Stop judging the McCanns !

Publié le par Princess Jacqueline de Croÿ


For pity's sake, stop judging the McCanns

2a.Oudersx1.KMcCannDM_468x575If any parent, myself included, were asked to imagine the worst kind of living hell, it might well go something like this. First, their child disappears from a holiday hotel room. A police investigation fails to provide any leads whatsoever. Finally, they themselves are accused by police of killing their own child and disposing of the body.

That is, of course, what has happened to Kate and then Gerry McCann, who have been declared arguidos, or formal suspects, by the Portuguese police. Kate McCann's face, glimpsed in pictures, looked particularly drawn. A friend initially described her response to the development as "stunned and disappointed". I imagine that the exhausted Mrs McCann has now become almost numb to whatever freshly surreal barbs of horror life can throw at her: the fiercest, deepest anguish possible surely came in May, with the disappearance of her daughter.

The world has now become intensely familiar with images of Gerry and Kate McCann, trapped in their unchanging distress like insects in amber. They receive the coverage normally afforded to celebrities, yet the sole source of their uneasy fame is the cruel fact that their daughter is missing.

After her disappearance, one friend of the McCanns reported having seen a dark-haired man making off with a sleeping child in his arms, and there were endless "sightings" of the little blonde girl. There have been pleas, posters, prayers and a meeting with the Pope, and back from the unknown has come the most dreaded sound of all: silence.

Early on, the McCanns decided to use the media as a megaphone to broadcast their search for Madeleine to every shadowy corner of the world. But the mass media is more than a simple instrument of broadcast: it is a half-tame tiger that will permit people to ride for a while upon its back while it roars, but may also turn and maul them.

In the case of the McCanns, the effect of the media has been double-edged. The publicising of their plight generated an enormous wave of public sympathy, albeit one with an undercurrent of prurient fascination.

Many people debated fiercely whether they themselves would ever leave their small children alone in a hotel room while they dined nearby with friends, and some openly attacked the McCanns for having done so. There were whispers of disapproval, too, for aspects of their behaviour that were not judged "in keeping" with their grim situation: some onlookers clucked disapprovingly when Kate went jogging, or seemed too composed, or when Gerry lost his temper.

This type of criticism, particularly of Mrs McCann, has always infuriated me: it is as though our society is perpetually eager to unmask a cold-hearted Lady Macbeth lurking behind the gentler image of a mother, wife or girlfriend. There are echoes of the much harsher press treatment meted out to Joanne Lees after her boyfriend Peter Falconio was murdered in the outback by Bradley John Murdoch in 2001. At the time there were widespread suggestions in the media that Lees - who had managed to escape the attacker - was suspiciously composed, and overt accusations that she had killed Falconio herself. It only later emerged that Lees had been given Valium and, in any case, how precisely should one behave after fleeing a psychopath who has shot one's boyfriend?

A similar question, I think, applies to the McCanns: how exactly should one behave when one's child simply disappears? Pray to God, if you like, that none of Kate McCann's critics are ever compelled to find out.

The media campaign has had another unpredictable effect. It has stirred up national resentments, and inflamed the Portuguese newspapers to wild accusations against the McCanns. The flailing Portuguese police, stung by largely legitimate criticism of what has undoubtedly been a bungled investigation, have evidently grown desperate for a swift resolution. The unreliable whiff of the Salem witch-hunt is entering the process: the McCanns have now been ensnared in the curious Portuguese legal no-man's-land of the "arguido" - and what of that other, continuing "arguido", Robert Murat, whose life has effectively been destroyed by the accusation?

Week by week, the public, first appalled, has gradually grown accustomed to treating the McCanns' search as a kind of running drama. Yet drama craves momentum, and last week brought a plot twist which has led a nation of armchair Poirots avidly to debate times, places and possible motives.

I find myself incapable of believing that the McCanns had anything at all to do with the disappearance of their daughter. We must, of course, await the outcome of the investigation. But we would do well to remember that this is not in fact a Grimm's fairy tale, a soap opera, or a murder mystery. It is the real life of Kate and Gerry McCann, and it must now have become a place of agony beyond all understanding. Pity them, if you have any compassion at all, and demonstrate the minimum of grace: the ability to desist from judgment.

By Jenny McCartney - 9.9.2007
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/09/09/do0905.xml

Publié dans English

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Princesse de Croÿ 14/09/2007 18:17

From The Times
September 14, 2007

There is a Miss Marple inside all of us
The McCann case brings out our sleuthing instinct

Ben Macintyre

When you have excluded the impossible, Sherlock Holmes pronounced, “whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

A fine notion. Elementary. But quite wrong. If you rule out the impossible, you are left only with what is possible; indeed, an infinite number of possibilities, only one of which is the truth.

This has not prevented an entire army of homemade Holmeses from setting out to tackle an unsolved case that has gripped the world’s imagination. We are drawn to the McCann story out of empathy and prurience, anxiety over the fate of a little girl and fear that there but for the grace of God go we. But at its root, our fascination with these events rests on something more benign, if artificial: our faith in the familiar structure of the whodunnit.

