Sunday, 6 February 2011

Disturbing parallels.

By Vee8

I came upon this article while tidying up the files on my computer last night. I vaguely remember saving this link, but have long since forgotten it, until now. It is both astounding and yet disturbing that the parallels between the two cases are so profound. Slapdash and shoddy gathering of forensic evidence, leading to defective conclusions, a so called ‘Expert witness’ who turned out to be anything but, a dubious element within the police force running a whispering campaign. And a willing accomplice in a press all too willing to print any salacious gossip and pass it off as fact without bothering, or worrying about checking sources, in order to sell copies. It’s all there. That Lindsey suffered so tragic an event in her life was bad enough: To suffer such a miscarriage of justice in it’s wake is totally deplorable. And yet there are those who would seek the same appalling injustice on Kate McCann. Have these people learned nothing? I can do no better than to reproduce the article in full. I suggest those who wish ill on the McCanns take careful heed, and read it in full. Then perhaps they can take the trouble to explain how a similar injustice would help Madeleine.


Last updated at 23:27 15 September 2007

This is a difficult time of year for me, bringing the kind of anniversary that any parent would dread.

It is just over 27 years since my baby daughter, Azaria, was snatched by a dingo - a wild dog - and carried away into the darkness of the Australian outback forever. The unusual circumstances, and the frenzied speculation that followed, made it one of the most notorious cases of a missing child the world has known, and it ended in the greatest miscarriage of justice Australia has ever seen.

Damned by police hostility, "forensic" discoveries and an increasingly hysterical public, I was jailed for murdering my own daughter, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. It is a state of affairs that Kate and Gerry McCann will recognise only too well. And, as they reluctantly refocus their lives from the search for Madeleine to the case for their defence, I can say with some confidence that they have good reason to be worried.

For the parallels with my own case, while not exact, are inescapable.

Once again we have newspapers and TV stations obsessed by a single story. I can see the same public-longing for a neat solution to a tragedy. There are detectives under huge pressure. And at the heart of it, there is a woman who has failed to play the emotive, feminine role scripted for her in this terrible soap opera. The rush to judgment seems irresistible; but if I have learned anything it is this: that, from our position in front of the TV screens or outspread newspapers, we ordinary members of the public do not - and cannot - know the truth of what occurred that May night in Praia da Luz.

It was August 1980 when I took that fateful August camping holiday at Ayers Rock in the Northern Territory with my then husband Michael, our two boys, Aidan, six, Reagan, four, and, the latest addition to our family, Azaria, aged just nine-and-a-half weeks. We were staying at the public campsite, in the shadow of the mountain. The simple, crucial facts are as follows. Azaria and Reagan were inside the tent asleep and I was outside, preparing food for Aidan. Three people heard Azaria cry. When I went to check, I saw a dingo emerge from the tent and disappear. I saw that Azaria was gone.

"How did it feel?" It is a question I have faced repeatedly, as you might imagine, and now, with the McCanns taking up airtime even here in Australia, I am being asked it once again. Anyone who has actually been through the loss of a child would know that it is a question not worth asking - because there is no answer that others could understand. There are no words I could use. It is indescribable.

Like the McCanns, I was accused of behaving irresponsibly. How could I leave my children - even momentarily - in a tent that was not zipped up? This, after all, was the outback. Yet we had been told it was safe at Ayers Rock, even though we later learned that there had been attacks around that time.

The result was the worst judgment call of my life.

I have little doubt that the McCanns feel the same way, even though the distance between their restaurant table and Madeleine's bed was shorter than the length of my back yard at home. What happened subsequently to destroy my life was nothing to do with a "judgment call", however, and everything to do with the circumstances that now threaten to drag down Kate and Gerry.

I understand the spectre of forensic evidence looms large for them. It was key to putting me behind bars in October 1982, and it is this aspect of my case that must be particularly alarming for the McCanns. They have been told there is "body fluid" and "DNA" in their rented car. I was told there was a lot of my child's blood in our car.
But in my case, at least, these findings were far from forensic. The "tests" had been incompetent. Rigorous analyses conducted later showed the "blood" to be no more than copper dust, spilt milkshake and a sound-deadening chemical that was over-sprayed from the wheel arch of the car. The most they found was a small patch of "nose excreta" with some blood attached. In other words, somebody had picked their nose and wiped it on the car seat.

In another strange echo, the McCanns' fate appears to be in the hands of scientists from England - just as mine was. When they flew to Darwin, to give evidence, their contribution proved both incompetent and fatal. One man claimed there was a small female handprint in blood on my baby's growsuit. That was just the dust and not even a handprint. The other man was the so called dingo expert from London who, it emerged, had never ever set eyes on a dingo.

Even when forensics are abused, people have a tendency to go along with it.

