More in hope than expectation, we waited to see if Gemma O’Doherty would produce a follow-up to her unexpectedly thin, in terms of new content, article in February, on the Madeleine McCann case.
We have shown that in terms of importance it’s really thick and has caused shock-waves that are still rocking the underground in this case.
As we thought, it wasn’t intended to be the first of a series and nothing more has been written or tweeted by Gemma on this subject. However, there is something we hope she will consider if she ever decides to revive her interest in the subject. Or rather, somebody.
The person is Steve Anderson, producer of BBC “Panorama - Madeleine McCann 10 Years On” shown in May 2017. Gemma’s important piece of information was that the BBC had made an untrue statement in the documentary when claiming, as in Richard Bilton’s spoken narrative that Mr Smith, an important witness in the case, had changed his mind about his sighting.
From Gemma O’Doherty’s article published in paper edition of the Village Magazine, on Feb 3 2017: “Maddie: did the BBC bend the truth?”
“The BBC even went as far as to make this claim. In a Panorama programme broadcast in May 2017 to mark the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance, presenter Richard Bilton told viewers that the Smith’s had changed their mind about seeing Gerry McCann and now believed they had seen someone else.
In recent weeks, I have spoken to Mr Smith at his home in Drogheda. He told me he continues to stand by everything he said to the police in 2007. At no point did he withdraw his statement or change his mind about the sighting.
He is frustrated by media claims that he now says he was mistaken and remains 60-80% convinced that the man he saw that night was Gerry McCann.
After the BBC programme was broadcast, Martin contacted Panorama and informed them of their inaccuracy but the broadcaster failed to correct the record despite its public service remit.
Last month, I asked the BBC why they had wrongly suggested that the Smith sighting had been withdrawn and if they were willing to correct their error at this late stage.
I received a reply acknowledging that they had indeed broadcast an inaccuracy. They agreed to update the Panorama programme on their iPlayer to reflect the correction. They say the mistake was made in good faith but they have failed to explain how they came to make such a fundamental error and why they did not check if their story about the Smiths was correct before they aired the programme.”
As the result of Gemma O’Doherty’s intervention, the BBC corrected this error by removing the offending words from their documentary, although they didn’t publish a written statement to this effect on the video itself, as they did for the error relating to describing the Madeleine Fund as a charity, when it wasn’t. There are other online versions of the documentary which are still available with the original wording and we have a transcript of Richard Bilton’s original version on our blog post “BBC Panorama II”:
“At 20.17, Bilton voice over: “The Portuguese had built their case about what happened in apartment 5a but it soon came tumbling down. Take that sighting by the Smith family. It couldn't have been Gerry because so many witnesses placed him at the Ocean Club at the same time. The Smiths themselves now believe they saw someone else.”
We know from Walkercan1000 on Twitter that he also claimed to have spoken to Mr Smith. He calls Gemma O’Doherty a liar, saying that she never spoke to Mr Smith and that the correction by the BBC had taken place before she had contacted them.
Walkercan1000 also claims that he had spoken to Mr Smith himself, at an unspecified time. To our knowledge, he has not been publicly challenged by Gemma O’Doherty, who may never even have heard of him, even though she is aware of “armchair detectives” who comment on the case and has demonstrated a familiarity with various online YouTube publications relating to the Maddie case.
If Gemma O’Doherty does decide to follow up the case, whether publicly or privately, we suggest she looks at the role of the producer of the programme, Steve Anderson, who was happy to simply repeat what had been written in the press about Mr Smith changing his mind.
The definitive statement about Mr Smith changing his mind was made in the Times published on Oct 27 2013, by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, “Madeleine clues hidden for five years”.
In a report seen by the Times, Oakley, private investigators for the McCanns, had travelled to Ireland to interview the Smith family and had produced 2 efits. They found Smith “helpful and sincere” and had recommended the efits be released without delay. The article caused a stir because it was said that the McCanns had withheld the efits from the police for 5 years, later corrected by the Times in an apology. The efits had, in fact, been handed to the Portuguese police and Leicester Police by October 2009 and copy of the report and efits were passed to the Metropolitan Police in August 2011.
What was seen by some as an encouraging break in the support for the McCanns in a more reputable newspaper was nothing of the sort. What was overlooked was the conclusion of Oakley that Madeleine had probably died in an accident after leaving the apartment and more importantly, the following statement made by the journalists:
“There was an uncomfortable complication with Smith’s account. He had originally told the police that he had recognised something about the way Gerry McCann carried one of his children which reminded him of a man he had seen in Praia da Luz.
Smith has since stressed that he does not believe that the man he saw was Gerry and Scotland Yard do not consider this a possibility.”
Nothing unequivocal was expressed here. “Stressed”, rather than said or explained is a strong word and although Scotland Yard’s words are not in inverted commas, it suggests they had given this opinion directly to the reporters. This was taken up by other newspapers in the following days, as reflected by Neil Sears in the Daily Mail on Oct 28 2013 “Why were Maddie suspect E-fits kept SECRET for five years? Images and evidence of sighting uncovered by private detectives were suppressed”:
“The McCanns are now fully behind the fresh police drive and release of the E-fits – but five years ago they were reluctant to issue them, possibly in part because witness Mr Smith’s account seemed inconsistent and unreliable.
