Thursday, March 26, 2009

Something from the bottom of the heart

Thank you, Helmy, for sending me the video. Absolutely beautiful!

The following is a post by Astro I read on the 3 Arguidos. As I read it I felt it expressed everything I wanted to say, but so much better. This is how many thousands (if not more) of Portuguese people feel like. From the bottom of the heart, thank you Astro, for alloing me to post it here.

Unless you actually live in the region, like Sasha has so effectively described, I find it very difficult for anyone to fully understand the situation in which the people of Luz have been living for almost two years now.

The subject is sad, yet interesting at the same time, but it really would take a very long post to fully paint the picture of what Luz has been going through, since that fateful evening of the 3rd of May 2007.

The fact that there are people who actually trace ANY sort of connection/comparison between the locals' worry about their only source of income - tourism - and respect or consideration for Madeleine, is offensive, to say the least. Are these people supposed to sacrifice the survival of their entire families, in the name of some sort of curse that befell the village, on the 3rd of May 2007? Are these people expected to lay down their lives, because it would look indecorous to try to preserve one’s salary?

These people have done EVERYTHING that they could do, without anyone even asking them to do it; they took time off work, they gave their best efforts, their money, their hearts and souls to help find Madeleine. Anyone who thinks otherwise has either been fed a lot of misinformation by certain media, or is simply cruel beyond comprehension. People walked their feet until they were sore, searching a radius of 15 kms around the village. Those who couldn't physically help, offered food and drink to those who could, and to the policemen and fire fighters who were on location, day and night. Policemen slept in cars, when they slept at all; some were offered a few hours of sleep on a sofa in the locals' homes. The people in Luz cried, prayed and worried themselves sick over a little girl that they didn’t even know, as if it was their own daughter, niece or granddaughter.

Meanwhile, all over the country, people despaired. During those first days, there was criticism of the parents, it would be false to deny it, but the general sentiment was 'we have to find the little girl before anything else'. Finding Madeleine was the only thing that was on everyone's mind, not only in Luz, but all over the Algarve - all over Portugal, really, as many of the early 'sightings' across the country attest.

I think most of you are aware that I live in Portimão, some 30 kms away from Luz. I remember the helicopters flying over our house, on their way to Luz or returning from a day of searches. I remember the posters that were put up on every shop window, every bus stop, every train station, hospital waiting room, supermarket entrance… Thankfully, we never had to endure what Luz suffered, with the invasion of journalists from all over the world, in search for yet another ‘human angle’ story, for that special scope. We didn’t have to endure their raucous parties night after night, either – but that’s another story entirely.

But even 30 kms away from Luz, the worry was palpable, omnipresent, inescapable. Madeleine was the subject of every conversation, everywhere, at all times. This may seem somewhat surreal now, with the benefit of time distancing us from those times, even a bit exaggerated. But in May 2007, it seemed there was nothing that we weren’t prepared to do, even if that implied behaving in an exaggerated manner.

It was precisely this enormous nationwide effort, this extraordinarily intense commitment of people all over the country - an effort that had never been made for 'our' (fortunately few) missing children... – that made what followed that much harder to swallow.

It’s easy to blame the shift in people’s perspective about the case, on the leaks from the PJ, that were only too happily published by the Portuguese media. It’s easy to blame the McCanns’ fall from grace on Mr Amaral and his team (a team that included British policemen and British experts), or on human nature, because the ‘populace’ was envious of the McCanns’ money, fame, good looks.

But look again, please.

You will see a very different picture.

You will see the supposedly devastated, desperate parents, jogging, playing tennis, entertaining guests, posing for photographs, jetting all over Europe. You will see them smiling at the locals when the cameras were rolling – and not even saying ‘good morning’ when the employee from the Batista supermarket delivered their shopping at their apartment. You will see the British media, under the command of the McCanns’ spokespeople, ridiculing, insulting and humiliating the very same people who cried their eyes out for Madeleine.

And when the going got tough, instead of answering the police’s questions, they left Luz without a word. They turned their backs on those who had treated them like family, who had offered everything that they had, and then more.

Some will say that nobody asked the locals to do what they did. Others will say that the McCanns owed these people nothing, that they had to think about their missing daughter, about their remaining children. The McCanns had to protect their family.

Fair enough. God knows I’d protect my family with my life, if necessary; anyone can relate to such arguments.

But there cannot be two different standards just because it suits us.

The people of Luz are protecting their families as well. They have to earn a living, they have no fund to pay their mortgage when times are tough. They have no wealthy supporters, no famous sponsors. All that they have is their arms and legs to do their work, day in and day out, and that work just happens to be, for the vast majority at least, the tourist trade.

