1. A QUESTION OF NEGLECT? In this four part series we examine one of the most enduring mysteries of modern times - the disappearance of three year old Madeleine McCann. However, the spotlight falls this time not on theories about the disappearance itself but on questions of neglect, culpability, and responsibility.
What is the 'neglect issue', and why is it important?
MUCH HAS ALREADY been said about Madeleine McCann's disappearance. Due in no small part to the tireless efforts of Madeleine’s parents, Dr Kate McCann and Dr Gerry McCann, it’s surely the best known and publicised child disappearance/abduction case in the world. Many similar tragic events have occurred before, and since, yet none have generated so much media attention, public discussion, or forensic speculation as has the fate of this otherwise relatively ordinary and uninteresting little girl who was, at the time, just shy of her forth birthday.
Despite public and media fascination with the Madeleine McCann mystery, however, something often glossed over is that the case actually spawned two distinct branches of enquiry and debate. The most widely discussed branch focuses almost exclusively on Madeleine's disappearance itself. The McCann’s abduction theory typically takes centre stage here, along with its many (and there are many) rival theories. One of the best know and discussed of these rivals is Portuguese detective Goncalo Amaral’s culpable homicide theory, followed by the British police’s ‘botched burglary (murder/abduction) theory’, the paedophile ring abduction theory, the accidental death and cover-up theory, and many more besides. Collectively these theories can usefully be thought of as part of the ‘ disappearance branch’ of the Madeleine McCann case as a whole.The hallmark of this branch is its central concern with unravelling just what happened to Madeleine on the night of 3rd May 2007 (and afterwards) in the McCann’s holiday apartment, Praea De Luz, Portugal.
The second branch of the Madeleine McCann mystery as a whole has been relatively less well scrutinized. This, the ‘welfare branch’, has focused mostly upon the alleged ‘neglect issue’ regarding Madeleine’s treatment leading up to her disappearance. This is also the branch and issue this series of articles will be concerned with, mostly. Characteristically discussion of the neglect issue turns, almost exclusively, upon the extent to which Kate and Gerry McCann might be guilty (if they are guilty at all) of willful neglect of their daughter Madeleine prior to the tragic events of the evening of 3rd May 2007. Moreover, a further question naturally emerges from the above; if the McCann’s were indeed neglectful of their daughter Madeleine to what extent, if at all, did this actually contribute to her disappearance?
It is probably true to say that the welfare branch is the more emotionally charged in terms of public reaction. It is also the more provocative branch of the general case and the one most successfully buried by the left-wing media under pressure from Team McCann and a certain segment of the public and political community at the time, and since. Somewhat ironically, this may well have actually played a role in a good deal of suspicion subsequently falling upon Kate and Gerry McCann both early in the investigation and more recently.
The welfare branch (and specifically the neglect issue) is also, 1) the most confused and misunderstood, 2) very often conflated with the disappearance branch and, 3) far more vigorously debated online and in social networking groups than in the mainstream media (where it’s been heavily censored and manipulated – for reasons which will hopefully be more apparent later). Nonetheless, it's the welfare branch and neglect issue that will form the focus of this series of articles. Before we look in detail at the alleged neglect of Madeleine McCann, however, it may prove useful to briefly say something about the intended approach to this issue.
Broadly speaking, the following series of articles are not, in the first instance, concerned to provide simple answers to questions about any alleged neglect that might be levelled at the McCann's. This may at first seem a little strange but it will hopefully become much clearer, as the discussion unfolds, why this step is taken initially.
The aim here is to clarify specific questions regarding neglect (on behalf of the McCann's and, possibly, the rest of the 'tapas 9' as they have become known), and to validate these questions as both entirely legitimate and reasonable lines of enquiry – which is quite the contrary to what the McCann’s, and their team mates, would otherwise like to dictate happens whenever this kind of criticism is mentioned. Rather, the tendency from Team McCann has been to sideline, avoid, or just dismiss such questions as unimportant distractions from their campaign to 'find' Madeleine.
Let's now take a closer look at some of the key questions that might be, and should be it is argued here, validly and legitimately raised and pursued regarding the 'neglect issue';
(1) There is a perfectly valid and reasonable question to be raised regarding whether or not Madeleine McCann was subjected to neglectful behaviour on the evening of 3rd May 2007. Or, to put this another way, it is entirely reasonable to ask whether or not Madeleine McCann was neglected in any way, by anybody, on the night of 3rd May 2007?
(2) There is a further valid and reasonable question to be raised regarding whether, on the occasion of 3rd May 2007 any neglectful behaviour by anyone, proposed in 1 and given it was neglectful, led to or facilitated the abduction, death, or otherwise disappearance of Madeleine McCann? In other words, did neglecting to care properly for Madeleine, if such neglect took place at all, lead to or contribute in any way to her fate on the night of 3rd May 2007?
(3) A yet further valid and reasonable question arises from 1 and 2, given that neglect is in fact attributable. This asks whether Kate and/or Gerry McCann were the party or parties responsible for, or contributing to, any neglectful behaviour leading to Madeleine’s disappearance? Or, put another way, was it the case that Kate and/or Gerry McCann were responsible, directly or indirectly, in part or whole, for any neglect leading to Madeleine’s fate, given that 1 and 2 are true?