We need to discover how this detective story will end, and many imagine they know. As a nation, we are all first cousins to Lord Peter Wimsey and Miss Marple. The amateur detective is central to our popular culture: he or she spots the clues that others miss, takes the unexpected path and finds with humility and diligence the answer that eludes the flat-footed, wrong-footed professionals.

Witness the vast numbers of armchair and desk-chair gumshoes, swapping theories on the internet about what has happened to Madeleine McCann. From their computer screens, thousands of sleuths fan out across Google Earth to scour the countryside around Praia da Luz. Everyone has a theory.

The McCann story fits, with almost eerie precision, into the template of our cultural expectations: a sweet child, an attractive couple, a glamorous setting, a supposedly bungling foreign policeman or two. There is even the obligatory red herring (or perhaps not) in the shape of the neighbour who falls under suspicion. We are treated to a welter of technical expertise, which the readers and viewers are not expected to understand in detail, merely admire. Halfway through, the case has taken a huge, unexpected twist.

In the classic detective thriller, the tale will now end in one of two ways: the McCanns will be exonerated by the discovery of a key piece of evidence or, still better, the child herself; the unthinkable alternative will send the media into a cynical paroxysm over the seductiveness of beauty, another staple theme of the genre.

The modern mystery story was invented by the American writer Edgar Allan Poe on March 20, 1841, with the publication of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, immediately hailed as “a horrifying yet fascinating work of fiction that critics are citing as the first example of a new style ? the detective story”. But the detective thriller is probably more deeply embedded in Britain than anywhere else, achieving a golden age in the 1920s, when Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham invented a world in which the amateur detective would simply take charge of the investigation. The genre has evolved and adapted over the years, but the essential ingredients have barely altered.

Every age has the crime story to reflect its fears and desires. It is no accident that Sherlock Holmes, working independently, should have emerged at a time when the professional police force had failed, under the full glare of public interest, to solve another horrible mystery: the Jack the Ripper case. The butler slipping poison into the port at the country house in the 1920s reflected middle-class unease that the social structure was changing and evil was everywhere.

It is unsurprising, then, that a nation raised on Cluedo and Conan Doyle should leap to join the hunt for Madeleine McCann. This instinct is essentially generous: we want to help, and we want to solve the mystery, to find a logical explanation for the inexplicable, and the psychological satisfaction that comes at the end of a satisfying whodunnit.

But modern detection does not always work that way. Most fictional detectives would not last long in a modern crime scene. Holmes is a towering figure in literature, but a pretty hopeless detective, unscientific and illogical. Agatha Christie inspired millions of homespun private eyes by writing books based on the foundation that “it is always interesting when one doesn't see. If you don’t see what a thing means, you must be looking at it wrong way around.” It is truer to say that if you don't know what a thing means, you probably lack the training to understand it and should leave the looking to someone who does.

Modern detective work is a matter of computers, the internet and minute science. It is boring, time-consuming and often incomplete. There are seldom neat and satisfying conclusions. The truth is elusive. Cases go unsolved.

Carl Jung once observed that the modern detective story “makes it possible to experience without danger all the excitement, passion and desirousness which must be suppressed in a humanitarian ordering of society”. Undoubtedly, many people feel a certain escapist thrill from witnessing and pondering the real-life detective story unfolding in Portugal. That is not wicked, but nor is it realistic: life seldom echoes art in the ways that we expect, and there is the danger that by framing these events as a detective story, we relegate it to a realm of the imagination, rather than cruel, unsparing reality. By treating the McCann saga as a mystery case, its sheer horror is blunted.

We crave a satisfying conclusion to the McCanns’ nightmare, preferably one in which the girl returns and her parents are above suspicion. More likely it will end in confusion, uncertainty and perhaps tragedy. We desire (and expect) a happy ending, or at least a solution. But as often happens in modern policing, and so seldom in the fictional world, this is a story that may have no ending at all.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/ben_macintyre/article2448861.ece

Princesse de Croÿ 12/09/2007 08:55


Parents were falsely accused...


Nathalie Mahy and Stacy Lemmens were found just a couple of hundred metres from the place where they disappeared

Belgium: For 19 days the nation held its breath.
Step-sisters Stacy and Nathalie shared troubled childhoods. Together, they also shared death...

Haunted by the memory of the Marc Dutroux case, Belgium desperately hoped for a miracle.

But that miracle failed to occur: the bodies of Nathalie Mahy and her seven-year-old step-sister Stacy Lemmens were found dumped in a storm water system on Wednesday 28 June.

Their bodies were found just a couple of hundred metres from the Liège pub where they disappeared on the night of 9 June.

The discovery was, at least, an end to the mystery: what had happened to the two girls?

Earlier, Nathalie's father, Didier Mahy, had said in a television interview: "Nathalie is still alive. I feel it". But his feelings appear to have deceived him.

All four parents of the step-sisters have now been placed under the care of victim support workers and have refused to offer statements until they come to terms with the deaths of the girls.

The parents were able to view the bodies on Thursday morning and say their final farewells.

