Madeleine McCann mystery continues to baffle the world

Martin Brunt, Crime Correspondent

The mystery of Madeleine McCann has fascinated and baffled me since the day she vanished 10 years ago.

And not just me. Two police forces, half a dozen private investigators, teams of dedicated reporters and a small army of armchair detectives have got nowhere near the truth of what happened.

Madeleine was nearly four when she disappeared from her bed in the family’s rented holiday apartment in Portugal, while her parents dined with friends nearby on 3 May 2007.

The first reporters arrived early the next morning, prompted by the family’s immediate appeals for help to British TV news channels.

There were lots of reasons for the massive media interest – a happy family holiday gone horribly wrong, the heartbreaking photos of Madeleine, the location of a pretty seaside village where “nothing ever happens”, and her parents’ drive for publicity.

While their relatives pleaded for information back home via TV studios and Fleet Street newsrooms, Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry gave impromptu briefings to the dozens of reporters who arrived in Praia da Luz from all over the world.

I arrive a few days later, by which time the story had already taken off like no other I’d covered. I must have been back a dozen or more times since to cover developments, though there have been precious few of those.

It was immediately clear to me that the Portuguese police were struggling to cope, not just with the investigation but with the media spotlight too.

The idea of a press conference was an alien concept under Portugal’s judicial secrecy law, but the authorities were badgered into holding one anyway – and the beleaguered police officer refused to answer most questions.

The McCanns ignored Portuguese police advice to keep silent and leave the investigation to the experts.

Instead, the couple spoke regularly to reporters, posed for the cameras and travelled to countries where they thought she might have been taken.

A secret Home Office report reveals the tension and distrust that grew between the McCanns, the Portuguese police and the various UK agencies who competed to offer help.

Eventually, the McCanns fell out with most of the UK media, winning libel cases against several news organisations for rehashing scurrilous stories fed by Portuguese officials to their own press.

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