McCanns' new challenge

INNOCENT or guilty, Kate and Gerry McCann are living an almost unimaginable nightmare.Knowing they are at least partly responsible for it themselves can only make their agony worse.

INNOCENT or guilty, Kate and Gerry McCann are living an almost unimaginable nightmare.

If little Madeleine was indeed abducted or killed by person or persons unknown, her parents must live forever with a double torment.

Her loss itself is a horror with which every parent must feel sympathy. But it must be compounded by asking themselves over and over, without any good answer: “How could we have left her while we went out for a meal?”

That was the first question I asked when news of Madeleine's disappearance broke.

How could any parents leave not just a three-year-old, but also her two-year-old brother and sister unattended?

By their own admission, they did this not just once, but “every night” of their holiday. It is hardly the behaviour of responsible, caring parents in my opinion.

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In the early days of Maddy's disappearance, with millions of posters printed and £1million raised to help find her, the McCanns were eager to exploit the power of the media.

The press and TV themselves, meanwhile, gave these parents an inexplicably easy ride. Now the worm has turned.

Lurid tales of hair, DNA and “bodily fluids” fuel a national paper competition in which Kate and Gerry have gone from victims to villains.

Never mind whether or not they were guilty of their little girl's death, they are condemned in the public mind by headlines like “Maddy body was in hire car boot” and “We can prove parents did it”.

Even “We might not have enough evidence” is hardly a ringing endorsement of innocence. Like the old Scottish verdict of “not proven” it leaves a stain of assumed guilt.

Never mind whether the stories are true or not. Paper talk in Britain cannot legally prejudice any possible future court case in Portugal.

Assuming they are innocent, how the McCanns must now regret their decision to enlist mass media support. Once the genie is out of the bottle, you can't put it back - and you can't control which way it moves.

The McCanns have no way out of their nightmare, and it seems it can never end.

Unless one day Maddy should turn up alive and well - which is a conclusion which is easier to hope for than believe in.


NEWS that the mighty Led Zeppelin are getting back together, even for just one gig, puts all the other reunions - Genesis, Floyd, The Police, The Who, Take That, Spice Girls - in the shade.

And yet it doesn't feel quite right.

Back in their heyday I carried their LPs around under my arm like all the other teenage faithful. But I shan't be among those eager to re-mortgage the house, auction my vital organs or sell myself into slavery for a ticket to their London date.

There was always a purity about Led Zep that other bands didn't have. It was entirely right that when drummer John Bonham died in 1980 the band died with him.

OK, there was the reunion for Live Aid in 85, but that was frankly woeful. And I don't hold out much hope that the 2007 get-together will be much better.

Jimmy Page at 63 surely won't excite the way he did at 26. And will Robert Plant at 59 wail pleadingly to his “little girl”? I do hope not.

Zeppelin's first record, when they shamelessly ripped off songs by various old bluesmen, was and remains awesome. From there, though, it was all downhill.

At first the decline was so slight it was barely noticeable. But from the point when they started giving their albums names the slide was apparent.

I don't think I want to know how far they might have slithered since.

Better they just left the legacy of their early recordings. And let the torch be carried on by all those younger bands who have benefited from their influence.

Like the Australians Wolfmother, who recreate the early Zep sound with uncanny accuracy.

And Metallica, whose sound world is a development from the later Zeppelin - with the added bonus of lyrics that mean something:

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is old

And she's buying a stairlift to heaven…