Gonçalo Amaral : “Even if Marta’s cadaver does not appear it’s still possible to go to trial and convict the suspects’’
The former Inspector of the Judiciary Police of Portugal Gonçalo Amaral coordinated during five months the case of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was removed from the investigation when his team gathered evidence that pointed to the involvement of the parents in the concealment of the corpse. He requested his early retirement in order to publish a book about the case, his experience in the disappearance of children and the close relationship he has with Spain (living in Southern Portugal), led him to follow up cases like the one of Marta or as it once was the one of Mari Luz. He believes that the Spanish police are working very well and considers that it was essential to have being carried out the reconstruction of the case. And he insists on recalling, even though that the opposite is generally believed, that the suspects of the case can be convicted although the body of the young Sevillian girl may never appear.
by Belén Rodrigo
photo courtesy of Patrícia de Melo Moreira/DN © All rights reserved
Have you followed the case of Martha?
It has not been followed thoroughly by the Portuguese press, but being in southern Portugal I am able to see the Spanish TV channels. I was in Madrid shortly after her disappearance, and I was able to follow what happened. The fact of being a teenager, albeit a minor, makes a difference as to other missing children cases. However the police work is identical to others until the hypothesis is placed on the suspect.
Now the problem is the appearance of the cadaver. There is a myth in society that without the body of a murder or of a disappearance nobody can be blamed. But it happens quite the contrary to what people may think, suspects can be convicted. What the Spanish police is doing is what we did with the Maddie case and what is done in other countries: to collect the biggest amount evidences and to have the investigation closed in terms of evidence, whether those are testimonial, confessions or materials. Thus, even without the corpse they may have enough evidence to bring the suspects to court and convict them. The Police did a reconstruction of the events, which is crucial for this type of investigations. That is what we tried to do with the McCanns and couldn't do it.
Do you believe that they may find the body of Marta?
It's very complicated, especially after all the rain since that time. In the case of Mari Luz they were very lucky.
Is it normal to find people who commit crimes by the contradiction of their statements?
We the police start almost from scratch, all we have is a missing person. The biggest difficult is to know whether the person has disappeared by his/her free will, in this case having 17 years old that could be very likely, or if it is by the intervention of a third party. Even in the case of Madeleine, it could also have occurred that the girl, herself, had left the house alone and then gone astray. After understanding the relationship of the group of family and of friends with the recent steps taken by the missing person, we'll have to listen to these people as witnesses and at the end of that day surely contradictions will be found. Therefore conclusions will be drawn and they'll point in a certain direction. Small details are very important.
So, for what the Police have said regarding the evidences they have and for the reconstitution of the facts, I have no doubt that they are working out everything in case the body does not appear. And I have no doubts they will go to trial and will be able to sentence him. It is difficult to investigate without a body, there's a need to present the evidences.We need to go a little further back to fit the pieces [like in a puzzle]. The reconstitution has another important effect. It's the reaction of the person when they are faced with a contradiction. When you talk you can concentrate better at lying, but when moving the lie can fail. It can lead to a confession and so they escaped.
Therefore, you consider as essential the reconstruction of the facts.
The reconstruction is not considered as a suspect's statement. The statements which are carried out during the legal proceedings, after, when the trial arrives, if the persons are silent they won't have so much value. However it is possible to fetch data from there since they are not statements, those are made before a judge or before a public prosecutor. Those have more value [legally] and are usually recorded and photographed. It is something that should be done as soon as possible and not to left to a later time. In the case of Madeleine we wanted to do it but there were various objections, since there was a lot of press behind [following - bloody paparazzi!] us at the time, we considered to do it afterwards, something that has never happened.
In the disappearance of Mari Luz her body ended up being equally thrown to the water. Do you believe that the same thing happened to Madeleine?
It's speculation. We were removed from the investigation in a phase where we were trying to understand the circumstances of the disappearance. And there was an understanding in regards to the death by the Portuguese police as well as the English. It was necessary to work well a series of data, like the fact that the car rented 23 days after the death had traces of blood, we needed to know whether they had access to other houses, or to a refrigerator where they could have kept the body. As the investigation we was cut off we were left without knowing what happened to the body. Nevertheless there is still a way to get to the Truth, and that goes through the parents.
When Mari Luz disappeared some people [mainly the British 'copy' n ' paste' journalists/editors from here on nicked as "fish 'n' chips"] linked the two cases, did the same thing happened to you?
No, never. And though I was out of the investigation to the Madeleine case, I was still working in Faro at the time and we collaborated with the Spanish police. They worked very well. Even if they had not found the body they would have arrested the murderer. And it was the first suspect singled out by Mari Luz's uncle. I followed the case but didn't connected it with the McCann couple, some people wanted to make a shared poster set, which was rejected by the family of Mari Luz. The cases were different, Mari Luz was in the street and Madeleine at home. Furthermore, the context in itself was different.
In these cases there is much talk of what should be done from the government. Do you believe that the correct steps are being taken?
It is very difficult to know what to do and even to what point can we hold the governments responsible. There is a child abduction alert which the McCanns wanted to be connected to, but it depends on the EU. We live in an area without borders [EU Schengen Agreement - Ireland and the United Kingdom opt out of Schengen's border control arrangements], and nobody who abducts a child travelling with him/her maintains the same image of the minor. That warning can pressure the kidnapper (if he exists) and this can lead to the killing of the victim.
I remember once in Marbella in a seminar where I spoke with Spanish colleagues to try to understand how the justice system worked, in terms of courts. In Spain there is a confusion that nobody understands. I believe that because of that pyramidal system which isn't possible to construct [up to now], it was never disclosed publicly the arrest warrant of the author of Mari Luz death who no one knew about. Even the police had no knowledge that that existed in a court. Portugal is smaller, so its size can help to be more organized in terms of courts.
Are you obsessed with the Madeleine case?
No, I'm not. My only concern is knowing the truth. But I have other things to think about. I am frustrated by the failure of not being able to continue the investigation and to have gone further.
Note: to situate those who didn't follow Marta del Castillo story in the Spanish media follow this link - Marta del Castillo Case: the Synopsis. All the inner blog links are useful to understand the purpose of the sentences. The image was requested as a favour, for the better reflection imagery of the article's tone, since the one in the original is just a poor photograph - please respect the artist/photographer's copyright and at least attribute the author's name as above.