Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Some personal stories of my life as a journalist (and more than that) and a request

In Portuguese, we have two words to mean a different kind of feeling related with fear: “receio” and "medo". The firts word is a bit more strong that “preoccupation”, in English, but does not mean that a person if afraid of something (have “medo”). I may have someting more than preoccupation (“receio”) about the future of my job, if I know that the newspaper where I work is in a bad financial situation. But I will be afraid (have "medo"), if I know that there is already a list of 10/15 journalist that will be fired in a short period of time.  I couldn’t find the precise word to reproduce that “nuance”, in English, about the difference between “receio” and “preoccupation”. “Receio” is more than “preoccupation”, but it´s not “fear”. Talking about fear, I always have in my mind a popular say, common in the small and poor country village where my father was born and I heard him mention several times: “Those who die of fear, are buried in s**t”.

I am afraid of only three things: a slow and painful death, due to a sickness like cancer; a long, mentally incapacitating illness like Parkinson or Alzheimer; and taxes, another of the very few certainties in life, as Mark Twain allegedly said (BenjaminFranklin was the first to refer those two things as unavoidable). Many years ago, I decided – and it’s a decision I will never change – that in the two first situations I mention, I will chose the moment when I will go. I will not wait for the “Grim Reaper” to take me and it does not matter that euthanasia is not authorized in Portugal. About taxes, well, the only way to escape paying it, is death…

Through my career as a journalist, I had a few occasions when I was threatened, two of them quite serious. I was not exactly preoccupied with those threats, but a little bit more than that, I had some “receio”, as I explained in the beginning of this post. The first time I was threatened in a serious way – and my family was also included –  was in Macau, when Rocha Vieira was Governor (he finished his mandate, in 1999, embroiled in a scandal of a money transfer, while still Governor, to a private foundation in Lisbon to be presided by himself). General Rocha Vieira, a Portuguese Army Officer, was a man who had a extreme difficulty of getting along with some basic principles that are common, in Europe, since the 18th Century: Freedom of Opinion, Expression and, above all, Press Freedom. When he left Macau, in 1999, after nine years of intimidation and threats against critical Portuguese newspapers, there was a a sigh of relief from all Portuguese journalists that also welcomed warmly the first Governor appointed by Beijing, Mr. Edmund Ho, a statesman, a real gentleman and a good and sincere friend of the local Portuguese journalists and community.

Cartoon published by "Ou Mun", the biggest Chinese newspaper of Macau, about the scandal Governor Rocha Vieria was embroiled
Both men had a completely opposite attitude about news and Press Freedom. General Rocha Vieira just hated all of those that dare to criticize his Government and didn’t made any effort to disguise it. Mr. Edmund Ho was a so polite man that he never showed any attitude of disregard of hostility against any journalist or newspaper, didn’t matter how critical the newspaper was to his Government. It’s a irony that the now retired Lieutenant-General Rocha Vieira is a employee of a Chinese Sate owned company, “Three Gorges”, that bought EDP, the former state-owned electricity supplier in Portugal and appointed him as their official representative in the Administration Board of the company – a very rare show of trust in a a “gweilo” (“foreign devil”, a common and depreciative expression in Chinese to refer Western foreigners) from the the Chinese Government. As far as I know, it’s the first time from 1807 until now, that a top Portuguese Army Officer works for a foreign Government. During the “Napoleonic Wars”, several high ranking Portuguese Army officers were part of the invading army the French emperor sent, in that year, to occupy the country.

Since 1995, when I became editor of a small Portuguese daily newspaper in Macau, I quickly realized that a civilized relationship, at least, between the General’s Government and the newspaper “Gazeta Macaense”, was impossible. The “motto” of his Government about the Media, as one of this Press advisers told in a interview, was clear: “More than journalists, we need ‘militants’ of the national goals”. This reminded of that phrase of Samuel Johnson, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. When there is no legal, moral or ethical reason to justify the actions of a Government, there is the habit – not acceptable in Democratic countries – to mention the “Superior interest of the Nation”, a very common phrase of the 48 years of Salazar’s dictatorship that Portugal endured.

So, I became some kind of “Public Enemy nº 1” of the General and, within less than two years, he made a deal with the owner of the newspaper, Mr. José Manuel Rodrigues, a Macanese lawyer, actually chairman of the “Association of Macanese Communities”. He closed the newspaper, fired all journalists (the two of us that worked there) in a way that was a example of one of the most cowardly attitude (and lowest baseness of character) I ever met in my life: he gave orders to change the locks of the newspaper’s office so, when I went there, on a Sunday afternoon, to prepare next day edition, my key didn’t worked. I phoned him to tell that there was a problem with the lock and I had to call somebody to fix it. He told me he decided to close the newspaper, for “restructuring it” and we were all fired. Two months after this, he was one of the five members of the Legislative Assembly (the local mitigated version of a Parliament) appointed by the Governor.

