Sunday, July 22, 2012

McCann: Threatening Gestures by Dr.Martin Roberts.

Gerry McCann and Michael Caplan QC

By Dr Martin Roberts
16 July 2012


Having followed the 'Maddie' case from the outset, and commented publicly upon it for a number of years, recent events have caused me to view the affair from an altogether different perspective. No, I have not been 'got at.' Of course I have been incensed by the blatant injustices on many fronts. I would not have devoted so much time to analyses of the case otherwise. But there is only so much to be learned, so much to be accomplished by continually patrolling the base of a pyramid. To really appreciate the significance of its dimensionality it is essential to adopt a different point of view. And I am not talking about succumbing to the idea of a swarthy abductor or cabal of unidentified child molesters.

I do not shrink from admitting that I too was initially astonished by the 'safeguarding of international relations' argument brought forth to justify the withholding of intelligence in the face of several FOI requests. There have been numerous astonishing developments over the years. However, those of us who throw up our hands in disbelief at officialdom's use of the phrase 'international security' or the like are perhaps guilty of a singular and significant oversight; namely, that the very disappearance of Madeleine McCann was itself an international incident, with potential consequences on several levels.

Self-preservation as a principle is a given among homo sapiens. But in any hierarchically organized society, 'looking after number one' is sometimes best accomplished by acting (or at the very least appearing to act) in the interests of others besides. The successful conduct of International Relations demands that players on the international stage see the bigger picture.

So what picture should we be looking at in the McCann case? I would suggest that the government then (and the government now) have acted in the ways they have, not despite 'early warning signs' that the parents of Madeleine McCann may have been involved themselves in a misdemeanour, but because of them.

Only the other evening I listened to a rather smart comedian who pointed up the absurdity of the concept 'War on Terror.' "What results from a declaration of war?" he asks of a hypothetical advocate for the Bush/Blair position. "Terror," they reply. "So you're waging war on the consequences of your own actions then?" Such humour immunises us against depressing acknowledgement that world leaders as often as not depend on the gullibility of the masses for their own survival. And if the masses cannot be misled they can be subdued. This is, I accept, a cynical point of view, but one has only to flip through the pages of history to see how deception via propaganda has a long track record. A tried-and-tested method for keeping one's place on the throne, as it were, is that of convincing those outside the palace that the other man is the enemy.

As society has evolved, so too has this 'threat,' becoming increasingly abstruse in the process. Hence post-war generations in the west have been warned against (among other things) 'communism,' 'alien invasion,' 'nuclear attack' and, of course, 'terror,' the last being a real 'doozy.' A-specific to a fault, it can be blamed on any disaffected minority whatsoever, and at any time. Thus it can never be neutralized.

Largely as a direct result of 'war debt' to our erstwhile transatlantic colony, the British Isles have long since become USS UK, an aircraft and cruise missile carrier permanently stationed in the North Atlantic. It doesn't matter much who gets to captain the ship, since they are never going to command the 'battle group' of which it is a member. In similarly subordinate fashion the Westminster government has been honour-bound to adopt the same cautionary attitudes toward the same perceived enemy as that determined by the White House. This state of affairs is reliably reflected in manifestations of the public consciousness (think Quatermass, The War Game, and the long-running Blair case for WMD).

But what has this to do with Madeleine McCann?

An explanation as to why those 'major threats' conceived across the pond have had a relatively short shelf-life on this side of the water until now would be a little tedious, as the reasons are pretty obvious (a visiting Martian would surely aim for a larger tract of land, for instance). So, if we may simply accept it to be the case, we can open up the need for others to come quickly off the substitute's bench. There's nothing like the threat of an epidemic, for instance, to get healthcare professionals excited. The pharmaceutical industry is wholly indifferent to whether it originates in birds, pigs or cattle, as long as the claim is made that the disorder can, and therefore will, cross the species divide. Mass vaccination is a real money-spinner.

Then there's the threat of global warming, and related environmental considerations. Nowadays the cost of a UK road fund licence is determined by the level of carbon di-oxide emissions from the vehicle in question (the lower, the cheaper). Is this really to encourage drivers to become environmentally conscious through their operation of smaller cars boasting lower levels of fuel consumption and associated emissions? Or is it to provide yet another boost to the automotive trade, by encouraging the widespread purchase of newer vehicles through financial coercion? Well, it seems to have worked, as the current government is now in not-quite-secret talks with motor manufacturers, in an attempt to establish how best to recoup the revenue loss consequent upon the widespread switching of owners to cars in lower tax categories.

I have deliberately saved the most relevant, Maddie-related threat for last.

