Monday, October 28, 2013

More bizarre twists in McCann saga

It turns out that Kate and Gerry McCann suppressed for five years ‘critical evidence’ that became the centrepiece of the recent BBC Crimewatch programme on the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine.
Findings by ex-MI5 agents long kept under wraps by the McCanns included the two e-fit images described in the Crimwatch programme by Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood as of “vital importance.”
The images are of a suspected kidnapper seen by an Irish family in Praia da Luz the night Madeleine went missing.
They were given to the McCanns by a handpicked team of investigators from Oakley International hired by the McCanns’ Find Madeleine fund in 2008.
Henri Exton, an MI5’s former undercover operations chief who led the team, told the Sunday Times he was “utterly stunned” when he watched the Crimewatch programme and saw the evidence he had passed to the McCanns presented as a new breakthrough.
He said the fund had silenced his team with a lawyer’s letter binding them to the confidentiality of a report they had compiled that contained controversial findings. Mr Exton said the legal threat had prevented them from handing over the report to Scotland Yard’s investigation until detectives had obtained written permission from the fund.
The Oakley International report, delivered in November 2008, gave little credibility to Jane Tanner’s 9.15pm sighting and focused instead on the 10pm sighting by the Irish Smith family. The investigators recommended that their e-fit images be released without delay.
For some reason the images were not published even in Kate McCann’s 2011 book Madeleine, though it devoted a whole section to eight “key sightings” and carried e-fits on all of them except the Smiths’.
In its Insight report, the Sunday Times quoted one of the Oakley International investigators as saying: “I was absolutely stunned when I watched the programme . . . It most certainly wasn’t a new timeline and it certainly isn’t a new revelation. It is absolute nonsense to suggest either of those things . . . And those e-fits you saw on Crimewatch are ours.”
The hushed-up report is said to have questioned parts of the McCanns’ evidence, contained sensitive information about Madeleine’s sleeping patterns and raised the highly sensitive possibility that she could have died in an accident after leaving the apartment herself from one of two unsecured doors.
The Sunday Times quoted a source close to the Find Madeleine fund as saying the report was considered “hypercritical of the people involved” and “would have been completely distracting” if it became public.
In fact, the Portuguese lead detective Gonçalo Amaral considered the Irish sighting to be very important back in May 2007 when the Smith family first reported it to the Policía Judiciária. Details of the sighting and ‘hypercritical information’ were in the public domain early in January 2008, three months before the Oakley team arrived on the scene.

Ebullience at the huge response to their Crimewatch programme turned to embarrassment in certain quarters when it was revealed yesterday that the BBC had cast a porn star in the ‘reconstruction’ of events the night Madeleine disappeared.
With such films as ‘Tight Rider,’ ‘Dr Screw’ and ‘From Dusk Till Porn’ on his CV, the actor Mark Sloan was engaged by the BBC to represent one of the McCanns’ holidaying friends with whom they dined each night, Dr Matt Oldfield.
 “How could the casting director not know of his background when they picked him? It’s all over Google. Did no one check? It is unbelievably stupid,” an agent, who did not wish to be named, told the Daily Star.

Meanwhile, although a new Portuguese police investigation only became official last week, a PJ team in Oporto in the north of Portugal has been reviewing the case for some time, and another PJ team in Faro in the Algarve has been assisting Scotland Yard with their inquiries. It is believed that the new Portuguese investigation will be conducted by group of PJ detectives working independently of Scotland Yard.

Things seem to be hotting up, though there is still no end to the mystery in sight.

*  The Sunday Times published the following apology to Kate and Gerry McCann and Madeleine's Fund on 28 December 2013.
“In articles dated October 23 ("Madeleine clues hidden for 5 years" and "Investigators had E-Fits five years ago", News) we referred to efits which were included in a report prepared by private investigators for the McCanns and the Fund in 2008. We accept that the articles may have been understood to suggest that the McCanns had withheld information from the authorities. This was not the case. We now understand and accept that the efits had been provided to the Portuguese and Leicestershire police by October 2009. We also understand that a copy of the final report including the efits was passed to the Metropolitan police in August 2011, shortly after it commenced its review. We apologise for the distress caused.” 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

So what’s on the menu next week?