Even if for a moment, they put aside the insult, the arrogance, the humiliation that they suffered, they’d still be left with a very basic choice: a campaign of highly dubious success – or the need to restore the shattered image of their village as a safe, family friendly holiday destination.

Finally, just a thought about the proclaimed purpose of this campaign: the McCanns announce that they want to enlist the help of the people of Luz, to jog their memories, to collect any information they may have about the little girl, and the night that she disappeared – in the belief that a member of the population of Luz could have deliberately held information back from the police.

I think in English this is called 'adding to the insult'.

I’m sorry if this offends anyone, I definitely don’t condone the shredding of posters in this case; but if I ever come across one, I’ll quietly, calmly remove it and place it in the paper recycling bin. I don’t need posters to remind me of a little missing girl that didn’t deserve the destiny that befell her.

And neither do the people of Luz.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Too many farces for one day

McCanns launch campaign in the Algarve

by Duarte Levy

With little over a month to go until the second anniversary of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, and alleging that they didn’t care properly for the contacts with the locals, Kate and Gerry McCann now announce the launch of a new campaign that targets the inhabitants of Lagos and Burgau, the areas closest to the tourist resort in Praia da Luz where their daughter allegedly disappeared from.

According to information from the couple’s spokesman, Kate and Gerry now believe that their daughter is still alive and that they didn’t properly care for contacts with the locals, who will therefore receive 10 thousand leaflets in their post boxes asking for help, while several posters will be affixed throughout the region.

source: Duarte Levy @ Wordpress, 24.03.2009

The farce continues

PJ Inspectors' trial returns to Court of Faro today

Expert says lesions are from distinct moments

by Lusa

The trial over the alleged aggressions against assistant Leonor Cipriano by Judiciária inspectors returns to the Court of Faro on Tuesday, with the hearing of a forensics medicine expert, who concluded that the bruises have occurred at three different moments.

The 12th trial session, which is scheduled to start at 9.30 a.m., is expected to hear Teresa Magalhães, an expert at the National Institute for Forensics Medicine, who wrote a report on request by the Court of Faro, about the photographs where Leonor Cipriano can be seen with lesions on various places of her face and body.

A source that is connected to the process has told Lusa Agency that in her report, the expert concluded that the bruises had been made during “three different trauma episodes”, with hematoma that is three to four days old, others that are eight to nine days old, and further ones that are 21 days old.

The expert, who never saw Leonor Cipriano’s alleged lesions live, further excludes, in her report, that a fall from stairs could have been the cause for the lesions.

The defence for the present and former Polícia Judiciária (PJ) inspectors nevertheless argues that the stair fall theory cannot be excluded, because of the “trauma mechanism”.

During a previous session at the Court of Faro, a forensics expert had already stated that the lesions that Leonor Cipriano presents in the photographs may have been made on two distinct moments and that they could be a consequence both of falling off the stairs or being assaulted.

Marcos Aragão Correia, Leonor Cipriano’s lawyer, is not expected to attend Tuesday’s trial session.

In February, Marcos Aragão requested the removal of this trial’s presiding judge, arguing that the magistrate’s behaviour indicates bias. Nevertheless, the Appeals Court of Évora has denied the request for the removal of the presiding judge.

Aragão Correia was notified of the decision from the Appeals Court of Évora last Thursday, and when confronted with the decision, that allows for no appeal, informed Lusa that he wouldn’t attend the next trial sessions, although he continues to represent Leonor Cipriano in writing.

The “Joana case” dates back to the 12th of September 2004, the day when the girl, aged eight, disappeared in the village of Figueira, near Portimão, in the Algarve, and whose mother, Leonor Cipriano, and her uncle, João Cipriano (both siblings) have been condemned by the Supreme Court of Justice to 16 years in prison over the crimes of homicide and concealment of the child’s cadaver.

Before serving her sentence at the prison in Odemira, Joana’s mother was under preventive detention and was questioned several times by inspectors at the PJ’s Directory in Faro.

The Public Ministry’s accusations against present and former Judiciária inspectors appeared following the interrogations at the PJ in Faro. Three stand accused of the crime of torture, one stands accused of failing to give assistance and omitting a denunciation, and a fifth one stands accused of document forgery.

source: Diário de Notícias, 23.03.2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spoof or no spoof, great idea!

The McCann Million Dollar Challenge

Austin, TX - Texan businessman, Tom Franks, has offered to donate a million dollars towards the Find Madeleine Fund, a company set up by the parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann.

