It’s about six months now since little Maddie McCann disappeared without trace from her parents’ holiday apartment in Praia da Luz. Six months is a long time and unless you have an extra faith and confidence gene in your biological make-up the logical conclusion would be that she is now dead. It’s extremely unlikely that -as some have reported- Maddie has actually been seen in Morocco, Belgium, Spain or anywhere else. I rule out Morocco because no childless Moroccan woman would, in desperation, snatch a northern European, blonde toddler who chats only in English and would, in a Berber village, stand out a mile.
For the same reason I don’t believe that a paedophile would have taken her to North Africa. It’s not the sort of place where deviant sexual tastes are allowed to flourish, is it? As for sightings in Spain, Belgium or Malta, I remember when Elvis for years after his death kept turning up in shopping malls, supermarket checkouts and petrol station forecourts. People tend to see what they want to see. So, unless she’s been stolen to order on behalf of a white, English speaking childless couple in, say, Washington DC (and, with hair dyed dark, made unrecognisable) we might as well start operating on the premise that Madeleine is no longer in the land of the living. The fact that, so far, no body has been found should not sustain false hope; a dead girl is much easier to hide than a live one.
Which brings me to the McCanns. While, on one level, I find it utterly impossible to believe that either parent had anything directly to do with Maddy’s disappearance, on another I’m dumbfounded by the fact that two apparently intelligent people have, through their subsequent behaviour, managed to arouse the suspicions not only of the Portuguese police but also of a hitherto understanding, commiserating public. British opinion polls show that domestic support for the McCanns, once almost universal, is now down to as little as 50 percent. In other words: for every person who is sympathetic towards them there’s another who feels they know more than they let on. The McCanns’ choice of an active media campaign and an almost manic courting of publicity is beginning to look to many peope as a ‘flight forward’: something like “so long as we blind everyone with TV appearances, appeals, fundraisers, adverts, photographs of the poor child and images of Kate clutching a cloth rabbit we may stave off public scrutiny of our own role in the affair.” Whether the parents actually played a role in the disappearance of Maddie I’ve no idea, but the fact that their behaviour doesn’t follow the expected pattern of panic, grief and eventual resignation to the inevitable (i.e. Maddie’s not coming back) is a cause for worry.
Another reason for worry is, of course, the fact that the Maddie disappearance has been blown up into a global cause celèbre, whereas each day hundreds of children around the world vanish without attracting much attention at all. The amount of money raised to fund the McCann’s search for their child and their defence against any future charges is unprecedented. I’m not concerned about the large amounts donated by captains of industry and other celebrities; £100,000 -as in the case of Richard Branson- buys you a favourable mention on the front pages and seems well worth it. Lots of other publicity-hungry celebs jumped on the same bandwagon with great alacrity. But I feel for the ordinary people who, out of the kindness of their hearts, made smaller gifts of money they could ill afford. To see that frittered away on £300-an-hour lawyers, flights up and down Europe for all the family, newspaper and TV adverts and billboards, following up on spurious sightings and the occasional mortgage payment on a £300,000 house is sad indeed. Of course, if Maddie McCann turns up alive tomorrow I’ll have to eat my words. But I don’t expect to have to, merely because the girl’s immediate family profess to know she’s not dead. A few days ago, after six (6) months of fruitless campaigning and fundraising, the McCanns on their website still spoke to us from cloud-cuckooland: “We know in our hearts that Madeleine is still out there, alive, confused and aching to be returned to her family where she belongs.”
In other words: keep the money rolling in, folks, we’ll decide when enough is enough.