Get that cat to forensics, armchair sleuths demand

14 September 2007
The Times
Dominic Kennedy, Will Pavia

"It's 2.30 in the morning. I can't sleep and didn't get to sleep until midnight, obsessed and stressed over all the craziesness (sic) that's hit the net about the abduction of Madeleine McCann," Brenda Stardom, an American living in Portugal, blogs. "I belong to the FindMadeleine MySpace and I check it at least every 15 minutes when I'm awake because the comments fly faster than I can keep up with them."

Like no mystery before, the disappearance of Madeleine McCann on May 3 has set the blogosphere alight. Armchair detectives, conspiracy theorists, psychics and gossips swap clues about what might have happened.

The website, based near Atlanta, has known nothing like it. "As the blog owner I am able to see the Internet Protocol address info on comments left on this weblog. Visitors come from Germany, Denmark, from Russia, and of course, from Spain, Portugal, and all over the UK. I've always had readers from all over, but never this many, every day," the creator writes. "Posts are left day and night.

Americans wake up and check, unable to find too many other American sources of news about the investigation (though that may be changing) -then by the time we are headed to bed, Britons, Portuguese, and others living in the EU are up looking at websites run by their own media outlets and this blog, as well."

Some bloggers' theories are mad. But the sharper commentators appear to have spotted routes the investigation should take long before detectives acted.

Portuguese newspapers have reported that police now want to seize Madeleine's "cuddle cat", the pink toy which Kate McCann is forever seen clutching.

Yet as long ago as May 30, a poster on the website wrote: "Get That Bloody Cat To Forensics. Somebody take that cat into forensics before it's cleaned."

The Portuguese papers also claimed that Madeleine may have been sedated by her parents. A poster to the Missing Madeleine Blog came up with that idea on May 17.

"It's very difficult to air such views in such tragic circumstances, but why not investigate the possibility of the parents being involved? Gerry McCann talks about 'no stone unturned', 'tidal wave of devastation' and 'concrete evidence'.

"Is it just me who finds a definite link here with his choice of words?" the blogger wrote. "It is a distinct possiblity that the children were given sedatives, what better way to keep them asleep while having dinner and not having to worry about them?"

Bloggers scrutinise body language and visual clues. Mrs McCann was criticised for her jewellery. A poster at wrote: "I may be Clouseau or I may be Columbo, who knows? But I find it very difficult to conceive of anybody thinking that their child was undergoing the kind of things that none of us wants to think about and selecting earrings...KMc is wearing (different) earrings. This is not the normal reaction..."

A poster on analysed the last known picture of Madeleine, taken at a swimming pool with her father and sister by Mrs McCann at 2.29pm on the day she disappeared. Consulting an almanac to check Sun positions, and Google Maps for a satellite view of the resort, the contributor suggests shadows prove the timing is wrong. "Nowhere on the Earth at 14.29 hrs, 3 may 2007 did the Sun have an altitude of 80 degrees," the poster writes.

If the blogging amateur detectives are the Miss Marples of this virtual village, there are plenty more malicious tongues wagging. Some of these gossips have received the 21st-century equivalent of a scold's bridle, silenced by getting their postings blocked.

Others are horrified by the "poisonous" guessing games. One poster said: "I am both appalled and saddened by some of the heartless comments people keep making about this case.People want someone to blame when something awful like this happens.But let's tone down the rhetoric and be logical. They are obviously loving, caring parents whose world revolves around their children.

"The person to blame is the monster who took Madeleine."

The Miss Marple inside us all Ben Macintyre, page 21

Bloggers' shorthand

The Tapas Nine Kate and Gerry McCann, three other couples and one of their mothers, who were eating in a restaurant close to the apartment complex when Madeleine disappeared

* Walletgate Mr McCann said his wallet, containing precious pictures of Madeleine, was stolen during a 24-hour visit to London. The pictures were later returned anonymously

* Auntie Phil Mr McCann's sister Philomena, who briefs the media, lobbied Parliament and leafleted Celtic Park

* Team McCann Those seen as advisers and supporters, including press officers, relatives, Madeleine's fund and the Pope

* Beach snapper An unidentified man, said to have been photographing children, who became an early suspect

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