The McCanns: Too Many Questions and Too Few Answers

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

There are few couples in Britain who are better known than the McCanns. And yet the paradox is that there are few public couples about whom less seems to be known. They are surrounded by mystery, confusion, controversy and contradictions. Has any couple ever sought publicity quite so determinedly and yet managed to remain quite so enigmatic? Has there been a crime in British history so well publicised and yet so full of unanswered questions? Has there ever been a crime where the truth has become quite so lost amidst rumour and what seems to me to be a lot of spin – some of it apparently organised by professionals rather than a pair of doctors on a holiday.

I know of no other couple in British history about whom so many questions have been asked and yet so few answers seem to be available.

Whatever the truth, we should not forget that the McCanns left their daughter unattended and so have to accept a good part of the responsibility for whatever crime occurred. And in February 2017, a judge in Portugal’s highest court pointed out that the McCanns have not been ruled innocent.

There still seem to be many unanswered questions and puzzles about this enormously high profile case. There are a host of contradictions. And yet millions of pounds of public money have been spent investigating Madeleine’s disappearance. Since we are now approaching the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance, it seems time for a summary of what we still don’t know.

The questions in this article are all genuine questions. I do not know the answers to any of them. (If I did I would write them as statements.) But I think it is in the public interest that the questions are asked. And I hope that one day they will all be answered.

Isn’t it about time a relatively small amount of money was spent taking the McCanns to court so that their story could be properly investigated? (I write as a doctor who has investigated many subjects and who has worked as a police surgeon.)

Surely a trial would help the couple by enabling them to answer many of the often asked questions? The suspicions will never go away. Indeed, I fear that the suspicions and doubts and rumours will grow stronger as the years go by. It is almost certain that whatever any of the Tapas Nine do with their lives, the first sentence of their obituaries has already been written.

I suspect that some parents might welcome an opportunity to put all the available evidence in the public domain and to have witnesses and critics properly and publicly questioned under oath.

Some might think that discussions about the case have in the past been limited by the McCanns’ alleged reluctance to answer some of the questions which have been asked, and by their willingness to take legal action against critics. It has been reported that the McCanns are threatening to sue Goncalo Amaral, if the Portugese policeman’s book The Truth of the Lie is published in the UK. This is odd because I believe that an English translation of Goncalo Amaral’s book has been freely available on the internet for some time.

It seems to me that the McCanns, the police and the politicians (how they became involved is a mystery in itself) have made things worse by what appears to be an endless publicity circus, which it seems to me was to some extent made worse by them or their associates. Precisely, what did Tony Blair and Oprah have to do with helping to find a small girl? What on earth made Prince Charles think he needed to get involved? It has, I understand, been claimed that in such cases, too much publicity can actually be harmful and can frighten abductors into doing something which they might not have planned. I suspect that is true.

Would not everyone – especially Madeleine – benefit if all the confusions and contradictions could be cleared away by a clear cut, forensic examination of all those involved and a proper analysis of the available facts? Would not questions asked, and answers given, under oath, help clear away the rumours and the fabrications – whatever their source?

Why I am constantly reminded of the confusion after the death of Dr David Kelly?

Over £12 million of taxpayers’ money has, it is said, been largely spent on looking for the alleged paedophile ring that the British police apparently believe is responsible for abducting Madeleine. To some, the police seem to be following the McCanns’ strong assertion, right from the start, that Madeleine had been abducted rather than following the possibility that she might have wandered or been killed in the locality.

The police will, of course, know that 70% of child murders are committed by people who know, or who are in some way close to, the child who is the victim.

(In reality, if Madeleine had wandered off then surely she would have been far more likely to have encountered someone who would have taken her home than that she would have happened to meet a wandering paedophile or paedophile gang?)

Is it true, as Kate McCann is reported to have claimed, that the shutters to the window of Madeleine’s room had been forced up? Or is it true, as others have suggested, that they might not have been forced? This is a simple and crucial question.

And here’s another mystery.

The loss of any human being is a tragedy.

