This week Kate McCann attended a reception at 10 Downing Street to celebrate the 116000 missing children hotline. It sure has been a long time coming. The UK is one of the last of the EU member states to roll out this system since it was agreed by the European Parliament, way back in 2006. I think the problem with the UK has been persuading an organisation to take on responsibility for it, but that, as we have seen, has now happened: the charity, Missing People, will operate the phone lines and CEOP will maintain the web site.
As a reminder of some of the history of this operation, which includes the McCanns visit to Strasbourg, when they spoke in favour of the introduction of an American Amber Alert style system, rather than the French "Alerte Enlèvement," system, which had already been adopted at the time by 17 EU member states, I am re-posting a blog from April 2010. I think the most significant factor to bear in mind is the 4 criteria for triggering an alert when a child goes missing. Unfortunately, in Madeleine's case, an alert would not have been triggered, because the criteria would not have been met.
So, there was Kate McCann this week, celebrating a system which she and hubby tried to have replaced and which would not have helped their child in any way, if she had indeed been abducted. What information would the emergency services have had to work with? An old photo of a small blonde child, last seen being carried by a person described as "an egg with hair." Most unhelpful!
Above: Kate and Gerry McCann in Strasbourg, June 2008
Well, the UK finally gets around to introducing an alert system for missing children.
Sky News April 4th
"Police will unveil a new nationwide alert system for enlisting the public to help them rescue abducted children next month."
An alert system has been active in some member states of the EU for some time now. In fact, Portugal was the second country after Hungary, to introduce an alert system in 2002, in accordance with an EU directive. (SOS Madeleine McCann blog )
In June 2008, the McCanns went to Strasbourg to gather support for a Europe-wide system, based on the American Amber Alert. They presented a written declaration to the Commission, but this was not their own work, rather it had been drawn up by Edward McMillan-Scott, then Vice-President of the European Parliament, but presented by the media-savvy, media magnets, the McCanns.
The McCanns had simply tried to hijack an initiative that had already been working its way through the European Parliament for some time, turn it into something else and claim it as their own.
"McCann wanted to seize “a policy that is already being enforced”
"The McCann couple launched a public relations campaign, trying to 'seize' a policy that is already being enforced..." accused the member of the European Parliament, Carlos Coelho, member of the Christian-Democrat group in the European Parliament and Party colleague of President Barroso. And this MEP knows what he is talking about, as he was among the 54 deputies who had adopted, in a committee session, the European strategy concerning children’s rights, a document which was approved on January 2008.
The “written declaration” to which McMilan-Scott agreed to associate Kate and Gerry McCann thus does not contain anything new, when compared with the legislative project of the European institutions." (Duarte Levy and Paulo Reis)
The McCanns in Strasbourg in 2008 were rather like the man who knocked my door the other day, trying to interest me in double glazing, to whom I pointed out my rather new windows! But oh dear! How were those crusading, never mind that we left our children alone "responsible parents," received? Those ungrateful deputies and journalists just kept asking questions about the night Madeleine disappeared and some even asked about the children having been left alone, which irritated our saintly duo immensely!
Gerry retorted that they had neither neglected nor abandoned Madeleine and that going over that old ground was boring! (Duarte Levy and Paulo Reis)
Oh yes, Gerry! Been there, done that, lost a child, but hey, let's not go over that old boring stuff!
In December 2006, an extraordinary meeting of the member states approved an initiative of the European Commission to reserve certain numbers (Starting with 116 ) for a Europe-wide alert system for missing children. This was the system which had been in operation in France since 2006 and had proved to be effective in several cases. (August 2007: abducted 5 year-old French child recovered within hours.)
Back to SkyNews:
"The network, comparable to the amber alert system in the United States, will be compatible with other European countries for the first time."
Well, hallelujah! By January 2009, 10 out of the 17 member states of the EU had adopted the European Alert system, the UK as we know, not having been amongst them, in spite of the fact of having the greatest number of missing children. (SOS Maddie blog)
But sky News tells us that the McCanns have been campaigning for such a system since their daughter disappeared! Well, no they haven't! They took up being poster children for McMillan-Scott's campaign in June 2008, when other member states had been operating an alternative system since 2006!
Since 2006, the French system, known as "Alerte Enlèvement," which is the system now introduced across most of the EU territory and finally in the UK, has recovered many missing children through rapid response to reported cases of abduction. The success of the system, according to Rachida Dati, former French Justice Minister, is due to there being very strict criteria for launching an alert. Four criteria must be met.
"Quatre critères doivent toutefois être réunis pour que le plan soit déclenché : il doit s'agir d'un enlèvement avéré, et non d'une simple disparition, même inquiétante ; la vie ou l'intégrité physique de la victime doit être en danger ; le procureur de la République est en possession éléments d'informations dont la diffusion permettrait de localiser l'enfant ou le suspect ; et la victime doit être mineure." (Duarte Levy)
1) It must be a confirmed abduction and not just a disappearance, however worrying.
2) The victim's life or physical safety must be at risk.
3) The Public Prosecutor must be in possession of sufficient information which, if broadcast, would help to locate the child or the suspect.
4) The victim must be a minor.
So, why is the press wheeling out the McCanns today in relation to this alert system, when they had nothing to do with its inception or its introduction? This is the system that they unsuccessfully tried to replace with McMillan-Scott's version of the American Amber Alert.
And would an alert have helped to find Madeleine in May 2007, given the above criteria?
1) Not met. There was no evidence of an abduction.
2) Maybe. If Maddie was still alive after 10pm on May 3rd, it is highly likely that she would be in physical danger.
3) Not met. The information available would not have helped locate Maddie or the alleged abductor. Small child, last seen in her bed, not there now, man seen carrying a bundle that could have been a child. Description: an egg with hair!
4) Met. One out of four ain't bad? No, it ain't good!
So, there they are today, the "responsible parents," who left three very young children alone in an unlocked apartment in a foreign country, being presented as the instigators of a system they tried to replace with one that wasn't even their own, one they just tried to hitch their wagon to! I guess they will draw more public sympathy than a photo of Rachida Dati, the French Justice Minister who developed the above four criteria which their own child's case didn't meet! Hey ho!