1.Everyone shall possess the right to freely express and publicise his thoughts in words, images or by any other means, as well as the right to inform others, inform himself and be informed without hindrance or discrimination 2.Exercise of the said rights shall not be hindered or limited by any type or form of censorship Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, Article 37.º

McCann: Poll for British expatriates resident in the Algarve

One year on
A survey conducted Wednesday by The Portugal News among British expatriates resident in the Algarve has uncovered some surprising findings regarding the Madeleine McCann case.

1. Do you believe the Portuguese police, given the circumstances, handled investigations well into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann?
Yes = 67.33 %
No = 32.67 %

2. Do you believe Kate and Gerry McCann could have been involved in the disappearance of their daughter?
Yes = 46.53 %
No = 53.47 %

3. Do you think the British media has been fair to the Portuguese police in its reporting of the Madeleine McCann case?
Yes = 22.22 %
No = 77.78 %

A survey conducted Wednesday by The Portugal News among British expatriates resident in the Algarve has uncovered some surprising findings. While most believed that Portuguese police had handled the case well, little more than half felt Kate and Gerry McCann had in no way been responsible for their daughter’s disappearance. However, almost four in five respondents were critical of the British media, believing they had been unfair to the Portuguese police in their reporting of the case.

This Saturday marks a year since the mysterious disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Much has changed since May 3rd 2007, most notably, the shift away from the village of Praia da Luz.

Not so long ago, posters of Madeleine could be seen in every shop window in this otherwise sleepy little village. Finding one now is almost like a treasure hunt, in what is perhaps the clearest indication yet that the people of Praia da Luz want to move on from the tragedy involving what remains the essence of this story, the disappearance of a toddler days short of her fourth birthday.

International media, mostly from Britain, were expectedly back in the Algarve this week. Around a dozen British newspaper journalists and photographers have returned to familiar territory, after their lengthy stays here were abruptly ended in March, largely as a result of the £550,000 out-of-court settlement deal between the McCann family and the Express Group of Newspapers.

The media circus, though nowhere near that experienced throughout the summer of 2007, is set to remain in Praia da Luz for at least the next fortnight, which will see the celebration of Madeleine’s fifth birthday, and also mark a year since police emphatically swooped on a villa located fewer than a hundred metres from the apartment where Madeleine went missing. This police action resulted in Robert Murat, who lives in the house with his mother, being constituted the case’s first arguido, which by definition, means “a person of interest to the inquiry”, though “formal suspect” has become the widely accepted translation of a Portuguese word known by half of Britain.

The story shifted away from Portugal at the beginning of September, when Kate and Gerry McCann were sensationally declared arguidos by Portuguese police.

Television documentaries done since, such as the reputed BBC Panorama piece in November, and Wednesday’s marathon two-hour production for ITV, focused only minimal attention on Portugal.

In both, the McCanns were the unwilling stars (though some observers would disagree) and in the latter programme, fewer than three days were spent gathering footage at the site of Madeleine’s disappearance, which is a drop in the ocean when it is borne in mind filming started back in January.

In the documentary, the McCanns explain they had considered taking their children out to dinner with them the night Madeleine went missing.

They had contemplated visiting the Millennium restaurant, located about five hundred metres from their holiday apartment, but decided against this as their children were tired and they had no buggies, opting instead to dine at the nearby tapas bar.

Ironically, had they visited the Ocean Club resort this year, they would have been unable to dine there, as closing time has been brought forward to 6pm, and will only be extended to 7pm for the summer.

Madeleine, One Year On: Campaign For Change, showed the McCanns at their home in Rothley, Leicestershire, and accompanied them to Brussels and Washington, as they campaigned for an EU-wide alert system for missing children.

While family members have made mention of a police deal in the past, this was the first occasion that Kate indicates that she was offered a light sentence in exchange for confessing to her daughter’s accidental death.

She also attacks the Portuguese police for attempting to smear them, especially in what she says were deliberate leaks to the press to discredit them.

Kate and Gerry agreed to do the programme as it would promote their campaign to have an EU-alert system employed for missing children, but had no editorial control, except for telling the makers not to film twins, Sean and Amelie.

No payment was made to the McCanns, but a £10,000 donation was made to the Find Madeleine campaign fund.