But £12 million and more on an investigation into one missing child seems a good deal when other children go missing without any notable expenditure of public funds.

To put this in perspective, the current official ‘value of a prevented fatality’ in the UK is £1.83 million. In other words, that is how much the Government thinks it is reasonable to spend to prevent a single death. Every year, thousands of people die because the Government doesn’t think it is worth spending taxpayers’ money on drugs or surgery that would save their lives. This same figure must be used to justify road safety improvements. The NHS would not spend a fraction of the money spent on the search for a possibly imaginary paedophile gang even if it knew for certain that a life could be saved. This is of significance because the nation’s financial resources are inevitably finite. David Cameron, when Prime Minister, authorised the spending of this huge sum in this seemingly quixotic way.

Why was that?

Why are the McCanns apparently considered so very, very special and more worthy than thousands of other parents, grieving in similar circumstances? A growing number of people seem to feel that this is one of many mysteries that ought to be aired. It isn’t entirely absurd to say that anyone whose child goes missing abroad and who doesn’t have at least a bus load of Government employees fawning over them within a week should now feel cheated. And anyone who doesn’t have at least three cabinet ministers on the phone might also feel hard done by. Is it true that special branch officers escorted the McCanns back from Portugal? If so, is this now normal practice for all parents in such circumstances?

Surely, there could be no complaint if a little more public money were now spent on a proper investigation in a court of law. Indeed, would the McCanns themselves not benefit from an opportunity to put all the facts before a court?

Would not an independent analysis of all of the evidence help in finding a conclusion to this tragic case?

There are, it seems to me, a vast number of questions which could usefully be asked in a courtroom.

Here are just a few of the obvious questions which might usefully be asked and which would help remove for ever any undoubtedly unjust fears and suspicions some people might still have about Madeleine’s disappearance:

1. Is it true that the McCanns left their children at a crèche or play area in the mornings and the afternoons, and then left them unattended on at least some of the evenings while they were in Portugal? This seems odd to me because I would have thought that most people would, when taking their children on a family holiday, want to spend most of their time in their company. What was the relationship like between the McCanns and Madeleine before the trip to Portugal? Was Madeleine seen at the crèche or play area on the afternoon of the day she disappeared? And if so, by whom?

2. Is it really true that when the McCanns left their children unattended in the apartment, one of the doors was unlocked? I suspect that some people wouldn’t leave their camera or mobile telephone in an unlocked, rented apartment in a holiday area. Doesn’t it seem strange to leave three small children in such a situation? Have the McCanns ever taken public responsibility for their behaviour? Have they ever apologised for their behaviour? Is it true that Gerry McCann was playing tennis within days of Madeleine’s disappearance?

3. There is some confusion about how far away the McCanns were when they were dining. It has been said by Kate McCann that dining at the restaurant was akin to having a meal in the garden with the children upstairs in a nearby bedroom. (‘We were sitting outside and could just as easily have been eating on a fine spring evening in a friend’s garden, with the kids asleep upstairs in the house,’ she writes in her book.) But there seems to be evidence that the dining table was between 70 and 150 yards away from the apartment (different reports give differing figures) and it seems to me unlikely that anyone dining there could see or hear what was happening in the apartment. (I have seen it claimed that Gerry McCann has suggested that they were ‘essentially performing (their) own baby listening service’, though I find it difficult to understand this claim.) It has been claimed that the couple could see the apartment but this has been disputed. What is the truth? And even if they could see one outside wall of the apartment then, unless they are claiming to have X-ray vision, they wouldn’t be able to see what was happening inside.

