Madeleine v Corrie McKeague

Corrie McKeague went missing in the early hours of 24 September 2016 in the Bury St Edmunds area of Suffolk, England. Before disappearing, he worked as a Royal Air Force Regiment gunner.

McKeague was last seen on town centre CCTV footage, entering a cul-de-sac which contained a number of wheelie bins. His mobile phone was tracked by masts along a route between Bury St Edmunds and a landfill site near Barton Mills. Suffolk Constabulary were initially reluctant to search the site for McKeague’s remains.

Whilst McKeague’s disappearance remains under investigation and the case continues to attract widespread publicity, the belief by authorities and the family, is that McKeague was crushed to death by the bin lorry and his remains are at the Barton Mills landfill.

Suffolk Constabulary have spent more than £2.1 million investigating McKeague’s disappearance, making it one of the most expensive missing persons investigations that the force has conducted and in the words of Suffolk police, brought unique pressures on the force. The search for McKeague was stood down in March 2018.


McKeague joined the RAF Regiment in 2013 and was posted to No. II Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment based at RAF Honington after his initial Regiment training at the same base. McKeague is a Senior Aircraftman gunner and medic on the squadron.

In January 2017, April Oliver, aged 21, announced that she was pregnant with McKeague’s baby. Neither she nor McKeague were aware of the pregnancy at the time of his disappearance. They had been dating for 5 months. Miss Oliver was on a holiday in America when McKeague disappeared, but cut the holiday short to return to the UK.

On the night of 23 September 2016, McKeague was out drinking with friends in Bury St Edmunds. He had driven himself to the town with the intention of leaving his car overnight. He separated from his friends in the early hours of 24 September, after leaving the Flex nightclub on St Andrews Street South. The doorman at Flex recalls asking McKeague to leave because he was too drunk to stay. He remarked that McKeague was ‘no trouble’ whatsoever and that they chatted afterwards on the street outside. McKeague was in the Mama Mia’s takeaway restaurant, reportedly his usual takeaway restaurant, between 1:15 am and 1:30 am. The last known sighting of McKeague was on CCTV at 3:25 am on Brentgovel Street, walking into the “horseshoe area” where there were a number of wheelie bins. There was no footage of him ever emerging. CCTV footage also suggested that McKeague had slept briefly in a doorway before waking up and moving on. It is not believed that he intended to walk back to his base, RAF Honington, which is 10 miles (16 km) north east of the town.

Nicola Urquhart, his mother, has stated that her son has never walked back to Honington on any previous occasions. However, leaving on his own, getting food and sleeping for a short time have all been cited by his friends and his mother as something McKeague has done in the past.

McKeague was not reported missing until the 26 September (the following Monday) when he failed to report for work. Since he was reported missing, the Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue team (SULSAR) have been involved with the police in searching the area around Bury St Edmunds and Honington alongside the RAF’s own search and rescue teams which have been bolstered by searches involving police helicopters.

Early theories

On the morning of McKeague’s disappearance, his Nokia Lumia mobile phone had moved from Bury St Edmunds to Barton Mills, some 12 miles (19 km) to the north west, along the corridor of the A1101 road. Phone data indicated that this journey took 28 minutes, which meant that it could not have been carried the distance by someone walking on foot. In October, Suffolk Constabulary seized a bin lorry that was said to have contained his mobile but the line of enquiry led to nothing. It was noted that the bin lorry seized was only carrying a weight of 15 kilograms (33 lb) and so could not have been carrying McKeague himself[ as he weighs around 90 kilograms (200 lb). This led to searches being carried out along the lorry’s route between the two towns. The mobile phone was either switched off at 8:00 am, ran out of battery power or was damaged and it was not found.

One focus of the investigation has been whether or not someone gave a lift to McKeague as he was walking back to his base. His mother stated that Corrie would have accepted a lift if offered to him, as he would offer a lift if he was driving and saw someone walking on their own. She also appealed for anyone who might have given him a lift to come forward, even if something untoward had happened. Police believed that McKeague was not in Bury St Edmunds.

The investigation also covered parts of the Hollow Road Industrial Estate in Bury St Edmunds and Great Livermere, a small village close to RAF Honington on McKeague’s supposed route back to his base. Along with the British Transport Police, the Suffolk Constabulary searched along railway lines in the area and some of the roads were closed to enable thorough searches.

CCTV evidence

In November 2016, it was revealed that in the two hours between 3:00 am and 5:00 am on the morning of 24 September 2016, 39 people could be seen on the same CCTV camera as the last one to record McKeague’s last movements. Despite repeated inquiries and appeals, 23 of these people could not be identified.

Urquhart statement and mobile phone

In December 2016, Urquhart publicly went on record as saying that Suffolk Constabulary were not properly investigating her son’s disappearance. The appeal fund raised in Corrie’s name had attracted funds of more than £50,000 by the end of December 2016 and Urquhart was considering hiring a private investigator to pursue lines of enquiry which she believed the police had failed to follow.

In January 2017, the back of a mobile phone was found close to where the last signal from McKeague’s phone was detected. However, as the part contained “no essential components”, such as a SIM card or any electronic parts, the police said it would be impossible to link it with the disappearance and that no further analysis would be performed. However, police announced they were examining McKeague’s activities on swinger websites. His family had provided Suffolk Constabulary with his username for at least one site.

Landfill search

In February 2017, police started searching the landfill previously identified as being the last place his mobile phone was located when it connected to a tower. This was in the belief that McKeague had slept in a bin in the horseshoe area and had been crushed to death when the bin lorry collected the contents of the bin and transported them to the landfill site. Whilst Suffolk Police stated that McKeague had gone and slept in a bin in the Horseshoe area, his family said that they did not believe this version of events. They point to the fact that he was proud of his appearance and if necessary, he could have gone and slept in his car which wasn’t very far away.

The search was planned to cover 1,100 square yards (920 m2) to a depth of 25 feet (7.6 m) and was expected to take ten weeks. By May, they had sifted through 3,000 tonnes of waste.

On 5 June, it was announced that police were finding “items from the right time” and place of McKeague’s disappearance. About 4,430 tonnes of waste had been searched.

On 21 July 2017, 20 weeks into the landfill search, Detective Superintendent Katie Elliott, of Suffolk Constabulary, announced at a press conference, that the search of the landfill had come to an end with no positive results on McKeague. A human skull was found at the site in April 2017, but was found to be from a female and dated back to before 1945. Police managed to trace the person who had sent it to landfill and they deemed there to be no suspicious circumstances.

Between February and July, the police had sifted through 6,500 tonnes of waste at the landfill site. The search will now focus on incinerated waste and the police will also initiate a comprehensive review of the investigation. Nicola Urquhart also publicly acknowledged the possibility that McKeague may never be found but has criticised the police’s decision to hand the landfill site back to the owners and sought an injunction to prevent the area where his remains are believed to be from being disturbed. Police were criticized for not continuing the search as they had stated that it was not about the money being spent on the landfill dig. A former police officer stated that if it was not about the money, then there was no reason to not go searching. Dr. Stuart Hamilton, a forensic pathologist, stated that if McKeague’s body had been in the bin lorry and it was crushed, then the rate of decomposition would have been faster than normal for a human body.

In August 2017, it was revealed that police were also sifting through “incinerated material” that was transferred from the landfill site. Occasionally, waste from the landfill is taken to Red Lodge transfer station and then on to an incinerator at Great Blakenham near Ipswich.

Release of CCTV images

On 21 September 2017, Suffolk Police released four CCTV images of people who they said could have been witnesses to McKeague’s disappearance twelve months previously.

Second landfill search

In October 2017, Suffolk Police announced another search would be started at the landfill site at Milton in Cambridgeshire. This search would focus on an area adjacent to the previous search area, but believed to contain waste taken to the site around the time that McKeague disappeared. A review of the investigation into McKeague’s disappearance by a specialist police unit based in the East Midlands, supports Suffolk Police’s theory that McKeague climbed into a bin in the ‘Horseshoe’ area of Bury St Edmunds and was brought by a bin truck to the landfill site at Milton.

Suffolk Police announced on 26 March 2018 that the search for the missing airman would be stood down as there were “no realistic lines of enquiry left”. The day after the Suffolk Polices’ winding down of the case, McKeague’s mother and brothers appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show to highlight what they cite as “inconsistencies” with the raw data referring to the weight carried in the bin lorry. McKeague’s mother stated that either the data was manipulated or “someone is lying to police”.

In April 2018, Corrie McKeague’s father, Martin, acknowledged that his son was probably dead and that he hoped to hold a memorial service in the summer of 2018.

His father later released a statement on social media that said McKeague was in the Suffolk waste disposal system somewhere but that “his remains are essentially irretrievable”. Martin McKeague acknowledged that his son was prone to sleeping in and on top of bins and that he was in the bin that the bin truck delivered to the waste site on the morning of 24 September 2016.


