The Paraiso cafe and bar
When the Yard detectives finally interview the Tapas group they won’t be confining their questions to what happened between 8.30 and 10PM on May 3. The preceding two and a half hours or so also need more than a little clarification.
We all know about nice Dr Payne’s controversial visit to Kate McCann during that time and we won’t deal with it any more today. Less studied, however, are the activities of other members of the group around the same time, particularly those surrounding the so-called “social tennis” event.
This was scheduled for 6.PM at the Ocean Club and was to involve all four male members of the group, finishing, according to the instructor, at 7PM.Gerry McCann was already at the courts at six with the instructor, Dan. Kate and the children were in the apartment and the rest of the group were down at the beach in the Paraiso bar, a seaside café some seven to ten minutes’ walk away from the Ocean Club.
The men left the bar for the tennis courts, the others followed them afterwards, stayed to watch some of the tennis, and then everyone went back to their respective apartments to put the kids to bed and prepare for supper at the Tapas restaurant.
Silence is golden
So far so simple. So simple that it is very hard to see why the men, as well as the McCanns, were initially silent about this two and a half hour period. Summarising the May 4 police statements: David Payne had nothing to say about the period, even though it included a towel-wrapped Kate McCann and the striking “vision of angels” in apartment 5A; Mathew Oldfield had nothing to say either; Russell O’ Brien, along with his partner Tanner the most obscure and slippery of the whole group, who spoke to the police last and knew what Tanner had said, mentioned nothing other than his return to his apartment at “around 7.15-7.30PM.” From Gerry McCann, not a word about the whole period.
The women were less tight-lipped. Dianne Webster, exactly as one would expect, was positively loquacious:
“Concerning the day yesterday, she went to the beach with the children, her son-in-law and her daughter. They arrived there at around 15h45 and left at around 18h15 to go to the tennis courts where she stayed until 19h00. The informant then went to the apartment with the small children and ten minutes later, her son-in-law, David, joined them. With her son-in-law's help, they bathed the children.”
Her daughter could hardly disagree, although whether these two statements were genuinely independent is another matter since the times, as you can see, are too similar for comfort:
“On the day before yesterday, [this is a translation error for May 3] they slightly altered their routine - they went to the beach with the children and her mother Dianne. They arrived there around 15h45 and left at 18h15, and headed towards the tennis court until about 19h00. Immediately afterwards, the witness headed towards the apartment with her children, and her mother. Ten minutes later her husband David appeared. In the apartment her mother, helped by her husband David, bathed the children whilst the witness went jogging on the beach until around 20h00. Afterwards, she returned to the apartment and got ready.”
Rachael Oldfield, in contrast, said the same as Mathew: nothing.
Finally Jane Tanner. And her statement was both relatively extensive and very interesting because in the course of a couple of paragraphs in which she told police that she was on the beach or at the Paraiso from 3.45 until 6.10-6.15, she said little more about herself but gave useful eye-witness alibis for all the men and Kate McCann:
Kate? “Around 5.15 she saw Kate Healy jog past the beach and wave.” Gerry and the other men? Why, “when the witness, together with her friends and children returned from the beach at about 6.20 they passed by the tennis courts and saw all the men, including Gerry, on court. They stayed there talking to them for about 20/30 minutes.” Gerry again? “Gerald behaved normally.” Kate again? “She thinks [our italics] Kate was in the apartment putting the children to bed.” Everybody? “At about 19h00 they all went back to their own apartments with the children.”
“All”, however, didn’t mean all at all, since O’ Brien came back “later”, time unspecified. And, surprise, surprise, she discussed her statement with Russell O’ Brien who told the police that “He completely corroborates his partner Jane Tanner's statements for the rest of the day.” Whatever that may mean.
A new beginning…
Clearly the police needed a lot more detail and on May 10/11 they attempted to get it, despite the absence of the Paynes and Kate McCann. Under questioning a consistent picture now began to emerge:
- Russell O’ Brien, David Payne and Mathew Oldfield left the beach for the “social tennis” between 6 and 6.15.
- The remainder of the group followed some ten minutes later and stayed talking or watching the tennis until 7 when the women and children left for their apartments.
- The independent witness, Dan, confirmed that the social tennis was over by 7PM. Gerry, who had played with the other three, left then. The other men left ten minutes or so later.
From which we can see that:
- O’ Brien, Oldfield and Payne were only out of sight of the women and children for about ten minutes before and ten minutes after the tennis.
- All the men were in their respective apartments with their partners and children by 7.15-7.20 and remained in them until 8.30.
That was the end of the Portuguese questioning and everything had turned out straightforward enough – insofar as anything the Tapas 7 said was ever straightforward. Only Gerry McCann had mentioned Payne’s visit to 5A, admittedly, but that may well have been because the latter didn’t get the chance to give a second statement.
Back in England the McCanns and their lawyers began building their defence to the Portuguese accusations, the details surfacing at intervals as their spokesman floated them in the media to see if they sailed or sank. Gerry and the group had little to say about the period in their Panorama “expunge it!” programme – which began as it meant to continue with the comical statement that “the McCanns’ story has been the same from day one” – but what they did say confirmed the details they had given on May 10/11.
Only in the late December Beyond the Smears article by David Smith, which the McCanns had used as a deliberate feed for their version of events, did the pair revert to coyness about the missing two and a half hours, highlighting only the Payne visit and introducing a mysterious tennis injury which had apparently stopped Gerry playing and left him “waiting around the courts” on his own after 4.30 that afternoon. Hm.