Austin, TX - Texan businessman, Tom Franks, has offered to donate a million dollars towards the Find Madeleine Fund, a company set up by the parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann. Madeleine was three-years-old when she disappeared from her vacation apartment in Praia- da-Luz, Portugal in May 2007.

Tom Franks, who shares his time between Texas and L.A., said, “I will give the parents a million dollars if they can answer just one question. I will need to see evidence, either forensic evidence, witness evidence or strong circumstantial evidence that shows the man they want us to believe took their child probably did. If they publish compelling evidence that a man seen by a tourist before they arrived in Portugal, was "Madeleine‘s probable abductor," as they claim on their website, I will gladly give them a million dollars to help find that man.”

Franks explained why he had decided to make his offer to Mr.and Mrs, Mccann. "Justice has to be seen to take place for an innocent child. We must defend and protect children, even if it is difficult for others." He added that he "could not understand why they want us to believe a particular man took their child, when there has never been any evidence released that suggests that is the case and when the man has never been suspected by the police. It is important that when a child goes missing those responsible for that child tell the truth so that justice can prevail. I am happy to give the McCanns a million dollars to track down this man, if there really is credible evidence that he probably abducted Madeleine."

Franks' million dollar offer can be seen at:

The Pledge

My million dollar challenge to Gerry McCann

A reminder of some facts:

1/ A woman called Gail Cooper was on vacation in Portugal before you even arrived there. She says she saw a man collecting money for charity. Does that make him a child abductor? No. She says she saw a man on the beach when it was raining. Does that make him a child abductor? No. She says the man gave her the "creeps" because of the way he looked. Does that make him a child abductor? No. It means she might need to get out more, but no reason to believe he had anything to do with Madeleine.

2/ One of your vacation chums, Jane Tanner, states she did not see the face of the man she conveniently claims she saw, so I am not going to have you tell me she saw the same man Gail Cooper saw. She plainly would not know if it was the same man, if she had seen the face.

3/ On your website you display two pictures of the man your pal conveniently claims she saw and two pictures of the other man Mrs. Cooper says she saw.

You clearly want all of us to think the man Mrs. Cooper saw is the same as the one your vacation pal claims she saw and you want us to believe he is "Madeleine's probable abductor."

My Challenge

I challenge you to produce compelling evidence that shows Mrs. Cooper's man probably abducted Madeleine. I need either forensic evidence, very strong circumstantial evidence or witness evidence. I don't think you have evidence to prove that Mrs. Cooper's man probably abducted your daughter. You also have no evidence the man your vacation buddy conveniently claims she saw probably abducted Madeleine.

I think it is something you invented and you knowingly had a lie published on your website. Don't pretend you are unaware it is on your website. What parent with a lost child would not look at their own website designed to find their child? I think you are a liar. A controlling man like yourself would know fully well what is on your website.

If I am wrong and you can provide the forensic, strong circumstantial or witness evidence to substantiate your claim that the man probably abducted Madeleine, I will donate $1,000,000 to your fund. You can use that to pay your mortgage in full and take another vacation. Hopefully you will come back this time with as many children and you leave with.

You can either accept my challenge and publish the evidence on your website or decline my challenge and remove your lies from your website. The choice is yours, but the longer your lies remain on your website the more people will become aware you are a liar.

If you cannot accept my challenge, others will ask why not. Others will ask why you have lied. Why have you pretended to the public a man probably abducted Madeleine when you have no evidence to support that claim?

Others will know you are a liar. Others will wonder why you lied. I can only think of one reason why you would lie, because you want to create a smokescreen, a diversion from what really happened.

You are collecting money from the public on your website based on the claim that Mrs. Cooper's man probably abducted Madeleine. If you cannot substantiate that claim and it transpires you have lied, you had better pay every cent back to those you have taken money from, because that would make you both a thief and a liar.

Tom Franks 03/18//09

Friday, March 13, 2009

Is someone growing some balls?

Daily Mail

13 March 2009

Jan Moir

Gerry's complaints leave a bitter taste

How strange it was to see pale, pugnacious Gerry McCann back in the news this week. It serves as a reminder that while the world has moved on for the rest of us, time stands still for him.

For the McCann family, the clocks stopped nearly two years ago, on that terrible night in the Algarve when their three-year-old daughter slipped from public view and has not been seen since.

In their quest to find Madeleine, the desperate McCanns invited the world's Press into their lives. It was a relationship that was doomed to sour.

Grievance: Gerry McCann has complained about the Press

For months, the McCanns' efforts to keep their daughter's plight high on the news agenda were intense. Far from shrinking from the oxygen of publicity, what they feared most was the muffle of public apathy. In the process, they became experts at manipulating the media to their own advantage.