Months after the disappearance and after seeing Gerry McCann on TV, Mr Smith told police that he thought the man he saw carrying a girl around Madeleine’s age at the very time she went missing reminded him of Gerry McCann himself.
Mr Smith has reportedly since withdrawn that claim – just as Portuguese police have officially told the McCanns they are no longer suspects for their daughter’s disappearance.
But shortly after Mr Smith told police Mr McCann may have been the man he had seen carrying a little girl, a friend of the McCanns said: ‘Look at the facts. This man sees an individual carrying a child on the night Maddie vanished.
‘He waits 13 days to report this to the police, going back to Ireland in the meantime. At this stage he admits he has no idea who the man is. Almost four months go by before, after seeing him on TV, he feels that it could be Gerry.
‘The truth is that this is part of the victimisation of Gerry and Kate which has gone on from the very beginning by the Portuguese.’”
We are assuming the friend of the McCanns referred to may be the usual code for Clarence Mitchell. The friend makes it very clear there is no credibility to be given to Mr Smith’s account, which has somehow, been blamed on the Portuguese. How on earth were the Portuguese able to manage to persuade Mr Smith to say that the man he saw looked like Gerry McCann?
What link might there be between Mitchell and Steve Anderson?
“PR Week Profile: Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for the McCann family” published on Nov 28 2007 by Hannah Marriott.
Following a few paragraphs of high praise for Mitchell and his dangerous assignments in Iran and Iraq (really!?) we learn that he is “vehemently convinced of the McCanns’ innocence” and that he is crusading to “right what he perceives as a real injustice”. No ambivalence here- his mission is clear.
He goes on to say that the Portuguese police had decided they were involved and planted stories which were picked up by the British press. Something we are sure Mitchell would never do – no, no, never!
Steve Anderson, the then creative director of Mentorn Media and the executive director of the November 2007 Panorama Special: The Mystery of Madeleine McCann, “went so far as to say this was the job that Mitchell was ‘meant to do’”, according to Hannah Marriott.
A first crossing of paths between the McCanns’ spokesman and the documentary media?
Steve Anderson, according to the Independent article by Rob Brown published Mar 9, 1998 “Nepotism? Don't even think about it” is a native of Liverpool and describes his background as working class young man who achieved a university education and which is also said in the article from Broadcast Now, by Katherine Rushton from June 4, 2009,“Steve Anderson, Mentorn Media”. We have no evidence that he knew the McCanns before the Madeleine case, but he may have identified with them, coming from a similar background, in a way which influenced his decision about how to present their case. 2 years later, however, he was involved in another documentary.
Courtesy of Joana Morais’ blog in April 2009 “McCann New Documentary: Gerry McCann in Portugal (Updated)”:
Gerry arrives in Lisbon in the company of British reporters and an ITV production team, to produce a reconstitution of May 3rd with actors playing the roles of the McCanns and their friends. Apparently it’s a joint ITV Channel 4 production. The team have produced some works for BBC Panorama.
The team had been given a great deal of access to footage by the McCanns, having followed them since January. The ITV controller of current affairs and documentaries, Jeff Anderson (Steve’s brother) said the channel would donate £10,000 to the fund.
“Steve Anderson, executive producer at Mentorn Media, said: “Amid all of the controversy, what should be remembered is that a little girl is still missing and her family is trying its best to find her.
“We have been with Kate and Gerry McCann as they have pushed for a better system across Europe to help stop child abduction. They are determined to do whatever they can to make sure that what happened to Madeleine doesn’t happen to another child.
“They also speak frankly and honestly about Madeleine’s disappearance which is undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the past 12 months.”” (and probably one of the most lucrative – our words)
Emma Loach worked as a development producer at Mentorn became a producer/director at the age of 34 and worked with Steve Anderson. As the article from Broadcast Now by Katherine Rushton mentioned above says:
“Anderson has masterminded a string of access- based docs on the McCanns’ hunt for Madeleine, for the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. Proof, surely, that must-have content still wins commissions.
Both types of programme rely on Mentorn’s ability to secure access. Anderson makes sure he has the right staff to do this he hired the director, mother of three Emma Loach, to forge a relationship with Kate McCann) but also plays the long game, entering a two-way relationship with his subjects whether calculatingly or by accident.”
