Thursday, 20 September 2007

Daily Mail: 17 years since last abduction on the Algarve, and again the victim was British - but the killer was also British..

Daily Mail: 17 years since last abduction on the Algarve, and again the victim was British - but the killer was also British..

“A British mechanic, Michael Cook from Southend, was jailed for 19 years for her murder after a Portuguese judge dismissed his defence that he only confessed after a severe beating by police”, wrote the Daily Mail, on May 10, 2007. “The last child to be snatched on the Algarve was also a British girl. Nine-year-old Rachel Charles was enticed into a car in November 1990 near Albufeira, 20 miles from where Madeleine vanished.”

But the severe beating by Police, according to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd, never happened. At least it was what Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd said, during a debate in the House of Commons, on June 9, 1992

House of Commons Hansard Debates, June 9, 1992

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) :

Rachel, a 9-year-old girl, was murdered by strangulation in a car on the Algarve in Portugal in November 1990. Michael Cook, a friend of Rachel's family, was convicted of the murder in February this year and sentenced to 19 years' imprisonment. He was tried by three local judges without a jury. The House will hear that the conviction is unsafe.
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Cook appeared in court, with black eyes and a missing tooth, and he was deeply bruised. It is claimed that Cook was hung from an upstairs window by his feet, that his feet were beaten until he could not stand, that he was tied to a chair and beaten, that he was deprived of sleep, and that a revolver was forced into his mouth and the trigger pulled in a mock execution. Cook's lawyers were said to be pushing for the release of a television video report which allegedly showed police beating Cook. Those lawyers were involved in a tragic accident involving a front tyre blow-out which, incidentally, it is claimed has never been properly investigated by the police. In that untimely accident, Dr. da Silva was killed and Dr. Coelho was severely injured.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd) :

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) for bringing this important case to its attention. I note the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall), who represents his constituent, the mother of Rachel Charles. I should like to outline the action taken by Her Majesty's Government on behalf of Michael Cook and his family since his arrest. On 5 December 1990 the British consulate in Portimao was informed that Michael Cook had been arrested the previous day for the murder of Rachel Charles. The consulate was told that he had confessed and would be taken before a judge on6 December to be formally charged.

The Portimao consul visited him on 6 December. On that occasion he said that he was being well treated and had no complaints. A Portuguese police officer was present throughout that meeting. On 10 December the Portimao consul had a private meeting with Michael Cook. On that occasion Mr. Cook said that he had been beaten twice : once when detained for questioning on 22 November and subsequently after his arrest on 4 December. He said that he had confessed under duress. He claimed to have been beaten on the chest and feet ; this, he said, explained why there were no signs of ill treatment.

On the following day, at the consul's insistence, Michael Cook was asked by the prison staff whether he wished to see a doctor so that a formal complaint about his mistreatment could be made. He declined to do so. Also on 11 December the British consul in Lisbon told Mr. Cook's Portuguese lawyer that the embassy would make a formal complaint if Mr. Cook wished. The offer was not taken up either by the lawyer or by Mr. Cook during subsequent visits by the Portimao consul. Thus, no medical examination to substantiate the allegations or otherwise took place.

From 11 December 1990 to 30 January 1992 when his trial began, Michael Cook was visited seven more times by consular officials. He complained once, in February 1991, of having been threatened verbally by other inmates, but said that the threats had ceased. Twice he complained of suffering from mental stress and three times from ulcer problems. The British consul on those occasions sought and received assurances from the prison governor that Mr. Cook would receive the necessary treatment.
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On 19 February Michael Cook's brother, Colin Cook, rang the embassy in Lisbon to say that he had heard that Michael Cook had been stabbed in prison in Faro. The embassy immediately made inquiries. It was assured that Michael Cook had not been stabbed, although he had been involved in an argument over cigarettes with another prisoner. The following day the vice- consul from Lisbon visited Mr. Cook. Although physically all right, he was understandably extremely upset over the trial verdict. The prison governor gave assurances for Mr. Cook's safety. On 4 March 1992, Michael Cook was transferred to Coimbra high security prison, about 110 miles north of Lisbon.

During that month, the consul and vice-consul drew the attention of officials at the Portuguese Ministry ofForeign Affairs to the great degree of British ministerial, official and public concern about Michael Cook's case. On 8 March The Sunday Times published an article reporting that Mr. Cook had been ill treated at the hands of other prisoners. The pro-consul in Lisbon looked into those allegations without delay. He contacted the prison governor on 10 March to register the embassy's concern for Michael Cook's safety and welfare. He was assured that there was no evidence of ill -treatment. Later that day, the vice-consul spoke to Mr. Cook by telephone. Mr. Cook said that one inmate--not a cellmate--had uttered a verbal threat, but that he had not been physically attacked.

He mentioned that he was suffering from a stomach ulcer and had dental problems. In response to this, the vice-consul said that the embassy would write to the prison governor about these problems. A letter was sent on 13 March. On 6 April Coimbra prison confirmed to the embassy that Michael Cook had been given a full-time job in the prison car paint workshop. It also confirmed that he had seen a doctor about his ulcer and had been put on a special diet. He had also seen a dentist.

On 16 April, the consul visited Michael Cook for two hours in a private room. Mr. Cook confirmed that he had gained some weight as a result of his special diet, and did not wish to have any matter raised with the prison authorities. Michael Cook recently told his parents that he had been taken to see a psychiatrist. He was under the impression that the prison was trying to have him committed to a mental home, which would make it even more difficult for him to prove his innocence. Coimbra prison has told the consul that Michael Cook did not in fact see a psychiatrist. He was taken to see a specialist about his stomach ulcer. Unfortunately, it appears that the prison mistakenly translated "specialist" for "psychiatrist" when talking to Mr. Cook. The consul will visit Mr. Cook again on19 June.

I have described the full support given by the consuls in Portimao and Lisbon. Prisoners Abroad, an admirable organisation run by our former colleague in the House, Keith Best, has been in regular contact with Michael Cook and is giving him full support. I know that Michael Cook, his family and others believe that there has been a miscarriage of justice. I can well understand their concern, but, whatever we may think, it would be wrong for me to express an opinion on the conduct of the trial while an appeal is pending.

If the lawyers believe that the case has not been dealt with in accordance with Portuguese law, it is their responsibility to take appropriate steps. Portuguese law provides for this and, indeed, the lawyers have submitted an appeal on Michael Cook's behalf. They have told the British embassy that the Portuguese Supreme Court has accepted the appeal and that, in their view, the appeal process is proceeding satisfactorily.

On 19 February Colin Cook complained to the British consul in Lisbon that the trial violated article 6 of the European convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. On examination, he agreed that the European convention can be brought into play only when all local remedies have been exhausted. We are keeping in close touch with Mr. Cook's lawyers and the Portuguese authorities. We are asking them to do what they can to ensure that Michael Cook's appeal is heard by the supreme court with the minimum delay. Our ambassador in Lisbon wrote to the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 3 June to press this point, and I will be in touch with my hon. Friend as soon as I have a reply.

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's concern about this case, but I hope that he will understand from what I have said that we cannot intervene until the Portuguese legal process has taken its course. Until then we shall, through our consular officials, continue to visit Mr. Cook regularly and to offer him and his family all the support that we properly can. I shall continue to keep my hon. Friend fully informed.

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