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ON ELLIE AND MADDIE

13-09-2007

Two pretty little girls, two tragic stories. Laurence Inman ruminates on our hunger for celebrity in any form…and the desire for a surprise ending.

Little Ellie Lawrenson was attacked and killed in St Helens on New Year's Day by the family pet, an illegal pit bull terrier.

On Tuesday her grandmother was found not guilty of her manslaughter, the jury perhaps reasoning that no punishment the court might impose could be more severe than the pain and remorse she is already suffering, and will continue to suffer, probably for the rest of her life.

Ellie was similar in many ways to another little girl who has preoccupied the news media for the past few months: Madeleine McCann.

Both were innocent, pretty children, full of fun, life and hope. They were loved by their families and will be missed by a much wider circle of people. I say 'were' in both cases, because, as anyone experienced in the law will tell you, there is now not much chance of Madeleine being found alive.

In one respect, though, these children were quite different. Ellie's parents are unlikely to be contacted by the idiot (I didn't catch her name, so I'll call her Mrs Thing) from Solihull, who informed the nation, via Radio 4 on Monday morning, that she would be travelling the 50 miles to Rothley in Leicestershire in order to 'show support for Kate and Gerry' when they arrived home from Portugal.

Kate and Gerry?

Mrs Thing doesn't know the McCanns. She said so at the start of her interview. So why did she go ? What possible outcome did she hope to achieve from her trip ?

I think that part of the answer lies in her use of the McCann's first names. She looked at them and at their lives and thought: 'They're one of us.'

They came from fairly ordinary beginnings, in Liverpool and Glasgow. We know this because their relatives have been regulars on the media-circuit since May. These people talk in fairly broad accents, but Kate and Gerry worked hard to escape their background, became doctors and moved to a lush, affluent part of the country.

Ellie's family also spoke broad Scouse, but they kept naff ornaments on the mantelpiece, had tattoos, drank and smoked a lot, lost their temper in court, and why would they want a dangerous dog anyway, understand what I'm saying ? Eh ?

I think I'd bet a lot of money that Mrs Thing has also come up in the world, which is why she sees the McCanns as friends somehow, or at least potential dinner-party guests.

They have in fact fitted very well into one of the slots our celebrity-culture currently has on offer: the crime-victim, whose ranks have steadily swelled since the Moors Murders in the 60s. They are wheeled out in front of the cameras to give us their reactions every time another child disappears or the local chemist is revealed to be a mass-murderer.

Gradually, of course, the original reason for their being known is forgotten and they just become another celeb, like the Hamiltons, the Ingrams and that bloke off Big Brother who's now in I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of This Hellish Kitchen.

Apart from for the obvious reason, I feel very sorry for the McCanns.

Their lives, and the lives of their other two children, will be blackened by the events of the last few months, and the horrors to come. Most couples in this situation split up within a few years. Their careers come to a standstill. The old life is dismantled and thrown away.

As for what the Portuguese police appear to be suggesting; it seems unlikely. But detectives are very interesting people. I have met and talked with quite a few, and sooner or later they always say: 'Nothing surprises me.'

The pressmen crowded at the end of the McCann's cul-de-sac (they have police protection) would love it if the case exploded in a big surprise.

The McCanns aren't stupid. They knew what they were doing when they organised a world-wide swirl of publicity to try and get their daughter back.

But the media is constantly hungry.

They've done their bit and now they want their dinner, followed by a big treat.

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