Is there an end in sight to their pain?
The media’s interest in the Madeleine McCann abduction since 2007, continues unabated; it seems that the Public thirst on this sad story is not yet quenched. It now appears that the German Authorities are at the forefront of this case and I hope that we shall start to see an end to the terrible netherland for her parents that was created by Maddie’s abduction.
I remember when this story broke & within days, I was asked to comment on what had happened and the issues that arose from her disappearance; above all, I was asked if it was safe to travel to Portugal! What could I say about this terrible event and the obvious grief of her parents, when there was so much unknown about what happened that fateful evening? I decided that I had to simply offer my thoughts to her parents and talk in generic terms about the type of assistance the family would be receiving.
However, within a very short time, people were "theorising" as to what had happened, through Facebook and other forms of media. The commentary was frankly disgusting, offered by people who displayed a complete ignorance and a lack of compassion. I did the only thing I could do at the time, which was to gently and publicly call out those offering such thoughts, asking people to show some humanity.
At the time of Maddie’s abduction, I was holidaying in France and continued to offer comment where I could. On one of the days we headed to a local beach where initially heard a piercing cry and a call for help. I discovered that a French Mother was in a terrible state, recognising her personal horror that she had lost her little girl. Like others around me I joined in the search for her daughter and as we did so, the panic that ensued, rippled across the beach, with virtually everyone standing up, looking around, calling out her name. After 15 minutes, the little girl was found and reunited with her sobbing Mother.
It revealed that even the briefest of moments, when our attention lapses, it can deliver fear & panic and a condemnation of ourselves as parents.
I have experienced that same emotion on one of my own holidays to the Forest of Dean. I had simply turned my back, for just a few moments, and when I had turned around, our youngest child had disappeared. We searched and called out his name and as 30 anxious minutes passed during our frantic search, we found him playing with children nearby; I never turned my back again.
But Maddie’s story also reminded me at the time, of a family visit to the the United States. Our first stop was to New York City, travelling around with our young family visiting the sights. After a long day of sightseeing in the ‘Big Apple’, we decided to spend the late afternoon/early evening by the hotel's rooftop pool, shadowed by the twinkling lights of mid-town Manhattan and enclosed by the city’s skyscrapers.
At the time, our youngest was 5 months old and we sat by the pool watching our other children enjoying the pool and interacting with American children. My wife and I sat with our young child who was asleep on his Mother’s lap. As we sat there, taking in the surrounds and planning what we would go to see next, a woman approached us, slightly drunk, who warned us about children-snatchers who were apparently active in the City. She told us repeatedly that our blonde-haired blue-eyed little boy would be a target and that we would lose him if we weren't careful and that we would never see him again. It was bad enough to hear this once, but she repeated her claims several times, causing our own stress levels to rise. Fortunately her husband came across to find out what was happening and I calmly told him that she was upsetting the family and that I would like her to leave us alone; her husband duly took her away. Can you imagine what that felt like, the concern and terror and being 4,000 miles from home? I can tell you that from that point onwards, we not only ensured that our child was strapped to one of us when we went out, talking to our other children about never being out of sight, but we took the added precaution of blocking our various hotel rooms doors with a chair and made sure that windows were always closed at night. We travelled from New York to Hawaii but never dropped our guard after that rooftop encounter.
The moral of the story is that we don’t know what lurks about in our holiday destinations, but we are human, we make mistakes or small errors; that is the nature of parenthood
So in the media froth that will follow and I dare say some ignorent passions, I still say to all those armchair-warriors out there, believing that their every word and utterance is important; keep quiet. If you cannot be generous in spirit or compassionate & above all respectful to the McCann family, or indeed any family affected by crimes on their holidays, then you need to take a long hard look at yourselves, you are not Poirot; you cannot possibly understand local factors, issues nor indeed the frailty of the lives of individuals or families!
Maddie’s case also reminds me of the many people I have met over many years who have been affected by crime on their holidays, some of whom are still fighting for Justice, many years after the loss of a loved one or from suffering with rape, sexual assault, robbery or some terrible injury. I feel I need to say again that many many UK holidaymakers suffer from the consequences of criminal activity when they're on holiday. I've seen those affects, visited upon these dignified families, in all its towering grief, whilst they try to grapple with the poor responses from the Authorities, both UK and Foreign and in particular the UK Government.
So I say to you, think on these issues, think of the victims and survivors of holiday crimes, but in particular, think of the McCanns and the terrible strain that they have and will continue to live under; they deserve our support.
(This is the script/text for Frank's CreatingRipples™ Podcast - Travel & Crime: The case of Madeleine McCann. You can listen to Frank's Podcast here).