The best-selling authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan have responded to criticisms that their new book Looking for Madeleine, published today (September 11), amounts to a pro-McCann ‘whitewash’ rather than the first in-depth, independent and objective analysis of the disappearance and search for the little girl. The criticisms come from people who do not accept the theory that Madeleine McCann was abducted.
In their first interview with the media in Portugal, the authors told me they had in the past tackled controversial subjects, “but never have we encountered this degree of intense reaction to a book even before it has been published. It underlines, we think, why authors who do our kind of intensive investigative work needed to tackle this story.”
How, I asked, did they decide on this subject in the first place?
“In May 2012, readers may recall, the UK’s Scotland Yard released an age progression image of Madeleine as she might have looked if still alive. Robbyn was watching the news with our own young daughter, who is a little older than Madeleine McCann, and whose middle name happens also to be Madeleine.
“Her interest was piqued by hearing her own name, and she asked: ‘What really happened to that little girl? Do her parents really believe she is still alive?’
“And – this really got us: ‘How long would you look for me, Mummy?’ Robbyn realised she didn’t have good answers, and we started tentatively digging. We starting a first scan of the massive police dossier, read Kate McCann’s published account - and took on board the voluminous criticism and analysis of the case, and of the McCanns themselves, that was available online.
“We soon realised as we talked to people from all walks of life that many, many people seemed to suspect there was something wrong with the parents’ account and – and we started to think we could bring something to this almost unique story by drilling down to the best evidence. Our publisher agreed. That’s how it started, and here we are more than two years later.”
The authors are adamant they have not been influenced at any stage or in any way by the McCann family or anyone close to the investigation. “As you will see in the Notes section of Looking for Madeleine, we felt at the outset that it was only right to advise Madeleine’s parents and London’s Metropolitan police that we planned to investigate with a view to a book.
“We had a single meeting with the McCanns and one with the Met – both of them early in our research. The parents, and then the police, made only one request of us – a fair one given the parents’ hope and the Met’s working thesis that Madeleine may still be alive – that we do nothing that might hinder or interfere with the ongoing investigation. We have been careful to abide by that request.”
How much cooperation did they get from Kate and Gerry McCann during their research and writing?
“We have been totally independent of the McCanns – and we emphasise this, given the torrent of internet innuendo to the contrary even before Looking for Madeleine was published.
“An initial meeting aside, a meeting at which Madeleine’s parents made no attempt at all to influence our thinking, there was no cooperation. The parents believed we should work independently of them, and we would not have wanted it otherwise.”
Since the couple began working on the book, both the Portuguese Polícia Judiciária and the Metropolitan Police Service have moved from ‘reviewing’ to renewed investigation and so they have had no more information from either force than was “ethically correct.”
However, they said they have had contacts with former senior law enforcement officers in both countries and these have served as a valuable guide to the early investigation, and to some degree to what has been going on more recently.
The authors said that before they started their research they had no opinion on whether Madeleine had been abducted or not. And after two years of non-stop work, they have an opinion but not a definitive one.
“We were open - and still are - to anywhere the evidence might lead us. When Madeleine vanished we were deep into the research for our previous book, on the September 11 attacks. That also involved reading many tens of thousands of documents, travel, etc. So, like millions of others, we only had the blurred impression gained from the welter of media coverage and the torrent of rumour. It is only now after looking at every angle that we can justify expressing an opinion. We do that in Looking for Madeleine.”
Anthony Summers and his wife Robbyn Swan think the most likely scenario is that Madeleine was indeed abducted. There is a “cogent skein of evidence” pointing to the notion that she was a carefully selected target, very possibly of a paedophile.”
Does the book contain any real revelations? In other words have Summers and Swan uncovered any previously unknown facts that bring us closer to understanding what really happened to Madeleine?
“Looking for Madeleine is shot through with new information and analysis. In particular, we obtained information not seen publicly before that throws vivid new light on the activity and modus operandi of the intruder who perpetrated at least one of the child sex attacks in the period preceding Madeleine’s disappearance.
“As important, we obtained detailed information on an incident in Praia da Luz that may suggest one of the phoney “charity collectors” may have had a sexual motive. This episode, in particular, coupled with analysis of the overall jigsaw of testimony, contributes to a new understanding of a possible abduction scenario.
“Another key element is the first ever in-depth interview with Brian Kennedy, the wealthy benefactor who throws light on the McCann’s private investigation effort. And much, much more.”
As to the serious doubts about independence and objectivity expressed before the book’s publication, especially by critics who totally reject the abduction theory, the authors responded: “The notion of criticising authors about a book even before it has been published may speak volumes about the biases of those levelling the criticisms.”
* Anthony Summers, formally a deputy editor of the BBC's Panorama, is the author of eight investigative books and the only two-time winner of the Crime Writers' Association's top award for non-fiction. Robbyn Swan, his co-author and wife, has partnered Summers on three previous biographies and investigations. Their book The Eleventh Day, on the 9/11 attacks, was a Finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.