At one point, Mr McCann even returned to the family home in Leicestershire to tie his own yellow ribbon to the teddystocked Madeleine shrine that had been hastily erected in the centre of the village.

Then and now, watching Gerry McCann walking the red carpet of his grief, as knowing as a Cannes film star, can be an uncomfortable experience.

This week, Mr McCann took the opportunity to air his grievances about the Press and its treatment of his family in front of the House of Commons Culture Select Committee.

For what possible purpose? Certainly, some bad judgment decisions were made by the more excitable newspapers, who have been punished with hefty libel payments and widespread approbation for their troubles. Surely that is an end to the matter?

No. Mr McCann is not finished complaining. Yet the more and more he complains about what happened in the aftermath of his daughter's disappearance, the more I feel he is attempting to assuage his own guilt for failing to be there when she needed him most.

Still, it's not his fault that these useless Select Committees, stuffed with the third rate and the Parliamentary walking wounded, give an indulgent platform for anyone with a grievance.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Once again, great reading from Paulo Sargento

Satellites and Espionage

by Paulo Sargento*

Duarte Levy has published an article in ‘24Horas’ newspaper, on Monday the 23rd of February 2009, that many unsuspecting readers might think was a Carnival joke. But anyone who knows journalist Duarte Levy knows that, both in the ‘blogshpere’ and in the more traditional press, he is not a man to hide behind masks. Actually, that’s the very reason why, showing his face throughout the high quality investigation that he carries out, he has experienced a few misfortunes, just like Paulo Reis, Gonçalo Amaral, Hernâni Carvalho and others who, if it wasn’t for the excessive amount of events, on the same “targets”, and within particular time circumstances, one might state that these gentlemen share the common fact that… “they’re very unlucky”. Within less than 2 years, these men have experienced more flat tires, car hits, unjustified detentions, persecutions, computer hackings, cowardly dog assassinations, phone threats, computer viruses, anonymous letters, forbidden document translations, thefts, robberies, meetings with mediums and threats to their physical integrity, than they had suffered in their entire lives. Their ages lie between 40 and 50. But it took only 21 months for the number of “unpleasant” events to reach, for some of them, and within this time frame, occurrence rates that are 50 times higher than the probability that they occur with to any common citizen within an average 80 year life span. Amazing, isn’t it? And everything in silence and without (apparent) connections.

Well. Let’s return to Duarte Levy’s article and explore a bit of the subject that he treated notably.

I retained two central aspects: that the satellites were turned towards Morocco and the existence of “spies”.

Why did I retain the reply that the journalist was offered: “The satellites were all turned towards Morocco”?

Because this is a Mitchell Style reply. If we take a closer look at some of the questions and answers that appear, from a certain time onwards, in the Maddie case, we are faced with notable structural similarities, under the linguistic point of view (both in syntactical and in pragmatic terms). But, even more! While looking barbarously stupid, those questions or answers are absolutely contusing! Always! What do I mean? That they are obvious lies! Nobody believes that all British satellites (because they certainly don’t own just one, and as a matter of fact, the number of objects that circle the earth is becoming worrying, namely since recently two satellites collided) were turned towards Morocco. Why? Because apart from the technical problems that would arise, there would have to be at least
ONE acceptable justification for such an event. A State secret? This is where I state that the replies are contusing, despite barbarously stupid and appearing to treat us all as clowns (I beg the clowns, the real ones, whom I much admire, to forgive me).

How does one refute a State secret? Motives to point towards Morocco? Yes, of course! But they are top secret! And it had to happen in the 3rd of May 2007, of all days! What special event took place in Morocco at that point in time, for all of the satellites to be oriented into that location? As far as we know: NOTHING. NOTHING. But being a
State Secret, the stupidity acquires contusion.

This type reply is typical, just like the justification for G. McCann’s visit and so many others.

Allow me to say this: there probably is nothing that could be more irritating than to be
forced to accept the contusion of stupidity!

But, there was a mention of spies?

Apart from the simple technique of anonymity that is permitted by the ‘blogshpere’ but which an attentive analysis of the timings and the “grammatical styles” unveils, we have a far more powerful trap: a new form of counter-information – the “Streisand effect”.

The so-called
“Streisand effect” has often surfaced on the internet. In Portugal, we have a more parsimonious popular expression: “a cat hiding with its tail sticking out”.

So, what’s this so-called “Streisand effect”? This is a supposed effect that is produced when there is an attempt to censor something on the internet. In a simplified manner, given the structure, the number of people and the means that are available on the internet, if I want to prevent certain news from coming out, or if I try to censor it, the effect of said censorship is the exact opposite of what was intended, because it tends to replicate in every possible and imaginary manner, like some sort of cybernetic self-regulation.

