Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Maddie sightings and media madness

Kate and Gerry McCann last weekend complained of “the injustices that we continue to be subjected to.” Their complaint, widely reported in the press in Britain and Portugal, referred to the Wikileaks disclosure about them that had “led to the repetition of many unfounded allegations and smears both in the UK and in Portugal in particular.”

A modest group of people in Portugal have also been subjected to injustices, unfounded allegations and smears in connection with the Madeleine McCann investigation, but they have had no outlet for complaint - and their side of the story has gone totally unreported until now.

Ivone Albino, a Portuguese woman who makes her living as a part-time house cleaner,was shattered to learn in April this year that newspapers in the UK were running sensational stories directly linking her with the alleged abduction of Madeleine McCann three years earlier. She was the latest victim in a tidal wave of misinformation and false “sightings” that began soon after Madeleine's disappearance from a holiday apartment in the village of Praia da Luz in May 2007.

Mrs Albino's name was buried in a “secret” 2,000-page dossier containing information about Madeleine “sightings” that had been brought to the attention of the Portuguese criminal investigation police, the Polícia Judiciária. The existence of the dossier emerged after it was referred to by a police witness during a Lisbon court hearing considering the ban on a book by the former lead detective in the Madeleine case, Gonçalo Amaral.

When the judge in the hearing ordered the dossier's release, it was eagerly seized upon by Kate and Gerry McCann, their advisers and the British press. It was brandished as yet more evidence of the “incompetence” of the Portuguese police in their search for Madeleine.

By then, Britain's mainstream media seemed to have accepted the McCanns' insistence from the very start that Madeleine had been abducted and that she might still be alive. They ignored or viewed with hostility the alternative theory, the one most prevalent in Portugal and the main thrust of Gonçalo Amaral's book, namely that Madeleine had died in the apartment and that her parents were somehow involved.

Referring to the Polícía Judicária dossier and in line with the abduction theory, British (though not Portuguese) newspapers named Mrs Albino as one of two “gypsy women” seen by a British holidaymaker dragging Madeleine along an Algarve street in September 2008. The little girl was wearing a “black wig” but the holidaymaker was “100 per cent sure” it was Madeleine. The same reports revealed that a rag doll had been found at a house repeatedly visited by Mrs Albino. According to the reports, Madeleine “may have been held prisoner” at the house.

A source close to Madeleine's parents was quoted as saying: “This is one of the strongest leads there's been in the hunt for Maddie.”

It wasn't. The “lead” merely gave rise to yet more sensational nonsense in the British press, causing deep humiliation and distress to Mrs Albino and two other entirely innocent people with no connection whatsoever to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

This whole silly episode began in September 2008, eighteen months after Madeleine's disappearance. A 56-year-old retired home care worker from Widnes in Cheshire, England, phoned the 'Find Madeleine' hotline that had been set up by the parents of the missing child. She reported seeing two women with Madeleine in the beach-side village of Carvoeiro, 30 miles east of Praia da Luz.

This was a young girl, in the middle of the two women and holding the hand of each. Her eyes were wide open and I was attracted to the large irises,” said the Carvoeiro witness.

The child was wearing what was clearly a black wig. It was short, cut in a bob style and very thick. The wig was shiny and unnatural looking and out of keeping with her very pale complexion and fair eyebrows. I would say she was about 3ft 1in tall and about five years of age. She was very thin and I would describe her as malnourished. Her cheeks looked gaunt. I think she had a bump on her nose. I am convinced the little girl I saw that morning was Madeleine. I have been asked how certain I am. I will say I am 100 per cent sure.”

The Carvoeiro witness described the first of the two women as “obese, size 30, in her mid to late 40s, with “dirty and unkempt” red hair. The other woman was around 60, with unwashed brown hair, and even fatter. The witness claimed that when the women realised she was looking at them, they hid the little girl's face. She recognised Mrs Albino as the red-haired woman with Madeleine in Carvoeiro. The second woman was never identified.

Another unrelated British witness, from Salisbury in Wiltshire, said she saw a woman resembling Mrs Albino outside the McCanns´ apartment the day Madeleine disappeared. In both cases the identifications were made from photographs. A much earlier report of a woman passing a child wrapped in a blanket over a fence to a man next to two parked vehicles in Silves two days after Madeleine's disappearance added spice to these later reports.

The “sightings” prompted private investigators employed by Madeleine's parents to zero in on Mrs Albino and follow her to “an isolated farmhouse” in an orange grove near the town of Silves where she lives. In a surveillance operation, private investigators saw her making several visits to the house and meeting there with a couple called Maria Alice Silveira and Jorge Martins. The couple's movements were deemed to be “suspicious” by a top detective employed by the McCanns.