José Manuel Rodrigues, former owner of "Gazeta Macaense" and chairman of the "Association of Macanese Communities"
From 1993 to 1997, my family in Macau (my wife, my brother and my sister-in-law, even my first ex-wife…) were harassed and indirectly threatened, in an attempt to make me change the editorial line of the newspaper, first, and after to try to get me out of Macau. Because, even working as a freelance journalist, I was a source of problems for the General. Judge Farinha Ribeiras was a public admirer (he said that, on a interview to TDM, Macau TV) of Mussolini, Franco and Salazar, who supported controversial extraditions of suspects from Macau to China, where they could be sentenced to death and, since 1993, was the Judge-President of Macau Supreme Court (“chosed” and appointed by the General). In 1994, he filled 38 complains in Court against me, as Editor of the newspaper, for defamation. I was not alone, as he took “Amnesty International” to court, complaining also of being defamed by the organization, in 1994.

Mr. Ribeiras said, on that interview, among many other foolish and brainless things, that “Italians still missed the times of Mussolini, because trains use to run on schedule”. We made a comment, on the newspaper and reminded him that it was not Mussolini’s “virtue” but a demand from the Nazis, that wanted the trains destined to Treblinka, Auschwitz and other death camps to arrive on time. Mr. Farinha Ribeiras made a formal request to the Court to arrest me until I went on trial, to avoid that I run away from Macau. It was a bad idea, as both the “Committee to Protect the Journalists” and “Amnesty International” decided to act, on my defense, with this second organization warning authorities of Macau that if was was arrested, in that context, they would include me in their list of  “Prisoners of Conscience”.

Portuguese President Mário Soares (2nd from right), a former political prisoner during Salazar regime and the Judge-President of Macau Supreme Court, Farinha Ribeiras (1st from right) a public admirer of Salazar, siting side by side during a presidential visit to Macau.
The “Committee to Protect the Journalists” invited me  - a great honor, no doubt - to write the preface of their 1995 edition of the “Index of Censorship”, a book about censorship, country by country, all over the world. As a freelance journalist, I got some internal documents, in 1995, from TDM, the local Government owned TV station, with instructions to the journalists to ignore the demonstrations of pro-Democracy groups on the June 4th anniversary of the Tiananmen events. I published those internal documents and reactions, even in Portuguese Press, in Lisbon, were strong. In 1997, I was a little bit tired of being almost jobless for the two previous years, as my stories as a freelance journalist found less and less space, to be published, in Macau. The 24 square miles of Macau were, indeed, a very small area for me and the General to share. So, I decided to go back to Portugal, where I got a job, two months after arriving.

The second time I was threatened (and also has some "receio", but not "medo") was between 2003 and 2004, when I published several stories, after many months of investigation, about the activities of a fundamentalist Muslim group, the Tablighi Jamaat – a group nobody heard about, in Portugal, until then, and no newspaper had ever made any mention of their existence in our country – but was banned in Russia, in 2009, for example. I managed to explain to the readers of the weekly “O Independente” (the second biggest one, in Portugal, at the time) not only that they were here, but also the dimension, the vast network they had, all over the country, the fact that they controlled the majority of Muslim associations and communities, including the most important one, the “Islamic Community of Lisbon” (“Comunidade Islâmica de Lisboa”).

They did it always behind the curtain, behaving in a way that you can say was more secret than discreet. No one never saw any of their leaders in the front row of any public ceremony or situation where non-Muslims or journalists were present. Troubles (for me) really start when I published a photo of their “operational” leader, Mr. Esmael Loonat, a man that, at the time, was already in the “radar” of the Counter-Terrorism Unit of Polícia Judiciária.
I endured months of threats, even against my family in Macau, in phone calls that, for example, mentioned details like the name of my seven years old son, living in Macau with his mother, the exact place where his school was and who used to take him to and from school. My reply to those phone calls was always very short and I can’t reproduce it here.

Mr. Esmael Loonat, the "operacional" leader of the Tablighi Jamat in Portugal, in 2004
A few months after, the Tablighi Jamaat made a turnover in their “public relations” policy and decided to introduce themselves to the Portuguese people, trough several interviews with newspapers an TV stations, as a very humble, peaceful and simple Muslim organization, that just followed a little bit more strict interpretation of Quran, in their daily lives. Even the “operational leader” gave interviews to Media and allowed them to do something completely forbidden, a sin for the Tabligy Jamaat: taking photos of himself. Just to give you an idea, no Tablighi Jamaat family has a TV set at home, as it is considered a “source of conspurcation of Muslim ideals and principles” – a quote from “Al-Madinah”, a monthly magazine of the group, in Portuguese. With this change of policy, all threats against me (that including two bomb threats against the newspaper) just vanished.

