Madeleine – Panorama special 3 May 2017

Reporter Richard Bilton, who has covered the Madeleine McCann case for 10 years, presented a BBC Panorama special on 3 May 2017 entitled ‘Madeleine McCann 10 Years On’.

Mr Bilton obtained an interview with Pedro do Carmo, Deputy Director, Polícia Judiciária. He said it is still a missing child case. Plus the PJ wanted to learn what to do if it is repeated.

The Lisbon court case of the McCanns v Gonçalo Amaral was covered briefly.

The programme added various scenes of Luz that are impossible to get from the ground. If you check the credits at the end, you will see the drone camera operator was Andy Webb.

The documentary covered the basics of the case – 9 adults eating at the Tapas restaurant, 8 children in block 5, Kate alerting around 10pm that Madeleine was missing.

There was a previously unseen interview with Gonçalo Amaral from 2012, in which it was claimed there was nothing to support an abduction.

The programme said the Portuguese police found inconsistencies in the time-line, and thought the McCanns had acted oddly by bringing in the media.

The dog deployments were next, presumably to move on to an interview of Kate and Gerry McCann by Sandra Felgueiras. This was the one where Gerry said cadaver dogs are unreliable.

Had the Portuguese settled on their theory before final DNA results were available? Panorama did not pick up the order of things from Kate’s book ‘madeleine’. The McCanns let it be known they were soon leaving Portugal. The PJ chose to interview them before their announced leaving date. The incomplete results still required that the McCanns were made arguidos.

The Smith family gave statements that they saw a man carrying a child several hundred metres from the Ocean Club at around 10pm on 3 May. Gerry would be implicated in the sighting, but he had an alibi of being at the Tapas Restaurant at that time.

In 2008 the case was archived, and the McCanns were no longer arguidos.

Robert Murat gave his opinion on events of that time. Was his mother being followed by private investigators? Was Mr Bilton asked to spy on his colleagues with respect to Mr Murat?

The BBC documentary moved to the report by Jim Gamble, then head of CEOP. It recommended a review. The report appeared to languish until May 2011, when The Sun serialised Kate McCann’s book ‘madeleine’.

Operation Grange was started. The documentary moved to ‘the British story’.

There were burglaries in Luz, that allegedly the local operators kept quiet to protect trade. Heriberto Janosch González told of 3 recent burglaries in block 4 and block 5. In a video, he demonstrated how to raise the shutter an open the window from outside.

3 men were potentially involved in a burglary that night. José Carlos da Silva, a driver at the Ocean Cub. Ricardo Rodrigues, aged 16 in 2017. And Paulo Ribeiro. These were allegedly connected by phone messages and texts. These were 3 Portuguese people on a phone to each other in Luz, and the phone traffic was normal. José Carlos da Silva declined to be interviewed. Ricardo Rodrigues could not be contacted. Paulo Ribeiro was interviewed and he denied involvement in a burglary. He said he had been identified from a drawing or e-fit.

Presumably that was from Crimewatch Oct 2013. If so it is puzzling as to how Sr Ribeiro was identified, as that Crimewatch programme did not air on any Portuguese channel, though those e-fits were shown in Portuguese media.

Judging by the Panorama interview, Sr Ribeiro does not appear to be the kind of person who could keep a major secret for 10 years.

I think I may have had a very brief encounter with Sr Ribeiro about a year ago, though I had no idea at the time that it was him.

Scotland Yard announced these 3 men were no longer persons of interest in April 2017.

Panorama moved on to another man, Vitor dos Santos. He had given a fairly long statement in 2007. He confirmed he had been interviewed by British police, and that must have been in Dec 2014. He said the questions were much the same as in 2007 e.g. about the logistics of the holiday complex. Sr dos Santos had been laid off by the Ocean Club and now made a living taking tourists on boat trips near Lagos.

