Belfast Telegraph

Madeleine: why we are watching the detectives

By Lindy McDowell

The case of the little Madeleine McCann has unleashed two distinct responses in the millions who have been following this story worldwide. An innate compassion. And, in very many of us, our inner Dalziel and Pascoe.

In taxis, buses, bars, supermarket queues, factory floors, offices and homes throughout the land each reported shred of evidence - real, imagined, leaked or rumoured - is meticulously reviewed and dissected with an attention to detail that would do Gil Grissom proud.

Kate and Gerry McCann. What are we to make of them?

Innocent parents doubly wronged?

Or is there an even more unthinkable option ... ?

Almost everybody has a theory about what happened on that fateful night in Portugal. And the thought processes that have led us there are as individual as the methods of TV cops.

But the television 'tecs generally get it easy compared to real life. They collate the evidence, track down the witnesses and then inevitably land the clincher. The full-on confession delivered in a five-minute monologue by the perpetrator where all loose ends are conveniently wrapped up.

"Yes, it was me who killed him. He had it coming. That night when I saw him standing there in the library I seized the envelope opener. Yes, the one you found buried in the front lawn. The reason why it had Hodgkins fingerprints on the handle? I wrapped his hand around it after I'd whacked him over the head with the bottle of brandy. Exactly. The same bottle of brandy that the rector reported stolen. And no, old Hodgkins hadn't run off with the choir mistress as everyone assumed ? "

Real life isn't like that.

But still we expect real cops to find it as easy to nail the baddies as the Inspector Frosts, the Morses, the Colombos. We expect real cops to find it as easy to psychologically break the accused as Cracker. As easy to pinpoint the criminal from the forensics as the team from CSI Miami.

This applies not just to the high profile cases that make international headlines, but also to cases here at home. For reasons which sometimes, shockingly, include lack of resources or skills.

There's an irony that at a time when such a sizeable section of the community is consumed with amateur sleuthing it's revealed that the PSNI is struggling to cope with a shortage of detectives.

And thanks to Patten, it's set to get worse as even more experienced officers leave. The local constabulary is facing the prospect of ending up with fewer real detectives than an episode of Rosemary and Thyme.

Another irony is that despite the current crisis at home, local policing and detection expertise continues to make an impact worldwide as former and serving officers from here share their skills with other forces.

Even in Portugal ...

For we can also claim to have had a hand - or rather a paw - in the McCann investigation. Eddie the sniffer dog which pinpoints corpses is reported to have played a crucial role.

How very crucial may soon become apparent. Real life cops tend to face tougher scrutiny than their television counterparts. And the amateur Taggarts will not be the only ones watching developments in this case with fascination.

For of the two responses it has unleashed it is the global outpouring of compassion which primarily ensures that millions of people feel they have a stake in its denouement. No less than the part-time Poirots, those who have invested emotion - and donations - will also be desperate to know.


Another gesture too far

The lunacy of spending millions in order to fork out £120 to every pregnant woman in the land so that she can top up on her five a day (fruit and veg, not Benson and Hedges, although no checks will be made) is only the latest spectacular example of expensive gesture politics.

More millions are being lavished on a controversial advertising campaign advising young men to apply early for their passports so that they "don't get left behind".

The campaign is controversial because it is seen by some as encouraging young men to indulge in feckless sexual behaviour while on vacation.

To me the cost of the campaign is a sight more dodgy.

Why do young men need a reminder (paid for by the taxpayer) to apply early for a passport? If they miss their holiday might it not teach them a valuable life lesson?

And given what the ad people assume they'd be getting up to, might it not also save the public purse a few of those £120 fruit baskets for the women they could potentially impregnate?

Anita the trailblazer

Anita Roddick (inset), the founder of The Body Shop, who died this week, was the first to successfully mass market the concept of beauty products with a conscience. Back in the 80s she was the queen of kindly cosmetics.

In today's eco aware market it's easy to forget just how ahead of the times she was.

And, of course, there were times when the products got a bit preachy. But Roddick scored because she knew her market.

She knew women - and how her range of environmentally friendly, Fairtrade products would appeal.

Today, 'ethical' beauty products are everywhere. But it was the likes of Roddick who blazed a trail.

In small plastic, reuseable bottles.

What? no protest over Paisley?

There was a time when Ian Paisley standing down as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church would have been as unthinkable as King Billy being removed from Orange banners.

Yet in these peace-processing times the story hardly makes front page news. The First Minister shrugs it off with a reported, "Wonderful", and moves seamlessly on to his next appointment - shaking hands with the Irish President.

It is the unremarked way of things in our new Northern Ireland.

Back in the days when a visitor from the South could virtually have depended on a Free P protest rally dogging his or her every move, would we have thought such days would come?

Never, never, never.

Belfast Telegraph


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