Peter Levy interviewed Clarence Mitchell yesterday (January 6th 2011) about his role in the McCann Case.
Below is the interview and transcript of that interview. Many thanks to JJP for the transcript.
You’re listening to Peter Levy on BBC Radio Humberside
PETER LEVY Yes here we are, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Lincolnshire and we’re into the second hour this Thursday. Thank you for being there. I hope your day is good. Now anyone who has followed the sad case of the missing girl, Madeleine McCann, will know the name of my next guest. Clarence Mitchell is a former BBC journalist and television presenter who started his career here at the BBC. He’s been spokesperson for Kate and Gerry McCann since their daughter disappeared in May 2007 and Clarence is joining us on the programme today. Clarence, good afternoon to you.
CLARENCE MITCHELL Peter, good afternoon. How many years has it been since we last spoke?
PETER LEVY I don’t know. Its quite a few years.
CLARENCE MITCHELL Too many.
PETER LEVY Too many because for people who don’t know, Clarence used to work at Look North. In fact you used to live in Hull, didn’t you?.
CLARENCE MITCHELL That’s right. On Sunny Bank in Hull. A great city and I very much enjoyed my time there. It was, erm, some years ago now. It would have been 88 – 89, around then. The last century virtually.
PETER LEVY My memory, well there’s many memories of you, but you actually were the journalist who… I think you were travelling back from London in your car the night of the terrible air crash at Kegworth, weren’t you.
CLARENCE MITCHELL I was. I had actually been down to London to visit my parents while working on Look North during the week and I was on the way back up on the M1. I was in Leicester, Forest Dene Service Station and the first I was aware of what seemed to be a major accident was the number of ambulances and police cars flying under the restaurant that straddles the motorway there. I immediately got in my car and followed them as reporters should do and it became clear very quickly that this wasn’t a simple, local, small accident. This was a major incident and yes, you are absolutely right. I broadcast live using an early rudimentary mobile phone from my car at the beginning of, from memory, that would have been 89.
PETER LEVY Coming up to date, or more recently, how did you first meet the McCanns?
CLARENCE MITCHELL I met them because of my role following the BBC, erm, I was with the BBC as you rightly said for around twenty years. I then joined the Cabinet Office, erm as Director of the Media Monitoring Unit for the government which meant working with No. 10 and all the major departments of state and because of my existing media contacts whenever a big story came along, er, I was considered, erm, as a possible, er, press officer, if you like for the government to go and assist the media on the ground. Now I thought it would be something like bird flu or foot and mouth or perhaps another terrorist incident where government press officers are sometimes sent out to assist the police or the emergency services on the ground deal with the media but as it was, erm, I was told that a child had gone missing in Portugal and the media interest was developing very rapidly and that the Ambassador in Portugal had asked for assistance for his press office team, erm. So I was effectively seconded to the Foreign Office and sent out to Portugal. I actually met Gerry for the first time in Leicestershire. He came back to collect some belongings from home and he and I then flew back to Portugal in May 2007 and I met Kate out there for the first time. So that’s, that’s how it came about. I went out as a civil servant and met them through the consular assistance that they were offered.
PETER LEVY What are they like as people, because they’ve been through, you know, hell and back really and also at one time, of course, everybody was pointing fingers very much at them
CLARENCE MITCHELL They are coping as best as they can under the circumstances. Nobody ever expected that, erm, we’d be here, what, nearly four years down the line without Madeleine being found, without her being recovered and brought home to the rightful place at home with them. Erm, they have good days and bad days like anybody. If they feel that there is momentum in the private investigation that’s still ongoing. They have a small team of former British police officers working on the case. They feel, they draw strength from that or if the campaigning side of the work that they constantly do is going well, again they draw strength from that. Its during the quieter periods when nothing much appears to be happening that they can, they can be knocked back a little bit and that’s only natural, perfectly human. But they are very committed to the search for their daughter. They want an answer. And until they know what has happened to their daughter and until this awful situation is resolved they will keep going. And yet you are right, there was a lot of criticism at different times and a lot of leaked rubbish, frankly, that came out in the Portuguese press and was then repeated without any attempt to check it in the British media and then recycled a third time back into Portugal, erm. This was a very difficult period for them. They were part of the investigation as ‘arguido’ the status that’s given to people who the police wish to speak to about incidents in Portugal. But that status was ultimately lifted and the Portuguese Attorney General made it clear there was absolutely no evidence, in any way, to implicate them in Madeleine’s disappearance which, of course, there isn’t because I know them well enough now to say with with absolute confidence to say that, of course, they weren’t involved. They are a grieving family and they need all the help and support they can get to keep the search for their daughter going.