From 2008 until last year, I lived in Macau, working as a journalist and also as a freelance translator English/Portuguese, specialized in Law and Legal Affairs. I came back to Portugal in March 2017, after my 23 years marriage finished, in a peaceful way and with a decision for a divorce by mutual agreement. I had to start (and I’m still in the beginning of it…) almost from the zero, in my work as a journalist and translator. I went to Macau in 1996, came back to Portugal in 1997, returned to Macau in 2008. So, for the last nine years, I was absent from the journalistic field, in Portugal. Many of the colleagues that used to run side by side with me, chasing politicians, tape recorder in hand, asking questions, years ago, are now Editors at newspapers, TV stations and radios.

Traditional Media in Portugal, mainly newspapers, are in a uncomfortable situation: they have one foot on the left side (paper editions) of a deep canyon and the other on the right side (online editions), their “legs” stretching, painfully and dangerously, more and more. Paper editions and its advertisement, with a few exceptions, don’t produce enough revenue to pay salaries and production costs. Online editions have only a residual revenue, that barely covers costs – and this is because they “cannibalize” paper editions and have just five or six workers, most of them in charge of the technical management of the sites.

More than a dozen newspapers closed, in Portugal, in the last 10 years. Others have reduced staff, in some cases, firing more than one third of the journalist working there. They fill the gaps by hiring dozens of young people, just out of university, “giving” them a six-months internship, as trainees, usually not paid, with only a small subsidy for meals and a free travel pass for public transports. After the six months, they tell them “thank you”, say goodbye and hire another group of trainees. I had many contacts with old friends, journalists, and all told me the same: nobody is hiring journalist so “expensive” as I am, due to my experience and CV. Cheap or even free of costs trainees are the only option authorized by the management of newspapers.

This new beginning, for me, at 60 years old, has not been easy. Freelance journalist, nowadays, in Portugal is a euphemism for “unemployed”, as the market for this kind of work is almost inexistent and payment is very low. Translations from English to Portuguese have been my main source of income, to make ends meet. Things have became more difficult, after the initial divorce by mutual agreement changed to a litigious one, more expensive than usual, as I had to get a lawyer and the case proceedings must go, in very slow steps (and time is money, for lawyers…) through a complex legal channel, between two distant and different judicial systems – Macau and Portugal.

As I mentioned in the tittle of this post, it would be about a couple of stories of my life as a journalist and something more – a few details about my personal life. I also have a request to make and that is very difficult and embarrassing for me. As I think you noticed, in the top of the right side column of my blogs, I have a “Donate” button, from PayPal and also the IBAN of my bank account. I just want to say that any help, doesn’t matter how small it is, from my readers, who consider that I have been doing a reasonable journalistic work covering the case of Maddie’s disappearance, will be really very welcomed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Cães-pisteiros, a campanha contra Eddie e Keela e o artigo da “Vanity Fair” sobre Maddie

"Daily Mail", em 2005: "O cão-polícia que ganha mais do que o chefe da polícia"
Judy Bachrach é uma respeitada jornalista americana, colaboradora da “Vanity Fair”, uma revista popular, sobre o mundo do espectáculo, moda e temas da actualidade, publicada pela Condé Nast, nos Estados Unidos. Conheci-a na Praia da Luz, em 2007. Encontrou o meu blog ao “googlar” sobre o caso Madeleine McCann, entrámos em contacto e jantámos juntos.

Foi um jantar longo e o caso Maddie foi praticamente o único assunto. Contei-lhe tudo o que sabia e já tinha publicado, dei-lhe algumas "dicas" e chamei-lhe a atenção para a forma como os Media britânicos estavam a cobrir o o caso. Ela escreveu uma longa história, “Orações sem Resposta”, onde me cita e tem algumas palavras lisonjeiras, dizendo que eu escrevia um blog sobre Madeleine “com considerável autoridade”, e parecia ter “excelentes contatos junto da polícia”.

