Thursday, 25 November 2010
WHERE WAS GONCALO?
On the evening of the 3rd of May, 2007, while Madeleine’s parents were beside themselves with fear and panic, and their friends, together with the staff and guests of the Ocean Club complex were frantically searching for Madeleine, there was one man who was conspicuous by his absence; that is Chief of police, Gonçalo Amaral, of the Portimão district PJ. When the news that an innocent child, daughter of a foreign national tourist, had gone missing on his patch, Amaral was having a meal in his local restaurant. We are sure that you, the reader, would agree that in this entire world there is nothing more precious than the life of a child. It would be natural to assume that when a young one disappears, presumed taken, the local police chief would leap into action, rush to the scene and make that innocent’s life his number one priority.
Not so Amaral.
No, he stayed right were he was, enjoying his wine and shrimps, too busy with the company of his friends to even bother leaving the restaurant, never mind think of attending the scene and taking charge like any other caring member of a police force sworn to protect the public would. Instead he issued a few vague instructions via his mobile to the effect that the child had probably just wandered off, and that the local GNR should go home, and return in the morning, to see if she had been found.
So much for ‘To serve and to protect.’
This attitude is in stark contrast to a similar case late in 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A. There, a five year old girl, Natalie Rose Flores, was snatched from outside her house on Christmas day.(1) As soon as it became obvious that Natalie had been snatched an Amber Alert went out throughout the United States of America and the Phoenix law enforcement swung into action, using a well rehearsed plan . The local Police Chief, though off duty at the time, turned out to make sure everything possible was being done to find the child. However, his presence was unnecessary, as his officers knew the drill and were already marching to the same beat. They knew the golden hours of finding the child unharmed would pass quickly and there wasn’t a moment to waste. Seven hours later, an officer spotted a vehicle and driver that resembled the description of the suspect and even though the license plate differed from reports he wasn’t taking any chances and gave chase. The little girl Natalie was recovered alive and well. And this Police Chief turned out, despite being off duty, because he wanted to be a part of the rescue operation.
It was this seemingly callous indifference by Amaral to the case of a missing four year old girl that first aroused our suspicions, not just of Amaral, but the whole handling of the case. It led us to start asking questions with regard to the whole way this case was handled. Little did we know back then just how extensive that list of questions would eventually be. To us the biggest initial question was simply; Why did Amaral stay in the resturant? Was it simply sheer laziness? An indifference brought on by a cynical “Seen it all before” attitude? The lure of the wine and food proving too strong?
It wasn’t long before we learned that Mr Amaral’s specific task is the overall co-ordination of the case. It was his job to ensure the very basic tasks, things that should have been taken for granted, were properly carried out right at the start. Borders should have been alerted, airports warned that a child had gone missing, the port and harbour authorities put on notice. Yet it was more than eighteen hours before the borders were closed.
They might just as well have not bothered.
The abductor, if he took Madeleine overland, would have been long gone. Why did it take so long to carry out this most basic of requirements? Sloppiness? Or lack of a clue as to what to do? But, most staggeringly of all, not only did Amaral fail to do any of this, he even failed to ensure apartment 5a was properly and forensically secured as a crime scene!(2) The apartment quickly descended into a circus, with the parents and friends, staff and guests running in and out, trampling any potential evidence underfoot. Even the local GNR police were seen to be standing around, dropping cigarette ash on the floor! And why? Because the man whose job it was to co-ordinate things was still back at the resturant.
It was to be almost three months later, after several other families had hired the apartment, that Amaral, belatedly, decided it might be a good idea to make the apartment a crime scene.(3) We want to know why it took so long, why did he wait till the apartment had been let, cleaned and let again, before thinking it might be worth his while to actually see if any evidence could be found? Had he ever considered the probability that if there were any incriminating evidence left behind by the abductor it would by now be so degraded as to be utterly worthless? It is this unbelievable catalogue of errors, far too many to be simply incompetence, that has led us to ask more questions, to search deeper, to find out why Amaral failed this little girl so badly.