By: MIKE ALMOND
AS THE Northern Rock bank crisis and new foot and mouth outbreaks grabbed the headlines over the last week, the case of missing Madeleine McCann dropped down the news agendas at British media organisations.
By their own high standards of press exposure, Gerry and Kate McCann have kept a low profile. But this was broken on Wednesday by a series of interviews for selected British newspapers and statements from the McCann camp.
A source close to the family insisted much of the police evidence, including Madeleine’s DNA from the family’s hire car in Praia da Luz, can be easily explained.
The fact that the McCanns, or certainly people close to them, are talking about the evidence will anger the Portuguese authorities as this is contrary to Portugal’s secrecy of justice laws. “But they have got to say something about the allegations here,” said the source.
The strategy now appears to be to get their defence in first, prompted by the numerous speculative stories published in the Portuguese-language press, and reminding people of the most crucial factor in the whole affair – Madeleine has been missing for 141 days today (Friday).
Clarence Mitchell, who left his role at a UK government media monitoring unit to return to work for the McCanns as their spokesman, said on Tuesday: “The focus must now move away from the rampant, unfounded and inaccurate speculation of recent days to return to the child at the very centre of this: Madeleine. The task is simply to find her.”
A high profile in the early days kept Madeleine’s face in the public eye. The couple’s bid to gather information on their missing four-year old daughter hooked the press. But as frustrations surfaced about the apparent lack of a breakthrough in the PJ investigation, the media interest quickly switched to a frenzy of speculation.
The media machine, and a deeply concerned worldwide public, fuelled by the McCann’s early slick campaign, demanded feeding.
For now, with fewer leaks to the Portuguese press because the case is in the hands of the judiciary, speculation has subsided.
That would undoubtedly have brought a smile to the face of Chief Inspector Olegário Sousa, the former public face of the PJ investigation and now back on ‘normal’ police duties in Lisbon.
The chief inspector, who was never a member of the investigating team, faced many difficult moments during his time as press spokesman for the team, doggedly declining to comment on speculative articles.
It seems he was kept away from the more sensitive information of the case throughout to ensure nothing untoward was said and only now can he be critical about the leaks to the press in defiance of the Portuguese secrecy of justice laws that prohibit official comment.
Meanwhile, a judge is still to make a decision on the next course of action in the case.
On Monday, Kate and Gerry McCann thanked the public for the thousands of letters of support they had received since Madeleine disappeared.
Sunday saw Virgin group chief Sir Richard Branson donate £100,000 (150,000 euros) to a fund to assist Kate and Gerry McCann with their legal costs.
Gerry and Kate McCann said on Saturday that they will not return to Portugal unless requested to do so by the police. It was also announced that an advertising campaign to help find Madeleine was to be launched within two weeks. Up to £80,000 from the fighting fund will be spent on a new appeal through billboards and other media.
Justine McGuinness, the 37-year-old former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate who was the public face of the Madeleine campaign for three months, finished working for Kate and Gerry McCann.
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