But is it just us who know this? No! The “Streisand effect” is
Poison and Antidote, an old espionage recipe. Do you know why? Imagine that I try to censor a piece of news in order to render another one innocuous? Imagine that after one undesirable piece of news is at risk of spreading, I place two or three other placebo pieces of news (but booby-trapped as pseudo-censors)? Is this possible?

Can you imagine how often this has happened in the Maddie Case? Numberless times, and almost always under the shape of

See you around!

source: Câmara de Comuns blog, 25.02.2009

* Forensic psychologist, university professor, author and blogger

From Wikipedia: The term Streisand effect originally referred to a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and for US$50 million in an attempt to have the aerial photo of her house removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs, citing privacy concerns. Adelman stated that he was photographing beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the California Coastal Records Project. As a result of the case the picture became popular on the internet, with over 420,000 people visiting the site over the next month.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Descansa em Paz - Rest in Peace

As minhas mais sinceras condolências a todos os que amavam o Afonso Tiago.

Corpo de Afonso Tiago descoberto em Berlim

Corpo do jovem engenheiro português foi descoberto ao fim de quase dois meses RTP

O corpo do português Afonso Tiago foi encontrado hoje pela polícia de Berlim no fundo do rio Spree. O engenheiro estava desaparecido desde 10 de Janeiro.

O corpo do engenheiro português Afonso Tiago, desaparecido a 10 de Janeiro na cidade de Berlim, foi hoje encontrado pela polícia alemã no fundo do rio Spree.

A informação foi avançada à agência Lusa pela secretária-geral da Rede Judiciária Europeia que adiantou que a família do jovem já recebeu a notícia.

Para já e segundo a mesma fonte "ainda se desconhecem as causas" e "se se tratou de um acidente ou de um crime".

Ainda segundo a procuradora Adélia Martins, "o corpo do Afonso vai ser autopsiado em Berlim para se chegar a conclusões sobre o que aconteceu".

Afonso Tiago era natural de Oliveira de Azeméis, tinha 27 anos e estava na capital alemã há seis meses como investigador na Active Space Technologies.

Na noite em que desapareceu tinha saido com um grupo de amigos dos quais se separou já na madrugada do dia 10 de Janeiro dizendo que ia para casa, onde nunca chegou e não voltou a ser visto desde então.

O desaparecimento de Afonso Tiago foi amplamente divulgado e até o próprio Presidente da República, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, fez recentemente referência ao caso durante a sua visita à Alemanha.

O chefe de Estado dizia que as autoridades alemãs incluíam o caso do desaparecimento de Afonso Tiago na categoria de casos que designam como "bruxedo", ou seja, algo "que não conseguem explicar".

"Consideram o caso muito anormal. Fiquei a saber que o incluem numa categoria de casos a que atribuem a designação de 'bruxedo', isto é, qualquer coisa que não conseguem explicar", afirmou Cavaco Silva na altura aos jornalistas em Berlim.

Até hoje as autoridades alemãs continuavam sem pistas quanto ao desaparecimento do português, mas não havia indícios nenhuns de que tivesse havido um crime.

A família e os amigos de Afonso Tiago colocaram milhares de cartazes e distribuíram folhetos em Berlim com a fotografia do jovem para tentar obter informações sobre o seu paradeiro, até hoje sem resultados, dia em que o corpo do engenheiro foi finalmente descoberto no fundo do rio Spree.

Google Translation
The body of the Portuguese Afonso Tiago was found by police today in Berlin at the bottom of the river Spree. The engineer was missing since Jan. 10. The body of the engineer Portuguese Afonso Tiago, disappeared Jan. 10 in the city of Berlin, was today found by German police at the bottom of the river Spree. The information was advanced to the agency Lusa the secretary general of the European Judicial Network, the family said that the couple has already received the news. For now, according to the source "is still unknown causes" and "if this was an accident or a crime." Still according to the prosecutor Adélia Martins, "the body will be autopsied Afonso in Berlin to reach conclusions about what happened." Afonso was born in Oliveira de Azemeis, had 27 years and was in the German capital for six months as a researcher at Active Space Technologies. On the night had gone out with a group of friends of which are already separated in the early hours of the day on January 10 saying he was going home, where never again and not be seen since. The loss of Afonso Tiago was widely known and even the President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, recently made reference to the case during his visit to Germany. The Head of State said that the German authorities included the case of the disappearance of Afonso Tiago in the category of cases known as "bruxedo", ie something that can not explain. " "Consider the case very unusual. I know that to include a category of cases that give the name of 'bruxedo', ie anything that can not explain," Cavaco Silva said at the time to journalists in Berlin. Until now the German authorities still no clues about the disappearance of the Portuguese, but there was no evidence that there had been a crime. Family and friends of Afonso Tiago placed thousands of posters and leaflets distributed in Berlin with a photograph of the couple to try to obtain information on their whereabouts, so far without results, day in which the engineer's body was finally discovered at the bottom of the river Spree.