A retired senior Metropolitan Police detective, Colin Sutton, went on record stating that McKeague’s disappearance had not been intentional, as making preparations always leaves a digital footprint. Sutton also said that McKeague was shown walking into a cul-de-sac that was blocked off by a high wall and a fence and that there was no CCTV of him leaving it. He doubted whether McKeague would have been aware of where the CCTV cameras were located which, Sutton said, was also indicative of not leaving intentionally. The CCTV cameras, operated by the town council, did not provide 100% coverage. Even after a review of privately operated CCTV recordings, there were no further sightings of McKeague. McKeague’s uncle, Tony Wringe, said that the area off Brentgovel Street that McKeague was shown walking into on CCTV, had been physically tested and it was shown to be impossible for him not to have been recorded on CCTV if he had left on foot. Sutton said that his guess was that there was another person, or other people, involved in McKeague’s disappearance.

In November 2016, the family issued a statement on Facebook saying that they were unhappy with the police investigation. McKeague’s uncle, Tony Wringe, said that “This is a Major Investigation Team in name not function”. The family also said that a decision not to search a landfill in the Barton Mills area for McKeague’s phone had been wrong.

Police costs

By December 2017, Suffolk Police revealed that the inquiry had cost more than £1.2 million as of July 2017, more than 1,400 tonnes of earth and waste had been sorted in the second search at the landfill and that they had assessed over 2,000 hours of CCTV imagery. By January 2018, the total cost of the search was £2.1 million; with Suffolk Police having an annual budget of £122 million.


Madeleine v landfill

The Secret Life of Landfill – Aug 2018 – BBC2

The base for the programme was a site near Edinburgh, a city with a population of 600,000.

One truck dumps around 20 tons of rubbish. The landfill site gets 600-800 tons per day. [A lot of the shots showed general waste being dumped into landfill, without any particular sorting apparent. There were unopened black bin-bags coming through.]

The waste is delivered to a sorting station. This was simply a giant warehouse, with no machinery. The waste was just dumped on the ground in a giant heap. If the waste was then further processed, it was not shown on the TV programme.

Then the rubbish was put onto the dump in thin layers, like an onion skin. One layer would be compressed as the next layer went down.

Landfill dig #1 – 1890 dump – Great Yarmouth

This was a period of more leisure time plus disposable income.

Here, rubbish was buried on the beach. Before this, rubbish was similar to prehistoric times, but now there were bottles. One was wine from France. Another find was a jar for marmalade from Keiler’s of Dundee. This was disposable packaging for luxury goods.

In the current day, the breakdown of waste going into landfill is – 20% plastic, 19% paper and card, (others), and 4% batteries.

Toxic products become leachate and sink to the bottom. The modern site is thick clay covered by a thick membrane. The site is covered over every night. This has only been the case for the last 20 years.

Landfill dig #2. London. On a site dating to 60 years ago, Up until then, most rubbish was burned. The 1956 Clean Air Act stopped this. London took to dumping its rubbish downstream. Now coastal erosion is opening up this landfill site. There are no surviving records for this site. It took domestic, commercial and industrial waste.

On this site the team found asbestos, and batteries, with levels of cadmium, arsenic and zinc above permitted levels.

A key change at this time was synthetic clothes, not broken down, with colours as vibrant as 60 years ago.

By 2018, there are around 20,000 landfill sites in the UK that pre-date modern legal requirements.

Methane gas is organic material being broken down by aerobic bacteria, Methane is 1 part carbon, 4 parts hydrogen. It is highly flammable. The Edinburgh landfill site is a giant gas platform. There are 300 wells, used to generate 4.5Mw/day of electricity, all from microbes feeding off organic waste.

An idea under development is the handling of dog waste. This is a rich source of methane. In an early prototype, easy pick-up bags (cardboard) are popped whole into a digestion chamber. This is seeded with microbes. 10 poos are enough to power a gas street-light for 1 to 2 hours.

Landfill dig #3. 1980 Midlands. Birmingham. Synthetics from this dump appear new, Aerosols still work. Newspaper has not decayed. Leachite contains heavy metals. There is ammonia. These last 100s of years.

The programme had a stab at how to fix the problem. Landfills are full of valuable materials. Landfill mining occurs in Belgium. This is after methane has been extracted and the leachite removed.

There is value in smartphones. They contain rare earth elements plus other valuable elements – up to 75.. The average lifespan of a smartphone is 2 years.

There is now technology to separate out rubbish. Artificial intelligence does it faster than humans,

Plastic and the best way to get rid of it. PET. An enzyme to break this down has been developed in Japan. People are working on the DNA in leachite. While one can reverse engineer plastic to extract the fuel component, However, the plastic has to be heated to 300°C first. Hardly energy efficient.

