Madeleine – Operation Grange downsized

On 28 Oct 2015, Scotland Yard announced that Operation Grange was downsizing from 29 to four permanent officers. How are we to interpret this?

On 22 Oct 2015, Anthony Bennett started an on-line petition https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/108562

Enquiries by British (and Portuguese) police forces have cost around £15 million in 8 years. The public is now entitled to a full report on how that has been spent. The report should cover the role of the government, the security services & UK police forces.

Madeleine was reported missing over 8 years ago. The Portuguese, Leicestershire, the Met & other police forces have spent huge amounts of time & money on the case, but there seems no prospect of further progress. Given the huge interest in the case, the public needs the fullest possible explanations and answers.”

Given the start date, plus the fact that by 30 Oct 2015 this had reached 802 signatures, as opposed to the 10,000 signatures required before the government is required to respond to it, it is clear that the petition is not associated with the decision to downsize Operation Grange.

On 16 Sep 2015, the news was quite different. The Evening Standard, at http://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/madeleine-mccann-more-than-10m-spent-on-missing-person-investigation-government-reveals-a2949181.html reported that

More than £10 million has been spent on the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, it was revealed tonight.

The figure was disclosed in an answer to a written parliamentary question in the House of Lords.

Lord Bates said: “The total cost of the investigation in to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (Operation Grange), up until end of June 2015, is £10.1m. The Home Office has budgeted £2m for the investigation in 2015/16.”

This suggests that the year used by Operation Grange is July to June. The planning and budgeting would have been carried out in the quarter year running up to June 2015, so at that time it appears this downsizing was not being built into budget assumptions.

The official announcement regarding the downsizing is at http://news.met.police.uk/news/update-on-the-investigation-into-the-disappearance-of-madeleine-mccann-135459

My first impression was that this is very much along the lines of the statement released after the June 2014 dig in Luz. That spoke of investigating 41 anomalies on the ground and gaining an understanding of the use and working of terrain in the area. It painted a picture of fevered effort without revealing anything significant whatsoever.

The latest news also appears to be stuffed with an activity report, and statistics abound.

This work included reviewing all the material relating to the case which were brought together for the first time and amounted to collating over 40,000 documents from United Kingdom and foreign law enforcement agencies, as well as various private investigation companies.”

Once this work had been completed the review became a full investigation in July 2012.” Note this states the collation/cross-referencing had been completed before the full investigation phase started in July 2012.

The investigation team has taken 1,338 statements and collected 1,027 exhibits. Having reviewed all of the documents, 7,154 actions were raised and 560 lines of enquiry identified, and over thirty international request(s) to countries across the world asking for work to be undertaken on behalf of the Met.

Officers have investigated more than 60 persons of interest. A total of 650 sex offenders have also been considered as well as reports of 8,685 potential sightings of Madeleine around the world.”

This tells us there was a lot of activity, but is opaque as to precise details. It quotes summarised figures, but leaves unclear what might constitute an exhibit, an action, a line of enquiry, a person of interest, what consideration means in the case of sex offenders. For example, does sex offender equate to paedophile, or is it literally any form of sex offender?

A team of four officers will continue to work solely on the Grange investigation, funded by the Home Office. The enquiry has not reached a conclusion, there are still focused lines of investigation to be pursued.”

The word focused has been used before, when the actual activity was anything but focused. Perhaps as time goes on we will find out if this phase really is focused or not.

The officers will continue to be overseen by Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Wall, the current senior investigating officer, and sit within an existing major investigation team on the Homicide and Major Crime Command. This will give them access to officers within that team should they be required to support further operational activity.”

According to Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley “”This work has enabled us to better understand events in Praia da Luz the night Madeleine McCann went missing and ensure every possible measure is being taken to find out what happened to her.”

This is political speak. It is either “focused lines of investigation” or it is “every possible measure” but it can’t be both.

He went on to say “”We still have very definite lines to pursue which is why we are keeping a dedicated team of officers working on the case. We have given this assurance to Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann.”

So it is now “definite lines”. The second sentence is also political speak. It implies that the McCanns were informed of the downsizing before the public was, but there is no reason to believe the McCanns actually knew more than is contained in this statement beyond downsizing.

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley went on “”The Portuguese police remain the lead investigators and our team will continue to support their inquiry. They have extended every courtesy to Operation Grange and we maintain a close working relationship. I know they remain fully committed to investigating Madeleine’s disappearance with support from the Metropolitan Police.”

This is another slab of political speak. The Portuguese investigation appears to be heading its own way, distinct from Operation Grange. This is simply a way of saying thank you to the Portuguese authorities, and acknowledging that Scotland Yard has to abide by Portuguese law for activities carried out in Portugal.

The McCanns are quoted extensively in the news release, confirming that they knew of it some time in advance of the general publication.

Three thoughts struck me about this news.

First, what is DCI Nicola Wall going to be doing? The statement says the four officers dedicated to Operation Grange will continue to report to DCI Wall, so it looks like she is going back to a more normal investigating structure, where she is the senior officer in charge of multiple investigations running at the same time.

I don’t know the precise date of her retirement, but is it somewhere around 2½ years from now.

She has experience of cold case reviews, with Operation Grange being one example. When I compared the track records of DCI Andy Redwood and DCI Nicola Wall, I used the case of Margaret Muller as as example. This was a woman stabbed to death while jogging in a park in London in Feb 2003. In Feb 2011, DCI Wall was in charge of a cold case review of this murder.

Her limited time left at Scotland Yard combined with her cold case expertise favours deploying her on other cold case reviews. The officers freed up at this point also have extensive cold case experience, and the Operation Grange statement makes it clear that the team will sit inside a larger unit, from which it can draw manpower if needed.

Is Nicola Wall now heading a team reviewing cold cases, including Operation Grange? The Sun is already reporting that 25 officers are clearing out their desks in Belgravia. Time will tell which version is correct.

The second thought is the 1,338 statements taken and 1,027 exhibits collected by Operation Grange.

The exhibits could be anything that is not a statement – photographs taken at the time, records recovered from the Ocean Club, such as the crèche records.

The statements angle piqued my interest. At the moment I can think of two major potential sources. One is the Crimewatch and equivalents shown in 2013, that generated responses in 3 countries. The other is the major gap in the PJ Files – all the tourists who stayed in Luz that week, but left before they could be interviewed. Each of those would be of interest, even if iy was nothing more than to see if they can illuminate the understanding of the phone traffic. Even today, I would expect people who were in Luz that night to remember a fair bit about what they were doing, simply because of the dramatic news the next morning.

My third thought was about precisely when the McCanns became aware that Operation Grange was to undergo a significant downsize. Clearly, the McCanns had to be made aware that this change was coming, given that the news release has extensive comments by the McCanns on the change.

On 2 Sep 2015, the Madeleine story was that the McCanns accepted that the police investigation could not go on forever. Clarence Mitchell is reported as stating that the couple had moved money from the Find Maddie to a special account that would be used to continue the search for Madeleine. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/madeleine-mccanns-parents-ready-continue-6370581 At the time, this set off a flurry of debate as to why a special account was required, other than the Find Maddie account. News of the latest funding round was also being erroneously reported as giving Operation Grange 6 months before it was halted, when the parliamentary reply stated no such thing.

Debate also linked this news re McCann funds to the trial v Gonçalo Amaral.

The timing of the news re a potential end to Operation Grange, and the decision to ring-fence money, suggests the McCanns were aware by early September that plans were in place to scale down the investigation in the next month or so.

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