The Portuguese police officer, who suspected the parents, saw himself removed from the investigation into the disappearance of the little English girl. A sanction he finds hard to stomach.
A portrait of Gonçalo Amaral by Marie Piquemal with photo by Edouard Caupeil - published today by "Libération."
No case has ever disturbed his sleep. Not even the mysterious disappearance of little Maddie, still missing after two years. At the time he was an inspector of police at Portimao, in the south of Portugal, a few kilometres from the seaside resort of Praia da Luz where the McCann family were on holiday. When the little three-year-old girl disappeared into thin air on the night of May 3rd 2007,Gonçalo Amaral found himself in the front line, responsible for the search operations, propelled onto the covers of magazines, next to the pretty little face of the missing child.
The image of the pretty little blonde girl and her soft toy went round the world. The media coverage, on an unprecedented scale, was cleverly orchestrated by the parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, and their press officer, engaged from the word go.
In this whirlwind of emotions and images, commissioner Amaral quickly emerged as a key figure in the drama, a controversial figure. From the start, the British tabloids rambled on about his paunchy physique, his flashy Prada glasses, his penchant for alcohol and afternoon naps.
When the cop began to suspect the parents of "simulating an abduction," and, "concealing the body," the press let rip. We meet him two years later, in a Paris hotel, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. He has changed. Less belly and less hair. He has also shaved off his moustache, worthy of a St Tropez gendarme. Looking restricted in his suit and tie, eyes a bit wild beneath his bushy eyebrows, he seems jaded, foggy from the two to four packs of Marlboro he smokes each day. "The Maddie case has changed him. He has become sad," says his wife Sofia, who never lets him out of her sight.
Enthusiasm for two. Amaral is in Paris for the release of his book in France, which has sold 180,00 copies in Portugal. Since the Maddie case, he has left the police. On October 2nd 2007, after five months with no news of the little English girl, he was thrown off the investigation by his boss. Upset, he took early retirement at age 48. "I wasn't withdrawn from the case for incompetence, but for one moment of letting myself go," he insists. Meaning for having criticised the British police, accusing them of being manipulated by the McCann clan. The Portuguese police right away annoyed the McCann family. Lacking professionalism, some were to say, with Anglo-Saxon arrogance. Different methods of working others would come back with. Between the two sides, the gap widens, lack of understanding and bitterness taking precedence over the exchange. The practice of secrecy surrounding the Portuguese investigation clashes with the excessive media coverage orchestrated by the English. Commissioner Amaral stands his ground: "Why take the risk of publishing the photo of that child from the beginning, to the whole world? That's going to panic any kidnapper who could kill the child.
We need to work in silence, at least to begin with." Misunderstanding then becomes trench warfare when, the summer following the disappearance, the Portuguese investigators put forward the hypothesis of a simulation. And if the parents were responsible? They officially suspect the McCanns, by placing them under the specific status of arguidos (official suspects): inflamed, British public opinion does not accept it. They say it's an outrage.
It's too much. Commissioner Amaral snaps. Today, he explains himself. This is his theory, rough and ready: the parents are responsible for the death of their daughter.
Domestic accident, abuse or murder. Whatever. "The politically correct theory of abduction does not stand up," he states, "The child is dead." He sets out his proof around two seminal points. First of all, the traces of blood marked by the sniffer dogs in the bedroom of the holiday apartment and in the car rented by the McCanns more than 20 days after the child's disappearance.
"The analyses show that the blood partly corresponds to Madeleine McCann's DNA profile." Then, there are statistics. "Crimes against children, including sexual, are committed in 84% of cases by the parents." For him, no shadow of a doubt. We close the book as we opened it, with no certainty.
Why did this man write that book? Conviction or obsession? Belligerence or perseverance? Making loads of money through sensationalism? He sweeps aside the critics with a wave of his hand. "It's a question of values, of justice and truth." Now, the ex-cop wants the case to be reopened to, "find Maddie's body." And to restore the image of the Portuguese police.
His too. The ex-inspector was charged with making a false declaration in another case concerning a missing child, whose body has never been found. Leonor Cipriano, mother of Joana (aged 8) who was sentenced to sixteen years in prison, states that she confessed to the murder of her daughter after having been beaten by police officers under Amaral's command, whom he allegedly later covered for.
Without batting an eyelid, he sees this as another attempt to unsettle. Gonçalo Amaral is one of those people of steely intelligence, who surprises, intimidates and disconcerts. No room, however tiny, for compassion, emotion or any kind of pretence. For him, Maddie's parents (and their friends) are guilty of having left their children alone in their bedroom, without supervision, while they were having dinner at a resort restaurant.
Without pity, he lets loose: "They should be punished for that. The duty of parents is to look after their children. Do you think that a three-year-old kid is safe, alone in a bedroom? Anything could happen to her: an accident with electricity or whatever, without even talking about abduction." Gonçalo Amaral himself has three daughters from two marriages. "He is a very relaxed father. With him, the children have their own way," his wife Sofia states. In his book, Amaral refers to his youngest daughter Inès, the same age as Maddie. "A brunette version."
Not a word, on the other hand, of his childhood in the north of Lisbon, with his five brothers and sisters, his mother at home and his father a workman. He doesn't relate either how he entered public service at the age of 14 as an ordinary police officer, "because at that time, it was possible."
A career cultivated through evening classes, to climb through the ranks to the post of coordinator of the Department of Criminal Investigation with the Portimao PJ. Apart from the Maddie case, he has dealt with other delicate cases, notably linked to drug trafficking. "That work was his life. Stopping was a huge wrench," his wife says. He tried hard to pick himself up through politics. He wanted to put himself up for the municipal elections in October 2009, for the Social Democrat Party (centre-right group). The president of the party refused, "for fear of mixing politics with the law." So, he has started on another book, about other police matters. There is still a page to turn.
June 1st 2009