Martin Brunt is the Chief Crime Correspondent for SKY News. As such, he gets to cover all the major crime stories. And they don’t come much bigger than the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
One little known fact about Martin Brunt is that prior to Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in May 2007, he had for many years owned a villa in the village.
It’s a curious place, Praia da Luz.
Serial sex abuser of women, Sir Clement Freud, also had a villa over there. Senior Freemason, Past Grand Master Edward Smethurst, the McCanns’ co-ordinating lawyer, has been holidaying in the village for the past 18 years. Martin Smith, with his strange tales of strangers who didn’t look like a tourist passing him down a dark alley, part-owns an apartment there. How could he tell in a second or two in the dark whether the bloke ‘looked like a tourist’ or not?
Another long-term resident of Praia da Luz, of course, was the mysterious Robert Murat. And here’s where we begin to get really interested in Martin Brunt, because we have in the PJ files two recorded conversations between Martin Brunt and Robert Murat, both on the same day - 15 May 2007 - the day after Murat was made an arguido.
These conversations are curious for a number of reasons. First, Brunt, Robert Murat and Jenny Murat, his mother, all seem very chummy-chummy on the ’phone.
JENNY MURAT: Hello. Residence of Jenny Murat.
MARTIN BRUNT: Hello, Martin Brunt speaking.
JENNY MURAT: Hi dear.
Did they perhaps all know each other well before May 2007?
Most interest centres around exactly why Martin Brunt was offering the services of SKY News’s lawyers to Murat. What was the motive for that? Who at SKY News authorised Brunt to make such an offer to Murat?
Even more interest centres around this little exchange at the end of the first Brunt-Murat conversation:
ROBERT MURAT: I never have any problem with making a statement.
MARTIN BRUNT: OK
ROBERT MURAT: I have no problem whilst...Whilst I have the legal cover to do so. Because I don’t want to end up in prison....(sigh)
MARTIN BRUNT: That would be the last thing we want.
ROBERT MURAT: Firstly, for something I did not do and secondly for something that would break their contract rules...
MARTIN BRUNT: I understand that and I understand the sensitive nature of everything that we have been working with since we arrived here, so...
Loads of questions jump out from the above exchanges.
For a start, Brunt talks about ‘since we arrived here’. He does not use ‘I’, but ‘we’. Who else is he referring to? When did ‘they’ arrive? It seems that Brunt and SKY News were there from Day One – Friday 4 May.
Next question: WHAT exactly had they both been ‘working with’?
But perhaps still more interest centres around Murat’s mention of ‘a contract’. It is clear from the context that this ‘contract’ must have a very close connection to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and to his arrest.
“Break their contract rules”?
Whose contract rules exactly?
Could this be why Robert Murat spent so much time talking to his lawyer, Francisco Pagarete, after he suddenly flew over to Praia da Luz on Tuesday 1 May? Was Murat really - as he claimed - merely discussing his girlfriend Michaela’s divorce from Luis Antonia and the setting up of ‘Romigen’?
Maybe he was not talking to Pagarete about any of that. Maybe he was discussing a very important contract.
Could that contract have been to provide translation services after the abduction alarm was raised - and to find out all he could about the PJ investigation for certain people and if possible try to divert the PJ by coming up with a host of suggestions for lines of enquiry the PJ should pursue?
Because that’s exactly what he ended up doing - as discussed in Inspector Varanda’s complaint about Murat to Gonçalo Amaral.
Could that contract even have included moving the body of Madeleine McCann to a safe location? – after all, when first questioned by the PJ, Murat lied by not disclosing that he had visited a number of houses between Tuesday 1st and Thursday 3rd May. He had also clearly lied comprehensively about two meetings he attended on the Thursday, one several miles west of Praia da Luz, the other several miles east of Praia da Luz at the Palmeras Golf Club.
Did Brunt perhaps know the secret of this ‘contract’. It looks like he did. Using guarded language, no doubt aware that his call to Murat might be being recorded, he acknowledges that the ‘contract’ issue is ‘of a sensitive nature’.
If Brunt knew about Murat’s contract with whoever it was, that alone would qualify him as a rogue.
But in September 2014 Brunt did something that in many people’s eyes makes him one of the biggest rogues ever to support the McCanns’ cause.
Because at the beginning of that month, he undoubtedly triggered, and was thus partly responsible for, the suicide of a fierce critic of the McCanns on the internet - Brenda Leyland.
By way of background, Brenda Leyland was a lonely divorcee, living alone. She had become interested in the Madeleine McCann case. She tweeted her criticisms of them repeatedly, most days. And she frequently used strong words, with a fair amount of swearing.
On 31 August 2014, Brunt was sent by the editor of SKY News to ‘doorstep’ Brenda Leyland.
We can be pretty sure that this was a set-up, carefully orchestrated by the McCanns and their supporters, and by the top brass in the Metropolitan Police, who had been handed a dossier of allegedly cruel and libelous tweets against the McCanns, tweeted by a number of people. Gerry McCann had publicly demanded that the police and the CPS make an example of such people and lock them up. But this attempt to make an example of someone ended up - thanks mainly to Martin Brunt – in the humiliating public exposure of a lonely, vulnerable divorcee, and her suicide three days later.
As can be seen in this short clip:
…Brunt catches her by surprise, just as she’s about to drive off and meet a friend for lunch. It is an ambush. He then frightens the life out of her by telling her: “You’ve been reported to the police…Scotland Yard are investigating your Twitter account…”
Brunt knew everything. He knew about the dossier .He knew the police had been informed and were looking at it.
Brenda Leyland knew none of this. Suddenly, she was told, by Martin Brunt with a cameramen, that she is under a criminal investigation. And not just by a local police force, but by ‘Scotland Yard’.
She must have been terrified, and spent that lunch with her friend in a state of extreme anxiety.
Brunt lay in wait for her until she came back from lunch. Brenda Leyland invited him back into her house. She told him frankly that she was already feeling suicidal.
But it was the might of the Murdoch-owned SKY News machine against one lonely, defenceless woman.
Despite telling Brunt that she felt like committing suicide, Brunt and SKY News had their news story and they had their victim. The next day, Wednesday 1 September, they positively revelled, triumphantly, in showing the clip of Brunt ambushing Brenda Leyland every 15 minutes throughout the day. The McCann Team and Scotland Yard were no doubt overjoyed that at last they had outed a nasty troll, who perhaps might be sent to jail.
But it didn’t work out like that.
Three days later Brenda Leyland was found dead, alone, on the floor of a room at the Marriott Hotel, Enderby, just a mile from Leicestershire Police headquarters. The Coroner found that she had committed suicide by administering helium gas.
A few weeks later, Scotland Yard quietly and shamefacedly admitted that there was nothing in the dossier that amounted to a criminal offence.
So, thanks to Martin Brunt, SKY News, the McCanns and their friends, and the might of the Metropolitan Police, Brenda Leyland was - literally - frightened to death, for nothing.
Brenda Leyland paid the price. She paid with her life.
When eventually the McCans ‘Hall of Shame’ is constructed, surely a large portrait of Martin Brunt will be given pride of place.
It would be good to hang him up, anyway.