial time, which seems, to put it mildly, odd, considering Dr McCann’s firm views on just about everything and considering also that it was he and Kate McCann, as parents of three young children, who were by far the most affected by this “collective decision”. It seems rather unlikely that he was uninvolved, doesn’t it? It is much more probable that, in the absence of Leader Payne - who, with his supportive mum-in-law and baby monitor, was out of this particular loop - Gerry McCann would have been closely, and characteristically loudly, involved in the final decision. No doubt the group subsequently felt that it would be wrong and unfair to say so, hence the other reason for O’ Brien’s disingenuous comments about group decisions.

But the various strangled circumlocutions of the 7, all those “ it was thoughts,” “collective decisions”, “ we sort of thoughts” , disguising the individual responsibility and implying the “emergence” of a decision, as in the election of a pope, cannot disguise the fact that debate did take place. Not only had Jane Tanner assessed the risks but as Matthew Oldfield confirmed:

“...we’d thought about it [leaving the children alone in their rooms] and talked about [it] in between couples and between Rachael and I was, I mean, the worst thing you go well, you know, why are you worrying so much? They’re locked in, they’re safe, the worst thing that can happen is they wake up and not really know where you are for five, ten minutes, and first that’s pretty unlikely, Grace sleeps all the way through nearly, you know, nine times out of a hundred, and at worst she’s gonna be upset for ten minutes and then you’re gonna be, you’re gonna be there err just the thought of something like this is just completely just out of our experience.”

So Rachael Oldfield, for example, did have doubts, and was reassured, or persuaded by Matthew; Jane Tanner was aware that it was risky. Kate McCann had had her premonitions about the holiday; the safety issue was explored between the couples. No, not at all like your average garden supper. And yet they went ahead with the men and with the wrong decision - and then they all worsened it immeasurably with their grotesque failure to secure the apartments, which we shall come to in detail below.

It really does seem that all of them - save Dianne Webster.who was not consulted and was probably making sandwiches or staring into space - were imaginatively incapable of putting themselves in the position of a terrified child at risk, the limitations of their personalities coming once more to the fore. “There’s obviously this image,” concluded Jane Tanner, “that we were like ah, fuck the kids, we’ll go off to the Tapas bar they’ll be fine, and it wasn’t like that at all.” And she was telling the truth: it wasn’t. But using, significantly, a Kate McCann phrase, she added, “We just don’t imagine in a million years.”

Imagine what? Fire? Bizarre and unlikely accident? An intruder? Is it really that inconceivable? People a little less sheltered than these narrowly dedicated - or should it be, especially in the case of Gerry McCann - focused professionals, rich or poor, might find such things all too easy to imagine. For every aspiring Tapasite in the embrace of a safe provincial university and the National Health Service or convention circuit, there were plenty of others who'd strayed beyond Mark Warner and had their pockets picked in Madrid or Athens, or who’d come home in their youth to Moss Side or London, to find a dealer or a hooker in their doorway, vomit in the hallway, or their rented rooms smashed, burgled and ransacked.

“It’s just we are sort of fairly similar,” said Matthew Oldfield, “ ...we’re sort of from the same background.”

Noble English Tradition

Jane Tanner. Truth is all

It was Jane Tanner who, towards the end of her UK police interview, best expressed the group's view about the way they’d behaved during their holiday and the utterly unfair criticism that they’d subsequently faced. All of the seven gave the police the same basic picture of their time in Praia de Luz: taking the children to the Mark Warner crèche in the mornings, going to tennis, sailing or windsurfing lessons, meeting up, usually, for sandwich lunches at the Paynes’ apartment, dropping the children back at the crèche – which most of the kids seemed to love – and exhausting themselves with more sport for the rest of the afternoon, before the usual routine of tea with the children, bath and bedtime story. Once the children were finally asleep they all met for their evening meal at the so-called tapas bar, sitting at a sheltered outside table which looked across the pool to their apartments beyond the Ocean Club perimeter.

Documentary evidence, the crèche records and restaurant reservation sheets, for example, generally backed up the group's version of events, as did the police statements of independent witnesses such as the Mark Warner and restaurant staff, confirming, in particular, that they had indeed left the dinner table at intervals, apparently to check on their children. There were no major discrepancies in the versions of events which the seven provided to the UK police; evidence of conspiracy, either to disguise the true nature of their stay in Praia de Luz, or to assist the McCanns in a cover-up of some kind was conspicuously absent; and not one of them, despite the Damocletian possibility that they might be compelled to return to Portugal, ever took refuge in a “no comment” answer.

These interviews, coming as they did after almost a year's silence, tended in many cases to strengthen the seven's credibility, which had been under attack in the media of both countries: Russell O’ Brien’s claim, for instance, that he had been dealing with his sick child’s bed sheets on the night of May 3 had been mocked as a lie for months, for Mark Warner employees had told the Portuguese press that he had never requested clean sheets. Quite right, said O’ Brien dismissively, he hadn’t – because the apartment had a washing machine, which he’d used that night. Of course, he added with his characteristic resentment, the Portuguese press hadn’t reported that, had they? Nor, it transpired, had the group spent forty suspicious minutes after the child's disappearance, possibly preparing their story, before eventually calling the police: the first call, as confirmed by Mark Warner staff, had been made by 10.15. And, as we have seen, Praia de Luz was not a carefully selected venue for suspect private pleasures – it was a David Payne small-print botch-up, with facilities that satisfied nobody.

A few days after the interviews had finished and the Portuguese police observers had flown home, Rachael Oldfield was willing to comment on them for a BBC documentary on the disappearance. Had any of them changed their story? No, replied Rachael coolly, they certainly hadn’t – there’d never been a group “story” in the first place.

To many, of course, such self-confidence was a sure sign that they were all under protection of some kind, perhaps because this little group of provincial nonentities had powerful connections, or maybe because they were uncomfortably close to organised VIP paedophile rings whose exposure would bring the government, or the monarchy, crashing down. After all, hadn’t the "UK Secret Services," whoever they might be, arrived within forty-eight hours of Madeleine McCann vanishing from her bed? However possible or impossible such theories may be, one can only say that they are not obviously derived from the available evidence, although that evidence can, naturally, be used to support them.

Jane Tanner, brought by fate into the bleak surroundings of the Leicester Police interview room, watched by both a video camera and, behind a two way mirror, the Portuguese police, had had her fill of “theories.”

“There’s a lot been said but, you know, we’re not a bunch of swingers that went out there for a swinging holiday,” she protested, adding the fascinating aside that, “I can’t think of anything worse, to be honest.” Her questioner, possibly intrigued by this insight into her personal tastes, let her proceed. “We didn’t go out there on a swingers’ holiday to dump our kids in the kids club while we got pissed and shagged each other, you know. That’s not what we did. One week a year,” she added bitterly, “there’s, there’s one week a year, the other fifty one weeks of the year with the kids all the time! In terms of our family, you know every spare moment’s with the kids: Russell doesn’t go off playing golf or go to the football’s spent with the kids. I just think the Portuguese police have obviously got this idea of us and it’s completely, completely wrong in terms of the way we are and what, you know, our motives for being on holiday there were.” She added, as Jane Tanner often did, “I’m telling the truth.”

Given their manic sporting activity – just reading about those fearsome sweat-drenched afternoon jogs above Praia de Luz makes the spirits drop – and the tedious and exhausting nature of the teatime-bath-and-bed children’s routine, let alone the disabling stomach infection which laid most of them out at one time or another, one is inclined to accept her protestations. No handcuffs or copies of A Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom spilled out of their luggage onto the airport carousel; fifteen minutes at a time away from the supper table was hardly sufficient for refined and inventive sexual variations; the crack of whips was not to be heard through the cheap, badly insulated, apartment walls. I can’t think of anything worse to be honest - cue Gerry McCann in that fleece of his: let’s face it, as hedonists the tapas nine are nowhere.

Such fun

But let’s be clear here – we are talking primarily about the seven who were questioned in the UK, not the nine. Gerry and Kate, whom the Portuguese authorities saw fit to make arguidos, or suspects, in the disappearance of their own child, an action for which they have expressed no regrets and few reservations, have their own story to tell, as we shall see. The behaviour of the seven needs to be considered quite separately from that of their two friends.

Jane Tanner’s outburst sounds sincere and conforms to the author’s personal view that the group's manifest belief in its own innocence is justified as far as the actual disappearance is concerned. But once again we see the weird tunnel vision of this tightly connected and slightly odd clique: just how had the Portuguese police come to believe that they might have been there to “dump the kids in the kids club, get pissed and shag each other?” Didn’t Jane Tanner ever ask herself this question? Had it never occurred to her that the seven’s own actions might have contributed to the way they were seen? The problem here, the one that lies right at the heart of the police enquiry, was that while the seven had an unshakable conviction of both their own and the McCanns’ innocence regarding the actual disappearance, perfectly justifiable, it seems, in the former case, rather less so perhaps in the latter, their attitude and behaviour as far as the rest of their holiday is concerned is a quite different matter. Yes, they described the broad picture but when it came to the details of the children’s care, well, as Fiona Payne might say, Phew! A witches brew of guilt, shame, inability to confront their own actions and - with the growing realization of how their behaviour was being seen by outsiders - barely controlled fear of legal action, made their responses to the Portuguese police very far from frank and open.

The crime of child neglect, in the English sense of failing in a duty of care, does not exist in Portugal. Its nearest equivalent, sometimes translated as “neglect”, is a much more serious matter – effectively abandoning a child to its fate with the intention that it should come to harm. There was no reason for the seven to be aware of these fine details, at least until these innocent “witnesses of interest” started, no doubt for very good reasons, to consult lawyers, and not just libel lawyers at that. All of them, however, must have had a pretty good sense of potential risk, perhaps in Portugal, very possibly from the UK’s increasingly draconian, if often ineffective, child protection laws.

In their first, hurried, statements, on May 4, the group made almost no comments about the child care arrangements, except to confirm the obvious fact that Madeleine McCann had been left alone, for short periods, while they all ate. In the second set of interviews at police headquarters in the charmless town of Portimao almost a week later, however, a more detailed picture was emerging of their activities, including, as we have seen, the uncomfortable fact that far from being a one-off, “all right we made a mistake,” aberration, the decision to leave the children alone every night was consciously taken near the beginning of the holiday in the knowledge, as Jane Tanner has confirmed, that there were risks involved.

It was rapidly becoming clear that they had certainly not taken action to obviate those risks. Leaving the “checks” aside only Tanner and O’ Brien had been able to maintain that they had secured the critical children’s bedroom windows; it was certain that none of the others, despite David Payne’s and Matthew Oldfield’s bullish assertions to the contrary, had done so. Worse, it was now evident that the McCanns themselves, who in their statements on May 4 had been ambiguous about just how they had entered their apartment, had in fact been leaving their rear patio doors unlocked, for no better reason, apparently, than because it made for a quicker and easier walk between there and the tapas bar.
Conscious awareness of risk to others, combined with repeated failure to take all reasonable precautions to counter it, means the possibility of criminal charges in almost any Western society and in almost any field, whether it’s a matter of child care, public safety or, as the group must have known, medical practice. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the seven were not particularly forthcoming to the Leicester police about the effect this awareness might have had on their responses to the Portuguese criminal police, or PJ, as we shall now refer to them.

The same Jane Tanner who made those passionate assertions that the PJ had a totally false picture of her and her companions began her Portimao interview on the evening of May 10 with some interesting social insights. Asked about the decision to leave the children unattended, the gist of her reply, according to the PJ records, was that:

“It was quite normal, culturally and traditionally, for English tourists to leave their small children alone in the bedroom or apartment to sleep while the parents are absent.”

Well now! Hotel bedrooms, with fire doors, smoke alarms and a certain amount of security and porterage do, no doubt, lull some people into leaving their children unattended at times, but to describe it as “normal” and extend it to apartments was a bit of a stretch wasn't it? Culturally and traditionally? Whose culture and what tradition? Jane seemed to be hoping to fall back on the traditions of that venerable British institution Mark Warner, a cultural beacon to us all no doubt, but she wouldn’t have been able to find an example of MW encouraging such a practice in external apartments whose security they didn’t control. It didn’t happen because it was far too dangerous for MW, or any other holiday company, to contemplate.

The reaction of her interrogators to these insights is not recorded but one can venture that it wasn’t a vote of thanks, especially as the interviewers were already lining up some tough questions about her reliability as a witness. Perhaps their failure to welcome her brief lecture unnerved her somewhat because pretty soon she grew altogether less certain about the strength and dignity of British tradition, turning, in fact, about one hundred and eighty degrees: “...personally,” the record continued, “personally she didn’t make a habit of leaving her daughters alone this way but only did so because all the couples of the group did it.”

What was that Jane?

Neither then nor later did Jane Tanner enlarge on this alternative explanation of peer pressure and it remains another of those little gems that she drops now and then without quite realising the impact of what she has said, especially since it implies that she might, under some circumstances, be just be a tiny bit, well, suggestible. We can recall also the “well organized” Russell O’ Brien’s flat, “It [the decision to leave the children] was a group decision, collectively taken.” So nobody’s going to hear anymore about that, then. In any case, by the time Jane addressed the question in Enderby a year after her uncomfortable Portimao experience, both of her earlier “explanations” had vanished without trace.

"Of course, you look back now and think, yes, probably we were stupid but I think we were lulled into a false sense of security because this baby listening service is offered in other places and yeah you look at it now knowing what happened and... you’d think we were probably reckless...”

Reckless? Oops. But then she added, “...this [baby-listening] is a service that is offered, you know, marketed as a service in other resorts and we felt we were doing more than is maybe offered there.”
In this, another of her helpful and highly incautious comments, Jane had summed up the “line” that they were all to take regarding the child care, or rather the slightly disgusting shortage of it, that ultimate, "collectively expressed," view of the seven as a whole. It was a neat and highly difficult to refute position, covered in lawyer’s fingerprints and with conclusions that followed as smoothly as a well oiled exercise bike - these sports freaks can get to one's brain - or perhaps a defence counsel’s final address: it was their understanding [members of the jury?] that a famous and reputable holiday group, Mark Warner, regularly uses a baby listening service by which employees listen from outside for sounds of disturbance or distress every half an hour or so. By doing it themselves they were not merely following good and accepted practice, members of the jury, but were actually improving on this highly respected holiday company’s child care - by listening at the same or more frequent intervals than MW. Cute, eh? The reason for the unanimity regarding the magic “every half hour” should now be clear, despite the irrefutable evidence that on at least one night the interval was considerably longer and featured an uncontrollably sobbing child in the McCanns' darkened apartment.

Sweet dreams, kids

Still, knowing, as all professional English people do, the nightmare possibilities associated with child neglect accusations, such as their removal by the mad, incompetent, commissars of the social services without the irritating formality of a trial, who can blame the seven for tacitly adopting a line and sticking to it? Wouldn’t you? The trouble was that the fumbling and ashamed stonewalling of the seven which preceded the “emergence” of a defensible line on the neglect issue was perfectly obvious to the trained officers of the PJ, making it dreadfully difficult, if not impossible, for them to decide whether they were truthful witnesses or not in the separate and altogether more serious matter of the disappearance issue. It was a situation that was never resolved and its ultimate consequences for the investigation were, as we shall see, profound.