Followers of the case will not need to be reminded of the frequency with which the spectre of paedophilia has been introduced into the media commentary. As threats go this one is by no means new (this particular deviance is chronicled as accompanying imperial decadence in ancient Rome), but the threat has grown in perceived importance down the years. In the more recent past, cases of fatal child abuse, such as those involving Myra Hindley and the Wests, have occasionally erupted into the public spotlight. But the eruptions have since become more frequent, including false-positives to help sustain levels of public attention.

Film makers profit from being alive to 'topicality.' Note therefore a remake of the film 'The Wicker Man' after a thirty-three year interval (the original was released in 1973). In-between we had the infamous 1991 Orkney child abuse scandal, characterized by its actually being a case of widespread non-abuse, i.e. normality (the scandalous element was the behaviour of the so-called welfare authorities). Needless to say, mere suspicion of the demon provoked a witch-hunt, just as it did in the case of Operation Ore, a turn-of-the-millennium persecution of suspected child pornographers, modelled on an American precedent (Operation Avalanche), and being both principal product and funding sponge of CEOP (you know, the Jim Gamble vehicle that justified his appearance in Praia da Luz alongside genuine investigators).

Yes, folks. In the absence of an imminent national catastrophe occasioned by a nuclear strike (the 2003 invasion of Iraq took care of that), or a widespread disease epidemic, child abuse is a serious threat to society; a threat which the British government not only acknowledged but demonstrated a willingness to deal with decades ago. Such moral guardianship is 'politically correct' in a big way; especially if you are New Labour, the resurgent broom promising to sweep society clean by being 'tough,' not just on crime but 'on the causes of crime.'

Fast-forward now to Praia da Luz, Portugal on May 3, 2007. A little girl is reported missing from her holiday apartment. Within hours the report is an international one of a little British girl abducted from an apartment in Portugal. In a demonstration of due diligence, ambassadorial staff are dispatched to the scene of the incident, in order to offer support to our distressed citizens overseas. UK police also arrive to assist. A good thing. Within just a few days however, reports come back of doubts attending the veracity of the parents' story. A bad thing. And suddenly there is a serious and altogether unexpected problem.

There will always be unfortunate individuals who fall victim to crime, whether at home or abroad. By and large, unless they invite the transgression, they are afforded sympathy. On learning of a child abduction, and with no grounds for other suspicion, it is entirely reasonable that people in general should be sympathetic toward the parents. They were in this case. So too was the government. For the vast majority of observers nothing will have changed for quite a period. Even we sceptics, long since allowed access to the Portuguese police files, can have had no idea at the time of the precise details of the investigation outside of the sometime contradictory accounts coursing through the various media channels. Damaged shutters or no, no one was privy to anything like the hard data sufficient to confirm any growing suspicions, even remotely, never mind absolutely. No one, that is, save for the investigating team, which included British police, and British government representatives.

All the while the culprit could be identified as an anonymous stranger, the stigma of his (or her) motive could be brandished in support of sympathy for the parents. But what if they themselves were involved in some way? That would make them accomplices at least to an act of aggression against a minor, child abuse if you will. And if there were no third-parties involved? Then, in the light of there being no abduction, the parents would have to be viewed as guilty of something altogether more serious. And early 'intel' pointed to exactly that. So what was at stake here?

The exposure of a homicidal doctor capable of doing away with their patients (or their wife!), while not conducive to good image-building, is something from which the NHS could always recover. Society has not lost its faith in general medicine on account of Harold Shipman, any more than it did in the wake of earlier cases (e.g. Palmer, Crippen, Buck Ruxton). But a doctor (or doctors) culpable in the demise of their own child? That one hadn't previously been tested. Furthermore this was not a 'domestic' incident, in the sense that neither it nor its ramifications were confined to the UK. It happened (and was developing) overseas, in the full glare of international publicity (the McCanns themselves had seen to that). In addition, those at the very centre of the investigation, the case being one of child abuse whether abduction was a feature or not, were esteemed professionals, not the sort of council estate refugees with whom one might more instinctively associate such a crime. Worse yet, a clutch of others just like them were quite possibly involved in some way. The equation: A handful of UK doctors = one dead child, if valid, could have an impact worldwide on the perception of the medical profession, British society and, by extrapolation, the government, analogous to e=mc2.

A morally upright government, ostensibly; one seriously concerned with combating the child abuse they had already identified as a threat to society, sponsoring the activities of CEOP and taking yet another lead from the USA, was looking at the enemy, the very threat the executive (police) were dealing with on our behalf, made manifest within the ranks of its very own professional classes (remember the declaration of 'war' on the consequences of one's own actions?). So when the un-named member of our ambassadorial staff questioned the wisdom of further government involvement in the case, he inadvertently placed the following options on the table:

1. Cut the parents adrift, let them take their chances and hope the investigation runs aground.

2. Support the parents to the hilt and ensure the investigation runs aground.

Now which of these alternatives, do we suppose, offers a guaranteed outcome?

