Madeleine Beth McCann (12 May 2003 – disappeared 3 May 2007) disappeared on the evening of 3 May 2007 from her bed in a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, a resort in the Algarve region of Portugal, sparking what one newspaper called "the most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history."[3] Her whereabouts remain unknown.[4]

Madeleine was on holiday from the UK with her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, her younger twin siblings, and a group of family friends and their children. She and the twins had been left asleep at 20:30 in the ground-floor apartment, while the McCanns and friends dined in a restaurant 50 metres (160 ft) away.[5] The parents checked on the children throughout the evening, until Madeleine's mother discovered she was missing at 22:00. At first the Portuguese police seemed to accept that it was an abduction, but after misinterpreting a they came to believe that Madeleine had died in the apartment. The McCanns were declared arguidos (suspects) in September 2007 but were cleared when Portugal's attorney-general archived the case in July 2008.[7]

The parents continued the investigation using private detectives until Scotland Yard opened its own inquiry, Operation Grange, in 2011. In 2013 Scotland Yard released e-fit images of men they wanted to trace, including one of a toward the beach that night.[8] Shortly after this the Portuguese police reopened their inquiry.[9] Operation Grange was scaled back in 2015.[10]

The disappearance attracted sustained international interest and saturation coverage in the UK reminiscent of the death of Diana in 1997.[11] The McCanns were subjected to intense scrutiny and false allegations of involvement in their daughter's death, particularly in the tabloid press and on Twitter.[13] They received damages and front-page apologies in 2008 from Express Newspapers,[17] In 2011 they testified before the Leveson Inquiry into British press misconduct, lending support to those arguing for tighter press regulation.[18]


Madeleine McCann

Madeleine was born in Leicester and lived with her family in Rothley, also in Leicestershire. At the request of her parents, she was made a ward of court in England shortly after the disappearance, which gave the court statutory powers to act on her behalf.[19] Interpol described Madeleine as having blonde hair, blue and green eyes, a small brown spot on her left calf, and a distinctive dark strip on the iris of her right eye.[2][20][21] In 2009 the McCanns released age-progressed images of how she may have looked at age six,[23] and in 2012 Scotland Yard commissioned one of her at age nine.[24]

Kate and Gerry McCann

Madeleine's parents are both physicians and practising Roman Catholics. Kate Marie McCann, née Healy (born 1968, Huyton, near Liverpool) attended All Saints School in Anfield, then Notre Dame High School, Everton Valley, graduating in 1992 with a degree in medicine from the University of Dundee. She moved briefly into obstetrics and gynaecology, then anaesthesiology, and finally general practice.

Gerald Patrick McCann (born 1968 in Glasgow) attended Holyrood Secondary School. He obtained a BSc in physiology/sports science from the University of Glasgow in 1989, qualifying in medicine in 1992. In 2002 he obtained his MD, a research degree, also from Glasgow. Since 2005 he has been a consultant cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester.[25] The McCanns met in 1993 in Glasgow and were married in 1998. Madeleine was born in 2003 and the twins, a boy and girl, two years later.

Tapas Seven

The McCanns were on holiday with seven friends and eight children in all, including the McCanns' three.[26] The nine adults dined together most evenings at 20:30 in the resort's tapas restaurant, as a result of which the media dubbed the friends the Tapas Seven. The group consisted of marketing manager Jane Tanner and her partner, physician Russell O'Brien, who were there with their two children; physician Matthew Oldfield and his wife, recruitment consultant Rachael Oldfield, along with their daughter; and physicians Fiona and David Payne, their two children, and Fiona Payne's mother, Dianne Webster.[28] Jane Tanner became an important witness, when a man carry a young girl away from the resort 50 minutes before Madeleine was reported missing.

5A Rua Dr Agostinho da Silva, Praia da Luz

The McCanns arrived on Saturday, 28 April 2007, for their seven-night spring break in Praia da Luz, a village with a population of 1,000, known as a "little Britain" because of the concentration of British homeowners and holidaymakers.[29] They had booked through the British holiday company Mark Warner Ltd, and were placed in 5A Rua Dr Agostinho da Silva, an apartment owned by a retired teacher from Liverpool, one of several privately owned properties rented by the company.[30]

Waterside Village

McCanns' block, top right

steps from Rua Dr Francisco Gentil Martins to 5A's patio doors
window faces non-resort side of block

5A was a two-bedroom, ground-floor apartment in the fifth block of a group of apartments known as Waterside Village, which lay on the perimeter of part of Mark Warner's Ocean Club resort. (The resort's facilities were scattered throughout the town.)[31] Matthew and Rachel Oldfield were next door in 5B, Jane Tanner and Russell O'Brien in 5D, and the Paynes and Dianne Webster on the first floor.