It seems Operation Grange has a further lead to pursue but Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley would not be drawn on what it was. That left the recent press speculation that it might be about a woman seen near apartment 5A acting suspiciously on 3 May 2007.

I was in contact with the Panorama team to explain some information. However, that was shortly before the programme aired, when the documentary must have been nearly fully completed. So I have no reason to believe anything was altered as a result of our exchange.

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Madeleine – Sky special – 2 May 2017

On 2 May 2017, Sky showed ‘Searching for Madeleine’, a special to mark the10th anniversary of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The presenter was Martin Brunt, who has followed the case for the 10 years since it began. The studio guest was Colin Sutton, an ex-DCI from Scotland Yard with experience of conducting major investigations.

The fist 10 minutes covered the basics. The holiday, the Tapas zone, the initial response to the incident by Portuguese police.

Sky News on 4 May 2007 ran with the story that a 3 year old British girl was missing on the Algarve. Pedro do Carmo, Deputy Director, Judicial Police, described the initial work as a rescue operation, looking for a child that was missing.

Here Sky hit its first wobbly. It says the apartment was let out twice before it was sealed off for a full forensic examination. The reality is different. The PJ from Portimão tried to collect forensic evidence in the very early hours of 4 May 2007. Irene Trovão, also a local forensic officer, was videoed checking the shutter of the children’s bedroom for fingerprints. And while Gerry and Kate McCann were giving their first witness statements, a forensics duo from Lisbon conducted the major forensic examination on the afternoon of 4 May 2007. The forensics had been done. There was no way to foresee the apartment should be sealed off until Eddie and Keela were deployed.

The centrepiece of the Sky programme was a Home Office report written by Jim Gamble, then head of CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

This documented the many organisations that were involved close to the beginning, and the difficulties this caused. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary at the time, questioned if Leicestershire Police had the wherewithal to handle this type of investigation. Mr Gamble was asked to consider if it was worth getting Scotland Yard involved. Mr Gamble suggested a scoping review to identify if opportunities had been missed, but officials appeared to be set against this.

Mr Gamble was shocked to find the parents had not been investigated first by the Portuguese police, in order to clear the ground for further enquiries. He went on to say the Portuguese response was inadequate, but he used a comparison in the UK that does not approximate to the situation in Luz in 2007. I will return to that in a future post.

Colin Sutton made the point that a snapshot of the incident area was not constructed, and more could have been done by UK police re interviewing British holidaymakers who had returned to the UK, and British workers in the ‘complex’.

My main criticism of the early effort is that apparently little was done to get door-to-door information in the immediate vicinity of apartment 5A.

Sky went on to cover leaks to the Portuguese press, concerning dog alerts and supposed DNA results. Mr Sutton pointed out that dog alerts are not evidence.

The events around the McCanns being made arguidos, flying home to the UK, and removal of arguido status upon archiving of the case was covered.

There appeared to be a 3-way split between the McCanns, the Portuguese police and the UK police. The CEOP report then makes an odd assertion. It alleges the McCanns had a significant amount of information from their private investigators, and this information had not been fully shared with either the Portuguese police or the UK police. I cannot see how Mr Gamble could reach such a conclusion. Perhaps it is explained in the CEOP report, but I haven’t read that document.

Mark Rowley, Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police, explained there had been a discussion of the case in 2011 between the Prime Ministers of Portugal and the UK, and it was agreed that Scotland Yard would get involved.

The documentary then covered the remit. Colin Sutton explained that a fresh investigation should start right at the beginning. This echoes what was said by Jim Gamble. However, Operation Grange was to be restricted to abduction. AC Mark Rowley says parental involvement had been covered by the original Portuguese investigation. The recent Supreme Court decision made it clear this is not the case.

The Sky documentary moved on to the Jane Tanner sighting. Martin Brunt pointed out the obvious – namely if the man was coming from the Ocean Club night crèche, then he was going the wrong way. Jane Tanner’s rogatory statement pointed out this problem. If the night crèche closed at 11.30pm, It is actually more likely that at 9.15pm, the time of the Tanner sighting, he was heading towards the night crèche.

