Martin Brunt Reports DNA in boot of The Car
Brunt of the Yard presents his case
Independent, The (London), Jul 2, 2007 by Ian Burrell
(these are excerpts of an interview for the full article see here)
Martin Brunt spent much of last week kicking his heels and gnashing his teeth as the flash flooding left his crime stories submerged beneath the waterline of the Sky News running order. Then he got the call.
(...) "I knew it was a story that we would be all over, all day, and I needed to be at the heart of it," he says. "I always go to the Yard. People try to send me to the scene but I've always found that, lurking at the Yard, I pick up far more information from people who wander past and tell me bits and pieces. You see people who are not readily accessible on the phone, and walking past they are more likely to stop and chat."
Because the rest of the media crime pack know the quality of Brunt's contacts, he has to be discreet. "There's an element of trying to be a bit subtle about it, of diving into a coffee bar or going around the block. But I have to emphasise that nobody walks up and gives you the full picture. It's just tidbits. It's like putting a jigsaw together and hoping it all makes sense at some stage."
(...)Brunt, 52, has become such a familiar sight outside the head-quarters of the Metropolitan Police Service that media colleagues have given him a three word suffix previously associated with the famous Flying Squad detective, Jack Slipper.
"Brunt of the Yard" is so often first with news of a development in a major crime investigation that officers have been known to complain that he knows more than they do.
(...)During the traumatic and frustrating search for Madeleine McCann, Brunt has been the figure to whom other media newsrooms have looked for developments on the story. Judging by his blog, "Life of Crime", some members of the public, transfixed by the nightmare of the toddler's disappearance, hope that Brunt will somehow solve the mystery by himself.
"It's tragic, just an incredibly sad story," he says. "You go on holiday to southern Europe and traditionally you expect to be more relaxed, leave your doors and windows open and let the kids run around. Now all that has been destroyed for a lot of people. Plus it's a great mystery story - I want to know what's happened to her, and if I do I'm sure thousands of other people do."
What has happened to Madeleine, he believes, is the outcome that everyone dreads. He has spelt that out on his website and he thinks that, in spite of their efforts to maintain the high profile of the case, Kate and Gerry McCann now believe it too. "I have to say that I think the very big likelihood is that she's already dead," Brunt says. "I think her parents acknowledge that that's the most likely outcome. Of course, as you would, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, they cling to the possibility that she is still alive."
Brunt accepts that the way that the story was handled by his and other media organisations was imperfect. "It's the view of a few of us that when we look back over the first two or three weeks of the coverage we were in some ways over-sympathetic. We kind of adopted the tone and the language that the family did. I think we perhaps lost our objectivity a bit, we became a bit too subjective about the story."
The message of hope that was broadcast contradicted what Brunt's police sources had told him from the outset. "Ever since day one, when I spoke to cop contacts and others who had been involved in this kind of story, they said 'Just look at the statistics'. Most children who disappear in these circumstances are victims of paedophiles who plan everything and then panic. The easy option for them is to destroy the only witness to their crime. It was clear to me from very early on that this was going to be the most likely outcome. I think journalists in general tended to shy away from making that point."
Nonetheless, he remains sore that he was pulled off the story before he was ready to come home. "I spent 10 days in Portugal," he says. "I thought there were still angles to the story to explore. But I came back because it was deemed we were spending a lot of money on it when there were other stories to cover." So he'd have liked to stay longer? "Yeah. I hadn't at that stage interviewed the parents. I came back at that point where we were beginning to think we should be a bit more honest about the likely outcome of this story. The parents kept saying, 'We look forward to the day she runs into our arms'. Who's to say that won't happen? But if viewers got the impression that's as likely as the very tragic end, then perhaps in some ways that's misleading." Since leaving Portugal he has flown to Morocco to interview the parents, and opened his report with the words: "Gradually, publicly, the McCanns are confronting the possibility that Madeleine is dead."
But when Brunt noted on his blog two weeks ago that he had been in Morocco - primarily to cover an unrelated story - the news prompted a flurry of requests from viewers, convinced he had a fresh lead in the search for Madeleine. They called on Head of the pack: Martin Brunt, crime correspondent for Sky News, has broken so many stories from his regular haunt outside New Scotland Yard in London that police officers sometimes complain he knows more than they do BEN GRAVILLE him to pressure Starbucks into placing posters of the toddler in branches worldwide, and to "please urge the British police to get more involved. Good luck!"
Despite his nickname, Brunt is obviously anxious not to be seen as merely a police mouthpiece. He says the service knows it has to be held to account, and that officers "respect you more if they don't see you as a patsy".
Even so, he regularly visits police forces to coach senior officers in handling the media. "I go along and play myself and give them a hard time so that when they do it for real they are forewarned and prepared."
He sees no contradiction in this. "Police officers, and sometimes very senior officers, do me big favours, and I think I should reciprocate - not in every way I can, but I have to be grown up about it. In the long term I think it does me good to engage with officers who know how to put their stories across. If I go and do a training day with police officers I get to know a lot more coppers than I would otherwise." Brunt says he is not giving away his secrets. But he acknowledges that "I suppose I am making it easier for them by showing them how I think they should respond in real press conferences."
(...)Brunt still has all the instincts of the hardened hack. He recently secured an exclusive interview with Robert Murat, a suspect in the McCann case. Murat was terrified of being re-arrested for speaking to the media, Brunt says. "He was happy for me to make notes, all the time unattributable, not for use, not to be used in any circumstances - which of course I went along with, thinking that at the end of the day I could probably persuade him." When Brunt was unable to coax Murat to go on camera, he faced a dilemma, though he sensed the suspect wanted his alibi claims heard. "I thought, 'Well, if I was a newspaper reporter, I've got a fantastic story. I've got to stitch him up to a degree." Brunt says that though Murat was initially upset he later thanked him for the way he had covered the story.
(...)MAN IN ACTION
"When we look back over the first two or three weeks of the coverage we were in some ways over-sympathetic. We kind of adopted the tone and the language that the family did. I think we perhaps lost our objectivity a bit, we became a bit too subjective about the story."