The Interpretation of Murder: Some Crimes Defy Analysis

EXCLUSIVE to mccannfiles.com

By Dr Martin Roberts
27 August 2009


In the opinion of BBC interviewer Anne Davies, "the facts can be changed for anyone." Ms Davies is clearly the kind of suggestible individual Jed Rubenfeld had in mind when describing a character named Banwell early on in his bestselling mystery, The Interpretation of Murder:

"Mr Banwell had mastered the great truth that truth itself, like buildings, can be manufactured."

Many things in life are indeed open to interpretation. 'One man's meat...' etc. Context is often called upon to reconcile ambiguity. The weight of expert opinion is brought to bear upon issues of legal uncertainty. And, in the wake of scientific advance, old tenets are re-assessed, occasionally having to forfeit their status in the light of more recent findings. True, we inhabit a world of uncertainty. Yet we depend, no less than did the ancients before us, on the stability of certain concepts; certitudes around which we organize our lives; facts, if you will, that cannot be changed for anyone: things falling to earth, action and reaction, night and day, are all issues that we hold immutable, and all embodied in the hour glass.

Even Anne Davies would surely not dispute the sublime sophistry of Omar Khayyam. 'The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, moves on.' 'Yesterday', 'Today' and 'Tomorrow' are coarse-grained units of time that, together with more finely tuned measures, afford a frame of reference against which to observe events - temporal facts, with calendars their incorruptible custodians.

May 3rd 2007 was not May 2nd nor was it May 4th. Like every other day of the year it had a specific, factual identity; an identity which, as the Rubaiyat reminds us, cannot be changed for anyone either. And on that day - that day alone, little Madeleine McCann disappeared - from view, from her parents' apartment, from Praia da Luz, Portugal, the face of the earth. To this day no one seems quite sure.

The child was last seen asleep in apartment 5A, where she had previously been left, and would soon be so again, by her father, shortly after 9.05 p.m. on the date in question. Some fifteen or twenty minutes later, while he was engaged in conversation at the foot of a flight of external stairs, a holiday companion of his witnessed an adult carrying, across the street ahead of her, what appeared to be a dormant child dressed in pyjamas not unlike those of Madeleine McCann. It was dark and the street lights were no more than adequate to their purpose. The father had his back turned to the incident and saw nothing. It was left therefore to his wife to discover their child missing, approximately three quarters of an hour later.

The distraught mother knew what had happened. She knew her daughter would not have walked out by herself. She knew that Madeleine had been abducted because of how things had been left in the bedroom, a conclusion confirmed by her husband subsequently. And when questioned by police the following day she even had the presence of mind to tell them of a fleeting conversation with her daughter at breakfast that previous morning, during which Madeleine had asked her mother why she had not come to her room 'when the twins were crying'. She thought it important to mention as it might have been evidence of a prowler, but, as she later stated, 'if Madeleine hadn't been abducted we'd never have thought of that comment again'. All in all, useful facts for the police to ponder: a sleeping child, abducted from her bed at night, virtually from under her parents' noses. That is what happened. Or did it?

It stands to reason that, several months later, Madeleine's disappearance having been publicly discussed by her parents on any number of occasions already by this time, the facts of the matter would remain as previously established. All those involved knew what had happened. Except that on September 17th that year, Kate McCann saw fit to denounce the known facts completely. They were, in Anne Davies words, 'changed', for anyone and everyone:

"I know that what happened is not due to the fact of us leaving the children asleep. I know it happened under other circumstances." (Source: Flash! magazine (Portugal)/The Daily Mail)

What happened was not, after all, due to the children having been left asleep. The circumstances, when it happened, were different. In what way? In that the parents were with their children, in which case abduction was entirely preventable, or that the children were not asleep? Kate McCann, it should be noted, did not say, 'due to the fact of us leaving the children alone', but 'leaving the children asleep.'

Night will always ease gradually into day, and vice versa, but, as far as human experience is concerned, if we are not asleep then we are awake. Madeleine McCann was abducted from her bed, where she was last seen, asleep, by her father not ten minutes earlier. That is the father's view, supported by a third-party witness; a view to which the mother is now diametrically opposed. She knows that what happened to Madeleine happened when the child was awake, in which case she could not have been abducted immediately after her father’s 9.05 return to the apartment.

In the apparently safe embrace of such a family oriented holiday resort as Praia da Luz, there was only a 'small window of opportunity', on May 3rd, for an abductor to seize his prey. That opportunity presented itself shortly after 9.05 p.m., we were told, after 'they had just seen Gerry had been in the apartment' and when the McCann children were asleep. But we have since been told, quite clearly, and by a first-hand source, that what happened to Madeleine happened while she was awake. Clearly, the opportunity for abduction had not yet presented itself. Something else must have happened therefore.

Is Anne Davies vindicated? Can facts be changed after all? If so then they were never facts in the first place. In the real world the title 'fact' is reserved for those demonstrations, events, states and observations that illustrate a dependable consistency. What Kate McCann thought she knew in May of 2007 is not what she knew in September of that year. Her facts, drawn from these periods, are mutually exclusive, like the constituents of a binary number, which are categorically 1 or 0, never something in-between. The one unassailable fact is that she failed completely to account for the 'Moving Finger.'

As Edward Fitzgerald's wonderfully evocative translation continues: "nor all thy Piety nor Wit shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

Anne Davies: "The facts can be changed for anyone"