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Troubled childhoods

Stacy had lived at 10 addresses in her short life and never knew her biological mother, Christiane Grianziero, who separated from 35-year-old steel worker Thierry Lemmens shortly after Stacy's birth.

Stacy and her eight-year-old brother moved with their father from one address and step-mother to another.

Grianziero was released from jail in April after serving time for drugs and prostitution crimes.

Child welfare officers kept tabs on the family, which eventually linked up with the family of unemployed mother Cathérine Dizier.

Dizier and Thierry did not live together officially; their apartments were in the same building. But in reality, they had a relationship and Stacy's step-brother, Sylvain, was born last year.

Dizier also brought three other children into the family, including Nathalie, who in the past year appeared to have regained structure in her life after the separation of her parents in 2001, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported.

Father Didier Mahy gained custody of his five children last year, but the three youngest still went to their mother on Wednesdays and Fridays. Previously, Nathalie had only spent her weekends with her father.

Mahy claims the custody ruling was the turning point in Nathalie's life, stressing that she had started improving at school and was benefiting from greater structure in her life.

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Lured away?

Justice authorities suspect that the two girls were lured to a place where the kidnapper or kidnappers would not easily be disturbed.

But only the culprit or culprits can give an accurate account of the girls' final moments and the route they took the night they disappeared.

Police have ruled out the possibility that the girls were victims of an accident. But they were not shot or stabbed. Instead, it is suspected they were strangled.

An autopsy on 28 June was to give the exact cause of death and whether the girls were sexually abused.

Initial indications are that Nathalie was sexually abused: she was found with her jeans rolled down to her knees and her pants pushed to one side.

Commercial broadcaster VTM has also cited sources claiming the autopsy revealed Nathalie was "very badly" abused.

It also said new tips have been given to police claiming the only suspect in the case harassed the girls a couple of hours before they disappeared.

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Escape route

There are two likely routes from the pub where the girls disappeared to where their bodies were found.

Both offer benefits for a kidnapper, leading either via a couple of streets with houses to an open terrain that leads to the railway or via a playground to an isolated and dark sports area and construction site.

Main suspect and convicted child sex offender Abdallah Ait Oud was familiar with the terrain. On June 13, he turned himself in after seeing his photo on television. He denied having anything to do with the case and claimed to have an alibi. However, it was established that he was in the cafe that night. Moreover, he has a history of child abuse, for which he was incarcerated. He was released in December 2005 from a mental hospital after raping two minors, one being his niece. He never admitted to his previous crimes.
He was remanded in police custody again on 29 June.

While further investigations are necessary, it appears likely that once the kidnapper lured the girls away, he took them over the railway line and dumped them in the underground drainage system.

Due to heavy rains, the bodies might have been carried in the direction of a nearby bridge and an area so overgrown with scrub that police had difficulty accessing it.

The bodies were eventually found in the drains underneath metal roofs. The area had already been searched by police, but the undergrowth along the railway was cut back, allowing police to comb the area more intensively.

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Suspicious letter

Dutch newspaper 'De Telegraaf' received an anonymous letter on 28 June containing detailed information about the area where the girls' bodies were found.

The envelope contained two maps, with a hand-written text: "Probable location Stacy + Nathalie". A cross marks the spot on the maps where the girls were predicted to be found.

Despite the fact the girls were found 2km further away along a railway, the newspaper said the letter implies that the sender was the killer or was aware of what the killer or killers had done.

The newspaper has handed the letter — which was posted in Rotterdam on Tuesday — over to Amsterdam police. Belgian federal police have asked Amsterdam colleagues to send the letter to Liège with priority.

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Sympathy and flowers

A flow of outrage and sympathy has been expressed across Belgium after the discovery of Stacy and Nathalie's lifeless bodies.

King Albert and Queen Paola are "very moved" and "share the great pain of the families", a royal palace spokesman said.

Prince Filip and Princess Mathilde, currently on a trade mission to Moscow, expressed their sympathies "as parents to the parents who have lost a child".

"Out of respect, we will not publicly say anything more about the trade mission and cut short our walk," Prince Filip said on the Red Square in Moscow.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt expressed the government's deepest sympathies, stressing he was deeply saddened by the tragedy.

He congratulated police for their efforts and said together with Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx and Interior Minister Patrick Dewael the priority was now identifying the killer(s).

The Belgian Parliament has observed a minute's silence.

The chief of the federal police's missing persons unit, Alain Remue, said he will leave Liège with mixed feelings: "We have worked together fantastically. We found them, but not alive".

Reminded about Julie and Mélissa who were rescued from Dutroux's secret dungeon alive, Remue said the case of Stacy and Nathalie was a test for the nation's police force following reforms carried out after the Dutroux case.

"But it was not our intention to prove that much had changed," he said, adding simply that he "had so much wanted to find the two children alive".

Shortly after the discovery of the girls' bodies, the public started laying flowers and messages of support in the area where the girls were found. Flowers were also placed at the city court, while children left behind drawings.

29 June 2006

http://www.expatica.com/actual/article.asp?subchannel_id=48&story_id=31197
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathalie_Mahy_and_Stacy_Lemmens