It is very difficult to kill a child by giving it sedatives, even if killing it is what you might want to do. I asked a doctor about this, one who is also a mother. It was a casual, not a professional conversation, but like every other parent in the Western world, she had thought the whole business through. She said that most of the sedatives used on children are over-the-counter antihistamines, like the travel sickness pills that knocked me and my daughter out on an overnight ferry to France recently. It would also be difficult, she told me, to give a lethal dose of prescription sleeping tablets, which these days are usually valium or valium derivatives, ‘unless the child ate the whole packet’. If the child did so, the short-term result would not be death but a coma.
Nor could she think of any way such an overdose would lead to blood loss, unless the child vomited blood, which she thought highly unlikely. She said it was possible that doctors sedated their children more than people in other professions but that, even when she thought it might be a good idea (during a transatlantic flight, for example), she herself had never done so, being afraid that they would have a ‘paradoxical rage reaction’ – which is the medical term for waking up half out-of-it and tearing the plane apart.
I thought I had had one of those myself, in a deeply regretted incident at breakfast on the same ferry when my little son would not let me have a bite of his croissant and I ripped the damn pastry up and threw it on the floor. She said that no, the medical term for that was a ‘drug hangover’, or perhaps it was just the fact that an overnight ferry was not the best place to begin a diet. We then considered the holidays with children that we have known.
How much do doctors drink? ‘Lots,’ she said. Why are the McCanns saying they didn’t sedate the child? ‘Why do you think?’ Besides, it was completely possible that the child had been sedated and also abducted – which was a sudden solution to a problem I did not even know I had: namely, if the girl in the pink pyjamas was being carried off by a stranger, why did she not scream? Sedation had also been a solution to the earlier problem of: how could they leave their children to sleep unprotected, even from their own dreams?
But sedation was not the final answer, after all.
If someone else is found to have taken Madeleine McCann – as may well be the case – it will show that the ordinary life of an ordinary family cannot survive the suspicious scrutiny of millions.
In one – completely unverified – account of her interrogation, Kate McCann is said to have responded to the accusation that the cadaver dog had picked up the ‘scent of death’ on her clothes by saying that she had been in contact with six dead patients in the weeks before she came on holiday. My doctor friend doubted this could be true of a part-time GP, unless, we joked, she had ‘done a Shipman’ on them. Then, of course, we had to row back, strenuously, and say that even if something had happened between mother and child, or between father and child, in that apartment, even if the child just fell, then Kate McCann was still the most unfortunate woman you could ever lay eyes on.
And we are obliged to lay eyes on her all the time. This makes harridans of us all.
The move from unease, through rumour, to mass murder took no time flat. During the white heat of media allegations against Madeleine’s parents, my husband came up the stairs to say that they’d all been wife-swapping – that was why the other diners corroborated the McCanns’ account of the evening. This, while I was busy measuring the distance from the McCanns’ holiday apartment down the road to the church on Google Earth (0.2 miles). I said they couldn’t have been wife-swapping, because one of the wives had brought her mother along.
‘Hmmmm,’ he said.
I checked the route to the open roadworks by the church, past a car park and a walled apartment complex, and I thought how easy it would be to carry my four-year-old son that distance. I had done that and more in Tenerife, when he decided against walking. Of course he was a live and not a dead weight, but still, he is a big boy. Too big to fit into the spare-tyre well of a car, as my father pointed out to me later, when it seemed like the whole world was figuring out the best way to kill a child.
‘She was only a slip of a thing,’ I said.
I did not say that the body might have been made more pliable by decomposition. And I had physically to resist the urge to go out to my own car and open the boot to check (get in there now, sweetheart, and curl up into a ball). Then, as if to pass the blame back where it belonged, I repeated my argument that if there is 88 per cent accurate DNA from partly decomposed bodily fluids found under the carpet of the boot of the hired car, then these people had better fly home quick and get themselves another PR company.
Who needs a cadaver dog when you have me? In August, the sudden conviction that the McCanns ‘did it’ swept over our own family holiday in a peculiar hallelujah. Of course they had. It made a lot more sense to me than their leaving the children to sleep alone.
I realise that I am more afraid of murdering my children than I am of losing them to a random act of abduction. I have an unhealthy trust of strangers. Maybe I should believe in myself more, and in the world less, because, despite the fact that I am one of the most dangerous people my children know, I keep them close by me. I don’t let them out of my sight. I shout in the supermarket, from aisle to aisle. I do this not just because some dark and nameless event will overtake them before the checkout, but also because they are not yet competent in the world. You see? I am the very opposite of the McCanns.