Li a história, algumas semanas depois de ser publicada. Voltei a ver o artigo, há alguns dias, durante uma pesquisa na Netr, e li-o novamente. Não sei como, mas passou-me completamente um detalhe, quando o li pela primeira vez. Judy Bachrach escreveu que “depois de Madeleine ter desaparecido, os moradores locais usaram os seus próprios cães, sob a orientação da polícia, que os acompanhou com cães especializados em detectar drogas” para tentar encontrar Madeleine. Judy cita Robert Tucker, responsável de um empresa de segurança em Nova York, que afirma saber muito sobre o trabalho de investigação da polícia, mas não conseguia imaginar "por que razão a polícia iria querer que alguém trouxesse seus cães para ajudar".

Fiquei surpreendido com isto. Nunca ouvi absolutamente nada sobre esse detalhe. E, no entanto, parece-me ser apenas uma questão de bom senso, certo? Faz algum sentido, para alguém, para um cidadão comum sem treino policial, pedir cães domésticos para ajudar a detectar e seguir o cheiro de uma criança que desapareceu? Cães domésticos não são capazes de fazer isso. Então, se isso é um absurdo total para qualquer cidadão comum, como é que poderia ser considerado por um polícia?

Judy Bachaach menciona que esses cães de estimação foram usados “sob a orientação da polícia, com cães farejadores de drogas". Nesse caso, já estavam na Praia da Luz algumas unidades K2, como os americanos se referem às unidades compostas pelo treinador e pelo respectivo cão-pisteiro. E isso é verdade, eles foram chamados por volta das 2:00 da manhã, e vieram do quartel de Portimão para a Praia da Luz. Mais tarde, às 4:00 da manhã, outras unidades K2 foram chamadas pelo comandante da GNR. Como é possível que polícias de uma unidade de cães-pisteiros, com treinamento específico sobre o uso de cães para procurar pessoas e drogas, possam pedir aos habitantes locais que tragam os seus cães para ajudar?

Não me surpreende que alguém tenha dado esse tipo de informação a Judy Bachrach, já que tantas coisas absurdas foram ditas e escritas sobre o caso. O que me surpreende um pouco é que uma jornalista experiente como ela não tenha feito as mesmas perguntas que eu fiz nos parágrafos anteriores, quando recebeu essa informação.

Os cães trazidos de Portimão eram cães de patrulha também treinados para rastrear pessoas e drogas. Mas por volta das 5:00 da madrugada, o comandante do grupo territorial das forças da GNR, com autoridade sobre a área do Algarve, após ter sido informado da situação, chamou uma unidade especializada de cães-pisteiros, sediada em Queluz, nos arredores de Lisboa. Esses cães são treinados apenas para detectar e seguir o cheiro de pessoas que tenham desaparecido. O comandante da GNR pediu que fossem enviadas várias equipas para a Praia da Luz. Toda esta informação está disponível, em inglês, no site “McCann: PJ Files”.

De Lisboa à Praia da Luz são mais de 300 quilómetros. As novas equipas de cães-pisteiros chegaram de manhã cedo - três policiais com quatro cães - e iniciaram as buscas imediatamente. Julgo que toda a gente que acompanhou o caso se lembra que Eddie e Keela pareciam cães domésticos. Eddie é um springer spaniel inglês, por exemplo. Cães farejadores não são apenas pastores alemães ou belgas malinois, raças habitualmene usadas como cães de patrulha, mas que também podem ser usados como cães-pisteiros, se forem treinados para isso. Estas duas raças de cães estão incluídas na lista das 10 raças com melhor olfacto e estão bem posicionados no ranking (quarto e sexto lugar) deste website especializado em cães.

Elementos da GNR, com cães-pisteiros, numa rua da Praia da Luz
Não sei que tipo de raça utiliza cria a unidade especial de Queluz. Mas podem utilizar outra raça, sem serem os pastores alemães ou os belgas malinois, tal como era o caso de Eddie e Keela, os “cães maravilha” que tinham asua própria página no site da polícia de South Yorkshire. É curioso que, desde há muito tempo, a ligação que eu coloquei, para aquela página vai dar a uma página em branco (*), embora o endereço ainda esteja visível e seja o mesmo que incluía uma espécie de “diário” sobre os famosos cães: https: //

Será possível que as unidades especializadas K2, vindas de Queluz, usassem um tipo de raça que, como Eddie e Keela, também são cães de estimação comuns? Ter-se-á dado o caso de alguém ter visto esses cães com os polícias, ter tirado uma conclusão absurda – que eram cães, devido à sua raça, provavelmente pertenciam aos moradores locais - e tenha dado essa informação a Judy Bachrach?

