KERRY O’BRIEN: One of the significant questions related to Madeleine McCann’s disappearance is this: if she was targeted by child traffickers, what would they have wanted with a three or four-year-old? Are children targeted that young? Former senior Scotland Yard investigator, Jim Gamble, has led the British National Crime Intelligence Service fight against child sex abuse, and he was the head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre within the UK police, which did some analysis for the Portuguese police early in the investigation of Madeleine’s disappearance. He subsequently did a scoping study for a review of the case in 2009 for the previous Labour government. Jim Gamble had since got to know the McCann’s personally, and he joins me now from London.
Jim Gamble, let’s get one obvious question out of the way, first-up: from everything you know personally about the McCanns and the case, do you believe they had anything to do with Madeleine’s disappearance?
JIM GAMBLE, FMR HEAD, CHILD PROTECTION CENTRE (CEOP): If it ever came out that either of the McCanns were involved in this, I will be absolutely shocked.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Why do you say that?
JIM GAMBLE: Well, from everything I know about it, it’s not that as a professional police officer they wouldn’t have been first on my list of suspects, because actually, of course they would – they’re the parents, they were there, they had last access. But having been involved in the periphery to a greater or lesser degree on different occasions with this case, having met the McCanns, having seen their children Sean and Amelie around them, I just would be shocked. There’s nothing which gives me that feeling; there’s no evidence which makes me feel that they are in any way complicit in the disappearance. But I’m a human being, you know, and we can err. I’m simply saying that I would be shocked if either one of them were proven to be involved in any way in this.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Given the five year time lapse since Madeleine’s disappearance, what do you think the chances are of finding her, even with such a well-resourced UK police team?
JIM GAMBLE: Well, I think there’s always hope, and nobody should take away hope from parents who have to get up and look after their other two small children every day. And people often talk to be about the statistics and what’s most likely to have become of Madeleine. Jaycee Dugard turned up after many, many years, having been abducted from a bus stop near her home. And when we began to look at the Minute from Madeleine Initiative video, which we created in CEOP some years back, we looked at a number of cases where children had gone missing, been abducted, and many years later were found, or came back themselves. So, I think there’s always hope. As the years go on, of course, it’s harder to sustain that, and that’s one of the reasons I think we all welcomed the recent Metropolitan Police investigation, and the way it’s breathed new life back into this enquiry.
KERRY O’BRIEN: What’s your basis for saying “it’s breathed new life”? Because, because my next question is, why the British police would succeed where the Portuguese police failed, given that at least the Portuguese had a fresh trail to try and follow.
JIM GAMBLE: Well, I don’t think it’s so much where the Portuguese police failed. The investigation in the early days was complex, as these investigations are, but it was complicated by the fact that it covered such a vast geography. And none of us – you know, the British, the Portuguese, or others – were very good in those early days, because it’s not something we do very often. And what happened because of that was that information would be held in different places, and perhaps shared in different ways. Now, with the Metropolitan Police and the level of competence that they have, and experience in these complex investigations, they bring something new to the table. I think there is a willingness within Portugal to have a look at anything the Metropolitan Police find that’s fresh, and critically, what I believe the men are doing is bringing together the disparate pieces of information that perhaps sat elsewhere in the UK or in Portugal, and, for the first time, aggregating it in a way that all of that information can be interrogated at a single point.
KERRY O’BRIEN: What did you and your team highlight in your scoping study of the study, as areas for fresh attention?
JIM GAMBLE: Well, without going into too much detail, what we identified was that the information was all over the place. That the fact that a number of difference agencies had very enthusiastically and appropriately helped in their own ways, having itself created a difficulty because there was a lack of coherent leadership, I believe, at different times throughout the investigation – that’s simply from the UK perspective. At the very beginning of this investigation, everybody, including myself and CEOP, rushed to help. And because we don’t deal with this type of cases, thankfully, on a day-by-day basis, and we were learning as we went along, so I think there were little pots of information, and some big pots of information, that could have been dealt with better. So we identified that, recognised it. We also identified a number of other areas, and a number of other anomalies, where perhaps some of the other information that would have been available, and had been captured, but never properly interrogated. And as the Metropolitan Police are going through a life investigation now, I think it would probably be unhelpful of me to go into any greater detail on that.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Can you understanding why David Cameron did eventually reopen the case?
JIM GAMBLE: Well, I’m glad you used the word “eventually”. I am thrilled that he, you know, prompted the new review by the Metropolitan Police, but the report which we put in, which highlighted all of the anomalies that are currently being discussed, and have been discussed for some time. That was on that government desk as they came in to par. The home secretary had it, and it’s unfortunate that it took an open letter from Gerry McCann, on the front of a national newspaper, to prompt David Cameron to do this. But maybe he was unaware that the home secretary already had a report highlighting these issues, but it shouldn’t take the plea of a parent in a desperate circumstance to get the prime minister to do the right thing. But now that he’s done it, absolutely fantastic. With his backing behind it, I think it has more hope than it ever had before.
KERRY O’BRIEN: What was your reaction to the book that came out from the former leader of the Portuguese investigation, particularly when essentially the finger was being pointed at the McCanns?