And by the time they find out that you were innocent all along, your reputation is ruined. I was spat at and abused in the street. I was continually followed by the media. For years, I was the most reviled woman in Australia. Looking back, perhaps the clearest comparison of all with the plight of the McCanns is the atmosphere of speculation and the terrible appetite for quick answers. There comes a point where the public is so worked up, it wants solutions even though there aren't any; the next instalment, when there isn't one.

There is only one truly solid fact out in the open, and that is that Madeleine has gone missing. Too many of our ideas about investigations come from TV programmes and novels. Within an hour of watching, viewers have seen all the forensic evidence and solved the crime. Better still, we have been led to feel we know the answer from early on. Real life is not like that. Sometimes, as in my case, it can take years of hard work to establish the truth for all to see. In the long run it cost us £2.3million in a country where you are supposedly innocent before being proved guilty.

Do I blame the media? It is hard to make a blanket judgment. A great many lies were printed. There were certainly cases where pictures of me were manipulated to make them look more sinister. But there were some journalists who behaved honourably and helped to clear my name.

The same cannot be said of some officers in the Northern Territory police force. Like Kate McCann, I was told, "if you just admit you did it, you can go home". I had the full interview treatment. In fact, I know the police started the rumour we were guilty in the first place. We can trace it back. The police don't normally use CB radio when they want to talk to each other. But they did that day. Within hours the rumours were all over the country. From what I have seen, it looks as if something similar may be happening once again.

There is a further disturbing aspect of these cases, which is a question of looks and temperament. I lost out on both counts. My face is severe in repose. I didn't look friendly. When I showed my emotions, it was edited out so the public thought me hard. Later I tried to hide my emotions because of the media pressure and the criticism. Some people think that Kate, too, is "not behaving right". People don't like it when a person is strong and does not show signs of hysteria. They say to themselves: "I'd break down if that were me, therefore she must be guilty." But these people are both doctors. If your GP was the hysterical type, would you want to go to see her? If you have ever had people hissing and booing you while you walk in front of the cameras, you too might try to keep your thoughts to yourself. You can't win. If you cry, you're being overdramatic. If you don't cry, you're a hard-faced bitch.

I want to make it clear that I do not know the McCanns and I do not know whether they are innocent or guilty. I am certain, however, that they do not deserve this level of vilification. It is as if we have run over the hour allotted for the "show" and the viewers are saying, "Where's the answer?" We're looking at it as if it were reality TV. Yet these people have to live their lives moment by painful moment. When the public atmosphere is like this, questions of justice or truth start to take second place.

I believe that the roots of our anxiety are deep. In particular, we need to feel that we can keep our children safe and to acknowledge to ourselves that we can't is to open ourselves to feelings of terror. But we must not get sucked in. None of us knows the truth because we weren't there. Nobody should be speculating. Nobody even knows if little Madeleine is dead. There is a trade in children, after all.

The huge shame of what's happening now is that if the police blame the parents, the public will stop looking for her. I have advised a number of families over the years and have been asked if I would consider helping the McCanns. My answer is that I would talk to anybody if I thought it would help. But in saying that, the only things that truly help are to say, "Hang in there" and to give them a hug. We must each carry our own cross, hard as it may be.

I am particularly concerned at suggestions that, such is the stress of the investigation, the McCanns might end up separated from their twins. But my own experience says this is the opposite of what should happen. My surviving children have come through it all now and I am convinced that the thing holding them together was having their parents around. They are involved. Even small children know what's going on. When we were at court and the children were looked after by my parents, seven-year-old Aidan would come in and turn on the TV himself, saying: "It's news time. I need to know what they're saying about Mummy." For the sanity of the McCanns and their twins, they ought to be together.

I had been in jail for more than three years when, in 1986, there was finally a breakthrough. The missing item of Azaria's clothing, a jacket, was found while police were looking for a missing British tourist. The following year, thanks to pressure from a local reporter, I was released from jail and - in an unprecedented move - a Royal Commission was established. The forensic tests were done again, correctly. After 14 months of hearings, Michael and I were cleared. We had to go back to court again to be formally exonerated, and yet again for compensation. Even today, no one has officially apologised.

Almost three decades on, I have a good life, even if it is very different from the one I might have expected. For a long while I was unemployable because of the publicity, as was my new husband, Rick. So, together, we now buy and renovate properties to earn a living. My children are well and in the coming months both Aidan, now 34, and my daughter Kahlia, born three years after Azaria died, are getting married. I'm in the middle of the preparations as I write. I think I am much the same person I was, although perhaps I have more empathy than in the past.

I am convinced that we cannot make judgments about other people without walking in their shoes - with the same painful corns and irritating stones.

I never forget. It can never be truly over. The emptiness never diminishes. Azaria would be 27 now, I wonder what she might have been like, how her laugh would be, what woman she might have become.

I pray that Kate and Gerry McCann might still be spared this sadness.