The tenth anniversary of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance marks an anguished milestone for her parents, Gerry and Kate. “There’s no easy way to say it, describe it, accept it,” said Kate in a public statement on April 24, 2017. “I remember when Madeleine first disappeared I couldn’t even begin to consider anything in terms of years… And now here we are… Madeleine, our Madeleine – ten years…”
Madeleine McCann mysteriously vanished from her room during a family vacation in Portugal on May 3, 2007. Countless man-hours and huge sums of money have since been spent in an international police hunt. But, despite conducting the most highly publicized missing person’s case in history, investigators have yet to solve the mystery of what happened to Madeleine.
Kate described the anniversary as “a horrible marker of time, stolen time.” However, a new line of inquiry by Scotland Yard in London is giving some small hope of closure. Speaking to Sky News, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley described the new lead as “significant” and “worth pursuing.” It raises the tantalizing possibility that investigators might finally be close to a breakthrough.
Madeleine Beth McCann was born in the city of Leicester in the United Kingdom on May 12, 2003. When she disappeared she was just three years old, with short blonde hair and blue-green eyes. She has one distinctive feature, though, that would make her easily recognizable even today – a black line on her right iris.
Madeleine’s parents, Gerry and Kate, are both practicing doctors who studied medicine at universities in Scotland. They were in their mid-twenties when their paths crossed in Glasgow in 1993. They married five years later. And after Madeleine was born in 2003, they had two more children, twins, in February 2005.
On April 28, 2007 the McCanns arrived in the village of Praia da Luz in the Algarve – a well-developed tourist destination with a slew of beach resorts on Portugal’s sweltering southern coast. In fact, Praia da Luz is so popular with British holiday-makers that it is sometimes called “Little Britain.”
The McCanns’ vacation apartment consisted of a two-bedroom ground-floor unit on the edge of the Ocean Club resort – a sprawling, self-contained development with sea views and scores of amenities including a bank, a supermarket, a restaurant and tennis courts and pools. Occupying units in the same block, seven friends and their children had also accompanied the McCanns on their seven-day vacation.
Madeleine vanished from the apartment on the second to last day of their vacation. At 8:30 p.m., the McCanns and their friends had dinner at an outdoor tapas eatery located just 160 feet from their apartment block, just as they had done on the previous four evenings. At around 10:00 p.m., Kate went to check on the children. It was then that she discovered that Madeleine was gone.
Kate ran to the restaurant, screaming, “Madeleine’s gone! Someone’s taken her!” Within 30 minutes, the resort had mobilized a search party including sixty members of staff in addition to guests. They scoured the village for six hours, but to no avail. It was now a matter for the Portuguese police.
One of their first lines of inquiry concerned an eye-witness report from one of the McCanns’ traveling companions. According to Jane Tanner – who had gone to check on her own daughter at around 9:00 pm – a man had been walking along the street carrying a child. Soon the police identified their first suspect – a then-33-year-old London-born property consultant called Robert Murat.
Murat said he was at home with his mother at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance. Police spent several months thoroughly investigating Murat before dropping him as a suspect in 2008. It later transpired that the man seen walking down the street was a father picking up his child from a crèche.
But more controversy was to come. In an attempt to raise awareness of their plight, the McCanns had invited public relations professionals to help them on the ground in Portugal. In fact, they successfully galvanized enormous media attention around the world and even received an audience with the pope. However, all this aroused the suspicions of the Portuguese police.
The British tabloid press, too, began to turn on the McCanns, publishing a series of lurid claims that included the accusation they had killed their daughter with sleeping pills. Writing for The Guardian in 2008, journalist Roy Greensdale described the attacks as “a sustained campaign of vitriol against a grief-stricken family.”
The McCanns successfully sued several newspapers for libel and received front-page apologies for the allegations that had been made. However, they remained official suspects until July 2008. Without any further leads or evidence, the Portuguese police finally wrapped up their investigations and closed the case. There was nothing, they said, to implicate either Robert Murat or the McCanns in Madeleine’s disappearance.
For the next three years, the McCanns employed several private investigators and continued searching for Madeleine. And then in 2011, following public pressure and a campaign by The Sun newspaper, Scotland Yard agreed to launch an investigative review of Madeleine’s disappearance. It was called Operation Grange and had 29 detectives assigned to it.
Their main line of inquiry concerned a hypothetical burglary gone wrong. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley explained their reasoning to Sky News in April 2017. “Somebody’s doing a burglary, panicked maybe by a waking child and that’s what leads to Madeleine going missing,” he said. In fact, the police had identified four potential suspects based on the theory.
However, after six months of questioning, the suspects were ruled out and the burglary hypothesis was largely dropped. In 2015, the team of detectives was reduced from 29 to just four. And today, there are only sufficient funds for their investigations to continue until September 2017. But at this critical juncture, Scotland Yard announced a new and “significant line of inquiry.”
However, Rowley is unable to divulge any further details at this stage. “I know we have a significant line of inquiry that is worth pursuing,” he told The Guardian in April 2017. “And, because of that, it could provide an answer. Until we have gone through it, I won’t know if we will get there or not.”
Meanwhile, the McCanns are facing the tenth anniversary of their daughter’s disappearance with dignity and resilience. “The two themes that seem most appropriate to me as we reach this ten-year mark are perseverance and gratitude,” they said in a joint message. “We will go on, try our hardest, never give up and make the best of the life we have.”
“We consider ourselves immensely fortunate to have received the love, solidarity and support from so many kind and decent people over the last decade,” they continued. “There have been many challenges and low points along the way but the warmth, encouragement and positivity we have experienced from the ‘quiet majority’ has undoubtedly sustained us and maintained our faith in human goodness. And while that is there, there will always be hope.”