De qualquer forma, “Orações sem Resposta” é uma óptima peça jornalística, muito bem escrita, bem pesquisada, com muitos factos, entrevistas, comentários e, como qualquer bom jornalista deve fazer, coloca muitas questões sobre o caso. Escrevi este post essencialmente como uma mensagem amigável para Judy Bachrach. Qualquer pessoa corre o risco de cometer erros no seu trabalho. Nós, jornalistas, estaremos mais "em perigo" de o fazer, devido a várias características do nosso trabalho, como, por exemplo, editores aos berros, na Redacção, porque ainda não acabámos de escrever o nosso artigo e estamos a atrasar o fecho da edição – algo que coloca uma enorme pressão sobre nós.

Eu próprio cometi dois erros, nos muitos posts que escrevi sobre este caso, desde 2007. Um desses erros foi realmente grande, quando confiei (sem verificar junto de outras fontes) numa informação que me foi dada por um colega que eu conhecia, há mais de 20 anos, com muito mais experiência de jornalismo do que eu e bons contactos em Inglaterra, onde tinha trabalhado, durante bastante tempo, também como jornalista.

(*) Uma busca no site da polícia de South Yorkshire sobre “cães”, “cães-pisteiros”, “Eddie”, “Keela”, não produz qualquer nenhum resultado. A página sobre os cães foi apagada, após a violenta reação de Gerry McCann, depois de Eddie e Keela terem dado indicações incriminatórias contra o casal, quando foram trazidos para a Praia da Luz. Ao mesmo tempo, alguns artigos publicadas em jornais britânicos começaram a lançar dúvidas sobre a fiabilidade desses cães-pisteiros, afirmando, entre outras coisas, que confiar neles era o mesmo que atirar uma moeda ao ar.

Antes de ser usada no caso McCann, Keela foi a “estrela” de uma reportagem publicada pelo “Daily Mail”, em 2005: “O cão-polícia que ganha mais que o chefe de polícia”, onde era elogiada a excelente capacidade do cão em “detectar” ínfimas amostras de sangue humano - mesmo em roupas, por exemplo, que já tinham sido lavadas. ”Martin Grime, o treinador de Eddie, num depoimento que está nos arquivos em DVD da investigação do desaparecimento de Madeleine, diz que os cães foram usado em cerca de 200 casos e nunca deram um “falso alerta”.

O chefe da Polícia de South Yorkshire, Meredydd Hughes com Keela
Martin Grime também é citado numa reportagem da BBC, que menciona um caso específico, em Jersey, quando “a polícia suspeitou que restos humanos teriam sido enterrados no local de um antigo orfanato (…) o springer spaniel fez parte da equipe de especialistas levada para investigar o caso. A polícia de Jersey disse que o cão, de sete anos de idade, detectou partes do corpo de uma criança, apesar de terem sido enterradas sob vários centímetros de cimento.

O jornal “The Sun”, em 5 de setembro de 2007, iniciou a campanha contra Eddie e Keela, com uma reportagem ciando um “especialis” anónimo que disse ao jornal que “os cães podem identificar traços de sangue, mas é loucura tirar conclusões importantes apenas a partir dessas indicações. Qualquer evidência que eles detectem deve ser usada como ponto de partida. É uma loucura confiar apenas naquilo que os cães-pisteiros assinalam ”, disse o chamado “especialista”, não identificado. A manchete de "The Sun" foi muito clara: "É uma loucura confiar em animais". É curioso, quase cómico, que o mesmo jornal tenha uma história, em Dezembro de 2005, sobre Keela, com a manchete: “O 'Sherlock Bones (Ossos) Nº1, do Reino Unido” (não disponível online).

Duas histórias do jornal "The Sun", sobre o mesmo cão, Eddie e o seu treinador, Martin Grime. A primeira foi publicada em 2005, a segunda em 2007
Depois dessa história, também em Setembro de 2007, o jornal “The Telegraph” (página não disponível on-line) surge com uma história diferente, mas no msmo sentido. “Os advogados de Kate e Gerry McCann entraram em contato com advogados norte-americanos, devido a um caso em que provas obtidas através de cães-pisteiros foram rejeitadas por um tribunal, na esperança de que isso pudesse ajudá-los a combater qualquer acusação de envolvimento na morte de sua filha”. Os advogados dos McCann, Angus McBride e Michael Caplan, “consultaram a equipe jurídica de Eugene Zapata, 68 anos, acusado de assassinar a sua esposa Jeanette, em 1976. Mas o juiz decidiu, no mês passado, que a prova não era mais fiável do que 'atrar uma moeda ao ar' e não poderia ser utilizada no julgamentoi", escreveu o jornal.

Gerry McCann, na única entrevista que deu a um jornal português, o semanário “Expresso”, também foi muito agressivo em relação à capacidade dos “cães maravilha”. Respondendo a uma pergunta sobre o facto de Eddie e Keela terem assinalado "traços de sangue no apartamento e no carro", Gerry afirmou que "não foi encontrado sangue" e disse que "aquela prova é inútil sem ser confirmada por análises forenses. E isso não foi feito”, acrescentou.