Located on the corner of Rua Dr Agostinho da Silva and Rua Dr Francisco Gentil Martins, 5A was accessible to the public from at least two sides.[32] Sliding glass patio doors in the living room at the back overlooked the Ocean Club's ostensibly private pool, tennis courts, tapas restaurant and bar. The patio doors could be accessed via the (public) Rua Dr Francisco Gentil Martins, where a small gate and set of steps led up to 5A's balcony and living room. 5A's front door was on the opposite side of the block from the Ocean Club, on Rua Dr Agostinho da Silva.[33][34]

The McCanns' three children slept in a bedroom next to the front door, which the McCanns kept locked. The bedroom had one waist-high window with curtains and a metal exterior shutter, the latter controlled by a cord inside the window; the McCanns kept the curtains and shutter closed throughout the holiday. The window overlooked a narrow walkway and residents' car park, which was separated by a low wall from the street. Madeleine slept in a single bed next to the bedroom door, on the opposite side of the room from the window, while the twins were in travel cots in the middle of the room. There was another, empty, single bed underneath the window.[33]

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Tapas restaurant


similar to those Madeleine was wearing when she went missing

Thursday, 3 May, was the penultimate day of the family's holiday. Over breakfast Madeleine asked: "Why didn't you come when [her brother] and I cried last night?" After the disappearance, her parents wondered whether this meant someone had entered the children's bedroom. Her mother also noticed a large brown stain on Madeleine's Eeyore pyjama top.

The children spent the morning in the resort's Kids' Club, then the family lunched at their apartment before heading to the pool.[33] Madeleine's mother took the last known photograph of Madeleine that afternoon, sitting by the pool next to her father and two-year-old sister.[4] The children returned to Kids' Club, and at 18:00 their mother took them back to 5A, while their father went for a tennis lesson.[33]

The McCanns put the children to bed around 19:00. Madeleine was left asleep in short-sleeved, pink-and-white Marks and Spencer's Eeyore pyjamas, next to her comfort blanket and soft toy Cuddle Cat.[4] At 20:30 the parents left 5A to dine with their friends in the Ocean Club's open-air tapas restaurant, 50 metres (160 ft) as the crow flies on the other side of the pool, a walk of 30–45 seconds, according to Madeleine's mother.[4] The staff had left a note in a message book at the swimming-pool reception area, asking that the same table, which overlooked the apartments, be block-booked for 20:30 for the McCanns and friends. The message said the group's children were asleep in the apartments. Madeleine's mother believes the abductor may have seen the note.[4]

The McCanns and their friends left the restaurant roughly every half-hour to check on their children. 5A's patio doors could only be locked from the inside, so to allow them to enter that way, the McCanns had left the patio curtains drawn and the doors closed but unlocked. They had also closed the child-safety gate at the top of the patio stairs and the gate at the bottom leading to the street. Madeleine's father carried out the first check on 5A at around 21:05. The children were asleep and all was well, except that he recalled having left the children's bedroom door slightly ajar, and now it stood almost wide open; he pulled it nearly closed again before returning to the restaurant. This was the last time either of the McCanns saw Madeleine.[4]

Tanner sighting

The sighting by Jane Tanner, one of the , of a man carrying a child that night became an important part of the early investigation. She had left the restaurant just after 21:00 to check on her own daughter, passing Madeleine's father on Rua Dr Francisco Gentil Martins on his way back to the restaurant from his 21:05 check. He had stopped to chat to a British holidaymaker,[36] but neither man recalled having seen Tanner. This became an issue that puzzled the Portuguese police, given how narrow the street was, and led them to accuse Tanner of having invented the sighting.[37]

At c. 21:10 Tanner noticed a man with a child cross the junction of Rua Dr Francisco Gentil Martins and Rua Dr Agostinho da Silva just ahead of her, heading east, away from the Ocean Club.[38][4] He was carrying a barefoot child wearing light-coloured pink pyjamas with a floral pattern and cuffs on the legs. She described the man as white, dark-haired, 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) tall, of southern European or Mediterranean appearance, 35–40 years old, wearing gold or beige trousers and a dark jacket, and said he did not look like a tourist. Tanner told the Portuguese police, but they did not pass the description to the media until 25 May. Madeleine's Fund hired a forensic artist to create an image of the man (right), which was released in October 2007.[5]

Although Tanner had not seen the man's face, the sighting became important because it offered investigators a time frame for the abduction, but Scotland Yard came to view it as a red herring. In October 2013 they said that a British holidaymaker had been identified as the man Tanner had seen, and that he had been returning to his apartment after collecting his daughter from the Ocean Club night creche.[42][5] Scotland Yard took photographs of the man wearing the same or similar clothes to the ones he was wearing on the night, and standing in a pose similar to the one Tanner reported. The pyjamas his daughter had been wearing also matched Tanner's report. Scotland Yard said they were "almost certain" the Tanner sighting was not related to the abduction.

Smith sighting

Another sighting of a man carrying a child that night was reported by Martin and Mary Smith, on holiday from Ireland. Scotland Yard concluded in 2013 that the Smith sighting offered the approximate time of Madeleine's kidnap.

The Smiths saw the man at around 22:00 on Rua da Escola Primária, 500 yards (457 m) from the McCanns' apartment, walking toward Rua 25 de Abril and the beach. He was carrying a girl aged 3–4 years. She had blonde hair and pale skin, was wearing light-coloured pyjamas and had bare feet. The man was mid-30s, 5 ft 7 in – 5 ft 9 in (1.75–1.80 m), slim-to-normal build, with short brown hair, wearing cream or beige trousers. He did not look like a tourist, according to the Smiths, and had seemed uncomfortable carrying the child.[5][5]

Reported missing

Madeleine's mother had intended to check on the children at 21:30, but Matthew Oldfield, one of the Tapas Seven, offered to do it when he checked on his own children in the apartment next door. He noticed that the McCanns' children's bedroom door was wide open, but after hearing no noise he left their apartment without looking far enough into the room to see whether Madeleine was in bed. He could not recall whether the bedroom window and its exterior shutter were open at that point. Early on in the investigation the Portuguese police accused Oldfield of involvement because he had volunteered to do the check, suggesting to him that he had handed Madeleine to someone through the bedroom window.[6]

