What happened to little Madeleine McCann? Is she in fact dead or in the grasp of an evil abductor? Those are the basic questions that people throughout the world are asking and to which, at this point, there is no definitive answer. The worst possible outcome of this tragic case is that people will still be asking those same questions in 10 or even 20 years time.
There is no shortage of theories on what happened the four-year-old and on who was responsible. Every person reading this newspaper will have their own views. However, those views, to a large extent, are coloured by half truths, leaks, innuendo or simply prejudice. Only those in possession of the facts uncovered by the police investigations - and, of course, the person or persons responsible for Madeleine's disappearance and probable death - are in any position to judge what went on that fateful day in May. We don't know for certain that the little girl is dead - even if circumstances suggest that she is - never mind have enough evidence to pinpoint a likely killer.
In the absence of concrete evidence about the fate of Madeleine and the identity of whoever was responsible for her disappearance, there is a natural tendency on the part of the public to point the finger of suspicion at virtually anyone known to have had contact with her. At the moment that finger is pointing at her parents, especially since Portuguese police have named both as official suspects.
However, it is verging on the irresponsible to speculate about the parents' guilt or innocence on the flimsiest of evidence. It is a basic tenet of British law that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that is a presumption which should be afforded to the McCanns.
The hysteria surrounding this case will continue to grow unless, and until, the little girl is found and charges are brought against those responsible for her disappearance. That is why it is imperative that the police investigations are as thorough as possible, so that no doubt is left in the public mind about what happened to Madeleine and who the guilty parties are.
We know from experience on this island how speculation and finger-pointing can continue for many, many years in the absence of conclusive evidence. The disappearance of Mary Boyle in Donegal 30 years ago, and of Arlene Atkinson from Tyrone more recently, has left their families in limbo. In their hearts, relatives believe that both girls are dead, but they don't know for certain the circumstances or the perpetrators. Although there is a strong suspect in the case of Arlene, her family and the public have never been able to see justice done. That is a situation we hope will not arise in the tragic case of little Madeleine.