Guest Author - Joanna Czechowska
This week, to commemorate the second anniversary of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, Channel 4 produced a documentary about a reconstruction of the incident staged by her parents Kate and Gerry in the Portuguese resort where it happened.
In 2007, three-year-old Madeleine was on holiday with her parents and twin siblings in Praia da Luz, Portugal. The family was there with 10 friends and one night they all left their children asleep in the villas and went to a nearby tapas bar for dinner. The families took it in turns to return to the apartments periodically to check on the children.
Around 9pm, Kate checked and all was well. At 10pm, Gerry McCann went into his children’s bedroom. He saw the sliding window was open and when he looked at his eldest daughter’s bed, she was gone….
The couple then started a huge media campaign to find their daughter. They remained in Portugal for many weeks, the Portuguese police conducted investigations and questioned all the friends, other people living in the area and finally, astonishingly, came to the conclusion the McCanns themselves were suspects - although this was later overturned.
When Gerry and Kate, who are both doctors, finally returned to the UK their search continued. They invited people to give money to the campaign and released video film of Madeleine. Pictures of the little girl with her unusual eyes, were plastered around airports, shops, and other public places all over Europe.
This Channel 4 documentary, Madeleine Was Here, had cameras following the McCanns and their twins Sean and Amelie, around their home in Leicester, Gerry’s work at the hospital, their trip to the US to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show and finally the details of Gerry’s trip to Portugal to take part in the reconstruction.
The twins, whose faces were hidden for the documentary, are now cared for by their mother who has given up work. She is still spending much of her time on the campaign. The couple describe themselves as ‘a happy family, but not a complete family’. As they prepared for their trip to the US, the cameras followed them to the Oprah studios and also on their visit to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia. Here, they were told many children were discovered, even after being missing for two years, through the centre’s age progression techniques. By this method, they take a picture of, for example, a three-year-old and using photos of the parents and their computer models, they issue an image of what the child would now look like. You could see the hope in the McCanns’ eyes as they listened.
The camera crew then shadowed Gerry’s visit to Portugal for the reconstruction of that fateful night (Kate did not have the strength to attend). Understandably, there is hostility there from locals whose resort is no longer associated with sun, sea and sand but only with a missing little girl. There were shouts and insults hurled at Gerry as he walked toward the apartment where it all happened, as well as a media scrum as photographers tried to get pictures of him.
One friend from the Tapas bar, who actually saw a man carrying a young girl dressed in pyjamas that terrible night, attended the reconstruction. Her sorrow at not apprehending the man was apparent and she began to weep.
The McCanns have now issued an artist’s impression of the man – who was also seen by several other witnesses - but so far there are no leads. The whole documentary was gripping and powerful but had a sad and, I think, hopeless air about it. These people have given so much of their private life and pictures of their daughter to the world. It is the pain and struggle of two people who will not give up looking for their beloved child – but for the rest of us, we fear their little girl is already dead.