Last week it was trans-fatty acids. The week before it was processed foods and sweet stuff. As of today, but representing a U-turn on a month ago, it is saturated fats that are all bad.
Leading food producers and supermarket chains have today pledged to cut down on saturated fat content in their products as this is now regarded as the major cause of obesity.
Company bosses say the new initiative will improve customers’ waistlines and (more to the point) improve their own bottom-lines.
While anti-saturated activists campaign against tasty treats such as pies, cakes, biscuits and cheese, advocates of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are concerned that hardly anyone knows the difference.
Asked to comment, a leading homeopathist said, almost the only thing certain in life nowadays is that if the cholesterol doesn’t get you, the statins will.”
Dressed in a smart, figure-hugging outfit at a recent meeting of slimline EU leaders, Angela Merkel warned that if fat content was allowed to fall, food prices would rise and so would the number of pensioners.
Bearing in mind that breast milk contains more than 50% saturated fat, it may be a bit late for most of us to wonder if there is anything safe to eat or drink anymore.
A spokesman for Portugal's ministry of health said this week that the best solution to obesity, cholesterol and heart disease was more austerity. He suggested a wholesome Mediterranean diet - half portions only - with plenty of red wine so we can all stay happy in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Bom appetite...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Corruption rampant around the world

In its latest international poll, Gallup has ranked the Portuguese government as one of the most corrupt in the world based on the perceptions of the Portuguese people.
Of the 129 countries surveyed, Portugal is up there with the worst - though not quite as bad as the Czech Republic where 94% of respondents think corruption is widespread in their government, followed by Lithuania with 90%.
The results of the survey conducted last year but only released a few days ago, show fully 88% of Portuguese think corruption is widespread in this country.
By contrast, the cleanest four are Sweden (14%), Denmark (15%), Switzerland (23%) and New Zealand (24%).
According to Gallup, corruption is regarded as being pervasive right around the globe, in countries with a free press – “an indicator of good governance and development” – as well as those where media freedom is limited or non-existent.
Among countries with a free press, the ‘bottom 10’ best in the corruption chart are mostly European. Although the US does not make the ‘top 10’ list, it is not far from the top. Seventy-three percent of Americans say corruption is pervasive in their government.
The new figures are further embarrassment at a time when corruption is said to be at the root of the current spat between Portugal and its former colony, oil-rich Angola - also reckoned to be among the world’s most world’s most corrupt nations.  
It is perhaps not surprising that a free press does not necessarily inspire freedom from corruption. In Portugal, 41% of respondents believe the media itself is corrupt. So says Transparency International, which released its latest survey figures a few months ago.
Transparency International reported in its 2013 Global Corruption Barometer that the Portuguese police are rated slightly better than the press, but the business community is worse and the judiciary far worse.
Needless-to-say, very few members of the public who contribute to these surveys admit to being corrupt themselves. Only 2% of Transparency International’s Portuguese respondents owned up to bribing anyone during the previous 12 months.
No questions were asked about the ‘black economy’ which is said to involve a good chunk of Portugal’s population and a fifth of the nation’s GBP.
Leaving aside the possibility of prejudiced opinions and error, what is being done about this shocking state of affairs? Not a lot apparently.
After noting at the end of its latest research report that things do not seem to have got any better over the past several years, Gallup concluded rather wearily: “Improving these perceptions is likely to be a long-term task….” 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Madeleine McCann: so what's new?

