By Turlough Delaney
British and Portuguese police this week launched a joint investigation into the disappearance of the Madeleine McCann hysteria.
Officers assigned to locate the missing media panic say they believe it remains “in the back of people’s consciousness, somewhere.”
“With the assistance and co-operation of the general public we are certain the hysteria can be tracked down safely,” says Guilhermino Encarnação of the Polícia Judiciária.
The furore in question first arrived in the summer of 2007, shortly after the disappearance of British child Madeleine McCann from the Praia da Luz holiday resort in Portugal.
The girl’s parents soon initiated a wide-spread media campaign, appealing for help in locating their missing daughter. Within days, the publicity was receiving blanket media coverage. This in turn fed an unprecedented public obsession with the case which lasted well over a year.
However, some time in 2008 it became apparent that ‘Maddymania’ was no longer making the front pages with the same frequency as before, and by the winter of 2008 the hysteria had completely disappeared.
In the first official briefing on the investigation, Mr Encarnação said police were working on the assumption that the story is still mentioned every now and again “around pages 7 or 8 of your average supermarket tabloid”.
Roughly 40 calls from new potential witnesses have been made to the police, which they believe could lead to a fresh angle on the story: “We hope one of these leads could be enough to put Madeleine McCann back on the front pages and reignite the hysteria all over again.”
Answering press criticism that Portuguese police have been slow to respond, Mr Encarnação pointed out he and his colleagues had been unofficially looking into the hysteria’s disappearance since last October.
Doctors Kate and Gerry McCann have recently spoken of their “anguish and despair” over the missing panic, as it was the only thing that was “keeping awareness of [their] child’s plight in the public eye”.
Last week a court in London awarded the McCanns £100,000 in damages from The Daily Star, after the newspaper insinuated the couple themselves were responsible for the disappearance of ‘Maddymania’.
The McCanns angrily disputed allegations they had neglected their media responsibilities, saying they “remain fully committed to the publicity campaign, and continue to work on it every day”.
In the meantime an official website has been launched to aid the search, along with a fund-raising company entitled ‘Maddymania’s Fund: Leaving No Detail Unpublicised’.
A filmed appeal featuring Simon Cowell, David Beckham and Will Self was made earlier this week and is due to be broadcast on the UK Living Channel over the coming days.
In addition, The Sun newspaper has offered a £30,000 reward for anyone who can help relaunch the hysteria:
Said their editorial: “The Madeleine McCann story was very important to us at The Sun, so we’re putting up this reward to help retrieve the beloved hysteria in the hope it will halt our declining circulation figures. So come on, do your bit for Maddy!”
Also, a number of prominent stand-up comedians began an organised campaign of telling offensive jokes about the tragedy in their routines. They did so with the conscious intention of creating such a media fuss, it would propel Maddymania back to the fore. None have succeeded so far.
At yesterday’s press briefing, the police also dismissed the wide-spread rumour their chief suspect in the disappearance was US President Barack Obama.
Former reporter and now media analyst for the liberal Manchester Centurion Roy Greensleeve explains why Obama is not guilty:
“Yes, blanket media coverage of Obama did push a lot of other issues off the agenda, undoubtedly. But ‘Obama-ysteria’ wouldn’t have affected Maddymania. Why? Because it was a feel-good story…
“At its height, the Madeleine McCann thing provided people with their daily 10-minute hit of grief and fear back when we were all high on credit. Now the Recession has come along and we are all suffering unfathomable sorrow 24/7 for real. Thus rendering child abduction hysteria unnecessary.”
“So, if there is a single guilty person in this case, than it is George Bush. Who else? He is to blame for everything after all.”