It's been a long 13 years for the McCanns. I wish them some peace

Barbara Ellen
Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP

Has the Madeleine McCann case finally been solved? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry, have long been owed a heartfelt apology from sectors of the British public and media.

Christian Brückner was jailed last year for the rape of a 72-year-old woman in Praia da Luz, Portugal (where Madeleine was abducted), and his other convictions include child sexual abuse and he may be linked to the disappearance of a five-year-old girl in Germany and a six-year-old boy in Portugal. But even if Brückner is convicted, it would not make up for the relentless criticism, speculation and abuse the McCanns have suffered for 13 harrowing years.

Even today, people rant about how the McCanns shouldn’t have left the then three-year-old Madeleine and her twin siblings alone in an apartment, while they dined with friends (as so many holidaymakers have done). All these years on, do people think this is an original thought or, more pertinently, that the McCanns don’t regret that decision with every fibre of their being? What possible justification, bar sanctimony and gossip, is there for kicking that tender bruise?

However, this has been the tone throughout. People declaring they were “positive” that the McCanns murdered their daughter (and disposed of the body, while scrutinised by police and global media?); others deciding the couple were “money-hungry”/”publicity-grabbers”, which makes no sense. To keep looking for Madeleine, the McCanns needed as much publicity and funding as possible. In the end, they received endless exposure and millions of pounds – considerably more than most cases get. Would you, as a desperate parent, have turned it down?

This case has been about a lot of things – our obsessive reappraisal of childhood and ranking of ourselves (and others) as “good”/“bad” parents. The rebranding of “true crime” (including child murder) from documentary to family-friendly entertainment. But it’s also been about class. Some thought the McCanns were supported and defended because they were middle class, but it seems equally true that it has been used against them. 

How many times were they denounced as “cold”, “stiff’, “unnatural”? Never mind that both parents had modest backgrounds and worked hard to become medics. Or that they were clearly private and reserved by nature. The script required them to be aloof, uptight, emotionless – every outdated caricature of the middle class – so that indeed was that.

I’m not arguing that the McCanns are living saints, because that would just dehumanise them further. I’m also aware that, here I am, a member of the media, discussing this “hot topic” yet again. Still, as it looks as though there could possibly be some kind of closure for the McCanns, it’s time to look at ourselves too. The entire world wants to know what happened to Madeleine McCann, but that’s no excuse for a 13-year grubby, toxic pile-on.

Raab’s inaction is disgraceful and endangers many Britons

‘He seems to be quite the bully when he wants to be, but submissive and weak… again, when he wants to be.’ Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Exactly how toothless is the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, when it really matters for British citizens? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian womanimprisoned in Iran since 2016, is to continue her furlough from prison. However, she has yet to be granted full clemency, which she qualifies for, and which would enable her to return to the UK.

Meanwhile, US prisoner Michael White has been released in an apparent prisoner swap, with Donald Trump tweeting: “Thank you to Iran. It shows a deal is possible.” Well, not apparently for three Tory foreign secretaries: Boris Johnson (who made Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation worse), Jeremy Hunt and now Raab.

There have been reports on the £400m owed by the UK to Iran, relating to an arms deal and how this is probably scuppering efforts to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. The government has been implored to settle the debt, to no avail. Raab also refused an application asking him to dispatch the UK ambassador to Iran to see Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a “show of solidarity”.

Then there’s the case of Harry Dunn, the 19-year-old who was riding his motorcycle near RAF Croughton, Northamptonshire, when he was knocked over and killed by the wife of a US intelligence officer, who fled to America and refused to return. Last week, the Dunn family spoke about how they’ve been manipulatedand misled, with Raab appearing to put the needs of the US before justice for their son.

In both cases, Raab isn’t doing his job properly. He seems to be quite the bully when he wants to be, but submissive and weak… again, when he wants to be. British citizens deserve better than this.

Classing yoga as ‘spiritual’ is stretching it these days

‘There are times when this hugely lucrative global industry looks the very opposite of spiritual.’ Photograph: Alamy

The Greek Orthodox church has condemned yoga as “wrong” and “incompatible” with Christianity because of links to Hinduism. Blimey.

Personally, I’d say what’s wrong with yoga is that it appears to have been co-opted by the exercise smuggerati, who seem to feel that yoga mats and dramatic whisperings of “Namaste!” make them spiritually superior to other exercisers. 

Yoga wasn’t always like this. Time was, people seemed able to throw on some jogging bottoms and get on with the cobra or whatever. Arguably, the whole point was that yoga was freeing, in that it required no expensive equipment and its lessons could prove beneficial for a lifetime.

For some, it’s still like that. However, yoga has also been overtaken by the same people who charge into every health pursuit and make it competitive, expensive, elitist and therefore deeply irritating.

Add, too, the insta-yoga brigade’s tacked-on “spirituality”. Other forms of exercise don’t breed this attitude. People don’t get off crosstrainers and treadmills, saying: “I feel closer to God now.” Frankly, some of us feel closer to death.

Ultimately, it seems odd to class yoga as “wrong” in a meaningful religious context. If anything, there are times when this hugely lucrative global industry looks the very opposite of spiritual.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist