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Eternal Fixation: The Madeleine McCann Disappearance Show

The “lost child” endures as motif and theme, the stalking shadow of much literature, the background to a society’s anxiety. The child, often deemed innocent, becomes the ink blot of loss in such disappearance. In Australia, it was captured by Peter Pierce’s The Country of Lost Children: An Australian Anxiety (1999). In wide spaces, innocence has much room to go wrong in, to vanish and encourage judgment.

Madeleine McCann was never merely a lost child who disappeared in the Algarve from her family’s holiday apartment on May 3, 2007. She remains a fixation of the British media stable, and, it should be said, to an unhealthy degree. Her disappearance was a fire that burned with little Englander, flag-waving rage, often directed against the Portuguese and judgmental about any efforts in investigation. The McCann story was, in Giles Tremlett’s words, “a snapshot of Britain and its poisonous media culture,” but also those indifferent Britons who were happy to enjoy the sun of the Iberian Peninsula without much care for their host countries. Such tourists, and residents, could often be beastly, preoccupying local police and emergency units with their overdoses, intoxicated late night swims, night club fighting and the occasional drowned toddler in a villa swimming pool.

The McCann furnace tended to burn most of its participants, including the grieving parents, who were a daily feature of news bulletins till saturation, stepping out of their Praia da Luz apartment and photographed with paparazzi enthusiasm. For a brief spell, police interest shifted to them, more out of formality than anything else. An interest was registered in their parenting skills and their lifestyle. Should they have left their three-year old daughter unattended in an easily accessible flat as they feasted on tapas with friends who did the same? Did they sedate their child? It would explain why there were no screams, no howls of despair, as a stranger carted the child away.

As novelist Anne Enright weighed in, “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.” (Worth noting here is the savage attack on Enright for her generally balanced reflection. Janet Street-Porter, editor-at-large at The Independent raged, calling her “charmless”, a hater of Kate McCann “who is guilty of no crime, except being fit and attractive”.)

In covering the disappearance, and the vain investigation to recover her or find a culprit, views and commentaries flourished with speculative detail, malicious mauling, and mawkish reverence. The reputation of Kate and Gerry McCann served to shift in the sands of public consciousness, a projection of class and status. Initially, as was to be found in the Daily Mail, they were the perfect, unsullied parents, both of medical background, their daughter being blond and insufferably cute. Brimming of the middle-class ethic, they were to be seen and judged through such eyes, with their daughter fulfilling a role akin to caricature about what innocence would look like. “This kind of thing doesn’t usually happen to people like us,” bleated Allison Pearson of the Daily Mail.

But things did turn on them, with a sort of reverse snobbery. The Daily Express was particularly keen on that front, with their reporters encouraged to target the McCanns for unsubstantiated responsibility for their daughter’s demise. The same attention had not been paid to, for instance, the vanishing of British toddler Ben Needham in Kos in 1991. As Owen Jones noted in sharp fashion in Chavs (2012), “Kidnappings, stabbings, murders; those are things you almost expect to happen to people living in Peckham or Glasgow. This sort of tragedy was not supposed to happen to folks you might bump into doing the weekly shop at Waitrose.”

The McCanns could always count on their defenders. Des Spence found himself performing that role in the British Medical Journal, finding it impossible to presume that the parents were culpable in any way. (Sod the police; we know better.) “The McCanns merely did as countless thousands of other parents have done. Any blame of guilt is grossly misplaced and unkind, for they are victims of an act of utter malevolence. No one has the right to question the McCanns’ parental commitment.”

The case had been on a slow burn, embers visible to those caring to watch. In addition to personal efforts on the part of the McCanns to hire personal investigators, Scotland Yard also committed its own resources in Operation Grange. Several police forces have been preoccupied with the investigation.

Now, a blast of air has been given to the matter, with the grim announcement by the Braunschweig Public Prosecutor’s Office about the latest developments. “We are assuming,” stated a solemn Hans Christian Wolters, “that the girl is dead. With the suspect, we are talking about a sexual predator who has already been convicted of crimes against little girls and he’s already serving a long sentence.” The suspect in question, one Christian D., had been a regular resident of the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, working in the catering industry and doing his bit of drug dealing and burgling of holiday flats. To date, the prosecutor general’s office in Portugal have yet to find a record of any crimes committed by the suspect, though they are re-opening their investigation on that front.

Despite the news, family spokesman Clarence Mitchell revealed that he could not “recall an instance when the police had been so specific about an individual. Of all the thousands of leads and potential suspects that have been mentioned in the past, there has never been something as clear cut as that from not just one, but three police forces.”

While the German stance on this has settled upon the view that Madeleine is no longer alive, the Met Police in Britain hold to the view that this remains a “missing persons” investigation. In doing so, another offering to perpetuate the McCann mystery has been made, one that has become self-propagating, ceaseless and remorselessly vulgar.

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  1. Jack Cade

    Everything the McCanns said has been analysed to death. Every word weighed for its potential as a Freudian slip, an admission that they were involved in the child’s kidnap.
    As a father of 4, I would NEVER have gone to a party leaving ANY of my children unattended, but some people do – even people in a profession where they would stridently advise patients against it.
    If the child is alive – highly unlikely as that is – she’d be 16 now, and unlikely even to speak English.
    Child abuse is the most heinous crime a human can commit, in my opinion.

  2. Phil

    On returning to Puckapunyal Vic where I was stationed in another life, I was driving along a main road in Adelaide where I could not believe my eyes. A toddler was riding a tree wheeler in one of the inner lanes. I said to my cobber wtf we had better stop. So we checked for any adults near by and then put the toddler in the car. We proceeded to the next police station where the officer said you were very brave doing this service, for the obvious reasons. I never did get a thanks from the parents. The Mc Canns should be strung up by their private parts. This is always down to the parents. End of. My three children never left the sight of my wife and I and neither did my parents with me and my siblings.

  3. Jack Cade


    Yes, and it extends to grandchildren, and is possibly even stronger. When I’m at family gatherings I never take my eyes off the grandkids. It wears me out!

  4. Phil

    Yes, and it extends to grandchildren, and is possibly even stronger. When I’m at family gatherings I never take my eyes off the grandkids. It wears me out!


  5. Michael Taylor

    It’s fast becoming another “I saw Elvis selling hot dogs outside Bunnings” saga.

  6. Michael Taylor

    My brother was at Puck for a while, Phil.

    I hope you’re more disciplined than he is.

  7. Phil

    ‘ I hope you’re more disciplined than he is.’

    Oh I have been a naughty boy a few times. Mostly kissing Tories on the nose with my forehead. But don’t get me wrong I like to share the love as my old dad taught me. It’s a working class thing.

  8. wam

    I was teaching at enfield and about to get married when the beaumonts disappeared. Those were they days when closets were full but there were danger spots train station toilets and parklands where ‘queers’ were to be seen https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/feature/out-sight-untold-story-adelaides-gay-hate-murders
    Donnie Dunston ‘liberised’ SA. This was before the NSW poofter bashers from catholic schools reached the abbott levelsof schoolboys bashed any man or boy suspected of being soft. The NSW had the terrible abbott levels of bashing Well before the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994.
    It may be a moot point but at times the driver of the ‘anxiety’ is a modern form of poofter bashing.

    one of my gammon relatives was called up in 66?and went through skyville a lovely man the only officer who was not a scary conservative and e ended a colonel. he was so good he would have been a general but the lying rodent outsourced supply and he was redundant. I saw him working a few times(mostly in lectures) with naive simple men in situations where I wouldn’t be able to contain myself.

  9. Phil

    Dr. George Duncan (20 July 1930 – 10 May 1972) was an Australian law lecturer at the University of Adelaide who drowned in 1972 after being thrown into the River Torrens by a group of men believed to be police officers. Public outrage generated by the murder became the trigger for homosexual law reform which led to South Australia becoming the first Australian state to decriminalise homosexuality.

    I remember it like yesterday.

    My mother being the wag she was invited two homosexuals to a party we had been invited too. They were friends of ours, one of them was a star in the Hindley Street Strip Clubs. We knew the other people at the party and some of them were those self righteous types, who would bang on all day about gays, then at night, they would tie their wives up and act out weird fantasies in a bat man suite. Me? Never tried it. It got the expected result they must have heard us laughing our tits off the next day, as we each in turn described their facial expressions. Um what’s this got to do with Madeleine McCann? Well I bet my kids lives it was no homosexual that killed that child, it would have been the type of person that hated gays. We do live in a funny old world.

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