PETER LEVY You can’t imagine what it would be like as a parent to know that the finger is pointed at you when they’re going through that. I mean its extraordinary really isn’t it.
CLARENCE MITCHELL Well it is but it is also perfectly understandable in any police inquiry that the police will look at those nearest and dearest to the victim of the crime. Its a standard procedure and you know…
PETER LEVY Very often it is those people.
CLARENCE MITCHELL Well in this case it isn’t. And, you know, Kate and Gerry would be the first people to say they welcome the police looking at them so that they can be ruled out, you know. They made that point themselves several times early on. Er, that the police should do whatever they need to do to find the true abductor, the person responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance. Erm and as I say that process was a lengthy, drawn-out one and there were very…, a great number of unhelpful leaks at times, speculative things that weren’t factually correct then got repeated. Er, there were language difficulties, translation difficulties. All sorts of things that led to this storm around them and it was at times it was very bleak for them to have to cope with that but they got through it and as I say they are as strong as ever as a couple and they’re doing their best to cope and maintain momentum behind the search for their daughter.
PETER LEVY Well you’ve given them amazing support yourself. Erm, how do they, when you say there’s teams of people working are these…, these are not ordinary police, these are paid for, hired police. Are they working on it still?
CLARENCE MITCHELL Yes, there is no official police search, if you like, for Madeleine going on at all. When the Portuguese authorities shelved the case, er, that effectively ended the formal police work. Of course, if any significant new leads were to develop then the police may well revisit it but at the moment the only people actively looking for Madeleine are a small team employed by the McCanns through their fund and the British public, in fact the international public have been very, very generous to them. Money still occasionally comes in. Erm, they’ve also had a number of settlements with various newspaper groups because of some of the libels that were written about them and their friends and all of the proceeds of those actions have gone into the fund to keep it going. Erm, and that money is used to employ…, they’ve had a number of agencies, private detective agencies over the years on short-term contracts but currently its the investigation, its a private operation, its being led by David Edgar who is a former RUC officer, retired and he calls in assistance from his colleagues, former colleagues in various police forces as and when he needs it and there is work going on in Britain and in Portugal at different times. But because of the sensitive nature of it obviously I can’t go into any details but its very much ongoing.
PETER LEVY I understand that totally. What, again don’t answer if you don’t want to, but I know that every parent listening will be interested to know the answer. What do they, because it is a…, the whole thing is a mystery, what do they believe, what do they think is the strongest possibility of what happened to little Madeleine?
CLARENCE MITCHELL Kate and Gerry know Mad…, know their daughter well enough to know that she didn’t wander out of the apartment as has often been speculated. The only assumption that they can make is that somebody took her out of the apartment. That is the working hypothesis on which the private investigation is also based that there is somebody, perhaps on or just two or three people out there who know what happened and that there was an element of pre-meditation, pre-planning went into it. Possibly because of the location of the apartment. It was on a fairly remote corner of that particular resort. Erm, children would have been coming, going over weeks, months beforehand and the private investigation believes there was a degree of pre-meditation and planning, erm, and the very fact that nothing has been found of Madeleine since, not a trace, tends to suggest that she has been taken somewhere else and has been, hopefully is being looked after or at least cared for with someone. That is the working hypothesis. In some cases, if God forbid, she had been harmed, she probably would have been found long ago but she hasn’t been and that’s why they keep going.
PETER LEVY So the belief is that she is…, she is alive and being looked after and probably still in Portugal?
