Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Will using public as sleuths really help find Madeleine McCann?

Somehow you doubt it’s the sort of headline to thrill the image-conscious former Posh Spice. “Victoria Beckham lookalike sought in search for Madeleine.” And in fairness to Mrs B, the photo-fit accompanying this week’s story did not exactly live up to the hype.

Actually it looked more like Frank Lampard. But then, so very much of the marathon saga that is the disappearance and search for Madeleine McCann has turned out to be something short of what we have been primed to expect.

The latest arguido/witness/possibly entirely irrelevant passer-by is said to be Australian. Maybe. Or perhaps from New Zealand.

She was spotted not in Portugal where Madeleine disappeared but in Barcelona three days later when she approached two Brits and said something which the McCanns’ investigators believe makes her “a person of interest”.

The British witnesses say they saw her outside the bar in which they were drinking near the Port Olimpic Marina around two in the morning. She was pacing up and down and appeared agitated (which given the area and the time of night could have had countless explanations.) She is described as being around 5’2” and a size 10. (The minuscule Victoria Beckham will love that last bit.)

But it was what this woman said that apparently aroused suspicions. She appears to have mistaken the Brits for someone else and asked: “Have you got her? Have you got the child?”Having realised her mistake and walked off, she then went to another bar where she was heard to berate someone. Seemingly in Spanish.

The odd thing. While the exchange may have raised his suspicions, the British man who is the investigators’ informant only contacted the McCann team recently.

Why did it take him two years to come forward? We’re told only that he is a credible witness and there were “personal reasons” why he has kept this to himself ever since.What these reasons are, we can only guess at.

Even before the high-profile press conference, the Madeleine case was already back in the headlines this week with news that British police have to date spent three quarters of a million pounds searching for the child.

If it helps find Madeleine — or even what happened to her — you could not begrudge a penny. And you can’t fault the McCann investigators from following up every lead.

It’s just that there’s been so very many of these leads. Each new one seemingly contradicting the previous theory of what could have happened to her. This little girl’s disappearance has been more widely reported and analysed than any other in history.

There can be few people anywhere in the world — especially in the Western world — who have not been alerted to her story. And yet to date...not a trace. Throughout, the investigation has focussed primarily on mobilising public support and vigilance. Has this been counter-productive?

For the result has been a bewildering array of “sightings”, theories and countless photo-fits from the featureless Mr Potato Head ‘snatcher’ to this mysterious Aussie Posh who may have been ... what? A broker for child-traffickers?

Recruiting the public as an international band of armchair Sherlocks has failed to crack the case. The McCanns believe fervently in keeping the story in the headlines, and that reference to the Posh lookalike this week certainly ensured it did just that.

But then, you think of that man who despite all the publicity, appeals and pathos, still held his secret to himself for two long years for “personal reasons” and you wonder about the reasons and the accuracy of his recall.

Does the photo-fit look like Victoria Beckham?

Or just another red herring?

Belfast Telegraph


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