Kate made her own check at around 22:00. Scotland Yard said in 2013 that Madeleine was probably taken moments before this.[6] Kate recalled entering the apartment through the patio doors at the back, and noticed that the children's bedroom door was wide open. When she tried to close the door it slammed shut as though there was a draught, which is when she found that the bedroom window and its shutter were open. Madeleine's Cuddle Cat and pink blanket were still on the bed, but Madeleine was gone. After briefly searching the apartment Kate ran back towards the restaurant, screaming that someone had taken Madeleine.[6][6]

At around 22:10 Madeleine's father sent Matthew Oldfield to ask the resort's reception desk to call the police, and at 22:30 the resort activated its missing-child search protocol.[6] Sixty staff and guests searched until 04:30, at first assuming that Madeleine had wandered off. One of them told Channel 4's Dispatches that, from one end of Luz to the other, you could hear people shouting her name.[6]

Early response


Two officers from the gendarmerie, the Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR), arrived at the resort at 23:10 from Lagos, five miles (8 km) away. At midnight, after briefly searching, they alerted the criminal police, the Polícia Judiciária; the latter said their officers arrived within 10 minutes of that alert.[6] Two patrol dogs were brought to the resort at 2 am and four search-and-rescue dogs at 8 am. Police officers had their leave cancelled and started searching waterways, wells, caves, sewers and ruins.[6]

It was widely acknowledged that mistakes were made, perhaps the most serious of which was that the crime scene was not secured. Around 20 people entered apartment 5A before it was closed off, according to Chief Inspector Olegário de Sousa of the Polícia Judiciária.[6] According to Madeleine's mother, an officer placed tape across the doorway of the children's bedroom, but left at 3 am without securing the apartment. The Polícia Judiciária case file, released in 2008, showed that 5A lay empty for a month after the disappearance, then was let out to tourists before being sealed off in August 2007 for more forensic tests.[49][30]

A similar situation arose outside the apartment. A crowd gathered by the front door of 5A, including next to the children's bedroom window through which an abductor may have entered or left, trampling on potentially important evidence. An officer dusted the bedroom window's exterior shutter for fingerprints without wearing gloves or other protective clothing.[37]

Neither border nor marine police were given descriptions of Madeleine for many hours, and officers did not appear to make extensive door-to-door inquiries.[50] According to Madeleine's mother, roadblocks were first put in place at 10 am the next morning. Police did not request motorway surveillance pictures of vehicles leaving Praia da Luz that night, or of the road between Lagos and Vila Real de Santo António on the Spanish border; the company that monitors the road, Euroscut, said they were not approached for information.[51] It took Interpol five days to issue a global missing-person alert.


Criminal investigations in Portugal are governed by a secrecy clause in its penal code, which means there are no official press briefings.[29] One journalist wrote that this leads to a culture of "leak, not speak" and a proliferation of gossip that is hard for others to counter without breaking the law. A Polícia Judiciária officer acknowledged in 2010 that they had been suspicious of the McCanns from the start, because the couple turned the inquiry into what the officer called a "media circus."[52] Owen Jones described it as "something approaching mass hysteria."[53]

Bell Pottinger, representing Mark Warner Ltd, dealt with the media for the first ten days, then the British government sent in press officers. The first was Sheree Dodd, a former Daily Mirror journalist, then Clarence Mitchell, director of media monitoring for the Central Office of Information. When the government withdrew Mitchell, Justine McGuinness, a non-government PR representative, took over until September 2007, then another PR company, Hanover, was briefly involved.[54][55] In September Brian Kennedy of Everest Windows stepped forward as a benefactor, and offered to cover Clarence Mitchell's salary (later paid by Madeleine's Fund); Mitchell resigned from his position and started working for the McCanns.[3][56]

Madeleine appeared on the cover of People magazine on 28 May 2007, and on 30 May the McCanns and a group of journalists flew to Rome, in a Learjet belonging to British businessman Sir Philip Green, to meet Pope Benedict XVI. Placing Madeleine on the front page of a British newspaper would sell up to 30,000 extra copies. She was on the front page of several British tabloids every day for almost six months and became one of Sky News's menu options. The Portuguese tabloid Correio da Manhã published 384 articles about her between May 2007 and July 2008.[58] By June 2008 over seven million posts and 3,700 videos were returned in a search for her name on YouTube.[59]

First Portuguese inquiry (2007–2008)

Witness statements

Witnesses described men behaving oddly near apartment 5A on the day of the disappearance, Thursday, 3 May 2007, and in the days leading up to it. Scotland Yard believe the men may have been engaged in reconnaissance for an abduction or burglary.[60]

Between 15:30 and 17:30 on 3 May, two black-haired men visited apartments close to 5A, ostensibly collecting for orphanages. One was seen in the McCanns' block at 16:00.[60] On 20 April a bedraggled-looking man rang on a tourist's doorbell to say in broken English that he was collecting money for an orphanage. She described him as 38–45 years old, with a sallow complexion, lank dark hair, moustache and large teeth.

