Operation Grange - Counting the cost
Ben Thompson © 2014
The disappearance of Madeleine McCann has without doubt touched the hearts and minds of two nations. Never before has there been a case that has been so prominent in the public arena as this one, but without sounding heartless why has this case been given such prominence over others, and at what cost to the two countries involved?
On 30th August 2014 Mrs S Rhosier made a freedom of information request to the Home Office in London. The content of this letter requested details of the cost of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and also raised some valid points as to why the vast amount of money allocated to this case hadn't been evenly distributed to other cases. The example Mrs Rhosier gave was of teenager Mary Bastholm who disappeared in 1968. Mary was just 15 years old when she vanished, and although her body has never been found it is the belief of the police that she was abducted and murdered at the hands of notorious serial killer Fred West. This is the letter Mrs Rhosier sent:
Dear Home Office,
In 2011, your office authorised the Metropolitan Police to review the Madeleine McCann disappearance, and daily in the news we see updates of the searches carried out in Portugal, where UK police have no jurisdiction. The current cost of this has been reported in the media as exceeding £20m. Please confirm the actual costs thus far, including any costs that reimburse the Portuguese police for use of their manpower, resources and search equipment such as GPR, helicopters etc., and the ongoing costs of travel and overtime paid to UK investigating officers delegated to Operation Grange.
In 2011 new information came to light regarding the disappearance of Mary Bastholm in Gloucester; information which linked her disappearance to the activities of Fred West, and a request was made to carry out a small investigation using ground penetrating radar and side scanning sonar in a particular location where West was known to have worked. This new information caused great perturbation to the son of the person who owned the location at the time and the person reporting the new information was warned off.
Gloucester police did not take this seriously and when a complaint was made to the then Chief Constable Tony Melville, he refused to pursue the matter on the grounds of cost and incorrect information. A key corroborating document was destroyed by Gloucester Police and they refused to release photographic evidence of it from their files under a FOI request.
The information still remains valid and therefore I request to know what distinction you instruct the police to make when asked to investigate older cases and why there was no funding made available to carry out this search by Gloucester Police when the case of Fred West is far more notorious than that of Madeleine McCann. People in Gloucester still remember Mary Bastholm and until the new information is acted upon, there is a clear bias in the police handling of this matter.
Please indicate why funds are allocated to look for Madeleine McCann and not allocated to find the remains of Mary Bastholm under the as yet ignored new evidence, and why the evidence was deemed 'not in the public interest' when Fred West made such a disturbing impact on the close-knit Gloucester community.
Mrs S Rhosier
I have to agree with Mrs Rhosier, cases of missing children are a highly sensitive area, but surely there should be some level of equal attention and funds available to each individual case based upon it's merits. The following was the reply dated 22nd September 2014:
Freedom of Information request reference: 32767
Dear Mrs Rhosier,
Thank you for your e-mail of 30 August concerning decisions to approve historic UK police investigations and authorise funding. Your request has been handled as a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
You asked for the following information:
1. The actual costs thus far [of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann], including any costs that reimburse the Portuguese police for use of their manpower, resources and search equipment such as GPR, helicopters etc., and the ongoing costs of travel and overtime paid to UK investigating officers delegated to Operation Grange.
2. What distinction you [the Home Office] instruct the police to make when asked to investigate older cases and why there was no funding made available to carry out this search [for Mary Bastholm] by Gloucester Police when the case of Fred West is far more notorious than that of Madeline (sic) McCann.
3. Why funds are allocated to look for Madeleine McCann and not allocated to find the remains of Mary Bastholm under the as yet ignored new evidence, and why the evidence was deemed 'not in the public interest'.
Below are our responses.
1. The Home Office paid Leicestershire Constabulary a special grant payment of £525K in 2007/2008 and £221K in 2009/2010 for their work in liaising with the Portuguese police and co-ordinating UK policing involvement in this case. The Metropolitan Police received a special grant payment of £1.9m in 2011/2012, £2.8m in 2012/2013, and £2.6m in 2013/2014.
We have not yet received the costs for 2014/2015 but we expect them to be broadly in line with the costs of previous years.
The Home Office is provided with a breakdown of the costs by the Metropolitan Police and this has been set out in the attached Annex (FoI response Rhosier – McCann breakdown expenditure). We do not hold details on the costs of individual resources or specific search equipment.
The Home Office will continue to work closely with the Metropolitan Police to review and control the costs appropriately and to ensure that the investigation has the resources it requires to undertake its work effectively.
2. The Home Office does not instruct forces on whether to investigate crimes or not; the circumstances of each missing persons case will vary and it is for individual forces to make an operational assessment on how they pursue it. The decision for the police not to act was made solely by Gloucestershire Constabulary. Any questions you may have on the case of Mary Bastholm should therefore be addressed to the force itself. The Government takes very seriously all cases of missing children. Although most of these cases may not be in the public eye, unresolved missing children cases are never closed and they remain the responsibility of individual police forces until the child is found.
3. The Government believes it is right that it does all it can to support the search for Madeleine McCann. That is why the Home Secretary asked the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service to undertake a review of the case in May 2011. The Commissioner considered the request and on balance took the operational decision to bring its particular expertise to the case.
Special Grant funding may be available to police forces to help meet costs where necessary additional expenditure incurred would place unreasonable strain on the force budget and potentially negatively impact on their capacity to deliver normal policing. Once a claim for a Special Grant has been received, it is considered by officials and then referred to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for their views, in particular as to whether the operational response is appropriate and proportionate. As is the case in all such instances, regular review and close scrutiny of the on-going and forecast costs is undertaken to ensure expenditure from this budget is appropriate.
The Home Office therefore agreed to fund this work from a central Special Grant budget, subject to the Home Office and the MPS reviewing together the value and cost of the work at each stage. [...]
The following chart shows the breakdown of expenditure, totalling £7,332,389:
These figures don't include the estimated 4 million Euro spent by Britain's Portuguese counterparts, so the total expenditure we're looking at is more likely to be in the region of £11.5 million (est). Spread out over 7 years that's an average spend of £1.64 million per annum.
It could be argued that no price can be put on the life of a child, but if we are looking at other cases that haven't received anywhere near this sort of money, can we really agree that the amount spent above is anywhere near a level playing field for all missing children?
Let's not forget that the McCanns are directors of a limited company that is currently spending the grand sum of zero pounds on the search for their missing daughter, yet the McCanns spend money silencing those who question their version.
Going back to Mrs Rhosier's claim that a request was made to the Chief Constable of Gloucester Police, Tony Melville, to perform a simple investigation using ground penetrating radar, to try and find the remains of a 15 year old little girl who deserves as much as anyone else to be laid to rest properly, and for her family to have closure. How does this differ from the fruitless, and vastly expensive trip to Praia da Luz earlier this year?
Yet again we find ourselves in a situation whereby it's one rule for the McCanns, and another for the rest of the country.
For months now we have been promised breakthroughs in this case, and as things stand it would appear that a massive amount of money has been spent, yet we're still no closer to an end result.
The money being spent is paid by the taxpayer, isn't it high time that as that taxpayer we as a nation had the right to fair, and sensible spending, as well as be able to see signs of a thorough and just investigation, which surely involves looking at all the evidence, not just the areas that don't involve the McCanns.
Either do it right, or not at all.
FOI request: Decisions to approve historic UK police investigations and authorise funding
FoI response Rhosier – McCann breakdown expenditure - PDF
FoI response 32767 - PDF
Fred West wikipedia
Police rule out new dig to find missing Mary Bastholm
McCanns limited company aka Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Limited - McCann files