A bit of reporting - before it vanishes...

Update: Bem-vinda ao mundo, Gabriela!
Welcome into this world, Gabriela!

McCann spokesman faces Oxford Union protest

7:00am Friday 6th March 2009

CAMPAIGNERS hoping to discover what happened to missing Madeleine McCann will stage a protest in Oxford tonight.

Members of the Madeleine Foundation — a group unconnected to the official Find Madeleine group — plan to hand out flyers while the McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell speaks at The Oxford Union.

The 32-strong group disputes the claim that Madeleine was abducted from her family’s holiday apartment in Portugal on May 3, 2007.

Mr Mitchell is speaking at the union about his career as a journalist, media industry issues, and possibly Madeleine.

Five members of the Madeleine Foundation will be handing out leaflets and a 64-page booklet called What Really Happened to Madeleine McCann?

They have been handing out leaflets in the city over the past few days in the run-up to Mr Mitchell’s appearance and it is the group’s first public protest.

Founder Tony Bennett, a 61-year-old retired Essex solicitor and social worker, said: “We are a foundation to campaign for the truth about what happened to Madeleine and to ensure that she is remembered for the right reasons.

“If by the end of the evening we have informed people that there is another side of the story then our job will be done. We are not seeking to stop Clarence Mitchell speaking or cause any trouble.”

The leaflet details what the group claims are contradictions in reports of what happened on the night Madeleine, then three, disappeared.

Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann have led a worldwide campaign to find their daughter. They deny being involved in her disappearance.

The couple faced criticism for leaving Madeleine and her brother and sister alone in the apartment while they dined in a nearby tapas restaurant with friends, with people checking on the children periodically.

No-one from the Find Madeleine group was available to comment.

An Oxford Union spokesman said: “It is people’s human right to protest in a non-dangerous and non-illegal way.”

More harm than good

Madeleine: Murat speaks out against tabloid fairytales

Thursday, 05 Mar 2009 20:31

Robert Murat has delivered a scathing attack on the journalists who defamed him over the abduction of Madeleine McCann, saying he felt "like a fox being pursued by a pack of hounds".

Mr Murat won undisclosed libel damages for defamatory claims made by 11 national newspapers about Madeleine, whose disappearance and suspected abduction in a Portuguese holiday resort dominated headlines over the summer of 2007.

Tonight, addressing an audience of students at Cambridge University's Union Society, Mr Murat described in detail for the first time the "horror story" of being pursued by journalists.

During his speech Mr Murat explained how he blamed a specific unnamed journalist, who was "so anxious, it appeared, to break a story that she literally created her own".

"To my personal cost, I now know what the maxim 'never let the truth get in the way of a good story' really means," he said.

"Over a period of many months, day after day, a torrent of outlandish, untrue, and deeply hurtful allegations about me were systematically splashed across the pages of British newspapers.

"I was one day said to be a sexual predator, another day a kidnapper; the tabloids reported apparently that I had been outside the McCann flat on the night Madeleine went missing, with her DNA apparently found in my home.

"They even came up with a story that I had a secret chamber under the floor of the house. Fairytales. Every single one of them, as the police themselves concluded."

Mr Murat argued against the motion that 'tabloids do more harm than good', describing them as a "travesty" and a "force for harm".

"My own life will be scarred for ever by the lies they printed," he added.

Media litigation lawyer Louis Charalambous, Mr Murat's lawyer of Simon, Muirhead and Burton, said his former client had had his "reputation destroyed" by the press.

He said: "Although Mr Murat's good name has now been rightfully restored and he and his family have begun rebuilding their life, the intolerable distress and stress they experienced as a result of such malicious reporting to benefit ad revenues and market share, is a shameful episode in the history of the British press."

Other speakers at the Union debate included Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, former Endemol chairman Peter Bazalgette and Guardian assistant editor Michael White.

Madeleine was three when she disappeared from her parents Kate and Gerry McCann's holiday villa in Praia da Luz.

Mr and Mrs McCann, as well as Mr Murat, were named as arguidos - official suspects - by Portuguese police, who dropped the investigation into Madeleine's disappearance last year.

