Friday, June 17, 2011

Paulo Sargento looks at the McCanns with clinical attention.

The interview with Oprah Winfrey, analysed by a forensic psychologist

He understands the contradictions, he identifies the signs of pressure that they are subject to. Innocent or guilty, they can’t escape from the machine that has taken over their lives.

interview by Carlos Saraiva

After all these months, she has been showing signs of some seclusion, inhibition and greater sadness. She used to jog and stopped doing that. And there’s something that is rather interesting: people who are addicted to jogging, when they stop practising, they tend to grow fatter, not thinner, like in Kate’s case. That would only be possible in one case: if the person was, in fact, very depressed. The other issue concerns the reports from the family itself, which are counterproductive, like in the Channel 4 documentary, where they try to make us believe that everything is normal in that family, with Gerry working and Kate looking after the children. The truth is that she was no longer seen taking the twins to school, or going out with them for a walk. And there were even rumours from Kate’s mother that there were problems between the couple. This talk about Kate’s depressive state is not mine, but rather from the friends and relatives themselves, who say that she is obsessed with the process and spends hours reading it. As a matter of fact, an English newspaper mentions that she has been repeating that she’d rather be in a coma than suffering in the way that she does.
Would you say that she is psychologically ill?

I can’t get into people’s heads, but considering the context, considering what is known and considering Kate’s speech itself, there is a strong possibility that she is suffering a serious emotional disarray.

Wasn’t that inevitable, independently of what one thinks happened to Maddie?

She knows that the child is not coming back.


The washing of Maddie’s soft toy, on the 12th of July 2007, that Kate mentions in her own diary. It’s very likely that it is the first expression of a mourning process, which can be compared with the fact that she apparently didn’t recognise her daughter in the age progression portraits that she was shown on Oprah’s show. In the first situation, at least in her own words, Kate doesn’t admit that Maddie may return. And she alleges that the soft toy was very dirty and didn’t hold her daughter’s smell anymore, so she washed it. This may be interpreted in two ways: she either wants to conceal evidence or she is convinced that her daughter is not coming back. But I add yet another possibility that reunites both, which is, to hide the indication and not expecting the little girl to return. Of course the portrait is an artistic work and since then, new sightings started to appear. Kate is unable to project her daughter’s growth, which helps us to understand this woman’s grieving, regardless of her having had any participation in the events, or not.

Let’s talk about the McCanns’ interview with Oprah. From a psychological point of view, how do you evaluate the couple’s behaviour?

Image sanctification at the highest level. Notice that even Kate’s clothes were chosen for the occasion. Do you ever remember seeing her in a skirt?

Now that you mention it, I noticed the extremely thin legs…

Of course you did. She presents a different image, using a skirt for the first time, with a contents that is more maternal, more familiar more adequate under the point of view of a 40-year-old woman who has a daughter that has been abducted. All in all, fitting better with what the North American middle class likes to watch on television. But you noticed her very thin legs. Well, people who regularly jog get muscled legs, but once they stop practising and continue eating, they fatten. Well, if one stops practising and is depressed, one loses the appetite and grows thin. Note that even people who are not technically trained, do notice these small details. When I mention the suicide issue, it’s also a way of saying: watch this woman, because she needs help.

You were talking about the clothes that were chosen for the Oprah interview…

Yes, notice the almost tepid colour of the cardigan and the manner in which it matches the colour of Maddie’s clothes that can be seen on the screen behind the McCanns. Totally studied. The replies are automatic, as if they had been dictated by an advisor.

The questions were also kind…

They were prepared. I believe that the couple was paid to go there. And they only went, previously knowing the questions. They wouldn’t go any other way. Don’t doubt that. As a matter of fact, they had been invited before, and they only went now because Gonçalo Amaral is translating his book into several languages and a reply was necessary. The questions were prepared and the replies were rehearsed. Just analyse the grammatical style that is used in the replies to Oprah and check the grammatical style that is used in Clarence Mitchell’s press conferences. I’m sure you’ll discover major similarities. And on certain blogs, you can see the same resemblance. This is called media manipulation.

What do you think about Kate’s crying?

Her crying may be genuine. There is great pressure in the air.

But there’s a change in this behaviour, throughout the process. Kate starts out by not crying and is severely criticised for that, as if she didn’t feel pain, then there’s a reactive phase against criticism, and she cries, and now, on this stage, which is America’s most famous talk show, which is broadcast all over the world, she cries again. How do you evaluate this change?

Well, when we mourn, if we’re not confronted with our loss on a daily basis, we cry increasingly less and reformulate increasingly more the destructive effects of that loss. But if we’re confronted every single day, that is a huge pressure that ends up throwing us out of balance, and Kate on an emotional level, Kate is at the end.

In terms of worsening the depressive state, or mourning and returning back to normal?

In terms of worsening the depressive state, and, unfortunately for her, that will be at the core of the solution of this case, one of these days.

Do you think that when she “breaks”, the case will be solved?