O pai de Madeleine McCan mencionou também que “a pouca fiabilidade desses cães foi comprovada num estudo realizado nos EUA, sobre um homem acusado de homicídio. Numa casa com dez quartos, foram colocadas, em cada um quarto, quatro caixas com legumes, ossos e lixo. Alguns tinham restos humanos. As caixas ficaramno local durante dez horas. Oito horas depois de levarem as caixas, vieram os cães. E os cães falharam em dois terços dos casos. Imagine a fiabildade de esse tipo de cães analisarem um apartamento, três meses depois de a criança ter desaparecido”, concluiu.

Eddie e Keela, de facto, tiveram em Setembro de 2007, aquilo que se se pode chamar uma vida de cão: num dia, eram os melhores cães-pisteiros do mundo, no dia seguinte, não eram mais fiáveis do que atirar uma moeda ao ar...

Sniffer-dogs, the campaign against Eddie and Keela and “Vanity Fair” story about Maddie

"Daily Mail", 2005: "The police dog who earns more than the Chief Constable"

Judy Bachrach is a highly respected American journalist, a contributing-editor to “Vanity Fair”, a magazine of popular culture, fashion, and current affairs published by Condé Nast in the United States. I met her in Praia da Luz, in 2007. She found my blog, “googling” about the Madeleine McCann case, before going there, we got in touch and had dinner together.

It was a long dinner and Maddie’s case was almost the only subject. I told her everything I knew and had already published, gave her some “insights” and tips and called her attention to the way British Media was reporting the case. She wrote a long story, “Unanswered Prayers”, where she quotes me and has some flattering words, saying that I wrote a blog about Madeleine, and “with considerable authority”, as I seemed to have “excellent contacts in law enforcement”.

I read the story, few weeks after it was published. I saw it, a few days ago, during a net search, and read it again. I don’t how, but there is a detail that I missed completely, when I read it for the first time. Judy Bachrach wrote that “after Madeleine vanished, local residents actually used household pets under the guidance of police with drug-sniffing dogs” to try to find Madeleine. She quotes Robert Tucker, who runs a New York security firm, as saying that he knows a lot about detective work but could not imagine “why the police would want anyone bringing their pets to assist.”

This is amazing, for me. I never heard absolutely nothing about this detail. It is just a question of common sense, right? Does it make any sense, for anybody, for a common citizen with no police training, to ask for pet dogs to help track and follow the scent of a child that disappeared? Pet dogs are just not able to do that, at all. So, if this is a absolute nonsense for any common citizen, how could it be considered by a trained policeman?

She mentions that those pet dogs were used “under the guidance of police with drug-sniffing dogs”. So, there were already at Praia da Luz some K2 units. And that’s truth, they were called and were there around 2:00 am, coming from their headquarter at Portimão. Later, at 4:00 am, more K2 units were requested by the GNR post commander. How is it possible that policemen from a K2 unit, with specific training about using dogs to search for people and drugs, could ask locals to bring their pet dogs to help?

It does not surprise me that somebody gave this kind of information to Judy Bachrach, as so many absurd things have been said and written about the case. What surprises me a little bit is that a seasoned journalist like her didn’t asked to herself the same questions I asked in the previous paragraphs, when she got that information.

The dogs brought from Portimão were patrol dogs also trained to track people and drugs. But around 5:00 am, the territorial group commander of GNR forces, with authority over Algarve area, after being briefed about the situation, called a specialized unit of sniffer-dogs, based at Queluz, in the outskirts of Lisbon. Those were dogs specifically trained only to follow the scent of missing or disappeared persons. He asked them to send their teams to Praia da Luz. All of this information is available, in English, in the site “McCann: PJ Files”.

From Lisbon to Praia da Luz it’s more than 300 kilometers, so they arrived early in the morning – three policemen with four sniffer-dogs – and started the searches immediately. I think everybody remembers that Eddie and Keela looked like pet dogs. Eddie is a English springer spaniel, for example. Sniffer-dogs are not only German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois, the breeds commonly used as patrol dogs. But they can also be used as tracking dogs, if they are trained for that. They are both included in the list of the the 10 dog breeds with the best sense of smell, and they are well placed in the ranking (fourth and sixth place) of that website specialized in dogs.