Distancing yourself from the McCanns is a recent but potent form of magic. It keeps our children safe. Disliking the McCanns is an international sport. You might think the comments on the internet are filled with hatred, but hate pulls the object close; what I see instead is dislike – an uneasy, unsettled, relentlessly petty emotion. It is not that we blame them – if they can be judged, then they can also be forgiven. No, we just dislike them for whatever it is that nags at us. We do not forgive them the stupid stuff, like wearing ribbons, or going jogging the next day, or holding hands on the way into Mass.
I disliked the McCanns earlier than most people (I’m not proud of it). I thought I was angry with them for leaving their children alone. In fact, I was angry at their failure to accept that their daughter was probably dead. I wanted them to grieve, which is to say to go away. In this, I am as bad as people who complain that ‘she does not cry.’
On 25 May, in their first television interview, given to Sky News, Gerry McCann spoke a little about grief, as he talked about the twins. ‘We’ve got to be strong for them, you know, they’re here, they do bring you back to earth, and we cannot, you know, grieve one. We did grieve, of course we grieved, but ultimately we need to be in control so that we can influence and help in any way possible, not just Sean and Amelie, but the investigation.’
Most of the animosity against the McCanns centres on the figure of Madeleine’s beautiful mother. I am otherwise inclined. I find Gerry McCann’s need to ‘influence the investigation’ more provoking than her flat sadness, or the very occasional glimpse of a wounded narcissism that flecks her public appearances. I have never objected to good-looking women. My personal jury is out on the issue of narcissism in general; her daughter’s strong relationship with the camera lens causes us a number of emotions, but the last of them is always sorrow and pain.
The McCanns feel guilty. They are in denial. They left their children alone. They cannot accept that their daughter might be dead. Guilt and denial are the emotions we smell off Gerry and Kate McCann, and they madden us.
I, for example, search for interviews with them, late at night, on YouTube. There is so much rumour; I listen to their words because they are real, because these words actually did happen, one after the other. The focus of my ‘dislike’ is the language that Gerry McCann uses; his talk of ‘information technology’ and ‘control’, his need to ‘look forward’.
‘Is there a lesson here, do you feel, to other parents?’
‘I think that’s a very difficult thing to say, because, if you look at it, and we try to rationalise things in our head and, ultimately, what is done is done, and we continually look forward. We have tried to put it into some kind of perspective for ourselves.’
He lays a halting and agonised emphasis on the phrase ‘what is done is done,’ and, at three in the morning, all I can hear is Lady Macbeth saying this line after the murder of Duncan, to which her husband replies: ‘We have scorched the snake, not killed it.’ Besides, what does he mean? Who did the thing that has been done? It seems a very active and particular word for the more general act of leaving them, to go across the complex for dinner.
There are problems of active and passive throughout the McCanns’ speech. Perhaps there are cultural factors at play. I have no problem, for example, with Kate McCann’s reported cry on the night of 3 May:
‘They’ve taken Madeleine.’ To my Irish ears ‘they’ seems a common usage, recalling Jackie Kennedy’s ‘I want the world to see what they’ve done to my Jack’ at Dallas. I am less happy with the line she gives in the interview when she says: ‘It was during one of my checks that I discovered she’d gone.’ My first reaction is to say that she didn’t just go, my second is to think that, in Ireland, ‘she’d gone’ might easily describe someone who had slipped into an easy death. Then I rewind and hear the question, ‘Tell us how you discovered that Madeleine had gone?’ and realise that no one can name this event, no one can describe the empty space on Madeleine McCann’s bed.
Perhaps there is a Scottish feel to Gerry McCann’s use of ‘done’. The word is repeated and re-emphasised when he is asked about how Portuguese police conducted the case, particularly in the first 24 hours. He says: ‘I think, em, you know, we are not looking at what has been done, and I don’t think it helps at this stage to look back at what could and couldn’t have been done . . . The time for these lessons to be learned is after the investigation is finished and not now.’
I am cross with this phrase, ‘after the investigation is finished’. Did he mean after they’d packed up their charts and evidence bags and gone home? Surely what they are involved in is a frantic search for a missing child: how can it be finished except by finding her, alive or dead? Why does he not say what he means? Again, presumably because no one can say it: there can be no corpse, killed by them or by anyone else.
Still, the use of the word ‘investigation’ begins to grate (elsewhere, Kate McCann said that one of the reasons they didn’t want to leave Portugal is that they wanted ‘to stay close to the investigation’). Later in the interview the word changes to the more banal but more outward-looking ‘campaign’. ‘Of course the world has changed in terms of information technology and the speed of response, you know, in terms of the media coming here and us being prepared, em, to some extent to use that to try and influence the campaign, but above all else, it’s touched everyone. Everyone.’
The sad fact is that this man cannot speak properly about what is happening to himself and his wife, and about what he wants. The language he uses is more appropriate to a corporate executive than to a desperate father. This may be just the way he is made. This may be all he has of himself to give the world, just now. But we are all used to the idea of corporations lying to us, one way or another – it’s part of our mass paranoia, as indeed are the couple we see on the screen.
