It’s been more than 10 years since 3-year-old Madeleine McCann went missing from her family’s villa in the holiday resort of Praia da Luz, Portugal. Though the ongoing case has been the subject of intense media scrutiny for a long period of time now, the arrival of new Netflix documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann has revived public curiosity around what happened to Kate and Gerry McCann’s daughter all those years ago.
The eight-part series takes us on a lengthy journey, rehashing facts and theories that are likely very familiar to many of us by now. But one line of thought with which you might be a little less familiar is the 'Pact Of Silence'.
As intriguing and plot-twisty as it sounds, 'Pact of Silence' (which is also the name given to the third episode of the documentary) was originally the headline of a controversial article co-written by Portuguese journalists Margarida Davim and Felícia Cabrita. In it they suggested that there was an agreement among the McCanns and the friends they were holidaying with not to talk about what really happened on the night of 3rd May 2007. In short, they implied that the group was hiding something crucial to understanding the truth behind Madeleine’s disappearance.
So what do we know actually happened? Kate and Gerry had taken Madeleine and their twin babies on holiday to the Ocean Club resort with a group of friends: David and Fiona Payne, Fiona’s mum Dianne, Matthew and Rachael Oldfield, Russell O’Brien and partner Jane Tanner. They had eight young children between them who, on the night Madeleine went missing, had all been put to bed before the adults went out for dinner at the resort's tapas restaurant. All of the children were left unattended but the group say that one member of the party would leave the table every 30 minutes or so to check on their respective children. When it was Kate's turn to check on hers, she discovered that Madeleine was gone.
Journalist Felícia found it odd that in the weeks after Madeleine vanished, the investigating police seemed to be focusing only on the suspected kidnapping and not the family involved. "We know that in most cases, the culprit is someone who is close to the child," Felícia explains in the documentary. She goes on to tell the story of a visit she made to the restaurant where the McCann group ate on the night of the incident. She sat at the same table as them and found that despite Gerry McCann's claim that the table had a "line of sight to the apartment" – which they say was a factor in deciding where to eat that evening – there was limited visibility. This was the first contradiction she found in the parents' statement to police.
"From the position I was in, it was completely impossible to see the apartment or the room where they had left the children to sleep," Felícia adds. "As an investigative journalist, I have to ask, why? Why would you lie about such a simple thing?"
Her colleague Margarida says that they had a feeling something was off with the timeline and that the McCanns' version of events doesn’t match that of the employees who served them in the hotel. Further doubt was driven by inconsistencies in Gerry's statements about which door he entered the apartment through and whether or not it was locked. There's also her understanding that the McCann group gathered to work out their timeline and then revise it 24 hours later. Gonçalo Amaral, former Chief Investigating Coordinator with the Portuguese police, says that statements by Jane Tanner, who claimed to have seen a man carrying a child in pyjamas away from the resort, seemed to evolve as time went on.
And then there are all the questions that remained unanswered. Why leave the kids alone? Why not use the babysitting service that was available at the hotel? And why weren't the friends of the McCanns who had dinner with them on the night willing to say more? The journalists felt that things didn't add up.
"The word that we ended up using in the title – pact – came from David Payne when he said that they had agreed with Gerry not to talk about what happened," Margarida explains. Gonçalo also notes in the documentary that it wasn't just Kate and Gerry; the entire party had left their children alone that night and so "there seems to be an alliance between everyone to protect someone". After a few months with little progress in the investigation and no success finding Madeleine, it's unsurprising that the McCanns and their friends eventually came under scrutiny. However, as we know, the suspicion around them has not materialised into any significant evidence.
The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is available on Netflix now