GNR sniffer-dogs on the streets of Praia da Luz
 I don’t know what kind of dog breed the special unit from Queluz uses. But they may have other breed than the German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois. Just like Eddie and Keela, the “wonder dogs” that had their own page at the South Yorkshire Police website. It’s curious that, since long time ago, the link I posted to that page goes to a blank page (*), but the address still visible is the same that included a kind of “diary” about those famous dogs:

Is it possible that the specialized K2 units, coming from Queluz, used the kind of breed that, like Eddie and Keela, are also common pet dogs? That someone saw those dogs with the police officers, made an absurd conclusion and gave that information to Judy Bachrach?

Anyway, “Unanswered Prayers” is a really good piece of journalism, very well-written, well  researched, with a lot of facts, interviews, comments and, as any good journalist must do, asks a lot of questions about the case. I wrote this post also as a friendly message to Judy Bachrach. Everybody is at risk of making mistakes in their job. We, journalists, may be in more “danger” of doing it, due to several characteristics of our work, like editors screaming and shouting, because we didn’t finished yet to write our story, putting a lot of pressure over us.

I, myself, made two mistakes, while reporting about this case, since 2007 – and one of those mistakes was really big, when I trusted (without checking it with other sources..) a information given to me by a colleague I knew for more than 20 years, older than me, with much more experience as a journalist and good contacts in UK, where he worked for a couple of years, also as a journalist.

(*) A search in the website of South Yorkshire Police about “dogs”, “sniffer-dogs”, “Eddie”, “Keela”, as no results. The page about the dogs was deleted, following the violent reaction of Gerry McCann, after Eddie and Keela gave incriminating indications against the couple, when they were brought to Praia da Luz. At the same time, some stories published in British newspapers said things like the reliability of those sniffer-dogs was similar to the flipping of a coin.

Before she was used in the McCann case, Keela was the “star” of a story published by “Daily Mail”, in 2005: “The police dog who earns more than the Chief Constable”, praising the outstanding capacity of the dog “sniff out the smallest samples of human blood - even after items have been cleaned or washed many times.” Martin Grime, the handler of Eddie, in a statement that is in the DVD files of the investigation of Madeleine’s disappearance, says that the dogs have been used in around 200 cases and never gave a “false alert”.

Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes with Keela

Martin Grime is also quoted on a story from BBC, that mentions a specific case, in Jersey, when “police suspected human remains were buried on the site of a former children's home (…) the springer spaniel was part of the specialist team brought in to investigate. Jersey Police said the seven-year-old dog located parts of a child's body even though they were buried under several inches of concrete.”

“The Sun”, on September 5th 2007, started the campaign against Eddie and Keela, with a story that quoted a unnamed “expert” who told the newspaper that “the dogs can identify traces of blood, but it's crazy to draw major conclusions just from what they find. Any evidence they find should be used as a starting point. It's madness just to rely on the findings of the sniffer dogs”, the so-called and unidentified “expert” said. The headline of “The Sun” was crystal clear: “It’s crazy to rely on animals”. It’s curious, almost comic, that the same newspaper had a story, on December 2005, about Keela, with the headline: “UK's No1 Sherlock Bones” (not available online).

Two stories from "The Sun": the first, from 2005, the second from 2007

After that story, also on September 2007, “The Telegraph” (page not available online) had a different story. “Kate and Gerry McCann's legal team has contacted American lawyers over a case where key sniffer dog evidence was thrown out of court in the hope that it may help them fight any charges that they were involved in the killing of their daughter”. McCann lawyers Angus McBride and Michael Caplan “consulted the legal team of Eugene Zapata, 68, who is accused of murdering his estranged wife Jeanette in 1976. But a judge ruled last month that the evidence was no more reliable than the flip of a coin and could not be put before a jury”, wrote the newspaper.

Gerry McCann, on the sole interview he gave to a Portuguese newspaper, the weekly “Expresso”, was also very aggressive towards the capacity of the “wonder dogs”. Answering a question about what the the fact the the dogs found “traces of blood in the apartment and in the car”, he claimed that “no blood was found” and said “the evidence is worthless without being corroborated by forensic information. And they were not”.

He mentioned also that “the fragility of these dogs has been proven in a study conducted in the USA, about a man accused of murder. They had ten rooms, and in each they placed four boxes with vegetables, bones, trash. Some had human remains. They stayed there ten hours. Eight hours after they took the boxes out came the dogs. And the dogs missed two-thirds of the attempts. Imagine reliability when these dogs test an apartment three months after a child disappears”, he concluded.

