IT is thirty years since Caroline Hogg was abducted in Portobello one warm July evening.
I was living there at the time, the father of two children not yet old enough to attend Towerbank Primary School where five-year-old Caroline was a pupil. One minute she was playing happily in the rather tatty amusement arcade, the next she was gone, no one knew where. Ten days later her body was found in a ditch in Leicestershire, dumped as if by a fly-tipper.
Caroline, surmised the police, was the victim of a serial killer, one of several girls who had vanished in mysterious circumstances and turned up dead. Because they were found at a distance from where they lived it was suspected that their abductor had the kind of job which involved long-distance travel, such as a lorry driver. It was not a lot to go on. As the days, then weeks, then months and years passed, it seemed we were no nearer to identifying who he or she was.
Back then, I spent many fruitless hours trying to get my head round how someone could get away with snatching girls in broad daylight. Like the detectives who are now trying desperately to solve the case of Madeleine McCann, I knew - mainly from my reading and watching of police procedurals - that it was first necessary to keep an open mind and, second, to challenge every so-called fact. Ultimately, however, I got no closer than the professionals to solving the mystery.
The prevailing sense was one of frustration and impotence, laced, of course, with anger. But when I quizzed the police they were adamant that one day they would find whoever killed Caroline and the other girls. Their confidence was not based on evidence, let alone revelations from the public. They simply felt that people who do such things become careless and make mistakes and are eventually identified and punished. Their belief was unswerving. Sooner or later, they'd say, we'll get him.
It is the kind of determination which marks those charged with discovering what happened to Madeleine McCann six long years ago in a Portuguese holiday resort. After Monday night's Crimewatch programme hundreds of people have contacted the police, many of whom, apparently, gave them the name of a man who was seen walking with a young child in his arms towards the sea. This new evidence has emerged after British detectives sifted painstakingly through all the data and re-questioned witnesses.
"Significantly," said Joe Mather, Crimewatch's editor, after the programme was broadcast, "there were lots of calls from British people who were on holiday in Praia da Luz around the time of Madeleine's disappearance who have never spoken to the Metropolitan police."
It is a statement which will mystify many. If they'd seen something, however tangential, surely they ought to have let those leading the investigation know. No doubt they have their reasons why they didn't. There are those, too, who question spending so much money - £5 million has been mentioned - on trying to determine the fate of one young girl. Couldn't it have been better spent?
It is not a view I feel ready to share. Nor am I sympathetic to those who would point the finger at Madeleine's distraught and still grieving parents for their perceived negligence. What's done is done. When a child disappears it's inevitable and natural that its parents will berate themselves. But as Mr McCann said, if you go down the road of "ifs, buts, maybes" it will just eat away at you. All you can do is what the McCanns have done, which is maintain the flickering light of hope in their hearts and shout as loud as they are able for the return of their lost daughter.
Caroline Hogg's killer was discovered in 1990, after he was spotted snatching a six-year-girl off the street near Stow. He was identified as Robert Black who did indeed work as a van driver and was himself the victim of abuse. I look at his photograph today and keep thinking our paths may have crossed, for he spent a number of years at a home for wayward and orphaned boys in Musselburgh, and attended the same school, and perhaps the same BB company, as I did. But I have retained no memory of him, and nor do I want one.
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