On 3 May a man was seen walking through a gate leading away from the apartments; he tried to close the gate quietly, with both hands, and looked around as he left. At 14:30 two blonde-haired men were seen on the balcony of 5C, an empty apartment two doors from 5A. At 16:00–17:00 a blonde-haired man was seen near 5A. At 18:00 the same or another blonde-haired man was seen standing in the stairwell of the McCanns' block. At 23:00, an hour after the disappearance was reported, two blonde-haired men were seen in a nearby street speaking in raised voices. When they realized they had been noticed, they reportedly lowered their voices and walked away.

A witness reported seeing a blonde-haired man on 29 April on Rua do Ramelhete, and again on 2 May across the road from 5A. She remembered him because he made her uneasy: she described him as "ugly," with pitted skin and a large nose. That day or the next a different witness saw a man standing by a wall near the car park next to the pool. He was staring at the McCanns' apartment block, where a white van was parked.[61]

At 8 am on Monday, 30 April, a girl whose grandparents used to own 5A saw a blonde-haired man leaning against a wall on a path behind the apartments, and saw him again on 2 May near the car park by the pool and Tapas restaurant, looking at 5A. She described him as Caucasian, mid-30s, short cropped hair, "ugly" with spots. He was wearing a black leather jacket, a light-coloured T-shirt, jeans with a belt, trainers, and thick-framed sunglasses.[61]

First arguido

The first person given arguido (suspect) status, 12 days after the disappearance, was a local British-Portuguese property consultant, Robert Murat.[62] As with the McCanns, Murat found himself at the centre of media allegations that continued for months.[63][65] Murat lived in his mother's home, 150 yards (137 m) from apartment 5A in the direction the man in the had walked.[62] He was made an arguido after a British tabloid journalist told police he had been asking questions about the case. The police had briefly signed him up as an official interpreter.[66]

Three members of the said they had seen Murat near the resort on the evening Madeleine disappeared, although he and his mother said he had been at home all evening.[67] The house was searched, the pool drained, his cars, computers, phones and video tapes examined, his garden searched using ground radar and sniffer dogs, and two of his associates were questioned.[62][69] There was nothing to link him to the disappearance, and he was cleared on 21 July 2008 when the case was archived.[7] The Portuguese case was re-opened in 2013, and in 2014 Murat was questioned as a witness by the Polícia Judiciária, this time on behalf of Scotland Yard.[70][71]

McCanns as arguidos

Early suspicion

An early indication for the McCanns that the tide was turning against them publicly came on 6 June 2007, when a German journalist asked them during a press conference in Berlin whether they were involved in Madeleine's disappearance.[72] On 30 June the first of a series of articles critical of the couple appeared in Sol, a Portuguese weekly. The reporters had the names and mobile numbers of the Tapas Seven and at least one other witness, so there appeared to have been a leak from within the inquiry.[36]

This and later articles in the Portuguese press, almost invariably followed up in the UK, made several allegations, based on no evidence, that would engulf the McCanns for years on social media. They included that the McCanns and Tapas Seven were "swingers," that there was a "pact of silence" between them regarding what happened the night of the disappearance, and that the McCanns had been sedating their children.[66]

Much was made of apparent inconsistencies within and between the McCanns' and Tapas Seven's statements, perhaps the result of translation problems. The police had asked questions in Portuguese, the interviewees had replied in English, and an interpreter had translated. The officer had then typed up a statement in Portuguese, which was verbally translated into English for the interviewee to sign. The likelihood that misunderstandings would emerge was high.[66]

Among the inconsistencies was whether the McCanns had entered the apartment by the front or back door when checking on the children. According to the Polícia Judiciária case file, Gerry McCann told them during his first interview on 4 May 2007 that they had entered 5A through the locked front door for his 21:05 and her 22:00 checks, and in a second interview on 10 May that he had entered through the unlocked patio doors at the back. There was also an inconsistency regarding whether the front door had been locked that night. He told the Sunday Times in December 2007 that the couple had used the front door during their checks earlier in the week, but it was next to the children's bedroom so they had started using the patio doors instead.[37]

Crime scene

without protective clothing.[37]

Another issue was whether the exterior shutter over Madeleine's bedroom window could be opened from outside. Kate McCann said the shutter and window were closed when Madeleine was put to bed, and both were open when she discovered Madeleine was missing. Her husband told the Polícia Judiciária that, when he was first alerted to the disappearance, he had lowered the shutter, then had gone outside and discovered that it could be raised from the outside.

Against this, the police said the shutter could not be raised from the outside without being forced, but there was no sign of forced entry. According to journalist Danny Collins, the shutter was made of non-ferrous metal slats linked together on a roller blind that was housed in a box at the top of the inside window, controlled by pulling on a strap. He writes that the shutter was gravity-fed; once rolled down, the slats locked in place outside the window and could only be raised using the strap on the inside.

