Wednesday, 2 March 2011

FEAR AND LOATHING: THE SECRET HEROES.



By Vee8.

Most of us, at some time in our lives, have been grateful for the appearance of a good Samaritan. A kindly stranger who’s act of random benevolence helped us out of a tricky situation. I remember one particular occasion from my own life, many years ago when I was a technician in the Royal Air Force. Driving home for the weekend I was passing through Thetford Chase, a large and sparsely populated forested area, when I ran out of petrol. So keen was I to get home I had neglected to check my fuel gauge! I had a petrol can in the boot, but it was empty, so I had to face a long walk to the next town and a petrol station. It was only a few minutes into the long trudge when a car passed. Before I had even put out my thumb in the classic hitchhikers’ gesture he had already pulled over in front of me. “Out of gas?” he asked, pointing to the can in my hand. I nodded. “I have a full can in the boot if you like.” I offered to pay for the petrol but he seemed almost offended, telling me to just return the favour to someone else at the next opportunity. I never did get his name, but I have since always tried to remember to keep a full can of petrol in my boot.

Sometimes these Samaritans are not just selfless but actually brave to the point of heroic. Often we see headlines in the press like ‘Stranger pulls drowning child from dangerous tide’ or ‘Neighbours save family from burning house.’ On a bigger scale, when news cameramen cover a major disaster, such as a flood or earthquake, you will, more often than not, see not just the emergency services in frantic efforts to rescue survivors, but ordinary members of the public, covered in grime, sweat and sometimes blood, risking their own safety to pull victims from a hazardous situation. They do this not for fame, nor glory, or monetary reimbursement. Many of them shun the publicity. They do it simply because, well, it is the right thing to do. Perhaps that spark of human decency that most of us have within burns just that little more brightly within them, compelling them to do something more than just watch from the sidelines, or pass on by on the other side. Whenever we read or hear about these selfless, noble or heroic people we feel a sense of pride that there are those among us like that, perhaps thinking to ourselves, ‘Good on you.’

When Madeleine McCann was abducted in Portugal, on May 3rd, 2007, there was immediately a huge surge of public sympathy for her and her family. We all felt terribly sorry for them, watching their unfolding anguish, and we all prayed for a happy ending. Many, like myself, wished that somehow we could actually DO something, though perhaps not really knowing what we COULD do, for a family we didn’t actually know, so far away.

But a small group of the aforementioned class of people DID decide to do something, something more than just wring their hands in pity. They got together and formed a volunteer group, dedicated to finding ways to support the McCanns, by helping raise awareness of Madeleine, and doing whatever they could think of to work towards the goal of reuniting this torn family. Starting with just a few people, this group soon gained members from every walk of life, from all across the globe, such was the reach of the story of Madeleine’s abduction. All good and noble people, with the very best of intentions in their hearts.

IN ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES these people too would receive the public accolade they deserve, even if not directly to their face.

In any other circumstances. But the abduction of Madeleine McCann is not like other tragedies. You see, there are a tiny but highly vocal minority of people out there who’s spark of decency has been extinguished, who’s milk of human kindness has curdled, and turned sour. These people, instead of sympathy, felt only a hatred of the McCanns, and instead of a feeling of distant pride, felt only suspicion and distrust for their selfless helpers and supporters. Because, for reasons I will attempt to explain later, they believe that there is some sort of cover up going on, that the McCanns are not the innocent victims of a heinous crime but are, in fact guilty of, at least, covering up and perhaps even causing Madeleine’s death. And this minority also decided to act. Using their armchair detective skills derived from hours of watching ‘Crime Scene Miami’ or ‘Life On Mars’ they started investigating anyone who they decided was ‘In on it.’ They would hunt down and attack anyone who they could find who publicly supported Kate and Gerry.

I myself was an early victim. Not many days after the news of Madeleine’s abduction first broke I started leaving comments on the VirginMedia newspages. Every time a new update broke I was there, part of a new and burgeoning online community. But, foolish me, in my naivety I left my comments in my own name. Later, when I joined some of the forums set up in support of the McCanns I used the tag ‘Vee8’ one I have been using for years on all the hot rod and custom car forums I am a member of, including my own local club. But again I reckoned without the sleuthing abilities of those people who had by now become known as the anti-Madeleines. Because on my own clubs website my real name was in the personal details. It was no problem to put the two together. I had no idea of what was to follow. All my personal details, name, address, occupation, family members names, e-mail address, all was made public on one of the first, and now legendary, websites set up to actually persecute the McCanns, the 3arguidos forum. I admit that, at first, I was unaware of what was going on. It was difficult to believe such sites existed. But I soon found out when a friend tipped me off. She sent me a link. And it was all there. Warnings to stop supporting two child killers, threats that if I carried on I would receive a good kicking. Later I got e-mails, which I still have saved, accusing me of everything from causing an innocent man’s suicide, to being an actual paedophile. I was warned my car would be vandalised outside my house. And all this because I dared to publicly support two parents caught in a whirlwind of a nightmare.

It was much the same, if not even worse for the members of the group of volunteers. They too were hunted down and ‘Outed’ as the act became known. As if these good people had done something to be ashamed of. One of the early admin members had her place of work made public. Her employer received so many calls and e-mails the poor woman had no choice but to give up her role in the group or risk loosing her job. Other members received similar threats via e-mails as myself. Some of these so-called ‘Truth seekers’ even tried to infiltrate the group itself, in a vain attempt to undermine and discredit the organisation. Other, more well know public supporters, have suffered similar fates. One of Kate and Gerry’s chief financial benefactors, Brian Kennedy, has had the founder of the inappropriately named ‘Madeleine foundation, Tony Bennett, actually stalk him in his home and workplace, posting pictures of himself in Mr Kennedy’s garden. But what, or rather who, is the cause of all this trouble? Who saw fit to use these more gullible members of society in order to further cause the McCanns misery on top of that they already suffer?

Goncalo Amaral.

It is by now a well-known fact that Amaral headed up one of the worst police investigations into a hugely public crime in living memory. Seen throughout the world as incompetent, the investigation itself was deeply flawed right from the very first day, when he chose to sit at the table at his favourite restaurant, rather that attend the scene of a child abduction.

Human nature, being what it is, often makes it difficult for us to admit when we are wrong, to concede our mistakes, and to be fair to Amaral he is no different to most of us in that regard. Like perhaps many of us, he preferred to pass the blame, make excuses, and abdicate his responsibility for his failures. But his mistakes were SO big, SO blatant, SO hugely public, he had to come out with an equally enormous excuse. And he did! He blamed political interference from the British government! It is this insinuation, never once backed up by even a hint of proof, that is behind the attacks on the volunteers, the helpers and the supporters. Because, knowingly or not, he spawned a conspiracy theory that ranks right up there with faked moon landings, who really shot JFK and Presidential ordering of the 9/11 atrocity. And it is that baseless accusation that has begat the hounding, the stalking, intimidation, the relentless pressure and the death threats against the volunteers, the supporters and the helpers. Amaral’s lame and pathetic excuse has a lot to answer for.

Because of this, the volunteer group now has to tip-toe around, work silently, being oh so careful about revealing their identities, in effect, working with one hand tied behind their backs, for fear of provoking further retaliation from the anti-Madeleines. And all because they were so moved as to wish to help find a lost little girl. And yet, still they persevere. Still do what they can to help this shattered family, despite the risks. Why?

Well, because it’s the right thing to do.