JIM GAMBLE: Well, first of all, I think it was unprofessional, and secondly, I think it was unhelpful. The fact that this individual perpetrates a view that is clearly his – that the McCanns are guilty, or suggests that the McCanns are guilty of this offence – that’s troublesome from a number of issues. That’s an issue for a court to decide, and secondly, when a professional police officer, when someone with the access to information that that role would suggest that individual has, starts going down one specific line, it takes our eye off the broader picture. It stops being looking, because they believe, “Well, there’s no point, we know who did it”. Now, I’m aware of cases myself that I’ll not go into in detail here, where because certain individuals have assumed that one person was guilty, the real person, the real culprit, when free for many, many more years than they actually should have, simply because everyone said, “Well, there’s no point. We know who did it, we can’t prove it, so let’s carry on with our day jobs”. I think what he’s done is foolish.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Now, if I understand your position correctly, if you had been conducting an investigation like this, you’d have started with the parents and taken a very quick look and either established there was something suspicious, or you’d have ruled them out and moved on. Now, if I understand it correctly, the Portuguese were kind of the other way around. It took them some time to suddenly develop the view that the McCanns might have been suspicious.
JIM GAMBLE: Well, I think that’s a fair assessment. When we carried out the scoping review, in order to be fair, what we did was, we said, “Let’s take a sleepy seaside town somewhere in the UK, and imagine that, you know, late in the evening, a couple had come to us who didn’t speak English as their first language, and who were Portuguese and said, ‘Look, our child has gone missing'”. I think what we accepted immediately is we would have faced a complicated scenario similar to that which the Portuguese did. You’re not sure whether the child has simply walked away or been taken away, and it does take a period of time to get that information together, so there were clearly difficulties, and we would all face those. In the immediate aftermath, the systematic approach is what is key, and certainly as professional detectives, we use the phrase “clear the ground beneath your feet”. Look at that which is immediately in front of you first of all. And the only difference between the Portuguese and myself would have been that the first suspects that I would have looked at would have been the parents.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Given what you know about child abduction, if this was an abduction, what are the most likely possibilities?
JIM GAMBLE: Well, you can start from someone who has perhaps lost a child, the balance of their mind may be disturbed, and they take someone else’s child to replace theirs – to meet an emotional need that they have. And then move to the sexual predator, who perhaps would target a child, engage that child, capture them and abuse them – and we’ve seen that happen around the world. And then you come to the point of the actual trafficker – someone that would perhaps target a particular child for sale into a specialist or particular market somewhere else around the world. And these things happen, and whilst we can look at the statistical analysis of the likelihood of children still being alive, alive after each of those scenarios, there is always the exception to the rule – Jaycee Dugard is a good example of a child who was actually abducted and abused, and still alive today.
KERRY O’BRIEN: If Madeleine was the target of professional child traffickers, is it at all common, or is it unusual for somebody that young to be targeted?
JIM GAMBLE: No, I don’t think it’s uncommon for someone that young to be targeted. But, I mean, in our experience, a Western child being targeted and abducted by child traffickers, is very, very rare, because the publicity that surrounds it is so massive. I mean, we often hear the argument, “Why so much attention for one little girl, when so many go missing?” It’s a very complicated set of circumstances, missing children, but the kids that go missing because they’ve been abducted – abducted by someone other than a parent in a parental dispute – they’re rare. That’s why, if you come to the UK, we’ll be able to talk about Holly and Jessica, we’ll be able to talk about Milly Dowler, we’ll be able to talk about Madeleine McCann – because those cases are so rare, they strike a chord with every parent, that you never ever forget the names of the children or the incident involved. So the cases are rare, but it’s not unusual for traffickers to target particular children for particular clients.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Is there anything to suggest that this was the work of professional criminals?
JIM GAMBLE: Well, first of all, I’m not privy to information in the current investigation, so I really wouldn’t be comfortable speculating about that.
KERRY O’BRIEN: What do you think the odds are that we will ever know what has happened to Madeleine McCann?
JIM GAMBLE: I believe in my lifetime we will find out what happened to Madeleine McCann. I believe, in all of these cases, someone is looking over their shoulder somewhere. The person that did this knows, and they’ll be concerned that other people around them might also know. And relationships change over a period of time, and if the person that did this ever watches your program, ever watches this interview on YouTube or on the television, they need to know that someone suspects them somewhere, and it’s only a matter of time until they come forward with that information, with that hint, with that degree of suspicion which will finally turn the spotlight on them. I believe we’ll find out who did this, and I believe the person involved in it would be better coming forward now and doing the right thing. It’s never too late for the person who did this to come forward and give Gerry and Kate the peace of knowing what has happened to their daughter.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Jim Gamble, thank you very much for talking with us.
JIM GAMBLE: Thank you.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Next week on Four Corners, a hard look in a new phenomenon in the Australian workforce that’s come from the massive mining boom – the syndome of the fly in, fly out or drive in, drive out worker. We look at who’s winning and who’s losing. Join us then, but for now, goodnight.