As Operation Grange has been vastly downsized, the end of the Scotland Yard investigation may be in sight sooner, rather than later.
The question therefore arises as to how this phase of Operation Grange can be optimised, and what the McCanns can do if the investigation does shut down without resolving what happened to Madeleine.
The starting pool of information is shallow.
Operation Grange is to continue with 4 dedicated officers pursuing specific lines of enquiry. There is no information on what those lines of enquiry are, and hence no idea when these might end.
Recently, spokesman Clarence Mitchell stated that a substantial amount of money from the Find Madeleine fund had been ring-fenced to cater for a continuing private investigation. Newspaper estimates of this amount are in the £750,000 to £1,000,000 region, but no definitive source exists for this.
There is no particular reason to believe that the McCanns could not write a further book, e.g. to mark the tenth anniversary of the incident, and raise a further substantial amount for the fund. Therefore, even if the media has got the initial estimate right, this may not be the actual amount available.
The final amount available is also dependent on the progress and outcome of the action against Gonçalo Amaral for damages. The timing of when this litigation is likely to conclude is a further unknown.
A further major complication in trying to work out how to optimise the investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance is that the McCanns have access to information that the public does not. This information has been passed to Operation Grange, so the Scotland Yard team also has that head start over the general public.
With the effort put in so far, the Operation Grange team should have access to vast swathes of information that has not been made public, and almost certainly has not been made available to the McCanns in any detail.
If Operation Grange is shelved, a further variable is how much information might become public, and how much might be passed to the McCanns.
Taking all this into account, is it possible to get a handle on optimisation of the search for Madeleine?
PHASE 1 OPERATION GRANGE STILL IN ACTION
From end October 2014, there were 4 officers still active on Operation Grange.
During the active investigation phase, the McCanns have done little in terms of continuing their action on this front, other than passing information to the Scotland Yard team (and possibly to Portuguese authorities, but that is not relevant here).
It appears to have been a case of standing back and letting Operation Grange get on with it. That includes appearing in Crimewatch 2013, which was an Operation Grange initiative rather than a McCann initiative.
They have also not updated their web site with Smithman in the sites Portuguese section, an inaction that has raised eyebrows.
The nearest thing to activity is the Official Find Madeleine Facebook site, and previously a similar Twitter account. I haven’t followed either, but they appear to be arm’s length efforts that are simply about awareness, not investigating.
Does this approach make sense and what does it tell us about the way forward?
The success of Operation Grange is critically dependent on the co-operation of Portuguese authorities.
An equivalent of Crimewatch 2013 was not shown in Portugal, though news of it was published in Portuguese media. Various explanations have been put forward for this, but one of the most likely is that Portuguese judicial authorities were consulted about doing something similar to Crimewatch in Portugal, and the idea was rejected.
This idea of not antagonising Portuguese authorities while Operation Grange is in action is a potential explanation for not updating the Find Madeleine sight with Smithman in Portuguese.
Collectively, the evidence suggests that the McCanns will not do anything significant that might upset UK-Portuguese co-operation, at least while Operating Grange remains active.
It has been suggested by the press that the McCanns have already been involved in selecting a further set of private investigators, but how realistic is this? The remaining duration of Operation Grange is unknown. The information that may be made available to the McCanns is unknown. Therefore a new PI team would be limited to getting up to speed on the PJ Files and files from previous private investigators. It would be hard to establish terms of reference or objectives beyond that.
Using the last team of David Edgar and co. would negate the need for most of a get-up-to-speed phase, but that team came under criticism from the media, and the relationship between them and the McCanns is open to question.
This would restrict the McCanns to fairly limited actions e.g. checking out the references of PI teams.
In summary, during this phase the McCanns are restricted to letting Operation Grange and the Porto team get on with things.
PHASE 2 OPERATION GRANGE COMES TO A HALT
What happens if Operation Grange is shelved?
The assumption would have to be that the lines of enquiry had either reached their end, or had become impossible to pursue.
The issue arises of what information, if any, would be released to the McCanns.
It is highly unlikely that Scotland Yard would release details of the sex offenders that have been investigated, how such investigations were conducted, and whether any remain open-ended. The statement made when Operation Grange was downsized at the end of October 2015 does not clarify the term sex offender. Therefore, Operation Grange could have investigated people whose offence does not fit well with Madeleine’s profile, or those with a somewhat better match.
However, without a list of names and a knowledge of the status of the investigation into each, trying to hack through every name that surfaces in the news seems to be a waste of effort, unless the person’s MO is a fair fit and there is a good reason to believe in involvement.
The reported sightings of Madeleine appear to be an area that does not warrant further investigation, unless the McCanns get the list of the 8,625 potential sightings checked so far, and what that check revealed. Without that information, following up reported sightings looks odds on to burn cash without finding Madeleine.
Operation Grange appears to have access to details of over 74,000 phone calls and texts, made in the period 2 May 2007 to 4 May 2007, and probably relating to phone traffic into Luz and phone traffic out of Luz. European Union laws do not allow private individuals to be given such information, therefore the McCanns will not be permitted access to these. Even if they were, analysing this volume of information would take a vast amount of time and requires an understanding of what was going on in Luz at the time. In the main, this information is better at ruling out individuals who made calls showing that they were not in the vicinity, rather than connecting them to the incident.
This is a fairly dismal assessment of what can be done if Operation Grange shelves the enquiry, but the outlook is somewhat brighter if a bit of lateral thinking is applied.
The McCanns might get their hands on redacted data gathered from the Crimewatch 2013 special on Madeleine, thereby taking them beyond what they already have.
A potential source of information is the people who were in Luz at the time, but who did not give statements. This group covers holidaymakers in Luz, ex-pats and other residents in Luz. Although this seems a Herculean task, it can be achieved by a combination of astute marketing up front with a simple data collection rear end.
If Operation Grange is willing to disclose its 560 lines of enquiry, and what the outcome was, it would considerably speed up a further stage. Possibly any information disclosed on this would be too summarised to be of much benefit, but it is an avenue that needs to be explored.
Operation Grange had taken 1,338 statements. No doubt many are confidential, but any information that can be gathered here that rules people out would be invaluable. Information on half of these would be a huge head start on what the McCanns have so far.
The final variable is the PJ investigation based in Porto. Based on a leak suggesting that this investigation has no idea what happened to Madeleine, the possibility exists that this will be shelved again, probably before Operation Grange is shelved. That may mean information from that effort goes into the Operation Grange pot, into the McCann pot or into the public domain. This again could prove valuable in ruling out a number of lines of enquiry.
In summary, there are many variables in play here, and little can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy. One exception is that the McCanns are unlikely to hire PIs while Operation Grange is still active.
The richest potential source of information, the telephone traffic for the time, is likely to be squandered, unless Operation Grange can be leveraged into digging further on this.
A complete unknown is ILOR 6, reported to have been sent on behalf of DCI Nicola Wall in mid 2015. That has either being quietly actioned behind the scenes or it remains outstanding.