With thanks to Paulo Reis
Thursday, 7 June 2018
Thursday, 7 June 2018
|"Daily Mail", 2005: "The police dog who earns more than the Chief Constable"|
Judy Bachrach is a highly respected American journalist, a contributing-editor to “Vanity Fair”, a magazine of popular culture, fashion, and current affairs published by Condé Nast in the United States. I met her in Praia da Luz, in 2007. She found my blog, “googling” about the Madeleine McCann case, before going there, we got in touch and had dinner together.
It was a long dinner and Maddie’s case was almost the only subject. I told her everything I knew and had already published, gave her some “insights” and tips and called her attention to the way British Media was reporting the case. She wrote a long story, “Unanswered Prayers”, where she quotes me and has some flattering words, saying that I wrote a blog about Madeleine, and “with considerable authority”, as I seemed to have “excellent contacts in law enforcement”.
I read the story, few weeks after it was published. I saw it, a few days ago, during a net search, and read it again. I don’t how, but there is a detail that I missed completely, when I read it for the first time. Judy Bachrach wrote that “after Madeleine vanished, local residents actually used household pets under the guidance of police with drug-sniffing dogs” to try to find Madeleine. She quotes Robert Tucker, who runs a New York security firm, as saying that he knows a lot about detective work but could not imagine “why the police would want anyone bringing their pets to assist.”
This is amazing, for me. I never heard absolutely nothing about this detail. It is just a question of common sense, right? Does it make any sense, for anybody, for a common citizen with no police training, to ask for pet dogs to help track and follow the scent of a child that disappeared? Pet dogs are just not able to do that, at all. So, if this is a absolute nonsense for any common citizen, how could it be considered by a trained policeman?
She mentions that those pet dogs were used “under the guidance of police with drug-sniffing dogs”. So, there were already at Praia da Luz some K2 units. And that’s truth, they were called and were there around 2:00 am, coming from their headquarter at Portimão. Later, at 4:00 am, more K2 units were requested by the GNR post commander. How is it possible that policemen from a K2 unit, with specific training about using dogs to search for people and drugs, could ask locals to bring their pet dogs to help?
It does not surprise me that somebody gave this kind of information to Judy Bachrach, as so many absurd things have been said and written about the case. What surprises me a little bit is that a seasoned journalist like her didn’t asked to herself the same questions I asked in the previous paragraphs, when she got that information.
The dogs brought from Portimão were patrol dogs also trained to track people and drugs. But around 5:00 am, the territorial group commander of GNR forces, with authority over Algarve area, after being briefed about the situation, called a specialized unit of sniffer-dogs, based at Queluz, in the outskirts of Lisbon. Those were dogs specifically trained only to follow the scent of missing or disappeared persons. He asked them to send their teams to Praia da Luz. All of this information is available, in English, in the site “McCann: PJ Files”.
From Lisbon to Praia da Luz it’s more than 300 kilometers, so they arrived early in the morning – three policemen with four sniffer-dogs – and started the searches immediately. I think everybody remembers that Eddie and Keela looked like pet dogs. Eddie is a English springer spaniel, for example. Sniffer-dogs are not only German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois, the breeds commonly used as patrol dogs. But they can also be used as tracking dogs, if they are trained for that. They are both included in the list of the the 10 dog breeds with the best sense of smell, and they are well placed in the ranking (fourth and sixth place) of that website specialized in dogs.
|GNR sniffer-dogs on the streets of Praia da Luz|
I don’t know what kind of dog breed the special unit from Queluz uses. But they may have other breed than the German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois. Just like Eddie and Keela, the “wonder dogs” that had their own page at the South Yorkshire Police website. It’s curious that, since long time ago, the link I posted to that page goes to a blank page (*), but the address still visible is the same that included a kind of “diary” about those famous dogs: https://www.southyorks.police.uk/kidzone/dogdiary/thisweek.php
Is it possible that the specialized K2 units, coming from Queluz, used the kind of breed that, like Eddie and Keela, are also common pet dogs? That someone saw those dogs with the police officers, made an absurd conclusion and gave that information to Judy Bachrach?