Emma Loach fulfilled her brief very well. When she appeared as a witness for the McCanns in their case against Mr Amaral in September 2013, we learn, courtesy of Anne Guedes that she gave evidence to state that she first met the McCanns in 2008 in order to make the first documentary “Madeleine, One Year On” and that “Since then their professional relationship has expanded to that of friendship and to the extent that she sees the family including the twins on a regular basis.” [note: the blog was unable to find the link to this video in full, only this snippet of it and its transcript]
She later confirmed that she was the documentary maker of both the May 2008 documentary 2 “Madeleine, One Year On” (ITV) and May 2009 “Madeleine was here” (Channel 4) In the first documentary , she says she didn’t use the word abduction. When asked by Isabel Duarte if the documentaries are based on the McCann couple’s thesis (the abduction), she answered that in the second documentary an investigator says there are many theories but they investigate it on the basis it was an abduction.
When asked by Guerra y Paz’s lawyer if she knew Mr Amaral’s book was published in the UK, Emma Loach answers that she saw it in bookshops. After some further questions, she leaves the witness box upset. Possibly because she could not have seen the book in any UK bookshop and realised her error?
By 2009, information from the PJ files was publicly available, so by the time of the reconstitution programme referred to in the court proceedings, the documentary makers had obviously decided which side to take in the presentation of the story, in the light of this information.
Going back in time, the next Panorama programme was in November 2007, as per our “BBC Panorama I” and “BBC Panorama II” posts and was presented by Richard Bilton.
On this occasion, there was a row between the producer, David Mills (not Steve Anderson on this occasion), and the editor Sandy Smith, as said in the Guardian article by David Rose published on Nov 25, 2007 “Panorama walk-out over McCann film”. Mills resigned and the programme went ahead with the editor’s script. Mills had been given access to a video diary shot by Jon Corner and the footage acquired by Mills had led to the BBC getting the commission. Mills had wanted the programme to criticise the PJ for a campaign of disinformation and the local press for spreading rumours. He had concluded the allegations against the McCanns were baseless, the DNA evidence weak and the discrepancies in statements meant very little. The resulting programme was more critical of the McCanns than was originally intended, but Mitchell spoke to Bilton during the making of the programme and no doubt exerted his usual influence, as stated in this article:
“Clarence Mitchell, the former BBC reporter who is the McCanns' spokesman, said Kate and Gerry were 'content' with the broadcast version and accepted that events meant it had to change. He said they had spoken to Bilton and told him they considered the film to be 'fair'.”
This was all before the release of the PJ files and Mr Amaral’s book, so who was the source of Mill’s supposedly reliable information that everything was being set up against the McCanns by the Portuguese police? It’s not possible to determine if the family video was made available because Mills was sympathetic to their cause or whether he was required to present a sympathetic account in order to have access to the material, but this raises questions about the independence of the visual media in broadcasting documentaries, which the public expect to be more balanced in presentation.
Anderson and Loach had unrivalled access to the McCanns, so much so that Loach became their friend, meeting them regularly. So how much reliance can we place on any of these documentaries to provide a dispassionate account of both sides of the case? Was the Portuguese side of the case ever given a fair hearing?
Quoting from “Documentary, Polemic, and Propaganda” by David Hopcroft
“A ‘documentary’ carries with it a suggestion of a reasonable degree of impartiality. It suggests journalism, as objective as possible in service of explanation, not argument. A polemic is a deliberate use of carefully selected evidence in the narrow service of a particular point of view. It isn’t even really even journalism, which is intended to develop reasoned arguments to stimulate reasoned debate. It’s commentary with the intent of distorting the debate towards a singular conclusion.”
By all means, make a polemical programme, called “The McCanns are Innocent” if that’s the intention. At least then, we are all clear about the agenda.
When Steve Anderson produced the “Panorama - Madeleine McCann 10 Years On” documentary, he had already decided where he stood on the issue. However, there also appeared what could be described as limited hangout by Richard Bilton, when he told the viewers that he had been asked to spy on Robert Murat by someone from the McCann camp, although not the McCanns themselves, as said in the Daily Mail article “BBC reporter claims he was offered exclusive access to Madeleine’s family if he spied on press pack for the McCanns” by James Dunn, on May 3 2017:
“A BBC reporter claims he was offered exclusive access to the McCanns' team if he agreed to spy on the press pack for their investigators.
Richard Bilton, who covered the disappearance in 2007, said investigators hired by the family offered him the deal because they wanted information on a suspect.
They asked him to find out what other journalists were saying about Robert Murat, who was later cleared by police but since said the accusation alone 'destroyed my life'.”
Presumably this was to make us feel the programme was impartial and therefore believable. So when we were told that Mr Smith had changed his mind, were we supposed to accept that the so-called investigative journalist Bilton , who brought up this new and rather startling fact, had checked his facts before stating them so boldly in a documentary?
This “fundamental error”, as Gemma refers to it, suggests that Bilton is either a sloppy journalist who took the Times story at face value without attempting to speak to Mr Smith or he is nothing more than a hack, paid to say what he is told to say. And if the BBC had made “an honest mistake”, why did it take the intervention of a journalist to achieve what Mr Smith had failed to do?
Steve Anderson – Panorama or Propaganda?
So over to you Gemma.
We hope you do decide to pursue the Maddie case again, as we don’t want to leave it to the “armchair detectives” when we have bona fide journalists waiting to do the job for us.