THE DISMISSAL OF THE HEAD OF AN INVESTIGATION: CONSPIRACY OR SUBMISSION?
From The Portuguese Marquis of Pombal to Lord Chatam of The British Government (1759) It is time to end it. If my predecessors were spineless enough to grant you everything you wanted, I will never accord to you any more than I owe you . This is my final decision and you will have to get used to it.
Manuel João Paulo Rocha, official and author born in Estombar on June 24th 1856, relates in his work “Monografia de Lagos – As Forcas Militares de Lagos nas Guerras da Restauracao e Peninsular e nas pugnas pela liberdade,” (Lagos Monograph – Military forces in the restoration and peninsular wars and in the struggle for freedom.) how a minister of the realm valiantly defended the interests of his country against foreign powers. This involved naval battles between an English fleet and a few French naval ships in Portuguese territorial waters between Lagos and the Cape of St Vincent (which in 1759 included the area of Vila da Luz). The Portuguese government, considering this affront an attack on its sovereignty, had immediately demanded explanations from the British government.
The attitude of those in power at that time contrasts with our present leadership. Nowadays, relations between independent and sovereign states must respect standards of democracy, which weren’t in force at that time. Besides, Portugal and Great Britain are now members of the European Union and have participated in the development of a constitutional treaty. The firing of the head of a criminal investigation is just a minor event in relations between nations: the man is a simple official who has to submit to the decisions of his superiors. This is no reason for hiding the grounds for this dismissal and its damaging effects on the progress of the investigation. This untimely removal seems to have been decided not because of incompetence, but for one moment of carelessness.
FROM COLLABORATION TO PANIC
From the beginning, the parents – perhaps because they doubted the competence of the Portuguese police – were set on having Leicestershire police – and not Scotland Yard – involved in the investigation. It is important to stress that the professionalism of the English police is not in question; actually a bonus for the investigation, their intervention on the ground did not conflict in any way with Portuguese national sovereignty. On the contrary, it lies within the framework of international cooperation between police forces. Faced with the globalisation of crime, that cooperation becomes essential. Portugal already works actively with other countries, whether at the level of justice, of the Public Ministry, of the juiciary police or the whole spectrum of police services. In the Algarve for example, every year, dozens even thousands of rogatory commissions, border controls, various transmissions of information are affected. Between May and September, the judiciary police – through the intermediary of the Portimão DIC, however tied up they were with the Madeleine case – actively collaborated with Spanish, English and French police forces on various cases (international trafficking of narcotics and money laundering, fraud, seizure of hundreds of kilos of cocaine) and affected a good many arrests. We are well aware of what international cooperation between police forces is about. It is based on reciprocity, trust and respect, especially when the investigation is led jointly by two countries, with foreign investigators on the ground.
During the couple’s interrogation, at the beginning of September, the two police forces defined a common strategy: to go foward with the search for evidence concerning the crimes of concealment of a corpse and simulation of abduction; actively pursue investigations to find the body; get to the bottom of the causes of death. We realised very quickly that it was not going to be like that. After the interrogations and the McCanns’ return to England, the British police lost interest in the case, giving the impression that their work was finished. We were left to pursue the investigation alone. It would seem that the reasons for their presence in our country were linked more to the McCann couple than to Madeleine. The child disappeared in Portugal, not in Great Britain. For what reasons did they depart immediately after the McCanns? A very hard, yet crucial question to answer.
AN ASTONISHING SHIFT
After the Moroccan lead fizzled out, new elements to the investigation, sometimes brought by the McCanns themselves, continued to feed the theory of abduction, while the British police knew perfectly well we needed to be looking for a body.
On the last weekend in September, I decide to leave Portimão to go to my virtually abandoned house in the Algarvian east. Inès, my four-year-old daughter, goes with me. She loves the countryside, being in touch with nature. If she is asked which she prefers, living with her grand-parents in Faro or with her mother in Portimão, the answer is immediate: with my daddy. Not so much because of her father as attachment to the house where she was born. Here we are then, on the way to her paradise. We stop on the way to eat, and arrive at our destination late in the evening. After finding her toys, she falls asleep very quickly in her canopied bed. The sun is barely up when she is already about, ready to visit our neighbours, a retired couple who have found a peaceful refuge here. Throughout the day, she goes back knocking on their door, even when they are out. She spends Saturday steeped in her own world and her games.
For my part, I stay in touch with the DIC in Portmão and the investigators in charge of the case. I listen to the news when, once again – things being as they are, this is becoming the norm – I am speechless: a member of the McCanns’ staff states that they are in possession of a report that invalidates the work of the EVRD and the CSI dogs: the absence of a body supposedly does not allow the results to be confirmed. Would that be the report from the experts at FSS? How did the McCanns get access to that confidential information? This is hardly reassuring and risks compromising the progress of the investigation.