Scotland Yard presented two e-fits of a man carrying a child ‘towards the beach’. This of course was the Smith sighting at 10pm. Crimewatch 2013 did indeed state this man was heading towards the beach.

This suggests that Martin Brunt does not fully understand the Smith sighting. 12-year-old Aoife Smith’s statement does not fit with ‘towards the beach’. Should Mr Brunt ever return to Luz, I will be happy to show him why Aoife Smith’s statement strongly suggests ‘towards the beach’ is wrong. And why that man is likely to be Portuguese and innocent. Plus why that man is unlikely to come forward. And what needs to be done to get him to identify himself.

The documentary covered Operation Grange’s look at charity collectors. There is an easy test for this. The bogus ones do door-to-door, and disappear rapidly if they make some cash. The genuine ones go to the main thoroughfares and work there for hours on end.

Then Sky covered a burglary gone wrong. Whilst Operation Grange evaluated this as viable, Portuguese police did not think it likely.

The documentary moved to mobile phone data. The CEOP report says there was lots of it, but it was badly handled by Portuguese investigators. It had not been fully analysed, and the Portuguese should accept UK help. This sounds to me to be very over-simplistic, but I cannot be certain as I have not read the CEOP report.

Then the documentary moved to its weakest point, what can be extracted from that phone data. Nothing Colin Sutton said on this has much relevance to Luz on 3 May 2007.

As is normal, there were 3 cellphone operators in Luz – Optimus, TMN and Vodafone. Roughly speaking, each operator cuts Luz into a western half and an eastern half, and that is as much as you get. Was the cellphone active in Luz that night, and if so, was it in the west of Luz or the east.

Take for example Kate McCann. Her phone was active that night on Optimus antenna Luz 2. That antenna covers the east of Luz, and apartment 5A is indeed in the east of Luz. But the whole of the Ocean Club is in the eastern half of Luz, as is the majority of the commercial establishments e.g. the Mirage. I cannot tell from phone data if Kate was in or around 5A when her phone was active. The phone data is very rough.

Further, DCI Andy Redwood has said that a major obstacle to phone data analysis was PAYG phones.

4 people were made arguidos in July 2014, but have now been informed they are no longer persons of interest.

The new Portuguese investigation focussed on a series of sex attacks in the Algarve. It would appear most were on older children, but one was on a child aged 3. Euclides Monteiro, an ex-waiter at the Ocean Club, was identified by the Portuguese investigation as a suspect for the sex attacks. DNA tests ruled out Mr Monteiro. He had been killed in a tractor accident in 2009.

The Sky documentary examined the woke and wandered theory. Local ex-pat Mr John Ballinger provided some photos of the road works in Luz around that time. There was no examination as to why Kate McCann’s description of apartment 5A that night is a poor fit with woke and wandered.

Mr Brunt pointed out that there is no evidence to prove Madeleine came to any harm, so she may still be alive.

Have lessons been learned from the disappearance of Madeleine McCann? Jim Gamble and Alan Johnson think not.

The documentary covered some of the Internet abuse directed at Kate and Gerry. Two police investigations found no evidence of their involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance. The Sky investigation also found no such evidence.

It concluded that the mystery of what happened to Madeleine McCann remains just that. A mystery.

AC Mark Rowley said there is a significant line of enquiry that remains to be pursued, but would not divulge what it was.

On the armchair experts forum that I prefer, the general view was that little was learned from this Sky special. However, that is not the correct view to take, in my opinion. This programme was not aimed at a handful of amateur detectives. It was targeting the greater British public. And for those, I suspect the key point that was delivered was that roughly £12 million down the line, the investigation is fatally flawed because, despite what DCI Andy Redwood said, it did not start by going back to the very beginning.

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.