The Madeleine McCann affair, a British obsession


Kate and Gerry McCann pose with a computer generated image of what their daughter Madeleine could look like, in London on May 2, 2012.

Wednesday, June 3, the British news purrs sadly. Covid-19 death toll; we are approaching 40,000 disappearances. Beginning of the failed deconfinement, first reactions to police violence in the United States and the murder of George Floyd … Suddenly, early in the evening, an “urgent” falls: a new suspect in the Madeleine McCann case. A German, whose name and face are still unknown. He is 43 years old, he is imprisoned in his country “In another matter”, relay dispatches and online sites.

The news channels are racing. Thursday, June 4, all British newspapers featured in one cover a now familiar face, that of a radiant 3-year-old girl, a little gray-eyed blonde wearing a white bob. Madeleine disappeared in Portugal thirteen years ago, on May 3. She would be 17 today.

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Since then, not a day goes by without an article or in a news flash. Scraps of information about the new “suspect number 1”, chronological summaries, painful portrait of the parents, Kate and Gerry, dignified but inconsolable, and memories of years of unsuccessful investigations.

France has its Grégory affair, which haunted it for almost forty years, the British have the McCann affair, a true national obsession. The disappearance of children is unfortunately not so rare, but it retains an enormous power of fascination. Why is that ?

Suspected parents

The story is also well known to the French, whom she kept in suspense all the end of spring 2007. That year, on May 3, therefore, a young couple of doctors from Leicestershire, on vacation in a Portuguese resort (l ‘Ocean Club) in Praia da Luz, slip away 70 meters from their apartment (5A), to eat tapas by the pool with a group of friends. They leave Madeleine, her brother and sister, 18-month-old twins, alone asleep in the apartment. Gerry doesn’t detect anything abnormal when he checks on the little ones at 9 p.m. But at 10 p.m. when Kate’s turn comes, she discovers that Madeleine has disappeared.

Portuguese police launch an investigation but focus on the tragic domestic accident rather than the abduction: suffering of parents suspected of having organized, or masked, the disappearance of their child.

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The case is closed eighteen months later, Kate and Gerry are exonerated. Scotland Yard takes over, sets off on the trail of a burglary that has degenerated, can’t find much more. But Gerry and Kate do not give up, raise money, skillfully plead their cause with the media so that the investigation is reopened in 2011. Still underway, “Operation Grange”, with its thirty investigators, has already cost the British taxpayer millions of pounds.

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