Anyway, “Unanswered Prayers” is a really good piece of journalism, very well-written, well researched, with a lot of facts, interviews, comments and, as any good journalist must do, asks a lot of questions about the case. I wrote this post also as a friendly message to Judy Bachrach. Everybody is at risk of making mistakes in their job. We, journalists, may be in more “danger” of doing it, due to several characteristics of our work, like editors screaming and shouting, because we didn’t finished yet to write our story, putting a lot of pressure over us.
I, myself, made two mistakes, while reporting about this case, since 2007 – and one of those mistakes was really big, when I trusted (without checking it with other sources..) a information given to me by a colleague I knew for more than 20 years, older than me, with much more experience as a journalist and good contacts in UK, where he worked for a couple of years, also as a journalist.
(*) A search in the website of South Yorkshire Police about “dogs”, “sniffer-dogs”, “Eddie”, “Keela”, as no results. The page about the dogs was deleted, following the violent reaction of Gerry McCann, after Eddie and Keela gave incriminating indications against the couple, when they were brought to Praia da Luz. At the same time, some stories published in British newspapers said things like the reliability of those sniffer-dogs was similar to the flipping of a coin.
Before she was used in the McCann case, Keela was the “star” of a story published by “Daily Mail”, in 2005: “The police dog who earns more than the Chief Constable”, praising the outstanding capacity of the dog “sniff out the smallest samples of human blood - even after items have been cleaned or washed many times.” Martin Grime, the handler of Eddie, in a statement that is in the DVD files of the investigation of Madeleine’s disappearance, says that the dogs have been used in around 200 cases and never gave a “false alert”.
|Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes with Keela|
Martin Grime is also quoted on a story from BBC, that mentions a specific case, in Jersey, when “police suspected human remains were buried on the site of a former children's home (…) the springer spaniel was part of the specialist team brought in to investigate. Jersey Police said the seven-year-old dog located parts of a child's body even though they were buried under several inches of concrete.”
“The Sun”, on September 5th 2007, started the campaign against Eddie and Keela, with a story that quoted a unnamed “expert” who told the newspaper that “the dogs can identify traces of blood, but it's crazy to draw major conclusions just from what they find. Any evidence they find should be used as a starting point. It's madness just to rely on the findings of the sniffer dogs”, the so-called and unidentified “expert” said. The headline of “The Sun” was crystal clear: “It’s crazy to rely on animals”. It’s curious, almost comic, that the same newspaper had a story, on December 2005, about Keela, with the headline: “UK's No1 Sherlock Bones” (not available online).
After that story, also on September 2007, “The Telegraph” (page not available online) had a different story. “Kate and Gerry McCann's legal team has contacted American lawyers over a case where key sniffer dog evidence was thrown out of court in the hope that it may help them fight any charges that they were involved in the killing of their daughter”. McCann lawyers Angus McBride and Michael Caplan “consulted the legal team of Eugene Zapata, 68, who is accused of murdering his estranged wife Jeanette in 1976. But a judge ruled last month that the evidence was no more reliable than ‘the flip of a coin’ and could not be put before a jury”, wrote the newspaper.
Gerry McCann, on the sole interview he gave to a Portuguese newspaper, the weekly “Expresso”, was also very aggressive towards the capacity of the “wonder dogs”. Answering a question about what the the fact the the dogs found “traces of blood in the apartment and in the car”, he claimed that “no blood was found” and said “the evidence is worthless without being corroborated by forensic information. And they were not”.
He mentioned also that “the fragility of these dogs has been proven in a study conducted in the USA, about a man accused of murder. They had ten rooms, and in each they placed four boxes with vegetables, bones, trash. Some had human remains. They stayed there ten hours. Eight hours after they took the boxes out came the dogs. And the dogs missed two-thirds of the attempts. Imagine reliability when these dogs test an apartment three months after a child disappears”, he concluded.
So, Eddie and Keela had, on September 2007, a really dog’s life: one day, they were the best sniffer-dogs in the world, next day, they were no more reliable as the flipping of a coin.