Madeleine – Monchique 3

n, my wife had tried to report a stolen phone in a GNR station in Lagos on Monday 6 Aug 2018. She was asked to come back the next morning by GNR officer Rui Hernandes.

So she returned at 9.20am on Tuesday morning, got a space in the GNR car park, and as promised, officer Rui Hernandez was on the front desk.

Reporting a stolen phone is simply a case of filling in a 2 page form, but that was not completed until 11.10am, nearly 2 hours later.

The issue was that Officer Hernandes was the only officer manning the front desk at the station. In addition to filling in the stolen phone claim, he had to answer all the calls to the station landline, ditto the station mobile, handle the GNR radio traffic and explain to people entering the station how long they would have to wait before being dealt with.

During my wife’s visit to the station, there were two incidents of note.

First, in dribbles, GNR officers emerged from the rear of the station, until 5 of them had assembled in the reception room. Each officer had a small suitcase, of the type carried on as hand luggage on airflights. Once assembled, they departed the station. Officer Rui Hernandes explained that all GNR officers were trained in firefighting, and this quintet was going to help deal with the conflagration around Monchique.

I have seen photos of the GNR being used in two ways in the Monchique fire. The first has the GNR in normal police uniform, carrying out normal GNR duties. The second has GNR officers in firefighting dress, identical to that of the bombeiros, except that GNR kit is emblazoned with the word GNR, not Bombeiros.

So it seemed this GNR station in Lagos was being pared to minimal resources to support the effort against the forest fire. Or was it?

The second incident involved where my wife had parked her car, in the space reserved for the GNR. While she had been given permission to use it, 2 GNR officers said that made no difference, as they had to open those green doors on the RHS of the photo. With our car duly moved out of the way, the green doors were opened.

It turns out those doors are not garage doors but stable doors. Out came 2 horses, the GNR officers mounted up, and off they trotted to patrol Lagos.

This is a bit perplexing. Lagos itself is supposed to be handled by the PSP, not the GNR. Quite why two GNR mounted police officers were patrolling Lagos is an enigma.

Madeleine – Monchique Part 2

This follows on from Madeleine – Monchique Part 1, which described the August 2018 forest fires around Monchique, on the Algarve.

The issue with that post was that it reported the fires as being 95% under control, but they definitely are not. The GNR has recently started evacuating villages and hamlets near to Silves, a long way from Monchique.

The fire is being stoked by a strong northerly wind, which is reigniting areas previously thought to have been put out.

We can see the results from where we live in Portelas. The sky has a long dark plume of smoke from the fires heading down to Portimão on the wind. When we go to Lagos or come back home from it, it is possible to see the flames.

The person in overall charge of the effort was removed from his position and replaced by a national commander. It seems the previous major conflagration near here was in 2012, at the Serra do Caldeirão to the east, and the same commander came in for stick for that operation.

The number of personnel deployed and the supporting units has gone through the roof. The wind is currently a strong northerly, so there is going to be a tough night ahead.

The bombeiros are active on social media, requesting small bottles of water, energy drinks, fruit, energy bars and medical aid for treating ‘minor’ burns, basically all front-line supplies. It seems the ex-pats are happy to oblige. The Portuguese see it as a sign of a broken system, needing more than a temporary patch.

That brings me to Monday afternoon. My wife went to a GNR station in Lagos., to report a stolen phone. She sat in a queue for quite a while, as a single GNR officer struggled to cope. Eventually a second GNR officer turned up at the desk, to ask what the issue was.

The officer was GNR officer Rui Hernandes, aged around 35. My wife explained what her mission was, and Officer Hernandes said he could not process it at the time. He explained that he was only in the office because he was writing up the paperwork on two incidents. One was a domestic affray involving 5 people. The other was a car crash.

He explained that he should have been on duty in Monchique but for these two incidents around Lagos. He checked the duty roster the next day, saw he was marked down for the police station desk, and requested that my wife should return early the next day.

And here is a photo of this rather quaint GNR station in Lagos.

Madeleine – Monchique Part 1

After three days, the forest fires continue to burn around Monchique, although we are told they are 95% under control. The fires managed to progress from the top of the mountain, to the village of Monchique in the foothills. And here is what it looked like.

Some hamlets around Monchique had to be evacuated. Macdonald Monchique Resort and Spa was also emptied, with guests being relocated to two hotels further east on the coast of the Algarve. The locals however had to make do with a school in Monchique. One complained that as he had no money, he could not even buy a cup of coffee.

