And so, the tide of public sympathy for Gerry and Kate McCann is starting to ebb.  Hair from the decomposing body of their daughter has been discovered in the boot of the car they hired three weeks after her disappearance; traces of her blood on the lock.  It is all rather conditional, but it looks as they might have used it to dispose of her body.   

But how, in the name of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, can that be?  Kate is so fragile and beautiful, a tragic heroine for our time.  Gerry is strong and determined.  And they are doctors, and God fearing Catholics to boot.  It was so much easier for us to condemn the shambling figure of Dr Harold Shipman, hiding behind his beard as he administered a shot of narcotics to an elderly widow.  But the McCanns?   Surely not.  They are a decent couple.  Kate is soul in torment.  Gerry is struggling to stay strong.       They have a beautiful blonde family.  Our hearts go out to them. They are symbolic of all that is hopeful in a dark world. But inch by column inch, the doubts are beginning to stack up. 

Let’s for a moment just think the unthinkable.  Suppose Kate McCann had administered an overdose of sedatives.  Or worse; suppose she had lost her temper and shaken her to death.  Such events are quite possible.  Even the most patient of parents can feel desperate with the demands of infants and toddlers and Kate had three of them.   She would have yearned for a relaxing night out with friends without crying children to contend with.  Any mother would.  As a family doctor in a foreign country she would have brought a medical kit with her.  This might well have contained sedatives.  Even responsible doctors can be quite cavalier when treating their own families.  Infants are very sensitive to the sedatives that adults take. 

Suppose they had inadvertently caused the death of their beloved daughter. What would they do?  The McCann’s are trained to deal with life’s crises.  They would know that the Portuguese police would arrest them, split them up, take their twins away, keep them in prison for months before trial and then in all probability find them guilty of manslaughter or the Portuguese equivalent.  The prospect was devastating.  The life of one child had been lost.  Why make it three?   They would have to cover it up. 

Deception is a kind of theatre.   If the play is to convince the audience, the actors have become the roles they create – so much so that they become them.   If the McCanns are guilty, then their fiction would have been a blessed refuge,  a place of pity rather than condemnation.   Only by embracing this, could they hope to maintain their sanity. 

If you’re going to lie, lie well.  Live your life as if it were true.  Organise publicity, set up a search fund, contact experts, co-opt celebrities, get an audience with The Pope.  ‘Surely’, you cry, ‘they would not have done all that if they’d killed Madeleine themselves.   Not true.  ‘Surely they would!’  The McCann’s are highly intelligent doctors,  more intelligent, it would seem than the Portuguese police.  They take cool decisions about life and death.  They can devise complex strategies.  And let’s not forget this; the stakes for them were very high – no less than the lives of each other and of their twins.  It would have taken the inscrutable presence of Hercule Poirot to detect the truth.  

Unless the McCanns break down and confess or Madeleine is found, dead or alive,  we will probably never know the truth.   I hope we never do.  Would society be served by bringing Kate and Gerry to trial?   And if – and that is by no means certain – if they were found guilty, would anything be gained by sending them to prison?   Surely that would just compound one tragedy with another.  The McCanns will never escape the torment of what happened to Madeleine.  It will remain with them for the rest of their days.  So it would be wrong to condemn them for their gross deception in a fury of self righteousness.  There but for the grace of God …..