CLARENCE MITCHELL As Kate and Gerry have always said until they have the answer as to what has happened and until they are presented with incontrovertible proof that she has been harmed, they will continue to believe, just as logically without any evidence to the contrary that she could still just as easily be alive. And every time even if they ever begin to doubt that themselves, which they don’t, but if they ever do something like Jaycee Lee Dugard in the States happens or other people emerge from very different situations but it can happen. It is rare but it can happen and each of those cases do give them a renewed hope that one day they too will get that call that says Madeleine has been recovered safe and well.
PETER LEVY They must be very heartened by the huge amount of public interest and concern and care for them that there’s been over the last three and a half years.
CLARENCE MITCHELL They are immensely grateful to everybody who continues to support them, the media as well. The very fact that you and I are now talking about it so far down the line. Many other families of missing children have not had that luxury, if you like, of the continued media interest…
PETER LEVY Why did it capture the imagination so much?
CLARENCE MITCHELL Oh, how long’s your programme? There are all sorts of reasons but essentially it played into the…, every parental nightmare of losing your children whilst on holiday, er, it raised the whole question of parental responsibility. Kate and Gerry felt they and their friends were mounting a perfectly correct and proper checking system on the…, given the lack of resources available to them at the time, but they made a mistake and they got it wrong.
PETER LEVY And its kicking yourself isn’t it? You know, Its the, its, its you know its…, and they’ve got to live with that haven’t they?
CLARENCE MITCHELL Yes they do and you know, God forbid, they may have to live with that for the rest of their lives. Let’s hope not, but, but they accept that they made a judgement call and that million to one chance it went wrong and, as you say, they have to live with that now. And some of the recriminations and online, there’s a very small vocal minority online who attack them for being negligent. That is completely misplaced and entirely wrong and doesn’t actually help find Madeleine in any shape or form. But the vast majority of right-thinking, decent people understand the awful situation that they find themselves in and are supportive and, of course, wish them well and hope that Madeleine will be found.
PETER LEVY Of course we all do and everybody listening as well. They were planning a book to raise some money but they’ve delayed the publication because they didn’t want it to clash with the royal wedding.
CLARENCE MITCHELL Well, that was a decision that was taken by the publishers. As I’m sure you know any book publication involves quite a lengthy lead in times with dates for printing, distribution and all the rest of it and they had announced, the publishers had announced it would be April 28th. Kate is still writing the book at the moment. She’s well on with it but she’s still writing it and then of course the royal wedding was announced just after that as being the very next day so logistically the media and all the distribution processes will be dominated by the royal wedding in the run-up to that date and probably slightly beyond. So it made sense from the publisher’s point of view to move the production deadline and the production, the publication date. This is quite common with many book launches. Er, its only been moved on a fortnight and its on May 12th now will be the day it appears which of course is Madeleine’s eighth birthday which is also highly appropriate and it will still be very much tied into the fourth anniversary of Madeleine going missing if, God forbid, we have to get that far. Erm, and of course by then some of the royal wedding coverage may well have moved on and hopefully people will be able to see the book and see what Kate and Gerry are saying much more clearly.
PETER LEVY Ok, listen Clarence its good of you to come on the programme and talk about them and when you next speak to Gerry and Kate do give them our best wishes. Very good to have you on the programme. I wish you well onward. And how do you spend your days these days when you are not, when you are not doing the wonderful work for them that you are?
CLARENCE MITCHELL Well, thank you for the good wishes Peter and, of course, I will pass those on to them.. I speak to them pretty much virtually every day. I either phone or email or contact. I will certainly make it clear to them that you’ve said that. I’m now working as a result of moving into Public Relations, if you like with the Madeleine situation. I now work for a PR agency in London, Lewis PR. I’m the Director of Media Strategy and Public Affairs which means that I work with a number of their clients as well, advising them on their media contact. If any particular stories flare up involving those clients I generally act as a bit of a go-between in much the same way as I do for Kate and Gerry with the media, the print, broadcast and online media. Erm, and on the public affairs side because of my governmental work I’m able to assist as well where I can with governmental contact for some of the clients too. So its a busy old agenda, just a frenetic as the BBC in many ways if its on the other side of the fence.
PETER LEVY Well I know you are a workaholic. That’s what I can tell people but people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Very good to have you on the programme, Clarence.
CLARENCE MITCHELL Peter. Lovely to speak again, thanks.
PETER LEVY Bye
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