This statement makes us think of the challenge thrown at the Portuguese police, “Find the body and prove that Madeleine is dead,” to which we could have replied with, “Show us Madeleine and prove that she is not dead.”
During the night of Saturday into Sunday, our dog does not stop barking. I go out but I see nothing and nobody that could get him so worked up. He then howls by the door. I don’t know what’s going on, but being on my own with Inès, I decide to stay close to her indoors and not let my anxiety show. The next day, I still don’t understand what could have upset the dog so much. Inès, anxious, wants at all costs to see the neighbours, but they haven’t returned.
On Monday August 1st, I go back to work at DIC in Portimão, where two pieces of news are waiting for me: officials at Buckingham Palace have received an email informing them that a little girl – Madeleine – has disappeared from a hotel complex situated….in Lisbon! The second was brought to us by an English tourist – Kate – on holiday in Praia da Luz: she allegedly saw a stranger hanging about near the Baptista supermarket in the vicinity of the Ocean Club.
This is where we’re at: reduced to receiving that type of tip-off and chasing a phantom, that of the imaginary abductor. This Monday gets off to a bad start, with its load of irritation and preoccupations.
BAD RESPONSE TO A JOURNALIST
In the evening, while driving, I receive an unidentified phone call, the last straw…A journalist asks me if I want to comment on the subject of the email. Whether due to the difficult day, the raging storm or the fact of driving through rain…I lose my cool. I reply, irritably, without thinking, that the message is of no interest and that it would be better for the English police to occupy themselves with the Portuguese investigation. Even as I am hanging up, I realise that I have not only made a blunder, but I have been unfair towards the majority of the British police who have helped us throughout these difficult months. I drive on, certain that I have triggered a diplomatic incident with predictable consequences: as soon as these simple words are made public, I risk not being able to continue to direct the Portimão Department of Criminal Investigation.
At last, I get home. It’s when I visit my neighbours that I finally understand the reason for my dog’s agitation the previous night. Their house has been burgled. The thieves left behind lots of valuable objects but snatched a briefcase containing personal documents. Deep down, I can’t help thinking that perhaps they mistook their target.
The next morning, the storm and the rain have still not let up. A bad sign…Accompanied by Guilhermino Encarnação, I have to go to Huelva, in Spain, to attend the commemorative ceremonies for national police day. Before meeting up with him, I see on the front page of the newspaper the phrase I came out with the night before, transformed into a long interview. When I meet Guilhermino, I let him know about my outburst. He immediately tries to contact the national director to explain to him what happened, but can’t get hold of him.
We arrive at Huelva Cathedral in time to hear the homily from the bishop of the diocese, dedicated to – this is no coincidence – the role of the police and the protection of children. A choir starts singing Charles Gounod’s Ave Maria. Finally a moment of respite in the middle of the storm raging outside. We then go on to the Iberian-American Forum at La Rabida, close to the convent of the same name. It is in this monastry that Christopher Columbus stayed, waiting for financial backing from the Catholic Queen Isabelle before undertaking his voyage of discovery to the New World.
On the way, Guilhermino receives a phone call from the public prosecutor, from then on responsible for the direction of the investigation. Having taken part the night before in a broadcast by a British television channel, where he was questioned about the lack of professionalism by the Portuguese police, he is calling to assure us of his support. Knowing our work pretty well, he is outraged by the injustice of such words and hints that, much to the contrary, we would deserve praise and thanks.
THE DISMISSAL: END OF A CAMPAIGN OF DEFAMATION AND INSULTS.
At the Forum, where we attend the ceremony presided over by the government representative for the province of Huelva, I meet some friends and acquintances. It is shortly after 2pm, in the middle of lunch, that I receive the news. The National Director has sent a fax to the Portimão DIC: in it, he stipulates the end of my assignment and requests my return to Faro. Today, October 2nd, is my 48th birthday; this is not the present I wanted, but one that I was expecting. Basically, this brings to an end a campaign of defamation and insults that I have been the target of since the start of the case, the whole thing orchestrated and amplified by the British media. The strategy is simple: call into question the investigation and those who lead it and, at the same time, present Portugal as a Third-World country with a legal system and police force worthy of the Middle Ages.
According to a British correspondent, the Prime Minister personally called Stuart Prior to ask for confirmation of my dismissal. Why would the head of the British government be interested in a lowly Portuguese official? We refuse to believe the rumours going around, according to which the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon was dependent on my dismissal. Rumours, of course, nothing more. I cannot help but think that for the first time in its history, the judiciary police has dismissed a simple official from his post because of external pressure. Those wise words addressed by the Marquis of Pombal to his English ally in the year of Our Lord 1759 seem far removed: “I will never accord to you any more than I owe you.”