The effort on this has been huge. At times, it has topped 1,000 firefighters, of various disciplines. Spain has loaned a couple of water-carrying planes. There are also other fires on the go locally. There is a fairly large one between Lagos and Odiáxere. This has stretched resources of all kinds here in the Algarve.

And that is the link with the Madeleine McCann case.

A visit to the local GNR station in Lagos today struggled because the GNR station had been picked bare of resources, in order to attend the conflagration around Monchique. Resources here in Lagos are spread wafer thin.

I will develop the Madeleine connection in a second post, focussing specifically on the GNR in Lagos today. I have still to work out exactly what was going on with the GNR response on 3 May 2007.

Madeleine – May 2018

May 2018 was the 11th anniversary of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. In truth, very little of significance happened on the case around this time.

On 3rd May 2018, Kate and Gerry McCann attended a remembrance service at Rothley war memorial, and Kate read a poem. Meanwhile in Portugal, Correio da Manhã ran with a report that Luz residents were weary of the situation.

Then Dr Julian Totman and his wife Rachel became news, in the Tannerman sighting. They claimed that they had thought Dr Totman was Tannerman for years, but despite talking to police early on, they had no idea if their evidence was treated seriously.

Some background chatter went quiet. Netflix several months back was supposed to be doing an 8 part documentary on Madeleine McCann, but that has seemingly melted faster than hailstones in the Algarve. Another such idea was a long-heralded video by Sonia Poulton. This was ‘The McCanns and The Police’. This came out late in April 2018 on YouTube, supposedly part 1 of 10. I have not watched the video, so I cannot comment on its contents. However, this too seems to have created few ripples on the pond.

The one idea to emerge that interested me was by Professor Thomas Horan. He posted on CMoMM in May that he wanted to do a podcast, mainly for American viewers, on the disappearance of Madeleine. The concept was the first 24 hours after the alarm was raised, and whether the police response was proportionate.

CMoMM appeared not to grasp these two points. Forum members went off into everything except the first 24 hours, and the adequacy of the police response.

I have no idea whether Professor Horan has made or is making his podcast, but the idea of the police response in the first 24 hours intrigues me. I may return to that diligence at a later date.

In the month of May 2018, the 11th anniversary of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the story was notable for its remarkable quietness. Whilst the 10th anniversary brought a clutch of specials, the 9th anniversary had made little impact, and the 11th anniversary even less. There is a pattern here.

It may be that the residents of Luz get their wish for normality as the tale of Madeleine McCann fades into obscurity.

Madeleine v Rocha Negra

A boy of 16 years old fell to his death on Tuesday, 29 May 2018, from a height of 100m on the cliffs above Rocha Negra, between the beaches of Porto de Mós and Luz.

Multiple authorities were involved in attempts to try to rescue him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident. Due to the difficulty of the terrain, his body had to be retrieved by sea.

He was with a teenage girl at the time. Presumably she was the one who raised the alarm. It is unlikely that a passer-by would spot a body at the bottom of the cliffs, based on personal experience.

The beach at Porto de Mós is much quieter and less touristy than Luz. Heading west from the Porto de Mós beach is a wide, flat, baked earth track. It starts a sea level, but surprisingly quickly ascends to the top of the cliffs. The track itself is 100% safe, because it is around 3m away from the edge of the cliff. You have to deliberately go over to the lip of the cliff before you are in danger.

The track runs from the beach at Porto de Mós to the trigonometry point on the hills overlooking Luz. The track is busier than one might think, for all sorts of reasons.

One is that ramblers like to do the walk from Porto de Mós to the trig point. The path is flat and the incline is fairly gentle, so it is an easy walk. An amble that is pleasant all year round. Then you come to the trig point above Luz, south of Bela Vista, and an opportunity for a chocolate box photo over Luz. The media love this as a special viewpoint.

From the trig point you have choices. One is just to do an easy amble back to Porto de Mós. Many pick this, because it is the simplest option.

If you wish instead to get down from the trig point to Luz, you have 3 alternative routes. This same choice would have faced Kate and Gerry McCann when they went jogging from apartment 4G, where they had been rehoused by Mark Warner at the Ocean Club. There are 3 routes up and down the hill. One route is a nightmare, one route is not joggable, and the third looks bad but it turns out to be easy. Mountain bikes go up and down it regularly.

I have no idea which route Gerry and Kate took.

The details of the 16 year old boy who died in the cliff fall are at best sketchy. Most of what you have in this post is local knowledge of Luz and its environs.