Maddy's mother photographed boat she believes snatched girl

Maddy's mother photographed boat she believes snatched girl
9 August 2009
The Express on Sunday
James Murray

Kate McCann went to see a boat she believes was used in the abduction of their daughter, the Sunday Express can reveal today. Just a few days after Madeleine was snatched from the family's holiday apartment, a family friend had a "strong vision" that the child was on a boat moored in a nearby marina. Kate went to Lagos marina, a few miles along the coast from Praia da Luz where her daughter vanished on May 3, 2007, and photographed the boat and the man on board, a hand-written note in police files reveals.

The note, headed "information from the family" and apparently from an officer with the Leicestershire Police as it was written on the force's notepaper, reads: "I spoke to Kate McCann on Tuesday 8th May 2007. "She told me that a friend of her aunt and uncle had a friend that had a strong vision that Madeleine was on a boat with a man in the marina in Lagos."

It reveals that the "person" arrived in Portugal and spoke to Kate, adding: "They have visited the marina and identified the boat." The officer spoke to a colleague who made some enquiries about the cruiser, which was registered to a Canadian national. Enquiries were also made on the police national computer.

The note goes on: "I spoke with Kate today and she has given me photographs of the boat. "She has also given me photograph of a man who had been on the boat. "This is not the man that the woman saw in her vision. This matter is very important to her and she is very pleased that we are making enqs (enquiries) into the matter."

In the Portuguese police file there are pictures of the marina and the cruiser along with a letter from the marina to the registered owner saying that the six months' mooring contract would run out on April 8 of that year. Whether the astonishing enquiries made by Kate herself led anywhere is not clear but the episode shows how seriously she took the suggestion that her daughter was abducted by sea. In the early days of Madeleine's disappearance Portuguese detectives investigated the ownership and movements of many boats on the local coast, but don't appear to have come up with strong suspect.

However, with the feverish speculation that a woman with an Australian accent was apparently waiting for the delivery of a child in Barcelona 72 hours after Madeleine vanished has turned the spotlight back on the movement of boats in May 2007. Private detectives working for Kate and Gerry McCann are working on the theory that Madeleine was smuggled on to a boat, then spirited 800 miles along the coast to Barcelona for collection by the woman, who is said to bear a resemblance to Victoria Beckham.

A British man had a conversation with the woman outside a restaurant 72 hours after Maddie, then three, was taken. Tragically for Madeleine, these sporadic bouts of excitement have in the past failed to produce a direct lead to who actually took her and where she is now, dead or alive.

Unfortunately, the whole investigation was also compromised in the early days by the sheer incompetence of the Portuguese police investigation. From the outset officers allowed people to trample over the crime scene at the McCann's apartment.

And though Jane Tanner, one of the McCann's holiday companions, dubbed the Tapas Seven, said she saw a man carrying a child in his arms around the time Madeleine disappeared, it was left to the McCanns to get an artist to do a drawing months later instead of a professional, Scotland Yard e-fit.

Another key area woefully handled by the Portuguese was the vital accounting for all the known paedophiles in the area at the crucial time. Retired detectives David Edgar and Arthur Cowley are doing the extremely difficult job of trying to track the alibis of these people more than two years after the kidnap.

The last time there was such concentrated interest was when a newspaper discovered that British paedophile Raymond Hewlett had been in Portugal at the relevant time. Now dying from cancer, he has consistently denied any involvement.

Now the Madeleine hare is up and running in Australia. Television programmes have been urging millions of residents to track down the woman who allegedly had a snatched conversation with a British man who waited more than two years to contact the Madeleine investigators, apparently unaware that he may possess vital information.

Right from the beginning allegations have been bandied about to the detriment of the inquiry. The innocent and well meaning Robert Murat suffered months of suspicion when fingers were wrongly pointed at him and both Kate and Gerry McCann suffered when Portuguese police wrongly made them arguidos for a time.

As the searchlight turns on boat owners, those conducting the inquiry should be aware of the damage they could cause to people they regard as "persons of interest" to the inquiry.

In all likelihood the Australian woman seen at the bar in Barcelona will be tracked down, named, spoken to and then eliminated from the inquiry. Everyone can understand the despair felt by the McCanns, but their honourable and understandable quest for answers must be expertly focused to avoid another media frenzy which fails to provide what we all want: the discovery of Madeleine alive so she can return to her tormented family.

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