JB writes: It wasn’t long before expert assistance to the McCanns began to arrive, especially, it might be said, once it became common knowledge that money was being hurled at the parents on a giddying scale.
Kate McCann, in Madeleine, describes meetings with the IFLG – lawyers specializing in international custody battle cases who, she says, “told us that we needed to set up a ‘fighting fund’, whose objectives they would devise” and a “security consultant” who brought the interesting news that “an anonymous…donor had set aside a considerable sum of money for us to put towards the cost of hiring a private-investigation company if we wished.” Finally, the London charity accounts specialists, Bates, Wells and Braithwaite, would be instructed by the IFLG to draw up the relevant articles of association for the Fund.
Kate McCann is very careful indeed in her description of who exactly was offering to do what and for how much money, covering these essentially cold-blooded financial discussions in a warm blanket of mild emotionalism and Scouse naiveté (note the “told us” phrase above), but three of the essential City roles were thus already being put in play: maximising income (the “fighting fund”), security and risk protection (Control Risks) and capital structuring (good old BWB). All, of course, done for the benefit of Madeleine McCann.
Every time I try and picture these discussions and negotiations, images refuse to come into focus, so weird and bizarre, so Breaking Bad does this series of meetings seem. Was Kate McCann rushing out of the room to weep about her child, wipe her eyes and adjust her make-up every few minutes? Did everyone take regular five minute breaks while Gerry McCann stress-and-grief-vomited heavily in the loo? Did Gerry break off a detailed question and answer session about relative financial advantage with one of the assembled experts by suddenly throwing himself onto the carpet, howling like a dog and shouting “f*****g paedophiles” for five minutes? Did an IFLG expert kneel by his side, murmur “there, there” and attempt to fan him back into normal consciousness with a large folded spreadsheet?
How, how, could a couple sit there discussing and deciding the labyrinthine ways wealth can be channelled and juggled a week after real life had demonstrated the truth that most of us have learnt through its shocks – the absurd irrelevance and uselessness of money compared with the things that matter: love, loss, parenthood, family, suffering, helplessness, potential evil? How could they bear even to think about money at that time?
Kate McCann doesn’t tell us and I don’t know. So let’s take a deep breath and confine ourselves to noting, then, the arrival of fee-charging professionals, the innocent beginning of a process that eventually led to the emergence of a McCann group not just independent of the national criminal investigating force (as KM points out the McCanns immediately began giving alternative versions of their police statements to Control Risks detectives) but eventually in outright opposition to it.
One other pointer to the future should be observed: the reference to “an anonymous…donor” having set aside “a considerable sum of money”. It wasn’t just tearful pensioners, sticking a fiver in an envelope and sending it to Praia da Luz, who helped make the real Team McCann a serious rival to the PJ in terms of resources. Most people were supportive of the McCanns and those that both believed in them and were wealthy enough to put up more than piggy-bank fivers made contributions that nowhere show in the Fund’s financial reports. The rich, it hardly needs saying, share the same virtues and vices as the poor, including, thank God, the inchoate desire to help in some way.
Raising consciousness the Big Phil way
Notwithstanding the arrival of the professionals, in these early weeks the team, such as it was, was dominated by the McCann family and their activities – the indirect approach to Gordon Brown, the direct approach to the Foreign Office, the hidden intrigues – already! – against the PJ, coupled with public espousals of support for the same force from the unlikely but expansive figure of Philomina McCann, the marvellous creation of the website by precocious Scottish waifs no doubt sipping Bovril in their ragged pyjamas while they slaved over their volunteer keyboards.
Grey Figure Enters Left
Woolfall, left, keeping a friendly eye on the stricken McCanns
Meanwhile the media continued to make the running and hold out the cheque books amid the chaos they had created, with a certain Alex Woolfall, a PR man for the Bell Pottinger agency, coaching the parents on the right way to handle the “press pack”.
Woolfalls’ appearance and role is replete with irony, though not for reasons that Woolfall himself, who does neither irony, information (as against spin), personality (as against ego) nor self-insight, would recognize. A middle-aged, successful but somewhat colourless media man, Woolfall was sent out to protect the Mark Warner group against the huge potential threat that the McCann affair represented.
The interests of the parents and Mark Warner were potentially in conflict, whereas many students of the case with a bent for the dark eccentric are convinced that Woolfall was despatched to protect the pair. Forgetting, as we can at this distance in time, the ritual verbal treacle about tragedy, missing tot, hope, “we all want her back” and so forth expressed by everybody involved, Woolfall’s job was to stay out in Praia da Luz to counter publicity that might damage future business and profits and, secondly, to establish whether the McCanns might take them to the cleaners through the courts for negligence. He did his job well.
That is not quite the way that Gerry McCann and his media adviser describe their relationship but who’s surprised by that? One of them has the reputation for being not merely economical but positively miserly with the truth, as we know from that 2007 “Blog” which, thanks to the determined resistance of the database keeper Pamalam, Gerry has been unable to retrieve and consign to legal quarantine; the other has spent a lifetime being paid to design, polish and present manipulated versions of the truth. No wonder the two got on so well.
The Final Piece of the Jigsaw
Both the McCanns have been effusive in their praise for Woolfall and his tuition in how to handle the media. In return Woolfall has expressed his profound belief in their innocence, based, as he notes, on a great deal of “close observation” of the couple’s behaviour in Praia da Luz. He can say that again – close observation was what he was sent out to do. Oh, and to help, of course.
Woolfall himself, despite his richly comic potential, is not an important figure in the case. The reason he’s mentioned is because he was the first emissary to the McCanns of that now-vital corporate component, Reputation Management.
Maximising income; security and risk protection; capital structuring. What’s missing from the McCanns’ nascent City package? Why, managing reputation, of course. The fourth limb of the whole deal. To which we’ll turn in the next part.
But the reader might have a question first, connected with that phrase “corporate component”. We’re talking here about a “team” of dedicated family, volunteers and helpers looking for a missing child, aren't we? The stuff of weepy feature columns across the land, a narrative of simple people acting selflessly - lapped up and amplified by every gooey tabloid world-wide. So how come that before our eyes this sweet little grouping is beginning, in mid-May 2007, to equip itself with “corporate” weapons, i.e. those designed and sold primarily for the development and protection of multi-million finance and business organizations, not individuals. They’re just a couple of NHS doctors with a missing kid, for f***s sake. What’s going on?
Next: Reputation Management and the final establishment of the real Team.