The discrepancy contributed to the view of the Polícia Judiciária that there had been no abduction. Even Kate's shout of "they've taken her" was viewed with suspicion, as though she had been paving the way for an abduction story.[37] The suspicions developed into the theory that Madeleine had died in the apartment as a result of an accident—perhaps after being sedated to help her stay asleep—and that her parents had hidden her body for a month, before retrieving her and driving her to an unknown place in a car they had hired over three weeks after the disappearance.[73][74]

British sniffer dogs

In July 2007 Mark Harrison, the national search adviser to the British National Policing Improvement Agency arrived in Praia da Luz to help with the ground search, and recommended bringing in Keela and Eddie, two Springer spaniel sniffer dogs from South Yorkshire. Keela was a crime-scene-investigation (CSI) dog trained to alert her handler, Martin Grime, to traces of human blood. Eddie was an enhanced-victim-recovery dog (EVRD), who alerted to the scent of human cadavers.[77]

The dogs were taken to two beaches, Robert Murat's house and several Ocean Club apartments. Both dogs gave alerts only in apartment 5A, including behind the sofa in the living room, and on and under the veranda in the bedroom Madeleine's parents had used. On 2 August the Polícia Judiciária told the McCanns that an anomaly had arisen, and removed boxes and suitcases of clothes from the house the McCanns had rented on Rua das Flores, as well as Madeleine's Cuddle Cat. They also took a diary that Kate McCann had started after the disappearance and a friend's Bible she had borrowed. A passage the Bible's owner had marked from 2 Samuel, about the death of a child, became another item of interest; it was copied into the police case file along with a Portuguese translation. On 6 August they took the Renault Scenic the couple had hired 24 days after Madeleine went missing.

Keela and Eddie were placed in a room with the clothes and other items, and taken to an underground public car park where the McCanns' car was parked alongside others, including Robert Murat's. Eddie, the cadaver dog, gave an alert outside the McCanns' car and inside the boot (trunk). One or both dogs gave alerts at Cuddle Cat, Kate McCann's clothes and the Bible. According to the Sunday Times, it seemed apparent from a video released by the Ministério Público that the handler was directing the dogs to particular spots inside the apartment and to the McCanns' car.[78][79] The McCanns' lawyer said that, if there was indeed a smell of corpses on Kate's clothes, it might have been caused by her contact with the deceased as a family doctor.[80]

British DNA analysis

Hair and other fibres were collected from areas in the apartment and car that Keela and Eddie had reacted to, and sent to the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in Birmingham for DNA profiling, arriving around 8 August 2007.[81] The FSS used a technique known as low copy number (LCN) DNA analysis.[82][83] This is used when only a few cells are available; the test is controversial because it is vulnerable to contamination and misinterpretation.[89]

On 3 September John Lowe of the FSS emailed Detective Superintendent Stuart Prior of the Leicestershire police, the liaison between the British and Portuguese police. Lowe told Prior that a sample from the car boot contained 15 out of 19 of Madeleine's DNA components, and that the result was "too complex for meaningful interpretation":

A complex LCN [low copy number] DNA result which appeared to have originated from at least three people was obtained from cellular material recovered from the luggage compartment section ... Within the DNA profile of Madeleine McCann there are 20 DNA components represented by 19 peaks on a chart. ... Of these 19 components 15 are present within the result from this item; there are 37 components in total. There are 37 components because there are at least 3 contributors; but there could be up to five contributors. In my opinion therefore this result is too complex for meaningful interpretation/inclusion.[90]

At this point, according to the Sunday Times, the Polícia Judiciária "abandoned the abduction theory."[37] The FSS email was translated into Portuguese on 4 September. The next day, according to Madeleine's mother, the Polícia Judiciária proposed that, if she were to admit that Madeleine had died in an accident in the apartment and that she had hidden the body, she might only serve a two-year sentence; her husband would not be charged and would be free to leave. Both parents were given arguido status on 7 September.[91] They were interviewed that day and were advised by their lawyer not to answer questions; Gerry did answer them, but Kate declined.[92] The Polícia Judiciária told Gerry that Madeleine's DNA had been found in the car boot and behind the sofa in the apartment.[93]

Journalists in Portugal were told that the DNA evidence was a "100 percent match."[94] British tabloid headlines included "Corpse in McCann Car" (London Evening Standard) and "Brit Lab Bombshell: Car DNA is 100% Maddie's" (Sun), while another reported that "a clump of Maddie's hair" had been found in the car. Jerry Lawton, a reporter with the Daily Star, a British tabloid, told the Leveson Inquiry in March 2012 that the leaks had come directly from the Portuguese police. Matt Baggott, who when Madeleine disappeared was chief constable of Leicestershire police, the force that coordinated the British input, told the inquiry that he knew the DNA evidence was being wrongly interpreted, but because the Portuguese were in charge of the inquiry, he made a decision not to correct reporters who had been told the McCanns were involved. His force's priority, he said, was to maintain a good relationship with the Polícia Judiciária with a view to finding Madeleine.[99]

McCanns return to the UK

Despite their arguido status, the McCanns were allowed to leave Portugal and arrived back in England on 9 September 2007.[100] The following day Tavares de Almeida, head of the Polícia Judiciária in Portimão, signed a police report concluding that Madeleine had died in apartment 5A as a result of an accident, and that the McCanns had concealed the body and faked an abduction.[52] On 11 September the 10-volume case file was passed to a judge, Pedro Miguel dos Anjos Frias, who authorized the seizure of Madeleine's mother's diary and her father's laptop. The McCanns had taken both items back to England, although the police had retained a copy of the diary.[102]

On 24 September Control Risks, a British security company, took hair samples from the McCann twins at their parents' request. An anonymous donor paid for Control Risks' services. The McCanns were concerned that the abductor might have given the children sedatives; the twins had slept through the commotion in apartment 5A after Madeleine was reported missing, but despite requests the Portuguese police had not taken samples. Control Risks took a sample from Kate McCann too, to rebut allegations that she was on medication. No trace of drugs was found.[103]