No wonder, I think, they will not speak about that night.
Then I go to bed and wake up the next day, human again, liking the McCanns.
The Backlash and the McCanns demand for 25 witnesses to be questioned to show how loving the parents were to their missing child.
From The Sunday Times
October 21, 2007
Too serene for sympathy
After an astonishing attack on the family by the winner of the Booker prize and Kate’s suggestion that people don’t sympathise with her because she doesn’t look maternal enough, our correpsondent asks why some people find it so easy to dislike the McCanns
The novelist Anne Enright must have thought that all her dreams had come true last Tuesday night when Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Booker prize judges, announced that she had won the prestigious literary award – and the £50,000 that comes with it.
Guests at London’s Guildhall were touched at how thrilled Enright was, being more used to seasoned nominees who took the prospect of the prize in their stride. But it wasn’t long before the gloss was taken off her sudden success.
Attention turned from her “exhilaratingly bleak” novel, The Gathering, to an equally bleak and somewhat mean-spirited piece she wrote earlier this month – when hardly anybody had heard of her – in the London Review of Books, about her ambivalence towards Kate and Gerry McCann. In the article, she talked of how disliking the McCanns had become “an international sport”.
“Distancing yourself from the McCanns is a recent but potent form of magic,” she wrote. “You might think the comments on the internet are filled with hatred, but hate pulls the object close; what I see instead is dislike – an uneasy, unsettled, relentlessly petty emotion.”
She went on, saying “we do not forgive them the stupid stuff, like wearing ribbons, or going jogging the next day, or holding hands on the way into mass”. She also criticised Gerry McCann for using language “more appropriate to a corporate executive than to a desperate father”.
Instantly, Enright found herself on all the front pages for all the wrong reasons. Newspapers frantically outbid one another for the rights to reprint her piece – all were flatly refused. “She’s horrified and doesn’t want to become known as ‘evil Anne’,” said a friend. But by then it was already too late. ENRIGHT had given literary and intellectual weight to the heartless abuse that has rained down on the McCanns on the internet ever since their daughter Madeleine disappeared from their Portuguese holiday apartment on May 3. Her piece would have struck a chord with all those who had felt a twinge of guilty agreement as they came across message boards criticising the couple for their composure, their supposed arrogance, and particularly Kate for her careful grooming and “endless supply of summer tops”.
In an interview with the Liver-pool Echo last week, Susan Healy, Kate McCann’s mother, told how her daughter had been berated in the street by strangers for being “out and about” when Madeleine went missing and how Kate felt persecuted for not looking like the ideal mother.
“If I weighed another two stone, had a bigger bosom and looked more maternal, people would be more sympathetic,” she had told her mother, who spoke loudly in her daughter’s defence.
“She feels she’s being attacked because she isn’t crying every time she is pictured,” said Healy. “She’s being targeted because she manages to put on a brave face. People say she has a stern look but inside she’s a wreck.”
The paradox for Kate McCann is that ever since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, we have been branded a crybaby nation, and told that the stiff upper lip, that key part of the British character, has been destroyed. But in an age of “misery memoirs” and reality TV, if you do show stoicism and coolness in the face of trauma, you are despised for it.
Kate, 39, has never cried in public, which may be for a number of admirable reasons: that she was told not to show emotion by advisers as her daughter’s kidnapper might delight in her distress; that part of being a doctor entails being able to face traumatic situations without showing distress; or because she knows just how much a picture of her crying would be worth and is bloody-minded enough not to let anybody get it.
But if she thinks people don’t like her because she does not appear sufficiently maternal, she’s way off beam. This is the age of the yummy mummy and in those stakes McCann, who looks as though she could be Sienna Miller’s older sister, is queen. It is her coolness of her manner that repels, not her skinniness, nor her careful choice of jewellery.
Most people would dismiss as ludicrous some of the rumours that have surfaced in the Portuguese press in recent weeks. The McCanns have variously been accused of engaging in wife-swapping, of sedating their children so they would sleep while they were out, of having “the scent of death” found on Kate by cadaver dogs. But still some spiteful undercurrent relishes seeing their perfect world punctured.
“I suppose it shows the ugly side of human nature. We are intrigued by disaster and horror stories,” said the novelist Rose Tremain.
“There is an element of schadenfreude about it: there seems to come a point with nearly every type of ‘celebrity’ where something triggers a turnaround.
“People seem to be presuming that the McCanns’ lack of emotion points to their guilt. It seems absurd as, at first, the public admired their bravery in the face of such a horrifying situation. They may not cry in public, but you can read the agony on their faces.”
The film-maker Roger Graef, who recently took a group of experts to Portugal to investigate the case, believes that the mystery at the heart of the case – how did Madeleine vanish into thin air? – has exacerbated our reaction to the McCanns.