In the massive publicity campaign, viewers had been promised a ‘revelation’ but the only revelation during the BBC’s special Crimewatch programme on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann was how slow Scotland Yard detectives seem to have been in getting up to speed on the case and how shallow the BBC was in its reporting.
Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said that in their investigation he and his team were going back to the very start of the case and “accepting nothing,” meaning taking a wholly fresh look at things. Yet not once during the programme did the police or the presenters consider anything other than the abduction theory for which there is no evidence except the say-so of the parents and their holidaying friends.
The Chief Inspector highlighted what he called “significant changes” to the timeline and “accepted version” of events. He explained that Scotland Yard had ruled out the sighting by Jane Tanner of a man carrying a child closely resembling Madeleine outside the McCann’s apartment at 9.15 that fateful evening. The man turned out to be another holidaymaker carrying his own child home from a crèche.
While the Jane Tanner sighting has been central to the widespread acceptance of the abduction theory up until now, those who dismiss the abduction claim have always considered the sighting most unreliable.
Scotland Yard has now shifted its emphasis to the well-documented sighting by an Irish family near the centre of the village at 10pm. Praia da Luz visitors and residents have now been asked to cast their minds back to 3rd May 2007 to see if they can identify the person portrayed in two newly released e-fit images.
The images were produced five years ago and they show two significantly different versions of the same man who may be a kidnapper – or he may not. He may be another entirely innocent person with nothing whatsoever to do with Madeleine’s disappearance.
If this really was a well-planned abduction as is being suggested, would a kidnapper carry his victim in his arms a considerable distance through the centre of the village towards the beach with all the attendant risk of being spotted? The question was not asked on Crimewatch.
The so-called “reconstruction” performed by actors, supposedly of events shortly before the disappearance, was notable for what it glossed over or did not reconstruct at all.
Bearing in mind the respectful nature of the programme towards the parents, it was perhaps not surprising there was no attempt to explain, for example, evidence found by two British cadaver dogs, or the many unanswered questions and conflicting statements made to the Portuguese police.
What will have been most disturbing for many viewers familiar with the McCann saga was the absence of journalistic balance and lack of rigour shown by the British media in the pre-broadcast propaganda and in the programme itself.
The show presented nothing new. It has merely added to the media circus that has blighted this tragic case from the very beginning.
Scotland Yard has apparently been inundated with calls as a result of the programme. British tabloids are already reporting that “police may have made a major breakthrough in the hunt for Madeleine.” Wishful thinking might be closer to the truth.
Madeleine deserves better. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Green light to higher speed limit?


THE STORY SO FAR: At the beginning of this month, Spain raised the speed limit on its motorways from 120 km/h to 130 km/h, more than in the UK but about the same as in the US. Other countries within the EU are expected to do the same. The Portuguese government is being strongly urged to follow Spain’s example.
Now read on....

Portugal is in serious danger of being left behind, according to campaigners for a higher speed limit. They are planning a series of go-slow protests on motorways all across the country next weekend.
They believe that if Portugal is to avoid a second bailout and get on track to compete with northern Europe, the nation’s drivers must hurry up.
Germans can drive as fast as they like on their motorways. Anti-austerity left-wing politicians here say the promotion of higher limits elsewhere in the eurozone is a plot by Angela Merkel to quicken the international distribution of German products and thus Germany’s programme of economic domination.
A spokesman for the Portuguese Automobile Safety Society (PASS) acknowledged that Portuguese drivers were the worst in Europe but said the imposition of speed limits was an infringement on their human rights. His members are demanding that freedom of movement on the country’s roads be enshrined in Portugal’s constitution.
The National Union of Truckers (NUTS) insists on parity with their Spanish counterparts, arguing that anything less and they will be left bringing up the rear in the highly competitive Iberian delivery business.
A cavalcade of honking horns along Lisbon’s Avenida de Liberdade yesterday highlighted a Pussy Riot-inspired protest on a zebra crossing. A group of little old ladies, who recently upgraded from donkeys and carts, want the minimum speed limit on motorways (50 km/h) abolished and the elderly given the right to park on hard shoulders.
Noting that the rate of road accidents has been dropping in recent years, the Portuguese ambulance services union says that raising the speed limit would reduce the risk of job cuts and unemployment among its members.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Golden visas, cheap at twice the price

EXCLUSIVE to our new occasional satirical series….

THE STORY SO FAR: The Portuguese government introduced a ‘Golden Visa’ program this year to attract wealthy non-EU foreigners. Anyone investing a mere €500,000 in property is eligible for a visa that allows them to take up residence, saves them the inconvenience of paying tax on foreign-earned income and gives the right to unrestricted travel within the Schengen zone. An investment of €1 million buys two Golden Visas and other privileges.
Now read on….

