How a human body may be disposed of in the Algarve relates neatly to who the suspects are.
For some reason, possibly the publication of the Jane Tanner sighting on 25 May 2007, the focus seems to be on individuals walking through Luz carrying a girl who could be Madeleine. I don’t know when the Smith sighting went public, but that one may also come into it.
The fact that an abductor could have used a car or van seems to be ignored. A perpetrator on foot seems to have gripped the collective imagination.
Therefore, disposal of a body in the wheelie bins must be examined. Gonçalo Amaral raises this possibility in his book. Kate mentions it in her book, in a quite different manner. The Dispatches programme of 2007 concluded body disposal in this manner was possible. The citizens of Luz who are anti-McCann cite this as one easy and obvious disposal method, and normally refuse to discuss the matter further.
What is the truth about the wheelie bins? This apparently simple question led to a very long post, so I have split it into two. This article covers the case for the prosecution. The case for the defence will come later.
The Dispatches programme on 18 Oct 2007 was filmed before the PJ files were released and before Amaral’s book came out, so it should have been based on reports in the media..
Dispatches sent a team of 5 expert investigators to Luz and allowed them to ferret around, looking at all the possible scenarios. Therefore, the wheelie bins were discussed.
Team member Professor Barclay states that in UK cases bodies have been put in bins, or even taken to rubbish sites, in the hope of concealing them in landfill.
Then Dispatches goes off the rails a bit. The bins are described as industrial bins, which they are not.
The Algarve, like all of the Mediterranean countries I have visited, does not do house to house collection with individual-sized bins for a single house. The bins are communal bins, placed at convenient locations, and individuals take their domestic rubbish to such a designated point. This requires bins that are several times the size of a UK wheelie bin.
I am only aware of one “small” wheelie bin in Luz. By pure coincidence, it is located at the entrance/exit of the estate used by the McCanns after they moved out of the Ocean Club, so I’d guess the McCanns are familiar with it. Even that “small” wheelie bin is several times the size of a UK wheelie bin, and is in use as there is not enough space for a standard sized unit.
Dispatches then says that the bins are emptied every night, between midnight and 4 AM, and that they were emptied at this time on 4th May i.e. about two hours after Madeleine went missing. They state that the collections should have been stopped. When they asked the Portuguese police if the bins were searched or the landfill site was checked, the police declined to comment.
This implied emptying of all bins overnight between midnight and 4 AM may have been happening in May 2007, but it is certainly is not like what happens in Luz today. Bins appear to be emptied in the period of midnight to around 4 PM.
Only a sub-set of bins are emptied on a given day, as there is no need to empty them more frequently. Most wheelie bin points have multiple bins on them and simply do not fill up in a day or two, so emptying them faster is a waste of cash. In fact, the only bin I can think that might get emptied daily is that small one near McCann base camp #2, as that should fill up rapidly.
Back to Dispatches, where they showed Charlotte Pennington. Charlotte is the child-care worker whose statement included the fact that she had read Madeleine a story on 3rd May. In Dispatches, she says that she took part in the search that night (presumably the structured search organised by the Ocean Club) and they were instructed to look in the bins. However, she does not think all the bins were checked that night.
I know for a fact that not all the bins were checked that night, as the searchers did not have the tools required to search all the bins.
The searchers might, or might not, have checked all the wheelie bins. I doubt that a proper check was conducted. The bins are normally quite smelly since there is days-old domestic waste in them. Plus a proper check would require daylight, so you can see what you are doing.
Luz had (and has) 3 different systems for handling domestic waste. All of these are loaded mechanically into the rear of lorries, so the operators have very little chance of spotting a body going in.
First were the giant green wheelie bins into which all types of waste went, without being sorted.
Then there was/is a system that looks like giant brown bells. These come in sets of three, two for recycling an one for non-recyclable waste. These require a lorry with a crane to get into them, so these were not searched. However, the entrance hole in the general waste one is too small to fit something of Madeleine’s size into, so not searching these was not a problem.
The third system was being rolled out in more modern places in Luz, like St James and Estrela Da Luz, where the Smiths’ apartment was located. These come in sets of 4, 3 for recyclable waste, and one for general waste. They are underground and cavernous. Above ground, you walk over the top of the bin and drop rubbish in through large steel tubes with a lid on top. Most visitors think the entire bin is the steel tube above ground. The effort to get into one of these bins is massive. You have to raise not just the steel tube, but also the part of the bin you walk across to get to the tube. This is normally done by a crane mounted on a lorry. I doubt anything was done with these. Even peering in through the top lid would require a torch, and you still can’t see what is at the edge of the bin or underneath the top layer.
This leaves the green wheelie bins and the 3rd generation underground bin for general waste as problem areas.
Gonçalo Amaral in his book, “A Verdade Da Mentira” alludes to the fact that this disposal method was available to the McCanns. His pointer is that a short way into the investigation he got a call from his wife to say their pet Shitzu had been horribly killed, and she wanted him to dispose of the body. A Shitzu is a small dog, much smaller than Madeleine. Amaral knew that digging a grave in the Algarve was tough, something that Scotland Yard found out for themselves in the dig in Luz in mid-2014. Even though the dog was small, Amaral knew that digging a grave would take a long time, time he did not have. So he took the Shitzu to a waste collection point and disposed of the pet that way.
This last point is important. When I get on to the defence case about was Madeleine disposed of in this manner, whether by the McCanns or other perpetrators, it will be important to show why dog corpse disposal works but human corpse disposal does not.
Also in his book, Gonçalo Amaral covers the meticulous examination of all 188 bins in Luz He states that the bins, sewers and boxes were searched before the first interviews of the Tapas 9 were started.
This is not accurate. All members of the Tapas 9 had first interviews on 4 May 2007. The PJ files clearly show that the bins were search on 7 May 2007, so obviously there is a lot of scope for bin-emptying in the interim.
The methods used to conduct the PJ bin search is not made clear. The report states that all 188 bins were checked on a single day by a team of two police officers and three people from the waste disposal company. A little arithmetic suggests to me that five people, even if they were all mucking in (rather than the two officers watching as the workers got stuck in) cannot search 188 bins of Luz-size wheelies, large brown bells, or cavernous underground bins.
The wheelies can only be searched properly by tipping the contents out and going through the result meticulously. The brown bells have to be lifted by crane, the contents dropped out, and then thoroughly searched. The underground bins are killers, because the amount they hold is vast. Open the lid, pick up the bin with a crane, tip the contents out and there you may have a weeks worth of rubbish to sift through.
188 such searches in a single day by a team of 5 people does not fill me confidence that a thorough check was made.
Gonçalo Amaral did not make the bins his only possibility. After all, he wanted the evidence from the dogs, and the evidence from the dogs implies Madeline was first concealed, then retrieved, then disposed of. The Luz waste system does not fit concealment and retrieval.
In Kate’s Book “Madeleine”, a wheelie bin opens chapter four, when she searches in the early morning hours of 4th May, sees a bin and opens it, praying that Madeleine was not inside. She does not tell us what was inside, whether the bin was full or empty. If it had rubbish in it, she does not tell us if and how she searched the rubbish.
Nor does she state the location of the bin. There was one just 90 seconds from the McCann apartment in the direction taken by Jane Tanner’s man. It would have made sense to search that bin, and all the others very close to 5A, but that opportunity has been missed.
What Kate’s book does tell us is that on the morning of 4th May, she considered that disposal of Madeleine via the wheelie bins was an option.
The prosecution rests.