So, Eddie and Keela had, on September 2007, a really dog’s life: one day, they were the best sniffer-dogs in the world, next day, they were no more reliable as the flipping of a coin.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Plea Bargain", uma "proposta" da PJ que só existiu para os McCann

Depois do interrogatório na sede da PJ, em Portimão, Philomena McCann, a irmã de Gerry lançou uma “campanha de desinformação”, citando Kate McCann: a polícia portuguesa ofereceu-lhe uma “plea bargain”, um acordo: “Se ela confessasse” ter morto acidentalmente Madeleine (…) e depois ter escondido o corpo e ter-se desfeito dele, então poderiam aplicar-lhe uma sentença de prisão de dois anos ou até menos ”, segundo o “The Telegraph”. Philomena McCann foi, inclusive, convidada para um debate sobre o caso, no programa “Larry King Live”, e disse, ao telefone: Se Kate “dissesse que matou acidentalmente Madeleine (…) ela teria uma sentença, sabe, muito reduzida, como dois anos ou até menos, mas isso é algo que ela nunca vai dizer, porque não há verdade nenhuma nisso ”, disse.

A “declaração” de Philomena McCann foi “confirmada” por Robert Moore, correspondente da ITN em Portugal, durante o mesmo debate: “Estou a ouvir o mesmo das minhas fontes aqui, essencialmente, é extraordinário como os investigadores portugueses lidaram com Kate McCann, em particular. Eles simplesmente disseram-lhe que se ela confessasse ter morto Madeleine, poderiam garantir que teria dois ou três anos de prisão. Eles até sugeriram que ela estaria livre novamente depois de um ano, e seria capaz de ver seus gêmeos crescerem ”, acrescenyou Robert Moore.

Enquanto isso, Philomena McCann continuou sua implacável campanha de “desinformação”, conversando com órgãos de Comunicação Social. Ela disse à Sky News “que a polícia portuguesa sugeriu que a sua cunhada acidentalmente matou Madeleine, escondeu o corpo e depois se descartou dele (...) Eu nunca ouvi nada tão ridículo na minha vida”, disse ela. Philomena McCann disse também à ITV News que a polícia portuguesa ofereceu a Kate McCann um acordo por meio de seu advogado.
O “Daily Mail” entrou em mais detalhes, citando o livro “Vanished”, escrito por Kate McCann: “A oferta de 'plea bargain' foi colocada aos McCann através do seu advogado, Carlos Pinto de Abreu. Ele disse-lhes que Kate McCann poderia ficar presa "apenas dois anos" se admitisse que Madeleine havia morrido em um acidente no apartamento, e confessasse ter escondido o corpo e, depois, ter-se desfeito dele." Kate McCann escreveu, no seu livro, de acordo com a citação do jornal: "Perdão? Eu não tinha a certeza se estava a ouvir corretamente. Eles realmente esperavam que eu confessasse um crime que eles tinham inventado, que alegassem falsamente ao mundo inteiro que a minha filha estava morta, e o resultado seria que o mundo inteiro parava de procurá-la?” (*)

O único problema é que a “plea bargain”, sistema amplamente utilizado nos Estados Unidos, simplesmente não existe no sistema jurídico português. A polícia não tem poder ou autoridade para propor, negociar ou sugerir sentenças de prisão, em troca de qualquer coisa que possa ser. Apenas num tribunal, em julgamento, os juízes têm o poder de decidir a sentença a ser aplicada. E, claro, eles levam em consideração todos os detalhes do caso.

A “campanha de desinformação” sobre a alegada “plea bargain” foi “morta” pelo próprio advogado português dos McCann, Pinto de Abreu. Talvez cansado e um pouco envergonhado (como advogado ...) de ver o seu nome envolvido naquele tipo de campanha, ele falou com a Imprensa, e foi claro, como o “The Guardian” referiu, na sua edição de 17 de setembro de 2007:

A polícia ainda estava a interrogar Gerry McCann quando já a sua irmã Philomena estava a dizer à Sky News que haviam oferecido a Kate McCann uma sentença reduzida de dois anos se ela admitisse ter matado a filha acidentalmente, escondendo o corpo e depois desfazendo-se dele (… ) Nessa altua, os policiais portugueses estavam furiosos e com certa razão. Como muitas outras coisas ditas sobre o caso McCann, nos últimos dias e meses, a história estava errada. Não houve oferta de nenhuma “plea bargain”. Tudo tinha sido "um mal-entendido", explicou o advogado dos McCann, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, no dia seguinte.”, escreveu o “The Guardian”.

(*) Edited at 00:47, May 25 2018 -  This is a detail I missed, when I wrote this post. The book "Vanished” was published in 2011. Kate McCann ignored completely the public denial of her own lawyer, who told the Media there was no “plea bargain” proposal. She wrote about the fabricated story of the “plea bargain” as if it was truth and not just another disinformation campaign of the McCann.