Somebody knows what happened to Madeleine McCann on the night of May 3 2007. But who – and could they ever be persuaded to speak the truth? On the tenth anniversary of the three-year-old’s disappearance from a sleepy Portuguese holiday resort BBC reporter Richard Bilton revisited the case for a Panorama special at once unnerving to sit through and impossible to turn away from.
He had returned to the Algarve to bear witness to what had happened – yet also, it quickly became clear, to move the story forward and connect, as best he could, the dots of a mystery that refuses to be solved.
Looming throughout was the horrible presumption that McCann, who would be a teenager today, may no longer be alive. However, because of the tangled web that quickly enmeshed the investigation, the case also remains luridly fascinating. A tragedy has acquired the trappings of farce and, as relayed in this often gripping documentary, the resulting melodrama possessed the couldn’t-make-it-up quality of the pulpiest whodunnit.
In 2007, Bilton was one of the first reporters on the ground in the quiet seaside town of Praia da Luz. As he returned to the now notorious complex from which McCann vanished a decade earlier, his unease was unmistakeable.
“I have a weird relationship with apartment 5a,” he said. “It’s a bland apartment. But something weird happened here. A little girl went missing and she’s never been found.“