A Spiral of Excitability: It Was a Month When We Might Have Expected Things to Calm Down in the McCann Story, but Instead Editors and Reporters Have Been Furiously Barking Up All the Wrong Trees

By Cathcart, Brian | New Statesman (1996), August 27, 2007 | Go to article overview

A Spiral of Excitability: It Was a Month When We Might Have Expected Things to Calm Down in the McCann Story, but Instead Editors and Reporters Have Been Furiously Barking Up All the Wrong Trees


Cathcart, Brian, New Statesman (1996)


A month ago the only story about Madeleine McCann was that her home village of Rothley in Leicestershire had decided to remove the rain-drenched yellow ribbons that adorned the local war memorial. There was no question of giving up hope, insisted Brian Kennedy, a great-uncle of the missing girl, but "we think the time's come to move on a bit".

A straw in the wind, you might have been forgiven for thinking. A small sign that what has been described, with only a little exaggeration, as the biggest child abduction story since the Lindbergh case might finally be slipping out of the limelight.

Not so, because the intervening weeks have given us a second McCann frenzy rivalling the first, but which, for a great deal of the time, seemed to be founded on very little. "Important" and "credible" new witnesses have surfaced; there have been "dramatic new developments" and several times we have been "on the verge of a major breakthrough", yet again and again the stories led nowhere.

One dramatic new development, you may recall, was the second search of the home of Robert Murat, the long-term official suspect. Despite the supposedly significant presence of British detectives, this produced nothing, and the police were apparently left closer to eliminating Murat from their inquiries than arresting him.

There was also the Belgian sighting, in which a "highly credible" witness reported seeing Madeleine at a motorway service station near the Dutch border. That too slipped off the front pages unceremoniously after a DNA sample from a bottle turned out to be a man's.

Next came the speck of blood in the bedroom from which the child was taken. Discovered by a British spaniel, no less, this took reporters into whole new realms of speculation for several days (Was Madeleine murdered as she slept, and then spirited away?)--until DNA tests again showed it was not evidence of anything at all.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As I write we are once again promised a major breakthrough, with Portuguese police allegedly poised for decisive action. It may turn out to be genuinely important and it may not: I know I am not alone, though, in a weary scepticism about the reporting of this story. There has been far too much crying wolf.

You have to wonder about the judgement of editors, such as those at the Express and the Mirror, who have been persistently putting these stories on the front page only to see them turn into squibs. …

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