A team of private investigators hired by Mr and Mrs McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, is still trying to locate Madeleine.$1275008.htm

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The importance of swimsuits in missing children's cases

Clarence Mitchell:'I am a decent human being. If I can help them, I will'

The ex-BBC journalist built a career on professional detachment. Then, he went to work for the McCanns

Cole Morton
Sunday, 1 March 2009

The search goes on. "There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever, nothing, to suggest that Madeleine has been harmed, let alone killed," insists Clarence Mitchell, the former television reporter who speaks for the family of the most famous missing girl in the world. Her face is instantly recognisable. There is no longer any need to use her surname, McCann. And yet, nearly two years since she vanished from the Algarve, there is still no trace.

This is hard to say to Mitchell – who began as a dispassionate adviser and then became a close personal friend of her parents – but there seems no evidence to suggest the three-year-old is still living. "Obviously," he says, "as time goes on, Kate and Gerry are finding it harder and harder. But they are still firmly of the view that Madeleine is alive and out there to be found."

For months now they have turned down interviews, preferring to go through the many files handed over by the Portuguese police. There is another reason for their silence, too. "You reach a saturation point," their spokesman admits. "People would say to us, 'Oh, it's tragic, but we've almost had enough of Madeleine.' That was appalling to hear."

In their silence, Clarence Mitchell is re-emerging as a public figure in his own right. On Friday he will speak at the Oxford Union, following in the footsteps of Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and Kermit the Frog. Now he is giving his first personal interview since the days when he was a familiar face on the BBC. He is doing it at the West End offices of Freud Communications, which has hired him as a consultant. Dressed as if to broadcast, in a light brown suit and dark blue shirt, he has two BlackBerrys on his desk: one for Kate and Gerry, the other for everyone else.

Lately, he seems to be setting himself up as a public relations guru for families in distress, including that of 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen, who was stabbed to death in south London last year. The trial of Jimmy's alleged killer begins at the Old Bailey a week tomorrow, and Mitchell will be outside, representing the bereaved parents. Once again, he will be on our screens. But despite seeming so familiar, Clarence Mitchell has never really given anything away about himself. Why did he stop reporting and reading the news? What then drove this 46-year-old man to campaign on behalf of the McCanns, a couple he barely knew and who were suspected of murdering their daughter?

"Everything I have seen of them, in all of the pressurised situations, shows me a family who are suffering the loss of their child," he says. "Everything they are doing, behind the scenes, convinces me of that."

So far, so on message for a man who was hired in September 2007 to "salvage their reputations" in the wake of the McCanns being named as arguidos, or suspects, by the Portuguese police. Mitchell had already been with them for a month, as a civil service media expert sent to help the couple to cope with all the attention. But he returned in the pay of a millionaire supporter of the McCanns, leading a publicity campaign "to correct and balance the inaccurate coverage that was coming out and try to get everything back on an even keel ... with a view to helping to get arguido lifted".

It worked, of course: they won £550,000 damages and a front-page apology from the Daily Express, and last summer the police cleared them of all suspicion. But Mitchell could not have known it would turn out that way. "It was," he says, "gut instinct."

It was a life-changing moment. Until then, his entire career had been built on remaining calm and uninvolved in the most trying circumstances: reporting for the Hendon and Finchley Times with the local MP, Margaret Thatcher, bursting into the office; broadcasting from the M1 with the wreckage of the Kegworth air disaster strewn in front of him; covering wars in Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Iraq and the Balkans alongside the likes of Kate Adie. "You see a lot of distressing things, whether that's a war zone or a murder scene, but I have always found it relatively easy to be dispassionate."

He needed that skill most when sent on a story in Fulham in 1999. "There was a rumour that Jill Dando had been in some sort of accident. The area was taped off. There were detectives walking up from the house who told us to ring the press bureau. I said, 'Look, I know Jill.' We were friends. She used to called me Clarenzio. They said, 'She's dead, I'm afraid.' It was dreadful." But he still filed reports from the scene. "You just have to get on with it."

He did breakfast TV and the odd Six O'Clock News – "which nobody remembers" – but by the time he left the BBC in 2005, his career had reached a plateau. "I felt I had more to offer." Recruited by the Cabinet Office to run the Media Monitoring Unit, he had a hard first week. "The Monday was the G8 at Gleneagles. I was just about getting my head round the job on Tuesday, then Wednesday we won the Olympics. Thursday was 7/7." When the Foreign Office sent him to assist the McCanns – as he insists it would have helped any family in that situation – he asked difficult questions. "I was assured that from the perspective of the British authorities, this was a rare case of stranger abduction."

They had left their very young children alone in a holiday apartment while they went to a tapas bar. He doesn't duck that, even if the response has been smoothed by repetition. "They made a mistake at the time; they weren't with her when it happened. They will always regret that, God forbid, possibly for the rest of their lives."