In October 2007 Gonçalo Amaral, the inquiry's coordinator in Portugal, was removed from his post after telling a newspaper that the British police only pursued leads that were helpful to the McCanns.[104] He was replaced by Paulo Rebelo, deputy national director of the Polícia Judiciária. The team of detectives was expanded and a case review began.[105] On 29 November four members of the Portuguese investigation, including Francisco Corte-Real, vice-president of Portugal's forensic crime service, were briefed at Leicestershire police headquarters by the Forensic Science Service.[106]

Investigation closed (July 2008)

The Tapas Seven were interviewed by Leicestershire police in England in April 2008, with the Polícia Judiciária, including Paulo Rebelo, in attendance.[107] The Polícia Judiciária planned the following month to hold a reconstruction in Praia da Luz, using the McCanns and Tapas Seven rather than actors, but it was cancelled when the Tapas Seven declined to participate.[108] The poor relationship between the McCanns and the Portuguese police was evident again that month when, on the day the couple were at the European Parliament in Brussels to promote a monitoring system for missing children, transcripts of their interviews with the Polícia Judiciária were leaked to Spanish television.[110] The national director of the Polícia Judiciária, Alípio Ribeiro, resigned not long after this, citing media pressure from the investigation; he had publicly said the police had been hasty in naming the McCanns as suspects.[111]

As of May 2008 Portuguese prosecutors were examining several charges against the McCanns, including abandonment of a child, abduction, homicide and concealment of a corpse.[112] Two months later, on 21 July, the Portuguese Attorney General announced that there was no evidence to link the McCanns or Robert Murat to the disappearance, that their arguido status had been lifted and the case closed.[113] On 4 August Ministério Público released 11,233 pages of the case file to the media on CD-ROM.[115]

Days after the case closed, excerpts from Kate McCann's diary, which had been taken by the Polícia Judiciária in August 2007 for the sniffer dogs, were published without her permission by a Portuguese tabloid, Correio da Manhã, translated from English to Portuguese. This despite a Portuguese judge's ruling in June 2008 that the seizure had been a privacy violation and that any copies must be destroyed.[116] On 14 September 2008 one of the News International tabloids, the News of the World, also published the extracts, again without permission and now translated poorly back into English.[117]

Gonçalo Amaral book

The bad feeling between the McCanns and the Polícia Judiciária reached such a height that the officer who had coordinated the investigation from May to October 2007, Chief Inspector Gonçalo Amaral, resigned in June 2008 to write a book alleging that Madeleine had died in an accident in the apartment and that the McCanns had faked an abduction.[18] The McCanns had had little or no contact with Amaral, then-head of the Polícia Judiciária in Portimão, during the Madeleine inquiry. After telling a Portuguese newspaper in October 2007 that the British police only pursued leads helpful to the McCanns, he had been transferred to Faro.[104][18] Three days after the case closed in July 2008, his book, Maddie: A Verdade da Mentira ("Maddie: The Truth of the Lie"), was published in Portugal by Guerra & Paz.[18][18] By November 2008 it had sold 180,000 copies.[18]

The McCanns began a libel action in 2009 and in 2015 were awarded over 600,000 in damages and interest by a court in Lisbon.[122] The decision was overturned in 2016.[18] A judge issued an injunction against further publication or sales of the book in 2009, but the Court of Appeal in Lisbon overturned the ban in 2010, stating that it violated Amaral's freedom of expression.[19] The ban was reinstated as part of the libel ruling,[122] and was lifted when Amaral's appeal succeeded in 2016.

Amaral was himself an arguido in another case during the McCann inquiry. A month after she went missing, he and four other officers were charged with offences related to their investigation into the disappearance of Joana Cipriano, an eight-year-old Portuguese girl who vanished in 2004 from Figueira, seven miles (11 km) from Praia da Luz. Her body was never found, and no murder weapon was identified. Her mother, Leonor Cipriano, launched a campaign to find her daughter, but she and her brother were convicted of murder after confessing to the killing. The mother retracted her confession, saying she had been beaten by police; the police accounted for bruising on her face and body by saying she had thrown herself down stairs in the police station. Amaral was not present when the beating is alleged to have taken place, but was accused of having covered up for others. He was convicted in 2009 of perjury related to that investigation and received an 18-month suspended sentence.[19][19]

Parents' campaign

Madeleine's Fund, private detectives

The family set up a limited company in May 2007 to finance the search, Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned.[19] Brian Kennedy of Everest Windows stepped forward in September that year to help the McCanns financially.[19] Appeals were made by public figures and screened at football matches across Britain. Over £2.6 million was raised, and the News of the World offered a reward of £1.5 million.[19] The Fund was criticized in October 2007 for having made two of the McCanns' mortgage payments when they were unable to work, before they were made arguidos.[19]

Madeleine's Fund hired several firms of private investigators, which caused friction with the Portuguese police.[19] Shortly after the disappearance, an anonymous benefactor paid for the services of a British security company, Control Risks.[19] Brian Kennedy hired a Spanish agency, Método 3, for six months for £50,000 a month. The company had 35 investigators on the case in Europe and Morocco, and Kennedy went to Morocco himself in 2007 to look into one sighting.[132]