4. The law in Britain is that if parents leave a child alone, and in such a way that the child might be at risk, then the parents can be prosecuted. Hundreds of parents are arrested every year for leaving their children (sometimes much older than the McCann children and sometimes for much shorter periods of time) without adult supervision. One father was arrested for leaving his child alone for just two minutes. Why was the behaviour of the McCanns considered acceptable? Since the McCanns claim that Madeleine was abducted (and this theory seems to be accepted by the British police) and that she must, therefore, have been left at risk, why have the McCanns not been charged by the British police? I believe the McCanns claim that their actions were ‘within the bounds of responsible parenting’ but is it not also the law in Portugal that it is an offence to leave children unattended? Why did social workers not take action over the fact that three small children had been left ‘at risk’? Would a single mother living in a council flat have been treated with such leniency if she had left three young children alone in an unlocked apartment? (In her book Kate McCann writes: ‘…we had a meeting with a social services manager and a local child protection officer. They went through various formalities with us and, while they took care to keep everything on a totally professional footing, I could tell they felt uncomfortable about having to subject us to this sort of scrutiny. But we’d resigned ourselves to it. We’d expected it, accepted it and we had nothing to hide.’) Whatever happened to Madeleine, there are doubtless many who find it difficult to avoid the feeling that her parents were at least partly responsible and that the authorities have behaved very strangely in taking no action. Am I alone in thinking that the McCanns should have been charged with child neglect? And should they have been allowed to remain in charge of their two remaining children? These are surely serious questions.

5. It has been alleged that Madeleine was a poor sleeper who occasionally walked in her sleep. Is this true? If so, was not it particularly risky for two doctors to leave her unattended in a strange, unlocked apartment in a foreign country? Did it not occur to either of them that a young child who was a poor sleeper and possibly a sleep walker might wander off through the unlocked door and then come to some harm? Is it not true that a babysitter could have been hired?

6. Prior to the holiday, was Madeleine ever given any form of medicine to help her sleep? Is it true that none of the McCann children was given anything at all by the McCanns to help them sleep during a holiday where their restlessness or failure to sleep might prove particularly inconvenient? Were any of the children given medication by anyone else?

7. How much alcohol did the McCanns consume while dining with their friends? Precisely how often did they check on their children? Are there no independent witnesses who can provide precise answers?

8. It is alleged that after Madeleine’s disappearance, the McCanns received telephone calls and/or support from Cherie Blair (the Prime Minister’s wife), Gordon Brown (the Chancellor of the Exchequer, due to become Prime Minister within weeks), Margaret Beckett (the foreign secretary) and the Pope. The local Ambassador is reported to have been involved. Is there any explanation for all this high profile support? The official figures in the UK show that a child goes missing every three minutes – well over 100,000 children a year. Do Cabinet Ministers telephone the parents of all these missing children? According to these figures, it is reasonable to estimate that several hundred children went missing on the same day that the McCanns lost their child. Did all those parents receive the same level of official support? If not, why not? Did Blair and Brown really provide the McCanns with a public relations representative? Who paid the bill? Can it conceivably be true (as has been alleged) that the British Government threatened to use the McCann investigation as a reason not to sign the Lisbon Treaty? Were SIS (MI5 and/or MI6) officers involved? Was it just a coincidence that alleged paedophile Sir Clement Freud had a holiday home close to the McCanns’ apartment? Is or was Gerry McCann a member of the Freemasons or any other private body? Has he signed the Scottish Bill of Rights?

9. Is it true that the McCanns continued to take their remaining children to the children’s play area after they had lost Madeleine?

10. What is the truth about the trained sniffer dogs which allegedly picked up the scent of a dead body in the McCanns’ apartment and in their hire car – as well as on Madeleine’s toy? Were these findings of any value? Were the dogs reliable? Was blood really found in the McCanns’ holiday apartment? If so, is it true that the blood was identified as Madeleine’s? If not, whose was it? There seems to be confusion about all these issues.

11. Is it true that Kate McCann refused to answer some of the questions posed by the Portuguese police? If so, why was this? Were any or all of the McCanns’ children conceived using IVF? Was Gerald McCann the father of them all?

12. Is it true that the McCanns have appointed a number of PR experts and high-powered lawyers (including extradition specialists and libel lawyers)?

13. Is it true that the McCanns’ friends had a ‘pact of silence’? If so, what was the reason for this?

14. Is it true that the McCanns refused to take a lie detector test? If so, what was the reason? Even if the test had not been admissible in court, it might have silenced some critics.

