Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Will Madeleine McCann's family ever see an end to their torment?

Enduring mystery: Madeleine McCann

The holiday apartment complex is just as described in the brochure. In a quiet area of the family resort, within easy walking distance of the sea. The whitewashed blocks are well maintained, the grounds pristine.

The place exudes tranquility. The only sounds, the joyous cries of pupils on a break at the school just over the road. And the yelps of small children splashing around the club's baby pool. Their mothers lie on sunbeds nearby; from the road you get the odd snatch of their chatter and their accents. Mostly English. Some Irish.

None of these women will be unaware of the history of the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz.

Six years ago Madeleine McCann, three going on four, disappeared from this holiday complex.

In those years since, the possible fate of that little girl has haunted, mystified and intrigued millions across the globe.

We all want to know what became of Madeleine. We all have a theory.

And now she's back in the headlines again – or rather the search to find her is. At the same time as her parents' libel action against a former Portuguese police chief gets under way, British police, involved in a major review, say they have discovered fresh leads.

Having trawled through phone records of thousands of people in the resort that evening in May 2007, they believe they have uncovered new information giving a 'clearer picture' of what happened. Next week their new theory is to be revealed in a television Crimewatch special.

What could this breakthrough centre on? Media reports initially suggested a Portuguese paedophile ring. But this has been replaced with speculation about a gang of burglars said to have been targeting apartments in the area around the time.

An odd one surely. If burglars had disturbed a young child why would they take her with them? In fairness this line is just media speculation.

Maybe the police do have something more substantial. Six years on technological and forensic methods are more sophisticated. But the trail is six years colder too. The Portuguese police are reported to be aiding their British counterparts.

The local police's relationship with the McCanns was strained from the outset as we know. Much Portuguese public opinion was scandalised by the revelation that the couple had left their three very young children alone in their beds that night as they dined in a tapas restaurant which is part of the complex but some considerable distance away from their apartment.

Walking around the sizeable complex and seeing the distance between the bar and the apartment – and the latter so very close to the public road – you can quite understand local bewilderment at the two doctors' dreadful lapse of judgment.

But they've paid a terrible price for that. The most awful price imaginable.

And yet even today in the UK public sympathy for them remains starkly divided. The couple and their plight still evoke pity and criticism in equal measure.

Online there is much debate about why other missing child cases have not had similar resources devoted to them.

Millions have been spent on the search for Madeleine. A waste? Surely not when there's a chance that the child could still be found (and countless cases elsewhere remind us that such an outcome is always a possibility).

The only thing we do know for certain is that someone, somewhere out there knows the truth of what happened that night. An appeal – yet another appeal – may, even after all these years, smite their conscience and prompt them to tell what they know.

For, regardless of the technological advances police now have at their disposal, you can't help but feel that it will only be through someone coming forward, or just sheer luck, that the heartbreaking, enduring mystery of little Madeleine will be solved. If ever it will.

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