Suspicions heightened when investigators found and photographed a child's rag doll on the seat of a Citroen Berlingo van parked at the house. “Was this the rag doll given to Maddie by her captors?” wondered The Sun in a headline spread over half a page. The question was promptly answered in the first sentence in the story that followed: “This little girl's rag doll could have been given to Madeleine McCann by those who snatched her, investigators believe.”

The investigators, posing as potential buyers of the property, came across a discarded child's drawing. And they spotted Jorge Martins buying clothes suitable for a child of five, the age Madeleine would then have been. They thought all this strange as neither Mrs Albino, Ms Silveira nor Mr Martins had young children of their own. “But surveillance was eventually wound down and the child was never found.”

These observations were passed to Portugal's criminal investigation police, even though the official Portuguese police inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance had been closed. By then the police had already considered hundreds of bogus or mistaken “sightings” in about 50 countries ranging from neighbouring Spain to Australia and New Zealand.

On learning of the Silves surveillance “evidence” through the newly released dossier, two of Britain's biggest-selling and most powerful newspapers carried prominent reports complete with separate photographs of Mrs Albino, Ms Silveira and Mr Martins, Madeleine, and the rag doll. They quoted a source close to Kate and Gerry McCann as saying. “There was credible evidence at the orchard that needed proper investigation by the Portuguese – that never happened.”

In fact, the Portuguese police did investigate the “sightings” and the “suspicious behaviour”. They questioned all three people and visited the farmhouse. They soon concluded there was no reason to take their inquiries further. Any reasonably intelligent Portuguese-speaking person who had spent a few minutes talking with Mrs Albino about the matter would have come to the same conclusion. This did not stop the British press from rushing into print with a load of baloney.

The truth that didn't make it into the papers is that Mrs Albino regularly drives through Carvoeiro on the way from Silves to a house she services. She never walks in the village with or without children in tow. “I have never held the hand of any child in Carvoeiro, let alone one with a black wig or resembling Madeleine McCann,” she told me. No villager can be found in Carvoeiro who would dispute that. As for Praia da Luz, Mrs Albino said she had never been there. She admitted somewhat sheepishly that she had only a vague idea of where Praia da Luz was located.

Overweight, yes, but no one who had known Mrs Albino over many years could recall her hair ever being dirty, unkempt or red. Indeed she did visit a somewhat neglected house in an orange orchard. It is on the outskirts of Silves' urban area, not “remote” as the newspapers made out. She visits it daily to feed the property's only occupants: her chickens, rabbits and a large guard dog.

The property had long been owned by the family of Mrs Albino's cousin, Maria Alice Silveira, who lives elsewhere in Silves. She used to own a dry-cleaning shop in the neighbouring town of Lagoa. Her partner, Jorge, whom she has since married, is a primary school teacher. They drive over to the house in their Citroen Berlingo van from time to time to tend the orchard and collect fruit.

Mr Martins said he found the doll in a roadway, though it was such a minor event that he could not remember exactly where or when. The doll was in good condition so, without much thought he picked it and put it in the van. He agreed that there had been a discarded child's drawing at the house and, yes, he had bought clothes for a young child. Maria Alice had a grandchild of about Madeleine's age.

Although they did not read English, Jorge, Maria Alice and Ivone felt shocked and humiliated when told of the reports and shown their photographs in national British newspapers. Their shock soon turned to anger and anxiety about possible repercussions.

With the start of another summer holiday season in the Algarve, Ivone was concerned that British parents with young families staying in the holiday villas she cleans might view her with suspicion, jeopardising her job.

Maria Alice said she had lost some British customers at her dry-cleaning business because of the press pointing the finger unjustly. Jorge remained deeply disturbed by what he called “the stupidity” of the British reports that falsely insinuated wrong-doing.

All three considered suing to clear their names. But they soon came to realise they did not have either the capital or the connections to take the sort of legal action that resulted in the British press paying out £500,000 in damages to the McCanns, £550,000 to Robert Murat and £375,000 to the so-called Tapas 7. Actually, this humble group didn't want compensation money so much as an apology.


  1. http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/114488

    Thank-you for a great article. I notice you have asked for suggestions for future ideas. The 'swine flu' scare mongering once again by the British Goverment and possibly yours also.

    The Rumsfeld vaccine 'Tamiflu' is behind this but I cannot emphasie enough how everyone has the right to know what is happening here and how dangerous this vaccine can be to the nervous system. I have plenty of links to back this up if you are interested in writing an article.

  2. spot on with your article,its a shame the uk media do not print what is really happening to the people of portugal at the mccanns hands but then they are not interested in Madeleine or those who have suffered only keeping the mccanns in a favourable light to the british public also i do believe that clarence mitchell had a hand in pushing these storys.

    1. Clarence is on the election trail now and is the "former spokesman for the McCanns". In fact they are very quiet indeed at the time of this post.