Investigators working for the McCanns attempted to question a British paedophile, Raymond Hewlett, in May 2009; he denied involvement, declined to speak to them, and died of cancer in Germany in December that year.[137] Dave Edgar, a retired detective working for the McCanns, released an e-fit in August 2009 of a woman said to have asked two British men in Barcelona, Spain, shortly after the disappearance, whether they were there to deliver her new daughter.[139] Other private initiatives included a Portuguese lawyer financing the search of a reservoir near Praia da Luz in February 2008,[142] and the use of ground radar by a South African property developer, Stephen Birch, who said in 2012 that scans showed there were bones beneath the driveway of a house in Praia da Luz.[143]

Oakley International

In 2008 Madeleine's Fund hired Oakley International, a Washington, D.C.-registered detective agency, for over £500,000 for six months.[144][20] The company owner, Kevin Halligen, was arrested in 2009 in connection with an unrelated fraud allegation.[20] Oakley sent a five-man team to Portugal. Led by Henri Exton, a former British police officer who had worked for MI5, the team engaged in undercover operations within the Ocean Club and among paedophile rings and the Roma community.

Exton questioned the significance of the of a man carrying a child at 21:15 near apartment 5A, and focused instead on the at 22:00. The Oakley team produced e-fits based on the Smiths' description. This was a sensitive issue, because in September 2007 Martin Smith had watched footage of the McCanns arriving in the UK from Portugal, and believed he recognized Gerry McCann as the man he had seen with the child at 22:00 in Praia da Luz. Smith came to accept that he was mistaken: at 22:00 witnesses placed Gerry McCann in the tapas restaurant. Nevertheless, the publication of the Smith e-fits, which bore some resemblance to Gerry, would have fed the conspiracy theories about the McCanns.

Exton submitted his report to Madeleine's Fund in November 2008, but the Fund told Exton that the report and its efits had to remain confidential. The relationship between the company and the Fund soured, in part because of a dispute over fees, and in part because the report was critical of the McCanns and their friends; it suggested that Madeleine may have died in an accident after leaving the apartment herself through its unlocked patio doors. The Fund passed the e-fits to the police – the Polícia Judiciária and Leicestershire police had them by October 2009, and Scotland Yard received them when they became involved in August 2011[20] – but did not otherwise release them. Kate McCann did not include them with the other images of suspects in her book, Madeleine (2011), although she suggested that both the Tanner and Smith sightings were crucial. Scotland Yard released the e-fits in 2013 for a BBC Crimewatch reconstruction.

Further police inquiries (2011–present)

Operation Grange

At the request of the British Home Secretary Alan Johnson, the Home Office began discussions in 2010 with the Association of Chief Police Officers about setting up a new investigation.[20] In May 2011, under Home Secretary Theresa May, Scotland Yard launched an investigative review, Operation Grange, with a team of 29 detectives and eight civilians.[153] The inquiry, which by June 2015 had cost £10.1m, was financed by a government contingency fund at the request of Prime Minister David Cameron, reportedly after News International persuaded the government to involve the British police.[20]

The team was led by Commander Simon Foy.[153] Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Andy Redwood of Scotland Yard's Homicide and Serious Crime Command was the first senior investigating officer, reporting to Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell.[153] Redwood retired in December 2014 and was replaced by DCI Nicola Wall.[20] The investigation was scaled back in October 2015 and the number of officers reduced to four.[10] The Home Office funded the final months of the investigation in 2016 to the tune of £95,000.[20]

The Operation Grange team had tens of thousands of documents translated, released an updated age-progressed image of Madeleine,[157] and investigated 560 lines in inquiry and 8,685 potential sightings of Madeleine. By 2015 they had taken 1,338 statements, collected 1,027 exhibits, and investigated 60 persons of interest, as well as 650 sex offenders.[10]

Burglary theory

By 2013 Scotland Yard were focusing on the theory that Madeleine was taken during a burglary gone wrong. There had been a fourfold increase in burglaries in the area between January and May 2007. They included two in the McCanns' block, during which intruders entered through apartment windows, in the three weeks before the disappearance. In October that year Scotland Yard and the BBC's Crimewatch staged a reconstruction—broadcast in the UK, Netherlands and Germany—during which they released several e-fits, including Oakley International's e-fit of the and of on and around the day of the disappearance.[21]

Days after Crimewatch aired, Portugal's attorney general reopened the Portuguese investigation, citing new evidence.[9] Mobile-phone tracking techniques showed that the phone of a former Ocean Club restaurant worker had been used near the resort on the evening of the disappearance. He was identified in the media as originally from Cape Verde, West Africa, who had died in 2009 in a tractor accident after being fired from the Ocean Club in 2006 for theft; the suspicion was that he had been breaking into apartments to finance a drug habit.[21][21]

In June 2014 Scotland Yard and the Polícia Judiciária, accompanied by archaeologists and sniffer dogs, searched drains and dug in 60,000 sq metres of wasteland in Praia da Luz.[21] Several interviews took place in Praia da Luz in July and December 2014, conducted by the Polícia Judiciária at the request of Scotland Yard, with the latter in attendance. In July four Portuguese citizens were interviewed; one, an associate of (an arguido in 2007), was first questioned shortly after the disappearance.[70][21] Eleven people were interviewed in December. They included Robert Murat, his wife and her ex-husband; a 30-year-old former tourist-bus driver for the Ocean Club; and the former driver's 24-year-old and 53-year-old associates. The latter three men had telephoned or texted each other near the Ocean Club around the time of the disappearance.[21] They admitted having broken into Ocean Club apartments but denied having taken Madeleine.[21][21][71]

