- Miguel Villagran / Stringer
- Netflix’s “The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann” re-examined the facts of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance from Portugal in 2007.
- Documentarian Chris Smith said he wanted to understand why this case, in particular, captured the public’s attention the way that it did when many children regularly go missing and don’t receive the same kind of public attention.
- One theory put forward regarding Madeleine’s disappearance is the possibility that she was abducted as part of a child sex trafficking ring – and that she may still be alive.
- To date, no definitive evidence of her death has been found.
The Netflix series “The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann” may not offer new information on the highly publicized case, but the way in which documentarian Chris Smith highlights the case’s key facts makes it a fascinating, albeit horrifying, film to watch.
Smith told Newsweek, “We wanted to give the most comprehensive and objective look at all the factors surrounding her disappearance and the months and years that followed – who all the players were, the leads that were chased, the misinformation in the media etc. and we did so by interviewing as many people as we could that touched the case from all sides.”
Here are the biggest takeaways from “The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann,” the documentary that takes a detailed look at the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a 3-year-old who went missing while on holiday with her family in Portugal.
The documentary showed just how extensive and shocking the media coverage surrounding Madeleine’s disappearance was.
- Denis Doyle / Stringer
As exhaustive as coverage of McCann’s disappearance may have been all over the world, it’s difficult to fully appreciate the constant barrage of information that blanketed the UK in 2007.
A main focus of the Netflix documentary was to highlight the sheer volume of misinformation that circulated surrounding the case. From unsubstantiated allegations that the McCann parents had something to do with their child’s disappearance to online trolls making outrageous claims, the information available to the public at the time was both overwhelming and, often, untrue.
According to the BBC, newspaper editors of British publications reported being able to sell around 30,000 extra copies of a given issue just by putting Madeleine’s face on its cover.
The documentary contrasted the press surrounding Madeleine’s disappearance with that of missing 11-year-old Portuguese boy Rui Pedro, whose disappearance received little coverage.
“I can assure you the money police spent on the Portuguese children is not even 1% of what they spent on Maddie,” former detective Paulo Pereira Cristovao said in the Netflix documentary.
Producer Emma Cooper told Newsweek that drawing attention to the plight of other missing children through the McCann case was part of the motivation behind this series.
She said, “Through Madeleine’s story, we were also able to point to the many missing children who are often not looked for in the world. As you can see in the series there are books of missing children – many of whom have been trafficked and are difficult to find.”
Witnesses said they saw a man carrying a blonde child about Madeleine’s age on the night of her disappearance.
According to Metropolitan Police e-fit images, the suspect was a white man in his mid-30s, with medium height and build, short brown hair, and a clean-shaven face. The two witnesses say the man was seen at about 10 p.m. and the child he carried was “possibly wearing pajamas.”
The documentary heavily explored the possibility that Madeleine was abducted as part of a sex trafficking ring.
The Netflix documentary focused heavily on the theory that 3-year-old Madeleine McCann was abducted and potentially sold into a trafficking ring.
The theory, according to the documentary, was deemed plausible because Portugal provides easy access to numerous countries so it would have been possible for traffickers to transport her.
One major proponent of the theory throughout the Netflix film is Jim Gamble, a senior child protection officer working on the investigation. In one episode, he further said there is no proof that the girl is dead and that technological advances could lead to her being found.
“Year on year DNA is getting better. Year on year other techniques, including facial recognition, are getting better. And as we use that technology to revisit and review that which we captured in the past, there’s every likelihood that something we already know will slip into position,” said Gamble.
Scotland Yards, the Metropolitan Police Service of London, has undergone an over-$15 million operation going through 30,500 pages of translated documents from Portuguese authorities and looking into the dark web where children are sold.
The findings of trained cadaver and blood-sniffing dogs lead to unsubstantiated allegations toward the McCann parents.
During the course of the initial 2007 Praia da Luz investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, Portuguese police brought two trained sniffer dogs to the scene to see what they could find.
A dog named Eddie had cadaver-scent training, while Keela had blood-scent training. Both dogs alerted to finding something a total of 13 times when investigating the car, apartment, and various items within the apartment – even though the car had been rented three weeks after Madeleine had disappeared.
Detectives then did forensic testing based on the specific places where the dogs alerted.
Botched translations between English forensic reports given to Portuguese authorities and information leaks to the press regarding what was found using forensic testing, however, led to unsubstantiated allegations from tabloids against the McCanns, implicating them in their daughter’s disappearance.
Two authors who appeared in this documentary said they believe that Madeleine was the victim of a planned abduction and that she is still alive.
Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, authors of “Looking For Madeleine,” were both interviewed in Smith’s documentary and both said they believe that there is no evidence that the McCann parents are involved with their child’s disappearance or that the child is dead.
Irish publication Her reported that the pair spoke about the documentary on Ireland AM, where Summers said, “It seems to me that common sense would dictate that the information we have does suggest that it was a planned abduction.”
Although none have been confirmed, the BBC reported that as of 2016, there have been reports of nearly 8,700 sightings of Madeleine McCann around the world.
British expat Robert Murat was labeled a suspect and, in the documentary, said he felt like he was being “set up.”
In the weeks following Madeleine’s disappearance, police in Portugal were eager to find a suspect. After a journalist said that a man named Robert Murat, a British expat living closeby to where Madeleine disappeared, was particularly interested in the case, police named Murat a suspect.
The Portuguese police proceeded to search his house and as Murat said, “They took everything and stuck me in a police car and off I went.”
The fact that no evidence was collected and Murat was never charged with a crime didn’t stop journalists from picking up on the story and spreading dramatized accounts of Murat’s relation to the case.
In the following years, Murat would go on to sue several newspapers for implying he was involved in the crime and potentially involved in a pedophile ring.
In 2008, he received more than $790,000 in damages and an apology from 11 British newspapers, according to Algarve Daily News.
The McCann parents ended up winning a libel lawsuit against the first lead detective on their case — but it got overturned on appeal.
Portuguese detective Gonçalo Amaral was the initial detective working on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Just three days after the case was initially closed in 2008, however, Amaral released a book titled “Truth of the Lie” on the case and the parents’ potential role in their daughter’s disappearance.
The McCanns charged him with libel because the book – and a later documentary in which he participated in for Portuguese television – claimed that Madeleine was dead and that her parents had hidden her body.
In 2015, Amaral had been ordered to pay nearly $566,000 to the McCanns. In 2016, however, the case was overturned on appeal – and in 2017, when the McCanns took the case to the Portuguese Supreme Court, the case was eventually dismissed.
The Metropolitan Police Service wants to continue investigating the case until at least March 2020.
- JOSE MANUEL RIBEIRO / Stringer