Ten years of uncertainty: The case of Madeleine McCann | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.05.2017
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Ten years of uncertainty: The case of Madeleine McCann

The disappearance of the British toddler remains one of the most sensational cases of a missing child. Here are seven key points in the unsolved investigation.

The disappearance

A "horrible marker of stolen time" is what Kate and Gerry McCann call May 3. On this day in 2007, their 3-year-old daughter, Madeleine, or Maddie, disappeared during a vacation in Portugal. The British couple had left their daughter and her 2-year-old twin brother and sister sleeping in a holiday apartment while they had dinner with friends in a restaurant just 55 meters (165 feet) away. At about 10 p.m., Kate McCann noticed that Maddie had gone missing. The twins were still sleeping in the rental unit.

The scene

The McCanns had spent their holiday in the beach resort Praia da Luz, on the Algrave coast. The investigation has not proved popular in the community, a frequent destination for British tourists. Residents have criticized the large-scale deployment of police forces during tourist season, for one example. In 2014 several dozen officers combed through the beach area with tracking dogs, metal detectors and dredges. The McCanns, too, have become unpopular with the locals and have even been heckled on recent visits.

Deutschland PK Kate und Gerry McCann Fall Maddie (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache)

Both of the McCanns are medical doctors

The investigations

A year after Maddie's disappearance, Portugal's police concluded their investigation having found no evidence of a crime. The McCanns did not give up and hired a team of former Scotland Yard investigators to continue the search. As prime minister in 2011, David Cameron ordered the case files reviewed. Five years after Maddie vanished, Scotland Yard itself called for resuming Britain's investigation. In 2013 Portuguese authorities, too, took up their inquiries again, but had not further success. Mark Rowley, Scotland Yard's assistant commissioner for specialist operations, recently stated that it could not be ruled out that Maddie is still alive. In March, the Home Office approved money for another six months of inquiry. Currently there are four officers involved in investigating several aspects of the case, according to Scotland Yard. British authorities have spent over 13 million euros ($14 million) on a decade of investigations.

The suspects

A few months into the investigation, Maddie's parents themselves were considered potential suspects in the case. Goncalo Amaral, who headed Portugal's inquiry until he was pulled off the case for criticizing British investigators, would publish a book in which he argues that Maddie's parents had attempted to cover up her death. Following a libel suit by the McCanns, Amaral was temporarily forced to stop publishing his assertions, but the former police officer has since won his appeal.

British authorities have expressed significant doubt over whether the McCanns had had any involvement in Maddie's disappearance and have investigated on the assumption of a kidnapping. A friend of the McCanns' claims to have seen a man carrying a child along the beach as they were having dinner on the night that Maddie disappeared. However, investigators have not been able to produce any serious suspects.

The media

The case played out over and over in the media. Kate McCann appeared on television begging her daughter's kidnappers to let Maddie go. Pictures of the blond girl covered the front pages of newspapers around the world. Millions watched when the US talk show icon Oprah Winfrey interviewed the McCanns two years after Maddie disappeared. However, when the the parents themselves were suspects, they were tried in the media, as well. In a recent post on the McCanns' Finde Madeleine website, Kate wrote that the 10th anniversary of their daughter's disappearance is "likely to be stressful and painful and more so given the rehashing of old 'stories,' misinformation, half-truths and downright lies which will be doing the rounds in the newspapers, social media and 'special edition' TV programmes."

The McCanns have sued several publications for libel - as have friends who were in Portugal with them when Maddie disappeared, and and even one named suspect, who received 600,000 pounds from 11 newspapers and an undisclosed settlement from the British broadcaster Sky News.

Vatikan Eltern der verschwundenen Madeleine suchen Trost bei Papst-Audienz (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Romano)

Pope Benedict meets the devout Catholics in a general audience

Supporters and critics

Celebrities rallied around the McCanns, with Harry Potter creator JK Rowling even donating a large sum of money to the family. Pope Benedict met the McCanns in a public audience only weeks after Maddie vanished. A donation fund opened by the family brought in almost 2 million pounds in the first year. But, only half a year into running the fund, the McCanns were criticized for siphoning money to make mortgage payments. Furthermore, they were bashed for using the money to hire expensive private investigators while hundreds of other children have gone missing with only a fraction of those funds dedicated to investigations.

Großbritannien Portugal vermisste Madeleine McCann Phantombild (picture-alliance/dpa/Teri Blythe)

British authorities think this is what Maddie could look like nowadays

The future

The McCanns haven't given up hope. In a recent interview with the BBC, they said they would continue to do whatever it takes to find their daughter.

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