Friday, 10 December 2010

Poirot, Holmes and Plagiarism



Dr Amaral is often, inaccurately, quoted as saying in an interview that he thought Gerry ‘buried’ Madeleine’s body on the beach. In fact the operative word was hidden, and when pressed by the interviewer on whether, by that, he meant buried, he replied, We do not know.

A - I do not believe that the parents killed her.

Q - So, what are we talking about?

A - About an accident. The child could have fallen from a sofa, could have had an accident with Calpol (a sleeping solution). We never had access to the girl’s medical history, so we don’t know whether she was healthy or not. We can only speculate. There are many very strange details.

Update - The rest of the Interview, thanks to Mercedes from Hasta que Se Sepa La Verdade (Until the Truth is Known)

Q - What do you think that could have happened that night?

A - Both the British and Portuguese police, and even the prosecutor, who has already changed his mind, thought the same. We talked about death by others, not murder. In the room blood and cadaver odour was found just below a window where a sofa was. The father was talking to a friend just outside that window for a while. The girl did not have a a heavy sleep, that's what the parents said. Perhaps she heard her father and climbed to the sofa bellow the window. But the parents, for the girl not to go out,moved it away from the wall. Madeleine could have fallen.

Q - The girl falls from the sofa, dies with the blow and the parents find her.

A - The mother. It is the mother who finds the girl dead.

Q - But I am trying to think out an idea. How can a mother who has just found her daughter dead on the floor decides to hide the corpse? And how do you hide the corpse of a girl of nearly four years old so that no one can find it?

A – This is what we were investigating when I was dismissed from the case. I want to recall that there is an Irish man who claimed to have seen Gerry McCann with a girl in his arms, on his way towards the beach that same night. That testimony has been hidden. The dogs specialized in finding traces of blood and odour of cadaver, found both in the wall of the apartment and in the boot of the car that the McCann rented 23 days later.

Q - Did Gerry McCann bury his dead daughter on the beach and then unearth and put her in the boot after 23 days later?
 
A - We do not know. The Irish [witness] that I have told you about saw Gerry on television with a child in his arms arriving in the UK and stated that it was the same image they had seen back in May in Portugal. That man spent two days without sleeping when he realized what he had found, but nobody has talked about them. And what one of the Irish has said is logical, a man with a child in his arms toward the beach.
 It’s worth tracing the origin of this thesis of Amaral’s. In his book, Amaral narrates that he is called away from a crucial meeting in the early hours of the morning by his distraught wife. She has found the corpse of their pet dog, with a head injury. His wife is scared and pleads with him to withdraw from the investigation, but he reassures her. Meanwhile, Amaral must dispose of the corpse, and attempts to dig a hole to bury it. He finds the ground hard to dig, and the inspiration hits him how much ‘easier’ it would be to dispose of a body by hiding, rather than burying, it. Thus was formed the hypothesis of what Gerry is supposed to have done with the body of Madeleine.

Since Amaral doesn’t acknowledge it, we must assume that his inspiration owes nothing to the proper detective work of Mark Harrison. Unlike Amaral, Harrison never hypothesised that Madeleine had been hidden on the beach, by Gerry or anyone else.. Indeed, he didn’t even hypothesise that Madeleine had been hidden on the beach. But, working to the brief given to him by the Portuguese detectives coordinating the search (Amaral himself!) he explored the possibility that Madeleine might have been buried on the beach. He did this by taking a shovel and attempting to dig holes in several places. His conclusion (documented in the files) was that such a method of disposal was not feasible. However, he noted that on one of the areas of the beach where there are large, free-standing rocks with vegetation growing on them (sic) it would be possible to secrete the body of a small child.

Here is the relevant extract from the Harrison report:

Sub Surface Burial on P D Luz Beach

For Body Disposal Purposes The Beach Can Be Separated And
Discussed Into 6 Areas.

Figure 2.The boulders in the rock falls are too large
to man handle. Vegetative growth suggests rock
falls have been in situ for some time. The low energy
wave action would not move any of the boulders. It
is possible a small child could be secreted amongst
the rocks in natural voids.

Figure 3.The cliff edge at the base of the beach is at
an angle that inhibits soil removal. The shale re fills
any hole dug and is unsuitable to achieve a burial.

Figure4.At the base of the cliff are wave cuts where
the bedrock has been eroded by wave action. Here
sand can be easily dug but after a few centimetres
the digger reaches the bed rock, preventing a
successful burial.

Figure 5.The beach cusps or berms are mounds of
sand made by wind action. These cusps form at the
limit of the tides reach and would only be recovered
in storm conditions. Digging on the cusps is easy but to achieve as
more than a few centimetres depth is very difficult to
the fine sand granules refill the hole


Figure 6.The dark sand in this image shows the
intertidal area. Here digging and burial could
possibly be achieved although it would be through a
mixture of grave1 and water. However any burial
would be quickly exposed by wave action and
ultimately taken into the sea.


It’s clear that Amaral has taken the abstract musings of Harrison, formed from proper detective work, combined them with melodrama and corrupted them into an apparent ‘finding’: all of which brings us neatly to Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. In a stinging rebuke of Amaral’s work, the Portuguese prosecutors made the following remarks, taken from an article in The Telegraph::

"The investigators are well aware that their work is not exempt from imperfections," the prosecutors said.

"They worked with an enormous margin of error and they achieved very little in terms of conclusive results, especially with regards to the fate of the unfortunate child."

They went on to say that the disappearance of Madeleine was not a plot from a book, but a serious crime.

"This is not, unfortunately, a police story, a crime fit for the investigative mind of a Sherlock Holmes or a Hercule Poirot, guided by the illusion that the forces of law and justice always restore order."

The prosecutors said despite the huge manhunt and inquiry, little had been achieved.

"No element of proof whatsoever was found which allows us to form any lucid, sensible, serious and honest conclusion about the circumstances (of Madeleine's disappearance).

"Including, and most dramatically, establishing whether she is alive or dead, which seems more probable."
 
Mr Magalhaes defended the McCanns' decision to leave their children alone in the apartment on the night Madeleine vanished.

Thing is this. In Poirot or Holmes novels, the detecives’ hypotheses are set against the backcloth of skilfully woven narratives, with all manner of decoys and non-sequiturs expertly seen through by our hero, which leads inexorably to the conclusion that the right culprit was identified and brought to book. We come away from such novels with a satisfied feeling that justice has been done, wrong has been righted and the guilty have been nailed. And of course, we can’t be mistaken, because the whole episode is the work and imagination of the author; no real people involved at all and no incidents.

Somehow, the same feeling is not quite captured in the detective work of Goncalo Amaral.

By Honestbroker