“What we all have trouble with is the uncertainty and the reality that this has been done by somebody we’ll probably never find,” he said.
“To judge the McCanns when they’ve had to endure months of that uncertainty is gratuitously cruel. They’re being used as an emotional dartboard.”
In an effort to prove their innocence, the McCanns have compiled a huge file rebutting every allegation against them, from the idea that Gerry McCann is not Madeleine’s natural father to the DNA evidence that seemed to suggest her body had been transported in the back of their hire car.
Last week it emerged that they have gone so far as to have their two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie, drug-tested to show that they have never been given sedatives.
And all the while the days tick by: it is now almost six months since Madeleine disappeared. They must, by now, have resigned themselves to her being dead.
Yet for all they have suffered – think how appalling being interrogated by the police must have been – some of us still can’t sympathise.
The psychologist Linda Papa-dopoulos thinks Kate’s looks may play some part in this. “Looks play a huge role in our expectations of people. We can see it in things like fairy tales, where the ugly outsider meets a nasty end. Beauty is taken to mean goodness. We tend to believe attractive people in the witness box more than unattractive people.
“But on the flip side of this, it is much easier to hate attractive people. There is a need for people to believe that an attractive person is not completely perfect.
“A woman I spoke to last week was appalled that Kate McCann was able to choose which earrings to wear in the morning. She took it to mean that if she has the strength to put on earrings she is not distressed enough.”
So is there a right way to grieve? Would people like Kate McCann more if she collapsed in tears?
“People are very judgmental when you suffer a bereavement. As a widow myself, I know that people have very strong views on how you should or shouldn’t express emotion,” said the broadcaster and writer Esther Rantzen.
“Kate looks anguished to me. They look like people in the midst of a nightmare.”
Some think it is a class issue. The broadcaster and columnist Kelvin MacKenzie says that when he wrote in defence of the McCanns shortly after Madeleine disappeared he got his biggest mailbag ever “and hundreds of e-mails full of bile aimed not just at the McCanns but also at me”.
“I was told that I wouldn’t have said anything of the sort had the McCanns been an unmarried, unemployed black couple and that the whole furore about Maddy came down to class bias,” he said.
“Initially I didn’t believe this to be the case, but now I have to agree. The massive media and public interest stems from the fact that they are a professional, upwardly mobile, white family and this sort of thing shouldn’t happen to people like them.
“Rhys Jones’s parents [whose 11-year-old son was shot dead on Merseyside in August] displayed a combination of tears and raw emotion with a basic intellect that came through in their interviews. This raw emotion has been lacking with the McCanns.”
And so the doubts linger. “Guilt and denial are the emotions we smell off Gerry and Kate McCann, and they madden us,” noted Enright. A friend of the family said Gerry McCann “snorted in disgust” when the piece was read to him last week.
Perhaps the McCanns’ central problem is that they don’t seem real to us. Simon Hamp-ton, a lecturer in psychosocial studies at the University of East Anglia, said the McCann tragedy encapsulates modern reactions to the media and morality.
“There is no sympathy because it is like a movie,” he said. “We are examining their clothes, their expressions, their body language much more closely than we would if we knew them.
“We rarely look at the faces of our families and friends from a distance of four inches, but that is how close television brings us to the McCanns’ faces. The narrative needs a villain and in the absence of any other, Kate McCann is cast as the murderer. It sort of has to be a woman because that is a better story.”
For those of us on the outside, it can appear to be just a story. But for the McCanns the pain is very real and, in all probability, never ending.
Maybe we should all just stop obsessing about them. A letter in response to Enright’s piece in the London Review of Books most neatly summed up our ambivalent relationship with the couple: “I disliked Anne Enright almost as much as the McCanns after reading her article, almost as much as I dislike myself for disliking the McCanns, for disliking Anne Enright, you for publishing Anne Enright’s article, and me for reading it (I didn’t have to do that). Where will it all end?”
Additional reporting: Jessica Jonzen and Lois Rogers
McCanns’ plea over 25 witnesses
THE PARENTS of Madeleine McCann have given Portuguese prosecutors a list of 25 witnesses they believe should be interviewed to try to clear their names and refocus police attention on the search for their daughter, writes John Follain.
The witnesses, some never questioned by police before, include relatives, friends and staff of the Ocean club in Praia da Luz, where Madeleine went missing on May 3.
The request will create controversy in Portugal, where it is almost unheard of for suspects to try to influence an investigation. There was criticism last week after it emerged that prime minister Gordon Brown had discussed the case with his Portuguese counterpart at the European summit in Lisbon.
The McCanns’ legal team hope that a thorough reconstruction of the night Madeleine disappeared will help rule out her parents as suspects.
A source close to the family said: “Kate and Gerry have singled out these witnesses because they were present . . . they can explain exactly what happened that night, and because they can show what a normal, loving relationship the parents had with their daughter.”