Debbie Butler of The Madeleine Foundation puts McCann's spokesman Clarence Mitchell on the spot

By Tony Bennett, The Madeleine Foundation


The placards in the square attracted a considerable amount of attention. Many people glanced at the placards and then took a longer look. The placards said: “What really happened to Madeleine McCann?" in 3”-high lettering. Many buses stop at that square and people were looking at the placard. Relatively few walked up to us; we approached some of those who hovered a few yards away and we had many interesting discussions.

The members of the public we spoke to ranged from one lady who clearly thought we were from the ‘Find Madeleine’ organisation who stopped by to say: “I’ve followed this from the outset and I keep hoping she will be found”, to another very articulate and intelligent man who had "no doubt from Day One that Madeleine was dead and the parents were covering it up".

The conversations with the students outside the Oxford Union were usually much shorter, along the lines of: ‘What do you say happened to Madeleine?’, ‘Why are you here?’ ‘What’s your objection to this speaker?’ ‘Are you saying there’s a conspiracy?’

A common theme was: “We’ve not heard much about this case recently. Is there any new development?”. We explained that publicity had died down ever since the McCanns’ arguido status was dropped.

Debbie Butler’s turn to ask a question came after several of the students had asked questions. Clarence Mitchell would have recognised Debbie as she attended the LSE meeting on 30 January 2008 and had a face-to-face exchange with Mitchell at that meeting. The exchange was reported to me like this:

DB: Mr Mitchell, I wonder if you could clarriefy something for me. At various times you have said that your salary for working for the McCanns has been paid by the government, by an anonymous backer, by Brian Kennedy, and now in an article in The Independent last Sunday you said that the ‘helping to Find Madeleine Fund’ is paying part or all of your salary. What is the truth please?

CM: (jabs arm and points finger at Debbie): You’re from the Madeleine Foundation, aren’t you? Just what are you doing at this meeting?

DB: I’ve come here because we want truth and justice for Madeleine. We want answers about what really happened to her.

CM: And who gives you the right to ask how much I am paid? How much are you paid? Who do you work for?

DB: Well, I’m self-employed, I work for myself, I run my own business…

CM: I don’t have to say how much I am paid, nobody has to say how much they are paid

DB: Mr Mitchell, I didn’t ask you how much you were paid at all, I simply asked you who has been paying your salary…

CM: Well, I was working for the government when the news of Madeleine’s abduction broke. I was asked to go to Portugal to help with the media frenzy that was developing. In September I decided I wanted to work full-time to help the McCanns with their campaign so I left the government and Brian Kennedy stepped in to pay my salary. Some months ago Brian Kennedy withdrew from funding it and so the Helping to Find Madeleine Trust is now paying me to help continue the search for Madeleine. Now that’s the only question I’m taking from the Madeleine Foundation tonight. Someone else please...

Did you look for Maddie behind the sofa Clarence?

In fact another MF supporter sitting fairly close to Debbie did manage to ask a further question. He seemed rather paranoid when she asked the question and said: “Are you a member of the Maledeine Foundation too?” She correctly answered ‘No’ and went on to ask her question.

There was lively chat between the 5 MF members/supporters and students in the bar afterwards, with lots of questions about why MF was set up and what we were doing. These were not hostile. A few more booklets were given away to those who showed genuine interest. One lady teacher, a former Oxford graduate, said: “My goodness me, who is that man? If I was his employer, no way would I employ him!”

An overall impression we took from the day’s events is that people generally have lost interest in the Madeleine story since the McCanns were released from their suspect status and some people certainly need quite a lot of convincing that Madeleine was not abducted. Their starting point is that Madeleine was ‘kidnapped’ and if that idea has taken root it can be quite difficult to shift it. That of course is a measure of Clarence Mitchell’s success - and if he was tasked with maintaining the abduction story and using his influence to ensure that the McCanns were not charged with any offence, in those terms he has been successful.

The relatively low attendance at the meeting reinforces the suggstion that the question of why and how Madeleine 'disappeared' is no longer a subject of much interest; it may even be that after circulation of ojr leaflet, some students decided the meeting was definitely not for them. There were a number of competing events on what after all was a Friday evening when the week's work is done, and then there was the much bigger draw of American congressman Howard Dean earlier in the day.

We encountered some incredulity on the streets that there could be any other explanation for Madeleine’s disappearance, though after a few minutes’ chat and explanation about the cadaver dogs, the obvious contradictions and changes of story, the lack of evidence for an abductor etc. people were interested, wanted to know more and gladly took away our leaflets and/or a booklet.

A couple of other posters here on the Forrum were among the ‘group of 5’ at the meeting and they may add to what I’ve said.
3 arguidos: McCann spokesman faces Oxford Union protest (Oxford Mail)