  3. Thank you for this. It is more welcome than you may possibly imagine. If only this kind of reporting could make it into the mainstream UK media, we'd be a better country, in a better world. Again, thank you.

  4. I am studying the UK media's reporting in regard to Goncalo Amaral (and the Portuguese police in general). What you have informed us of here is entirely consistent with the manner in which British "journalists" have covered the entire McCann investigation. It is an outrageous disgrace. I'm working on a report which will detail the allegations made by specific reporters and news outlets and will hopefully be able to publish it soon.

    Thank you very much for speaking out.

    I hope you will continue to write about this matter and that all the victims of the media (and the McCanns) will soon find justice.

    I would be happy to help these people lodge formal complaints with the UK Press Commission (at the very least). In my opinion they deserve more than a simple apology.

    1. This post has made me think; the Portuguese police are having to work with officers from a country that has derided their investigation; called them incompetents and "sardine munchers". People in Praia de Luz have lost jobs. Anyone who used a mobile phone that night is suspect. And still it goes on.

  5. Excellent article! Pity it can't be published in the UK to let everyone know the real backstage antics. We are still subjected to a news blackout especially concerning Dr Amaral's book. It always seems to be the people without financial resources to fight these falsehoods that get chosen to provide 'sightings'.

    It's only because of bloggers both in Portugal and the UK that the British know the facts. Some still believe in the abduction theory but that number is diminishing as the weeks go by.

    I am hoping Wiki leaks has more information on the Madeleine McCann acase and hope Julian Assange is allowed to carry on providing us with hidden information and that freedom of information will become the norm.

    I would love to see a follow up on this article and maybe other people will come forward to let it be known they have been dragged into a situation to provide a story for the McCann publicity team to keep the abduction myth alive.

    It's obvious why there are no real 'sightings', it can't happen.

  6. just as we thought the british police thought they were guilty too,but then the mccanns fled portugal,then the case was shelved and i think it was due to political interferance just hope wikileaks can produce more about Madeleine to prove yet again what most of us believe. chris

  7. Many thanks Len, often missing in the sorry sad saga is how people living in Portugal going about the daily routines and business have been dragged into maelstrom.
    But it also worthy to flag up for the amount of money the various teams f private investigators are paid, they actually have done something, even thought it's so negative and inappropriate - of course the British public - all is on a need to know basis, know nothing. Yet they are the ones who have contributed to the fund.
    I think generally speaking most people acknowledge that PDL has suffered, with or without the financial recession . I understand the MW complex is closed ? Therefore all the sublets probably don’t have so much business, not surprisingly apartment 5A is un-saleable, no doubt it has an effect on the whole apartment block. Then there’s all the business interdependent on tourism.
    But your article does point out the individual distress.

    To Winnower
    I have come across an academic media thesis about 12 - 18 months, done in the UK. The outcome from memory was MW walked away smelling of roses. It was someone, I'm sure doing media studies.


  8. In this case I have found odd name coincidences that could be used to confuse google searches. Remember the story of David Payne, the convicted paedophile, that was only spread by the papers months after his release from prison.

    Here we find a woman named Yvone and a man named Martins in one article.

    Both articles were from the SUN of course.

  9. Anyone who has been following this case knows they are being protected, anyone who defends the McCann’s are ignoring the evidence, yes evidence, substantial and plenty of it to, not one shed of evidence to support abduction, if it was any other country the McCann’s would be in jail

    The Leicestershire Police who seems to be in bed with the McCann’s, had a direct link from there own web site to the McCann’s web site, this is when the McCann’s where suspects, work that one out?

  10. http://textusa.blogspot.com/2010/02/mystery-of-rag-doll-by-ironside.html

    I am leaving you this link because I believe it has importance. A blogger named Ironside wrote a very interesting piece and shortly after, the press came out with a story about a ragdoll. It may be something or nothing but it was the only occasion when this ragdoll was seen, the eve of Madeleine's 4th birthday.

    1. In my experience, a favourite toy is easily identifiable by its dilapidation.

  11. The Carvoeiro witness described the first of the two women as “obese, size 30, in her mid to late 40s,

    sounds very much like a description of G.McCanns sister

  12. Very grateful to you for telling it so simply and strikingly.

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  14. Has anyone considered how much harm has resulted from the Madeleine McCann business? People have lost their jobs; the Algarve has been labelled "a paedophile's paradise". So many people have been accused of suspicious behaviour. In the case of the last-reported sighting in Spain, the suspicious behaviour was not letting a complete stranger take a photograph of a little girl. Well, the McCanns have contributed in no small measure to the current angst about paedophiles and child abductions. Even a man who was a boy at boarding school in England in 2007 has been questioned. If she is still alive, Madeleine is nearly twelve. That is a time when girls change a great deal. If the McCanns succeed in the Amaral case, I think that they should hot-foot it to every future sighting.