Yes. I think this is about a sacrificial dilemma. Imagine a scenario where there is, indeed, a terrible accident with Maddie. The girl is found dead and the parents face a dilemma: let’s assume this, we call the police and confirm that this was an accident, but we’ll have to justify the other two children, why they were alone until that time. Especially because the couple wasn’t aware of the fact that in Portugal they were not subject to the crime of exposure and abandonment (they would only be so in case of intent). They had been here for four days and it wasn’t possible that they had had time to inform themselves. Apart from that, they weren’t sober. This has to be said, considering the consumption of bottles during dinner. Therefore, they have to decide swiftly between concealing a reality, sacrificing one person for the benefit of their lives, their careers and the twins’ lives. In a cost/benefit relationship, the choice of the greater good for the greatest number is often made by human beings. Although it may be merely an impulsive, not thought out choice, it forces for a pact to be kept, so it can result for a greater number of people.

And this, for me, is a likely vision of what happened that night. Please note that all of us, under more or less dramatic circumstances, are faced with these sacrificial dilemmas. It just happens that in this case, the sacrifice is too big, and if it was done in this manner, it is a crime.

I sometimes think that this case is on its way to becoming an unbearable enigma. I presume that you don’t share this opinion, given the fact that you believe that some day, someone will “break”…

That will happen for sure, there are too many people involved in the matter and that is going to happen.

But you spoke about the possibility that the child died, and a possible flight forward…

… that is a possibility.

Admitting that everything was a terrible accident, is it possible that one could interiorise that nothing happened, that she is alive, despite being dead, that she will return, although that will never happen. Is it possible, the contradiction between what one did and what one wants to believe in?

Yes, if we’re talking about people with psychotic features, which is not the case.

But could it be a case of social survival?

Precisely. That story of doing something and then believing one didn’t do it, it’s very complex. In some cases it’s possible, but we can only tell for sure by evaluating people. I don’t think that Gerry and Kate have the characteristics to create such a dissociation, whether psychotic or not, that at the moment they would confuse reality with a theory that they invented afterwards.

Who leads, from the psychological point of view? Is it Gerry?

He’s dominating and controlling, there is no doubt about that, but he has a major problem: he’s very impulsive. For example, I remember his reaction during an interview in Spain, when he was confronted with the possible death of his daughter. The man “freaked out”. In an admirable manner, Kate managed to calm down not only Gerry, but the entire film crew. She’s sitting in front of the cameras of a foreign channel, with ‘difficult’ questions. There are actors who are used to the media frenzy that wouldn’t have behaved so well. She is the key, she has been controlling through a more feminine strategy, careful to keep the relationships of status quo, not of rupture. In that sense, Kate dominates. Therefore, any weakness from her part is revealing.

Now with this issue of her failing, we have been seeing a succession of silly acts: the entourage gives foolish replies, they make ridiculous sketches, they arrange for five persons to say that they saw a guy with pimples, well…

But that’s the usual ‘folklore’.

This only means that when she loses control, everything around her is a folklore to try to hide that there are problems. This has only one purpose, which is to keep people busy in the newspapers and in blogs, running over each other. And everyone has forgotten to talk about Maddie already. Unfortunately, nobody cares about Maddie.

This has reached another level. We should use an old scientific principle: for as long as we have a simple enough explanation to justify a certain piece of data, we shouldn’t look for a complex one, because it may confuse us. And the situation of the child’s death on location, with the subsequent concealing of the cadaver, is the most simple one that allows us to understand most of the data. Going out to search for an abductor without consistency or data, is silly.

Independently of the psychological frailty, momentary or not, admitting that there was the child’s death, and in that case, a machination was put in place, we would be looking at two diabolical minds. It would take unusual mental strength to take this lie forward, wouldn’t it?

I also think it’s not only them. When it’s about survival, we adopt traces that are as adaptive as possible towards that goal, even if it conflicts with the current social norm. It may not be morally accepted, but it’s human. What I think is that they never imagined the media multiplication that this was going to suffer. They imagined that there would be some initial confusion, we were going to be seen as a paedophile country, they would rapidly become victims and things would stay that way. I’m going to mention one single detail: Gerry McCann went three months without writing in his blog. And during that period, almost nobody spoke about Maddie. I wrote in my blog that it was an attempt to extinguish a trademark, to extinguish a phenomenon. I’m not going to think that Gerry reacted to my message, but two days later he came to justify the silence, alleging that he had been working with the investigation team…

People ask: but if it was them, why do they continue searching? I think they aren’t searching for anything anymore, they are merely forced to keep up the media interest, they are “forced” to look for their daughter. Faced with external pressure, they have to do something, or definitely the spell will turn against the sorcerer and the whole thing falls apart. That’s why I say that the couple is now subject to such pressure that it must cause them atrocious suffering, but they cannot escape anymore. This machine cannot stop anymore. And that is why, when Kate is more fragile, new things always appear.
FOOTNOTE: We now know from Kates book that she had a wardrobe of clothes to choose from.