My trials with Madeleine

18 September 2007
The Scotsman
Stephen McGinty

THE spotlight on Kate McCann's parenting skills intensified yesterday as police in Portugal began to trawl through her personal medical records to establish whether she has a history of depression.

The move coincides with the publication of an interview in which the mother of Madeleine McCann revealed that her daughter's early life was "very difficult" and that the missing child was jealous of the attention given to her twin siblings.

Mrs McCann, 39, spoke to Flash!, a Portuguese magazine, before she was classified as a suspect in her daughter's disappearance. In the interview, she said Madeleine "cried practically for 18 hours a day" during her first six months.

She added that she "had to permanently carry her around" and suggested that period explained "the strong bond between mother and daughter".

The birth of Sean and Amelie, two years ago, disrupted the girl's life, but she eventually came to terms with them.

Mrs McCann said: "The worst thing is that she started to demand lots of attention, especially when I was breast-feeding them. She would run up and down screaming in the background, shouting for my attention."

She also said her daughter frequently suffered from colic at this time.

Last week it was claimed that Mrs McCann's diary painted a picture of a mother struggling to cope with three "hyperactive" and "hysterical" children. It was also claimed that Mrs McCann wrote in her diary that she was not given enough support from her husband, Gerry.

However, friends of the family dismiss the emphasis placed on the diary by the Portuguese police and said that any parent of three young children would recognise her struggles as entirely normal.

This view was supported last night by Sue Palmer, an expert on parenting issues and author of Toxic Childhood.

She said: "If any parent was put under the scrutiny that the McCanns are now they would find faults and difficulties. The problem is that parents today want to be perfect and that is impossible. The best you can be is good enough. Give your children love and affection, and time, which, with parents working, is becoming increasingly hard to do."

Tanya Byron, who has just been appointed by Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, to head an inquiry into children and the internet, said tantrums were not uncommon. In a recent interview, the presenter of the BBC's The House of Tiny Tearaways and author of Your Child, Your Way said: "Yes, they can be embarrassing and hard to deal with, but they're a very normal part of a child's behaviour."

The Portuguese authorities are now investigating whether Mrs McCann suffered from depression. They believe that a detailed analysis of her medical notes could provide them with significant evidence against the doctor. News of the development comes as a judge blocked a request from the Portuguese police to re-interview the McCanns in Portugal. Judge Pedro Daniel Dos Anjos Frios said they could be questioned by British authorities.

The new interviews will only take place when further DNA testing in Birmingham is completed this week. It is understood that British officers are also looking through Madeleine's medical records to see if she could have suffered an allergic reaction to sedatives.

Since Mr and Mrs McCann were named as official suspects last week, there have been suggestions in Portugal that Madeleine was given drugs on the night of her disappearance in May. The accusations have been strenuously denied by the couple, but have not been ruled out by police. Meanwhile, lawyers for the McCann family have been working to dismiss allegations that a police dog picked up the "scent of death" on her mother's clothes.

The legal team have consulted the lawyers of a US man accused of murdering his estranged wife in a case where cadaver sniffer-dog evidence was key.

Two British sniffer dogs, one capable of detecting blood and human remains, were brought to Portugal in August.

The cadaver dog picked up a "scent of death" on everything from Mrs McCann's clothes to Madeleine's favourite soft toy Cuddle Cat, according to reports. It was also claimed yesterday that the judge in the case has applied for permission to make a public statement about it, but he is not expected to reveal any evidence.

During police interviews, the McCanns were shown a video of the cadaver dog "going crazy" when it approached their Renault Scenic hire car, newspapers have claimed. Leaked reports from the investigation have suggested Madeleine's parents could have accidentally killed her and then disposed of her body using the car. Although they do not know the full details of Portuguese prosecutors' case against them, the McCanns are concerned it may rest on the dog's reaction.

They want to highlight the judge's dismissal of cadaver dog evidence in the high-profile Eugene Zapata murder trial in Madison, Wisconsin. The couple's lawyers have already contacted Mr Zapata's defence team, who are sending their file on the matter to Britain.

Mr Zapata's estranged wife Jeanette was 37 when she vanished in 1976 after seeing her children off to school. The flight instructor's body has never been found.

Detectives suspected Mr Zapata of involvement in her disappearance. Police decided to conduct new searches using cadaver dogs when a friend of Mrs Zapata contacted them in 2004, but a judge last month said the dogs were too unreliable in detecting the odour of remains.

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