Other inquiries

Other Scotland Yard inquiries included an effort to trace 12 manual workers who were at the Ocean Club when Madeleine disappeared, including six British cleaners in a white van who were offering their services to British expats.[168] They made inquiries about two convicted paedophiles in jail in Scotland since 2010 for murder; the men were running a window-cleaning service in the Canary Islands when Madeleine went missing, and one was said to resemble the .[21] Another focus of the inquiry was Urs Hans von Aesch, a deceased Swiss man implicated in the July 2007 murder of five-year-old Ylenia Lenhard. Von Aesch was living in Spain when Madeleine disappeared.[22][172]

Scotland Yard issued another appeal in March 2014 about a man who had entered holiday homes occupied by British families in 12 incidents in the western Algarve between 2004 and 2010, two of them in Praia da Luz. On four occasions he had sexually assaulted five white girls, aged 7–10, in their beds. The man spoke English with a foreign accent, his speech was slow and perhaps slurred, and he had short, dark unkempt hair, tanned skin, and in the view of three victims a distinctive smell. He may have worn a long-sleeved burgundy top, perhaps with a white circle on the back.[174] The Polícia Judiciária said they believed the intruder was the former Ocean Club employee from Cape Verde who died in the 2009 tractor accident.[22]

Media coverage


The disappearance turned a harsh spotlight on the McCanns, one that became increasingly intrusive as familiarity bred contempt. The case had everything the media could latch onto, according to feminist scholar Nicola Rehling: a whodunnit involving a white, middle-class family caught up in a nightmare of evil abroad. While the News of the World offered a £1.5 million reward for Madeleine, another News International tabloid, The Sun, offered £20,000 for information about Shannon Matthews, who disappeared from a council estate and whose mother had seven children by five men.[22]

The McCanns' middle-class status, at first protective, turned into a weapon against them. They were harshly criticized for having left their children alone, despite the availability of Ocean Club babysitters. Seventeen thousand people signed an online petition in June 2007 asking Leicestershire Social Services to investigate. The argument ran that a working-class couple would have faced child-abandonment charges, but doctors on a posh holiday had been let off the hook.[22]

Kate McCann—or "Hot Lips Healy," as one tabloid called her after digging up a university nickname—was deemed too attractive, thin, well-dressed, intense, controlled and not mumsy enough, according to media analyst Caroline Bainbridge. Much of the commentary came from female journalists.[22] Journalism professor Nicola Goc wrote that Kate joined a long list of women the media sought to transform into Medea figures, including Lindy Chamberlain, Sally Clark, Trupti Patel, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony.[22] There was even a similar (false) story about supposedly relevant Bible passages Lindy Chamberlin and Kate McCann were said to have highlighted.[22] Several tabloids criticized Kate for not crying in public, despite her obvious distress; Correio da Manhã in Portugal complained that she had not "shed a single tear," and called her "cynical and strange" while relying on Portuguese police sources to portray her as hysterical.[36]

Leveson Inquiry

In November 2011 the McCanns testified before the Leveson Inquiry into British press standards. The inquiry heard that the editor of the Daily Express, in particular, had become "obsessed" with the McCanns. Lord Justice Leveson called the Express articles "complete piffle"; Roy Greenslade described them as "a sustained campaign of vitriol."[187][176] Kate told the inquiry that photographers would bang on her car as she left home with the twins to obtain a startled expression for a photograph. British tabloids simply repeated Portuguese tabloid stories, which in turn made no mention of sources. "Maddie 'Sold' By Hard-Up McCanns" ran a headline in the Daily Star.[188]

Libel actions

The McCanns and Tapas Seven brought libel actions against several newspapers. The Daily Express, Daily Star and their sister Sunday papers published front-page apologies in 2008 and donated £550,000 to Madeleine's Fund.[17] The Tapas Seven were awarded £375,000 against the Express Group, also donated to Madeleine's Fund, along with an apology in the Daily Express.[189]

Robert Murat and his two associates sued 11 newspapers for libel in relation to 100 articles published by Associated Newspapers, Northern & Shell (Express group), Mirror Group Newspapers and News Group Newspapers (News International). According to The Observer, it was the largest number of separate libel actions brought in the UK by the same person in relation to one issue.[190] Murat was awarded £600,000 in 2008 and the others $100,000; all three received public apologies.[191] The British Sky Broadcasting Group, which owns Sky News, also paid Murat undisclosed damages in 2008 and agreed that Sky News would host an apology on its website for 12 months.[192]

Social media

Nicola Rehling writes that the narrative around the disappearance was shaped by social media. Twitter, one year old when Madeleine went missing, was the source of much of the vitriol.[193] Social media's attacks on the McCanns reportedly included threats to kidnap one of their twins, and when Scotland Yard and Crimewatch staged their reconstruction in 2013, there was talk of phoning in with false information to sabotage the appeal.[23]

One man who ran a website devoted to criticizing the couple received a three-month suspended sentence in 2013 after leafleting their village with his allegations, and the following year a Twitter user was found dead from a helium overdose after Sky News confronted her about her McCann tweets.[23] Eilis O'Hanlon wrote that the disappearance "could almost stand as a metaphor for the rise of social media as the predominant mode of public discourse."[13]