In the meantime, Praia da Luz struggles to return to normality, though locals are adamant that the notoriety gained by the village is fast disappearing.

Luísa João, who works at the Praia da Luz Parish Council, told The Portugal News that the village’s recovery is complete.

“I believe Praia da Luz has recuperated from what happened last year, at least those working in tourism say things are looking good and figures point to a good year. The only thing that is keeping Luz from looking even better are the road works, which are not yet complete!

Comparing 2008 with last year, she believes things have actually improved. However, she believes the declaration of the parents as arguidos has helped the village regain its reputation as a tranquil and safe place for families: “There are already a lot of tourists about, but no longer is there a sense of fear like we felt last year, when parents would walk around literally carrying their children through fear of them disappearing, as everyone believed Madeleine had been kidnapped. Since all the mess came out and people started believing the family may have been involved, they are not as frightened”.

Sylvia Batista, an employee at the Ocean Club resort, told The Portugal News how, in her opinion and inside the resort, nothing much has changed since last year.

“It is still too early on in the season to say how things are going to go, but everyone is ready and looking forward to another good season”.

She reflected, “Of course Madeleine is not a forgotten topic, because the press never really left Praia da Luz, there is always someone about, but things calmed down and eventually everything returned to normal”.

On a wider scale, the chairman of Algarve Hotels and Resorts (AHETA) Eldérico Viegas, told The Portugal News on Wednesday that Madeleine’s disappearance was not necessarily associated with the Algarve as a whole.

“The Maddie case was awarded extensive coverage, but most people did not relate the case with the region. Last year was a very good year for tourism, with the number of tourists for the area almost doubling initial forecasted figures.

“This year demand for the region has dropped, but I don’t believe it is related to Madeleine, as there are many factors to consider, such as international economic difficulties,” said Mr Viegas.

A real estate agent who preferred to remain anonymous, said Madeleine’s disappearance has not affected local property sales, claiming people have not been put off investing in the area and they “realise what happened was not Luz’s fault”.

He also described the area as “safe”, justified by the fact “it does not even have its own police station”.

Last year, in an exclusive interview given to The Portugal News, the sole police spokesman the case has known admitted: “It is possible we will never find Madeleine”.

He also explained that “investigators could already have an idea as to what happened, but they need to prove their theories. That is what counts.

“We need to provide evidence. We can even be certain of what happened, but if we can’t supply the evidence to a court of law then what we believe is meaningless.”

Regarding the sniffer dogs sent over from the UK, Mr Sousa said he could not comment on what the two British dogs detected in the apartment.

However, later in the interview he explained that one of the dogs “Smells death in a very specific context. Very short term - within the first minutes or first hour. It would have been stupid on our part not to have used this dog.” Concerning police leaks, for which the police have been vehemently criticised, he explained: “They are undesirable. But it is difficult to establish who these ‘leaks’ are or where they are coming from. Information is probably not leaked on purpose. I believe sometimes things are said at an informal lunch after which a friend tells a friend who knows a journalist. But there’s no doubt, these leaks do complicate my job.”

When questioned over contradicting testimonies given by the so-called Tapas 9 during police questioning, he explained: “Contradictions in witness reports are normal. People are on holiday, relaxing and having a meal. The last thing on their minds is that something bad is about to happen.

When confronted with a disappearance, it is normal that different versions are given. Eye-witnesses vary in their credibility, some people are more observant than others. In a bank robbery, we could have ten descriptions of the robber. Eye-witness reports are fallible”.

“It could be that if I was at the table I could have not recalled anyone leaving the table. Only major discrepancies are questioned, such as when a witness says he never left the table and then says he left every ten minutes”.

While he said he was unaware of any pressure exerted by London on Lisbon for the Portuguese police to release more information, he did admit: “It does seem that the McCanns have good contacts back in Britain”.

His view, back in July of Kate and Gerry McCann? “I don’t even think of criticising the parents.

They have enough problems as it is, it cannot be at all easy to be living with this daily uncertainty.”

Source: Portugal News

Note: The News is Portugal's largest circulation English language newspaper.
Established for over 20 years, it is the only Portuguese newspaper on the net that covers all the major news about Portugal in the English language. Portugal News director is Mr. Paul-Allen Luckman.

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