Madeleine McCann would have been 8 years old today. Her mother has released a book on the case to mark the occasion, revive interest in the case in the hope of new leads coming to light and to help raise funds so that they can continue the search for her.
I have not followed the case closely enough to know all the minute details which so many people seem to know by heart. I don't know whether the parents were involved or not. I think not. But that's based on my gut instinct rather than anything else.
What has astonished me is the vitriol this family has received. Partly, they are suspected of being in some way involved in her disappearance and trying to milk the general public of money in a bogus scam to boot. But mainly because of the fact that they left their children alone in a holiday apartment while they dined a short distance away. On this latter subject, there are two main schools of thought:
- Those who think that they were hideously neglectful parents for doing this and should have their other children taken away/be jailed for child neglect.
- Those who say: haven't we all made mistakes and they're paying in the worst way possible for theirs.
In May 2005, when I was pregnant with son2, we went on a Sunsail holiday to Turkey. At the time, son1 was 16 months old. One of the reasons the place appealed was because you could go out in the evening (remaining on site) using the baby listening service. This service meant that someone would go round to each of the rooms every 20 minutes or so, listen in at the door and if they heard nothing would move on. If they heard anything, they'd call the parents to check it out. And it worked. Frequently during dinner, a staff member would come and say: room 35, room 35 - your child is crying, and the parents would jump up and run off.
I can honestly say that it did not ever enter my head that something bad could happen to my child. People say: oh but children left alone could vomit in their sleep and choke and die. Yes they could, but they could do that in my own home and I'd be none the wiser. You cannot live life assuming the very worst will happen. It never, ever, ever entered my head that someone could break into the room and take my child. It felt safe. A British company run resort. It was advertised on the brochure - you go out and enjoy time as a couple, our listening service will give you peace of mind.
We weren't the only people who used that service. Everybody there did.
Similarly, we went to a resort in Cornwall when the boys were aged roughly 8 months and 2 and a bit. They had a baby listening service which was machine based. Like a baby monitor I guess. You'd put your children to sleep, and then you'd go downstairs and someone on the switchboard listened in. Again, everybody there had kids and everybody used the service. It was what you did. Seems barking now in light of what has happened, but at the time, and certainly at the time that Madeleine went missing, it was the norm.
Madeleine's parents didn't use a listening service or a baby sitter they didn't know. They ran their own listening service every 15 minutes. It just so happens that during that time their child went missing.
Now, and this is the bit that I might get flamed with a flame-thrower for, these baby listening services were offered at the type of resorts frequented by people who could afford them (I hestitate to mention the words middle class). Sunsail & Mark Warner - don't come cheap.
The cheaper holiday options - anything from camping, to self-catering cottages, to caravans to Haven and Butlins - don't offer a listening service (feel free to correct me here if I'm wrong on the last two). And there are probably far more people - regardless of class - who go on more affordable holidays where a listening service is not offered, that those who have. And if they haven't ever been to a resort where this listening service is offered, they will not understand it. They will think it is neglect through and through.
I think this vitriol is coming largely from people who have never used a listening service and therefore do not understand why it seems (or seemed) ok to use them. And that same demographic most likely despise the middle class couple of doctors who should have spent money on a babysitter instead.
I'm not trying to be a snob with this thought. It's just that I've been reading the hideous comments on various websites aimed at this family and have been trying to figure out how come I can so entirely understand why the parents might have thought listening at the room every 15 minutes was ok when so many people find it bordering on a criminal offence. And my only explanation is that I have stayed in one of those places and completely get where the McCanns were coming from.
In hindsight, I realise it was probably an irresponsible thing to do. But you know, hindsight is a wonderful thing. People used to think it was ok to drink and smoke when they were pregnant, until they found out that actually it wasn't. And that kids could bounce up and down on the back seats of cars without carseats or even seat belts not that long ago. Things change.
And if nothing else, the Madeleine McCann case has caused change - most of the resorts now offer night creches instead of listening services. So parents take their children to the kids club where they're either popped into beds/cots or can stay up and watch telly/play games while the parents still get some time to work on their no doubt neglected relationship.
I'm sure there are still places that offer a listening service and that parents will still use it. I won't be one of them. I'm glad my eyes were opened, I'm just terribly, terribly sad that it had to be at the expense of a little girl.
To Madeleine, happy birthday wherever you are.