The government is declaring the Golden Visa scheme a roaring success with the biggest number of recipients coming from Russia, China, Angola and Colombia.
Official records show no evidence of oily oligarchs, corrupt communists, money-launderers or drug barons taking advantage of the scheme.
Addressing business leaders at a gala dinner in a sumptuous hotel in the Algarve this week, a government minister said the program had attracted huge amounts of money and much more was on the way.
According to press reports, the minister attributed Portugal’s attractiveness “not only to the transport infrastructures but also the country’s better prepared and more flexible human resources and the ongoing structural reforms.”
Those reading accounts of the speech in discarded newspapers while searching in rubbish bins and queuing up at soup kitchens said they had no idea what the minister was talking about.
Meanwhile the government has emphasised that the newcomers are adding equilibrium to the most unequal country in the eurozone in which the rich are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the poor. Asked to comment, a spokesman for the Bank of Portugal said, “Pois, pois.”
The scheme is also thought to be benefiting the country by further encouraging the mass exodus of a generation of young people obsessed with Facebook and sitting on their backsides.
Property market sources dismiss rumours that covert intermediaries in the Golden Visa program have been asking estate agents to increase commissions from 5% to 10%+ so that the introducers can get their cut.
The same sources reject notions that in this time of austerity intermediaries are trying to buy houses at  €400k and then sell them on to their clients at €500k+, or that agents would stoop to advising clients to add 10% to their asking prices to allow for fat commissions to be paid.
A 20-something unemployed science graduate about to board an overseas flight at Lisbon airport said, more or less:“This whole Golden Visa thing is a load of codswollop.”

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Can the media help find Madeleine?

The media hype that has surrounded the Madeleine McCann mystery for the past six years has been unleashed with renewed vigour by none other than Scotland Yard.
On announcing that their ‘Operation Grange’ review of the case had been elevated to a full-scale inquiry in July, Scotland Yard asked for “media restraint” in the coming weeks and months as it began what was interpreted as the last chance to find out what happened to Madeleine.
So much for ‘restraint’ on the part of either the media or Scotland Yard. The media have just been treated to a string of statements that has left readers and listeners intrigued and hungry for more. The Scotland Yard PR machine is obviously working well.
 All of the major British news outlets have reported that Scotland Yard has an important ‘new theory’. It is to be unveiled in a BBC Crimewatch appeal featuring what they call “a reconstruction of Madeleine’s disappearance.”
What form the reconstruction will take remains to be seen but it will come amid the irony that Madeleine’s parents and their holidaying friends refused to take part in a reconstruction at the behest of the Portuguese police all those years ago.
On top of the ‘new theory’, Scotland Yard has announced it believes that “a vast database of mobile phone traffic” in Praia da Luz around the time Madeleine went missing “could hold the key” to solving the mystery of her disappearance.
Detectives admit it will be like “finding a needle in a haystack” because the phone log involves searching the phone and perhaps criminal records of thousands of people scattered over 31 countries.
Intriguingly, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood is quoted as saying of the mobile search: “We are doing it the hard way quite frankly. This is not just a general trawl; this is a targeted attack in relation to that database to see if it assists us in finding out what happened to Madeleine McCann at that time.
“A lot of the focus is not necessarily to find a suspect, but also witnesses. We’re trying to understand who was there for a range of reasons. If you were in Praia da Luz at the time, you may get a routine phone call from the police.”
The reason for the joint announcement and the precise connection between looking for the ‘needle in the haystack’ and the important ‘new theory’ is unclear. Indeed, it all sounds a bit strange and maybe even a bit desperate, but it has provided good copy for the media while unintentionally handing out fodder to the anti-McCann internet nasties.  
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley was captivating in his choice of words in referring to the ‘new theory.’
“There is new information not previously presented. Fresh, substantive material upon which to make an appeal. It’s substantially different. It’s not just a bland ‘can you help us’ appeal; there is some different material and a different understanding to be presented.”
To add to the mix, it is said that Kate and Gerry McCann will be in the studio and, for the first time, will appear alongside detectives in the Crimewatch programme to be broadcast on October 14. They are said to be very grateful to Scotland Yard for the work they are doing in close liaison with the Portuguese police.
Perhaps the timing is coincidental, but all this suspense rather overshadows the McCanns vs Amaral libel action, which is still in progress in Lisbon and only due to be concluded on November 5.

The Crimewatch presenters: