In Defence Of The McCanns: Please Let's Stop Demonising These Parents

13/05/2011 17:04 | Updated 22 May 2015
In defence of the McCanns: Let's stop demonising this couplePA

Four years after their daughter Madeleine went missing while on a family holiday in Portugal, Kate and Gerry McCann are back in the glare of the media spotlight - this time promoting their book, simply titled Madeleine.

Published on Madeleine's eighth birthday, the book is the McCanns' account of the disappearance of their daughter, and will fund their continued search for her. Kate said: "Every penny we raise through its sales will be spent on our search for Madeleine. Nothing is more important to us than finding our little girl."

If you've seen the ensuing headlines - like The Sun's world exclusive 'I couldn't make love to Gerry' - then you might be forgiven for coming to some crass conclusions about the McCanns. I did wonder at the wisdom of telling the world about the loss of your libido in the wake of the loss of your child - but reading beyond the attention-grabbing front-page to Kate's own words made me think again.

"The statistics show that most marriages subjected to such traumatic experiences break down," Kate writes. "It would be a lie to claim that everything has been plain sailing. No relationship, however strong, can emerge unscathed from what is probably the most painful and terrifying ordeal any parent could suffer." In my view the fact that the McCanns are still together in the face of such bleak odds is testament to their courage and character.

And anyone who heard Kate being interviewed for BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour this morning would have to have a heart of stone to feel anything other than respect and compassion for her.

Before anyone takes me to task over the fact that Kate and Gerry left their children unattended while they ate dinner at a tapas restaurant with their friends - please save your breath. I've read enough vile comments and tweets today to last me a lifetime. What sickens me isn't that the McCanns saw fit to leave their children alone but that some think that justifies ripping into them with vicious, hate-filled, virtual condemnation.


'They had it coming' is the gist of one such tweet. Really? Does any loving parent deserve the lifelong agony of living without their child, and the gut-wrenching regret of knowing that, in their own words, they weren't there to protect her?


Writing in today's Telegraph, Allison Pearson defends the McCanns from such vitriol : "Is it that human beings come to hate what we fear most? The McCanns were just like us, holidaying like us, doing their best for their kids like us, jumping into the freezing swimming pool with Madeleine the minute they arrived at the hotel because she couldn't wait to get in. Just like us. But the family found themselves in a horror film with no final credits to release them from the dark, and it was too much to bear. So they had to be demonised, so we could be distanced from the pain. There, there, don't worry; see, they're really not like us at all."

What most provokes my ire is the moral outrage directed at the McCanns from other parents. I hope the view from up on the moral high ground is worthwhile - it should be enjoyed while it lasts because it's notoriously shaky ground.

I once used a hotel listening service so I could join friends for dinner while my children slept. It was a stomach-churning experience and one that I don't recommend and won't repeat - but I don't believe leaving your child in the care of a holiday resort's official babysitter is much less reckless. In fact I'm inclined to agree with Gerry McCann that having dinner in your garden while your children sleep upstairs isn't so very different from what the McCanns did in an ostensibly family-friendly holiday resort.

Can any parent hold their hands up and say they've never acted recklessly or naively? Never left a child in the car while you dash inside a shop? Never even turned your back for a moment in a park and known that icy panic when you realise you can no longer see your child?

There's no justification for leaving a child unattended and none of us in our right minds would do so in the wake of Madeleine's disappearance but as Kate has said, it didn't cross their minds that their children might come to any harm.

Was that naive? Unquestionably, but no amount of naivety or even recklessness justifies the opportunistic snatching of a child from her bed in the middle of the night. That's not karma it's criminal and any disgust I feel is reserved for the perpetrator of that crime. And had the McCanns not left their children alone, who's to say that their daughter's abductee wouldn't have struck while they were sleeping?

Surely the McCann's missing daughter should move us - mums in particular - to empathy, not smug arm-crossing and tweets that imply I-told-you-so.

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