The McCanns and their media allies have kept the case in public view for a long time. Had the Portuguese pursued their investigation to the point of prosecution, the McCanns, unlike the international media, would probably not have been quite so keen to advertise the 'situation' they would have 'found themselves in.' As we have seen since, Portuguese justice is slow moving. A criminal case brought against the McCanns, with the prospect of exposing an evil canker deeply embedded in British society, the very threat against which the British public were being warned and 'protected,' and at considerable cost, would itself go on for an uncomfortably long time. Such exposure would be blatant, widespread, and international.

Shortly after the McCanns' return from Portugal, the world learnt that they held certain legal insurance, in the form of the available services of extradition lawyer Michael Caplan Q.C. Caplan had previously gained an international reputation through his successful contribution to the legal arguments that forestalled extradition, from the UK, of General Augusto Pinochet, erstwhile dictator of Chile. Ironically, it is this very case to which one may turn for a paradigmatic explanation of the British government's treatment of the McCanns.

Under the auspices of a Labour government, Pinochet was arrested and held, pending extradition, in accordance with an international arrest warrant issued in Spain. As things turned out, upholding the letter of international law did the government no favours politically (Pinochet had been a US 'transplant' originally and latterly a confidante of Margaret Thatcher. Despite its declared neutrality, Chile played a positive, albeit subtle role in the Falklands conflict, on Britain's behalf). Following extensive legal wrangling in the House of Lords (the prisoner was under 'house arrest' but not on trial as such), Pinochet was not extradited to Spain after all. Instead, in March 2000, he was allowed by Home Secretary Jack Straw to return to Chile, having been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer's disease, a condition from which he appeared to recover appreciably once his plane had touched down.

Less than a decade later the young democracy of Portugal found itself upholding the letter of the law within its own land, investigating and proceeding toward the prosecution of two members from a coven of British doctors. The Labour government, having previously learned an important lesson about law, even international law, versus international relations, could not fail to see this as 'not a good development.' There followed protracted negotiations (cf. 'legal arguments'). The Portuguese, no doubt reminded of the Pinochet case, as it was ignited by their immediate neighbours, Spain, took the hint. Eventually the suspect status of the McCanns was rescinded, the case shelved and the oh-so-nearly-accused doctors allowed to return to the UK, with little or no prospect of their emerging subsequently from the bunker.

So now where are we?

Unless or until a clear case is made in a criminal court somewhere, the McCanns are legally not guilty of involvement in their daughter's disappearance (it's been said often enough). There is no case for them to answer, and certainly not outside of a court of law. Whatever they might say to the media, or however they choose to appear before them, there is no risk of a conspicuous slur against the medical profession, NHS appointments criteria, the more affluent echelons of society or the government itself.

The only snag for a government sponsoring the McCanns' liberty is that, like victims of their own blackmail, they would now have to maintain the new status quo. In short, the McCanns would have to be kept out of court, at least for the duration of the administration, if not for the duration - period. The Serious Fraud Office won't be knocking on their door any time soon therefore.

So, as 'the Fund' slowly atrophies to the point where it is finally acknowledged that Madeleine is dead and the 'search' need not continue, Kate McCann is found a 'role,' at a level appropriate to the replacement of her GP status, while Gerry can devote time - a lot of time - to writing up the results of his many publicly funded studies. And the Portuguese? Well, if they really must bow to internal pressure and re-open their investigation, then there are hundreds of 'investigative opportunities' they can occupy themselves with for the foreseeable future.

Such is the legacy of a Labour government. But that party is now on the other side of the House. Does this mean the new administration will 'do the right thing' by all those who believe Madeleine McCann was not abducted, not to mention the Portuguese, scoring party political brownie points in the process? Unfortunately no. Any accommodation previously arrived at between the two governments will have been by negotiation and agreement, and since the Portuguese will have been equally party to it (even if the terms were unequal) they would not appreciate this being brought out into the open, as undoubtedly it would be. Also, international relations transcend party politics. The 'special relationship,' so-called, between Britain and the USA, for example, is maintained, and generally workable, whatever combination of Democrat-Republican-Conservative-Labour forearms engages in the diplomatic hand-shaking. And that gives rise to a testable hypothesis:

If the Metropolitan Police should exercise the investigative option contained within their Operation Grange remit (as clearly they ought to), then we may be sure that the current government in Westminster is genuinely (and properly) distanced from the McCanns. If, on the other hand, they conclude their review with nothing more to show for it than a 'to do' list intended for the Portuguese, then we can be just as certain that the Coalition Government is continuing a policy toward the McCanns that was inaugurated by their predecessors, as whatever deals may have been struck with the Portuguese were struck before the Coalition took office.

Personally, I won't be holding my breath