(4) Given, as in 3, that Kate and/or Gerry McCann were guilty of being neglectful of Madeleine was this a result of general incompetence or wilful neglect on their part? Note: this question leverages a test and measure for culpability, morally and legally, to the extent one can distinguish subtle differences in orders of neglect. It assumes, again reasonably however, that one can be neglectful in measure e.g. from incidental or accidental through to criminally wilful.
The above are ‘core’ questions arising from the ‘neglect branch’ of the Madeleine McCann case. There are also ‘secondary’ questions that might follow from these (depending on the answers offered) such as;
(5) Given 1, 2, 3, and/or 4 why have Kate and/or Gerry McCann not been held responsible by the relevant public authorities (e.g. social services), the media, or any other party for neglect (accidental, wilful or otherwise) leading to the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine?1
(6) Given 1, 2, 3, and/or 4; to what extent, if at all, were the ‘tapas 7’2 also responsible, if at all, for the disappearance of Madeleine McCann?
(7) Given 1 and 2 but not 3 or 4 (i.e. Madeleine was culpably neglected but the McCann’s were not responsible) to what extent, if at all, were the tapas 7, the resort staff, or anyone else responsible for actions, neglectful or not, leading to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann?
(8) Lastly, and perhaps the question that pre-dates all others, why have none of these questions ever been pursued, at least seriously, by the relevant authorities or the media?
Many other questions might of course be formulated. Moreover, the same questions may be expressed differently. Nonetheless, the first four questions are pivotal. Other questions debated in terms of the welfare branch of this case tend either to follow from or hinge upon the first four ‘core’ questions and, for this reason, the spotlight must fall on these.
What's important to emphasis here is that these are, first and foremost, entirely valid questions that should be asked. They are properly matters for debate and investigation, and it is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable to attempt to censor or supress these questions. The primary interest at this juncture is, then, not in arguing the McCann’s innocence or guilt regarding neglect but pressing home the very legitimacy and importance of these questions in the first place.
Later in this series the reader will indeed be offered some responses to the accusations of neglect. But the overarching aim is to press home the general validity and basic right to raise these questions in the first instance. If free speech means anything it means having a clear and inalienable right to ask and debate such perfectly reasonable questions, no matter how unpalatable, uncomfortable, or distracting some, like members of team McCann, think they are. Why? Because your feelings, your being offended, your being incensed, disgusted, or even 'exacerbated', mean nothing if the price of protecting you from such terrors is the death of free speech, and perhaps freedom more generally and as we know it.
We should not, then, ever be deterred from openly debating unpalatable questions – like those regarding the alleged wilful neglect of a vulnerable child, less than four years old, that was (or so it appears) brutally snatched away from her parents never to be seen again. This is, of course, every parent’s worst nightmare, as is so often pointed out. But this fact, deeply cruel as it is, does not excuse, not one jot, any negligent behaviour leading to such a tragedy. It does not by default grant any immunity whatsoever from charges of irresponsibility, culpability, and moral or legal guilt - where these are warranted of course.
The very idea that visitation of such a torturous circumstance somehow releases one from moral responsibility and scrutiny is precisely what's at the very heart of this debate. Mindful, as we should be, of the very grave nature of some of the allegations involved (of wilful and/or criminal neglect, for example) it remains reasonable to suppose there is a case to answer.
We owe it to every child that disappears in similar circumstances (and there are many), not just Madeleine, that the perpetrators are brought swiftly to justice where at all possible. On this, though, we surely find pretty much universal agreement. Even the dullest, most retarded, most cognitively challenged liberal snowflake would be hard-pressed to find disagreement with the political right on this one – though undoubtedly and at the same time expressing deep concern for the human rights of the convicted pervert or child killer.
As a society and as individuals we have an absolute duty to our children. That duty requires those adults in positions of responsibility for the protection and well-being of children be held accountable when things go wrong. This is especially true where it's suspected or shown that wreckless, irresponsible, or negligent conduct may have played a role in tragedy. All those in whom society invests this very high level of trust and responsibility toward children, whether they be parents or guardians, teachers or custodians, must be held transparently and fully accountable for their actions, not least if and when this is found wanting – to do anything less is to fail all children everywhere.
Where parents or other responsible adults are found to be neglectful in this duty to protect their children then they must held accountable. Specifically, it is essential that through appropriate sanction or punishment the disapproval of society is sufficiently communicated to them, and to other parents or guardians that might be tempted to deriliction in their duty to their children too. Nor is this simply retribution or a simple measure of deterrence but, rather, a means by which those guilty of such neglect are brought to bear, properly, the responsibility of their actions.
We cannot fail in this duty and remain a civilised nation, it’s that simple. This is the crux of the matter and the fulcrum upon which this discussion gains leverage.
Before looking in detail at the pertinent issues regarding the ‘neglect branch’ of this case, however, it will be useful to take a brief excursion into aspects of the background surrounding the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance – some of which are quite unique in terms of child abduction cases generally. This will not only help to place the ‘neglect issue’ in a broader context but serve as something of an introduction to elements of this unique mystery that might be unfamiliar to some (part two can be skipped if you are already familiar with much of the background details presented, although it might still prove useful to puruse the particular perspective presented).
1 It needs to be borne in mind that they cannot be prosecuted under UK law for offences committed in another country. This, were they guilty (they were of course the main suspects at one point) would have been possible only under Portuguese law while they were in Portugal.
2 Friends of the McCann’s holidaying with them in Praea De Luz at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance and referred to as the ‘tapas 7’. The group, including Kate and Gerry McCann, are often referred to collectively as the ‘tapas 9’.