In media terms, he says, Madeleine was "a perfect storm: her age, her appearance, the location, the parents..." Columnists wrote about "people like us". Picture editors loved Kate, to an extraordinary degree. "It would be sad if it wasn't laughable: Kate was finding herself in Nuts or whatever lads' magazine's top 10. You think, 'This is ridiculous.' But they can't help how they look."

There's no truth, then, in the report that he tried to get Kate to be photographed in a swimsuit? "Utter b*llocks." Gerry suggested it without realising the implications, he says, and was then persuaded otherwise. "A good example of facts being distorted. Completely, 180-degree wrong."

Mitchell had a home in Bath with his wife and children, two girls and a boy who were aged 10, eight and one at the time. Why go back to Portugal? "We had become friends. There was an emotional drive. I felt they had been the victims of a heinous crime and very badly wronged in the way stories had appeared."

There was also his response as a father. "I have never had to analyse it like this before ... but yes, this was every parent's nightmare, my own included." Didn't he miss his own children? "At night, when I had a few hours to myself, you did miss them more acutely, perhaps, than if it had been a job of a different nature."

These days Mitchell gets 40 per cent of his former salary as a retainer from the Find Madeleine Fund. Kate is said by relatives to spend hours with the files at home in Rothley, Leicestershire, while her twins are at nursery. Gerry, devotes evenings to the case, after days as a consultant at Glenfield Hospital.

"Sadly, the files have not revealed any substantial new leads," says Mitchell. "And sadly, they have confirmed a lot of what Kate and Gerry feared: that things haven't been done properly in certain areas, and certain things hadn't been followed up." The detective agencies they hired are no longer on the case. Have a dozen British former detectives and security service agents been employed instead, as reported? "I can't go into details, because the investigators don't wish me to. The investigation is on a smaller scale, but just as relevant."

There is still a huge amount of material to work through: such as more than 3,000 "psychic tip-offs. Any verifiable fact in them – and some are very detailed – has to be checked".

Meanwhile, his new life involves media training for corporations as well as advising people such as the mother of Scarlett Keeling, who was murdered in Goa, and the Mizens. "I do it pro bono, for free." Why? "Because these people came to me in the direst of situations, with their children dead. I'm not going to say no. Nor am I going to say, 'I'm sorry about your loss. Here's my fee.'" Others would. "It's a non-starter. I am a decent, caring human being. If I can help them, I will."

Yes, but isn't he using this free work to build the kind of reputation that made him attractive to Freud? "Not deliberately so. Honestly." Others have compared the new Clarence Mitchell to a more obviously compassionate Max Clifford, with whom he says he gets on well. "People are entitled to their point of view," he says, as calmly as he says everything, on and off camera. "But I am doing this for what I believe to be honest, genuine, compassionate reasons."

The making of a media expert

From TV to Madeleine, and beyond

1962 Born and educated in north-west London. Tries working in a bank after school but hates it.

1982 Joins Hendon and Finchley Times as a trainee reporter, which brings him into contact with the local MP, Margaret Thatcher. "To see the Prime Minister sweep into the office with Special Branch while you are writing up the latest golden wedding is quite an experience."

1985 Shift work on Sunday Express.

1986 Joins the BBC in Sheffield as a radio reporter, before going on to television in Leeds with Look North.

1989 Breakfast News in London, then "fireman" sent where needed, including extensive war reporting.

1999 Made a BBC News presenter.

2005 Joins Civil Service as director of Downing St Media Monitoring Unit.

May 2007 Sent to Portugal to help with press attention in the McCann case.

september 2007 Quits the Civil Service to become spokesman for McCanns.

2008 Extends help to other families.


Some interesting aspects:

1 - How can a PR help anyone have their arguidos status lifted? isn't that a matter for JUSTICE to deal with?

2 - He was assured by the British authorities it was a case of stranger abduction? How could the British authorities know? Why would the British authorities interfere and say that, when the case was in a crucial stage of the investigation and suspicions about the parents were starting to emerge?

3 - I'm glad Mr Mitchell took the time to enlighten us all about his personality. I have to confess that without his help, I would never use those adjectives to describe him. And I'll leave it at that.

4 - 40% of his salary being paid by the Fund? Hmmm....

5 - Nice of Mr Mitchell to set the record straight. So it wasn't him who wanted Kate to be photographed by the press in her swimsuit (I had never heard of that). It was Gerry who suggested it. Very interesting. A common suggestion among fathers of missing children, I guess. 'Hey, honey, put on your swimsuit. Pssst, Mr PR, call the press'.