Madeleine – Death in Paradise

On a forum I use a fair bit the cremation tale came up. In brief, the McCanns had a key to the local church, went in (presumably overnight) and put Madeleine’s body into the coffin of someone who went on to be cremated.

I posted a rebuttal of this, based on several requirements that make nonsense of this idea.

However, as we reside in Portugal, and as neither of us is a spring chicken, it was the spur to have a look at what happens if there is a death in paradise. I found it to be a bit of an eye-opener.

My key document is This goes by the cheery title of “Death involving British Nationals in Portugal”. I do hope you have had your breakfast already.

Local Burial, Cremation and Repatriation

Under normal circumstances, burial or cremation within Portugal must take place within 72 hours of death. Where there has been a post mortem examination, burial or cremation must be carried out within 48 hours of the body being released. The law does not specify a timescale for repatriation.”

So, unless one repatriates a body, everything on the next-of-kin end has to move very fast. After the authorities have dealt with it, a body is not going to hang around for a long time, unless it is repatriated.

This is of impact to us because we have family relatives across Europe, the USA and Australia. It does not impact on the Madeleine case, so I’ll move on.

If death is clearly natural e.g. a person dies after a protracted illness, a doctor signs a death certificate, and the timescale is up and running. As it so happens, the cause of death is not on any certificate available to the NOK. That goes into a confidential database that relatives cannot access.

If a death is sudden or accidental, an autopsy is carried out. This can involve the body being held by the authorities for a few days. Equally, the body might be held for months. The process requires that no information is revealed while it is in progress. Then the body is released and the timescale starts running. Again, this is hardly convenient for relatives who are widespread.

Repatriation is far from straight-forward.

UK Coroners

The Coroner in England and Wales is obliged by law to hold an inquest into the cause of any unnatural or violent death of a person whose remains physically lie in his or her area, even if the death occurred overseas and a post mortem has already been carried out before repatriation of the remains.”

Such a process can take months. However, this is hardly relevant to the Madeleine case, so again I will move on.

The final twist I discovered in this document was residency. This does not affect Madeleine, but it is important in even this simple explanation of Death in Paradise. If one is a resident, one’s organs are up for grabs, for transplants and scientific research. This is not an opt-in scheme. It is an opt-out scheme. A resident who wishes to opt out has to 1) go on a register for this purpose and 2) carry a card declaring their opt-out status, at all times.

So Death in Paradise strikes me as a particularly unpleasant experience for NOK. In the simplest of terms, the British Consulate recommends getting a funeral director, who will do all the logistics.

Let me return to the notion of a coffin in Luz church intended for a cremation. I had multiple objections to the notion that the McCanns retrieved Madeleine’s body from wherever, sneaked into the church at night, put Madeleine’s body into a coffin intended for cremation, then sneaked out again. Frankly, I still do.

However, one thing emerged from my consideration of this is that cremation in Portugal is not like cremation in the UK (or my experience of it). There are 5 or 6 crematoria in Portugal, and they are just industrial ovens. There is no chapel. There is no service. A body goes in. One does not see anything of the processes. Ashes come out. According to an ex-pats forum, the coffin comes from a church before this.

In other words, it would appear that bodies intended for cremation do indeed reside inside a consecrated church prior to the act of cremation.

As I said, based on other elements, which include the speed at which a cremation must be carried out, the idea that the McCanns used this route to dispose of Madeleine’s body is ludicrous.

In the absence of a list of instances in which a coffin intended for cremation lay overnight in Nossa Senhora da Luz, between the time when the McCanns got a key and when that key was returned, it is possible to speculate anything.

However the reality is such an act is extremely unlikely. On top of this, the tale requires that the McCanns did not ‘get away’ with it as it is known about, but the person knowing about it has done nothing, other than spreading a rumour.

I am filing this in my red herrings folder.


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