And so we come to the final effort of the investigation, the rogatory interviews, in which the Tapas 7 were able to fill in the details which had been absent in Portugal. The assembled police of two countries, well briefed about the progress of events on and after May 3 and with copies of the statements to hand, could hardly have been prepared for what occurred during that week of interviews. In short:
- Payne, O’ Brien and Oldfield all changed their stories. In unison. Now they stated that the tennis didn’t start until 6.50 and finished at 8PM.
- Two of the three made some attempt to reconcile the new version with the old; both failed, with Payne in particular being badly caught out by his interviewer.
- Fiona Payne and Dianne Webster, to add to the developing farce, did not alter their statements, still saying that David Payne was back in the apartment by 7.10.
This radical alteration in the timing of events was wrapped in various lengths of flannel by the interviewees as they attempted to make their changes less suspicious and more convincing. No wonder Rebelo flew home before the completion of the interviews! These absurd and often rather shameless alterations to their stories made it obvious that the seven – always excluding Dianne Webster – were not there to help seek the truth of events on May 3 but were simply covering their backs in some way or deliberately muddying the waters.
To Rebelo the idea that any of them would chance returning to a Portuguese reconstruction with this lamentable record of their own evasions was out of the question, even before some of them were asked: clearly they would have to be forced – an impossibility under European Arrest Warrant rules. With his disillusioned flight home the Portuguese investigation was effectively at an end.
Nor was he the only one to react strongly to the new version. “It’s getting warm in here,” said DC Messiah at one point, clearly baffled and irritated at Payne’s unbearably long-winded attempts to make the new timings fit the old. There are pages and pages of the stuff as Payne battles to soften the impact of his volte-face by stressing how late everything was running, how he had neither watch nor mobile phone to tell the time, how long and slow was the way from beach to tennis courts and from courts to apartments and on and on. If you cut out the rare statements of fact from the interview but leave in Payne’s “uncertainties” you get an idea of just how bizarre Payne’s answers were:
"But you know...
"Yeah, what sort of time, excuse me it’s getting warm in here, what sort of time was that that you saw them?”
"Err you know and err so that’d be the time that I’d have gone out there... you know err the, I’ve done a great deal...err well no because I mean like usually like...as far as I remember...err...err...I can’t remember...Err well I mean we were probably, as I say... then we left the err restaurant and err you know, I hadn’t got a watch on me, I hadn’t you know I hadn’t got a mobile... we left the restaurant err you know after six o’ clock, so you know just working backwards…bit of time on the beach and then you know your meal, which would take an hour, which seems to fit in with the, you know ... we left we didn’t leave from the beach we left from the err restaurant...Err the, basically the err the children and the ladies that stayed behind, err just to finish off there and err and then we...we’ll get up there...err there was Russell and Matt. As I say I can’t, can’t remember ... you know, I can’t remember...but I know I went and spoke to Gerry.”
"Yeah, and at what point did you have the conversation with him? Did he stop the game or did you speak whilst he was playing?”
"I can’t remember, I can’t remember. I, you know, in my mind, you know, he stopped playing and you know but I can’t remember...”
The other interviewees are just as unconvincing, as readers can see for themselves from the transcripts. Some err and bumble along as they play for time regarding the crucial alterations to their year-old statements; others, like O’Brien, give up any attempt to remove the anomalies, leaving the transcript in a literally nonsensical state.
Every picture tells a story
Something was up between 6 and 8.30 The silence of virtually all of them in the first instance about these two and a half hours was suggestive enough; that was followed by suspicious near-unanimity six days later; and then, with a whole year gone, came this farrago, quite enough to make DC Messiah somewhat hot under the collar.
What was the need for the change? Why were they so riskily adding an extra hour to events, an hour in which the men were on their own? That’s what we hope the Yard will eventually tell us. Once again the apparently naïve but persistently untruthful Oldfield is right at the centre of a modified version. Once again Rachael Oldfield makes changes to her story to back him up, just as she did when she confirmed some of his more unlikely statements in the PJ interviews. Alongside Oldfield but out of sight of everyone else walks the enigmatic figure of O’ Brien, just as he was to do at the critical hour of 9.30PM. And Payne, bumbling Payne, struggles to alter his testimony in order to fit in the visit to 5A by him alone.
Come on ladies!
When did the group become aware of the Paraiso CCTV pictures? Payne makes reference to camera timings but it is not clear which camera he is referring to. They blow open good old unanimous Version One. At 6.13 the three men are standing, clearly about to leave, presumably for the tennis courts. Fair enough. But what about the “ten minutes” or so interval before the others left? They were in fact still in the restaurant until at least 6.36 – fifteen minutes after Jane Tanner claimed to have watched the men playing – and would have arrived at the tennis courts at the same time as the men were just commencing play. If they weren’t playing tennis then what exactly had O’Brien, Oldfield and David Payne been doing between 6.13 and 6.50, a period which just happened to include the supposed Payne visit? And if they were playing from 6.50 to almost 8PM how come Fiona Payne placed her husband back in the apartment at 7.10? Come on!
If they had somehow been mistaken in unison in Version One and were correcting their evidence because they’d seen the CCTV timings then why on earth couldn’t they tell Leicester police so? Why take the risk of looking once again as if they were obstructing the investigation because they had something to hide? And there are many other related questions: the Yard have their work cut out.
Just after the rogatory interviews ended Rachael Oldfield spoke to BBC Radio 4. Had any of their stories changed between the Portuguese statements and the interviews, she was asked. “No, of course not,” said the lady who’d once sworn to the PJ that MO returned to their apartment at 7.15. “How could they have done?” she added haughtily, “there was only ever one story.”