‘No one’s listening’ on Maddie

2012-08-04 00:00

A SOUTH African man is convinced he has solved one of the world’s most enduring mysteries — the 2007 disappearance of Maddie McCann.

Now all Stephen Birch needs is for the world to take him seriously. And to do that he needs Portuguese authorities to dig up a property he believes holds the remains of the missing English girl, who was nearly four when she vanished on May 3, 2007.

So far his efforts have been met with indifference at best, and in the case of Maddie’s mom Kate, scorn.

“There’s no credibility to it, I mean, who is this person at the end of the day?” Kate told a morning show on British TV channel ITV last month after the astonishing claims were made public.

But the sceptics have failed to deter Birch. Last week he upped the ante and sent a copy of his findings to Portugal’s attorney-general, insisting authorities authorise an excavation of Casa Liliana, a private property in Praia da Luz where Maddie and her family were on holiday when she disappeared.

The Weekend Witness was unable to get confirmation from the attorney general, but did see a courier report showing the dossier had been received on July 26 in Lisbon.

Local media, which have lapped up the story and put enormous pressure on officials to excavate, also quoted the attorney general’s office promising a response in a week.

Birch’s problem, however, is the fact that he used illegal means — by his own admission — to obtain parts of his “evidence”.

“I am thinking of going back to Portugal to be arrested,” Birch said, saying he was prepared to risk prosecution if it meant somehow forcing officials to endorse a dig.

Birch, a commercial realtor from Cape Town, spent more than a year of his life and R500 000 of his own money privately investigating the case.

This entailed reading thousands of pages from the case files, studying maps of the resort town and finally travelling to Portugal and hiring ground-penetrating radar to scan a location on the property.

Problematically, he entered the grounds without the permission of owner Jenny Murat, whose son Robert was named as the first official suspect or aguido in the case in 2007. He was cleared a year later.

The Murat property, about 130 m away from the McCann’s holiday apartment, was subjected to a comprehensive search by police, including their own use of a ground radar.

But Birch furnished the attorney-general with apparently strong evidence showing one location on the property that lay untouched for the duration of the police search.

“How can that be?” he asked in his report.

The area has since been paved over to create a secondary driveway, according to Birch, which is where he used his scanner.

Images obtained from the machine were examined by “experts” who, Birch says, were convinced they showed evidence of a cavity beneath the surface and the possible presence of remains.

The Weekend Witness asked four independent experts to analyse one scan supplied by Birch, without revealing where it came from.

All said there was insufficient data to come to a conclusion, adding that additional scans were needed to produce a more accurate interpretation of the image.

Birch has vowed to continue with his quest, even if it means petitioning the Portuguese parliament to order a dig. “The attorney-general is sitting on the document and stalling on a decision. I can’t believe diplomatic relations are more important than justice. If I have to, I’ll petition parliament.”

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