15. Is it true that the McCanns deleted some mobile phone records and that the Portuguese police were refused permission to examine medical, financial and credit card records? If so, why was this? Were the Portuguese police helped in every way possible by the British authorities?

16. Why did the McCanns form a fund raising company within less than a month of Madeleine’s disappearance? How did their limited company manage to spend £141,747 on administrative expenses in less than the first year? And was it really necessary to spend £26,113 on media monitoring? Precisely how has all the money donated to the Madeleine fund been spent? It has been claimed that the McCanns did not receive any remuneration from the fund but is it true that some of the money was used to help to pay the McCanns’ mortgage? If so, was that really what donors expected their money to be used for? Exactly how much of the money donated has been spent on legal fees on behalf of the McCanns? What was the McCanns’ financial situation before Madeleine’s disappearance? Why did directors of the fund resign? Why did last year’s accounts for Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Limited (as published on the ‘’ website) show that Madeleine’s Fund had £490,839 in ‘investments’? What were the ‘investments’?

17. As mentioned above, the British police are alleged to have spent £12 million of taxpayers’ money on investigating one particular possibility – the abduction by a gang. Have they spent any effort (and any of our money) on investigating other possible scenarios – such as, for example, the one which appears to be favoured by the Portuguese police chief who investigated Madeleine’s disappearance? If not, why not? Are not taxpayers entitled to know exactly how their money has been spent? What was the police reaction to the fact that a number of people thought that one of the photo fit suspects looked remarkably like Gerry McCann? (As an aside, the Portuguese police investigation seems to me to have been extremely thorough and professional.)

18. Why, within months of Madeleine’s disappearance, did Gerry McCann go to the United States of America to appear on television and visit the White House? Was there ever any suggestion that Americans might have been involved in the alleged abduction? Was there a theory that Madeleine might have been taken to the USA? Might it not seem odd to some that a parent should fly across the Atlantic when their daughter had gone missing in Portugal?

19. Have all the friends with whom the McCanns were dining been thoroughly investigated and cleared by the British police?

20. The chief of police who was initially responsible for the search for Madeleine has made some serious allegations. Have any or all of these allegations been investigated by the British police?

21. Is it true, as has been claimed by a former British Ambassador (though not to Portugal), that British diplomatic staff were under instructions to put pressure on the Portuguese authorities? Is it true, as has been alleged, that British authorities were ordered to be present at every contact between the McCanns and the Portugese police? If so, who initiated these orders? And why?

These are all simple and straightforward questions and to most of them there should, surely, be some simple and straightforward answers. There are, of course, many more questions. How many photographs of Madeleine did the McCanns take with them to Portugal? What happened to Gerry McCann’s sports bag? Were the contents also missing?

Given all the circumstances, the questions do not seem to me to be intrusive or unfair and they are not intended to be.

And surely the answers to them might, just might, help the police. It seems to me hardly believable that after ten years there is still so much mystery over some of the answers.

Might not the answers also help members of the public understand the background to Madeleine’s disappearance a little more clearly? And might not some of the answers help counteract some of the remarkable rumours, insinuations and assertions which now surround this case?

The McCanns seem to have been protected by some very powerful individuals. Inevitably, there are questions being asked. Why did three Prime Ministers, a Foreign Secretary, a Pope, much of the Foreign Service, a Prince, the police and most of the mainstream media put so much effort into protecting a fairly ordinary pair of middle class doctors from the sort of natural suspicion which would, in any normal circumstances, be considered perfectly proper and reasonable? Why was the abduction claim (made so immediately and without much if any serious evidential support) be regarded as the only real explanation for Madeleine’s disappearance?

Might not lessons be learned which could help other parents and help prevent something similar happening in the future? Every few minutes a British child disappears. The problem of missing children is a huge one.

Surely every step should be taken to safeguard all other children.

Isn’t that what everyone wants?

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2017

There are two other articles about the Madeleine McCann mystery in the ‘Miscellany’ section of this website: Would you hire the McCanns as babysitters and Are McCann's parents guilty of neglect?

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