Jim Duffy: I wish I'd stuck up for Maddie McCann's parents

Jim Duffy regrets not sticking up for the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann while getting his hair cut.

Gerry and Kate McCann, seen in 2007, have been the subject of spurious conspiracy theories over Maddie's disappearance in the years since (Picture: AFP/Getty)

I was having a good morning, the sun was shining, I had completed my HIIT training and I was now off for a haircut.

The barbers was empty except for one patron already having his hair trimmed. This left one vacant seat and one hair stylist who duly prompted me to sit down. A shawl was wrapped around me, tucked in at the neck and I was politely asked what I would like. “A number two all round and a scissor cut to the front in a side shed please.” A fairly standard and basic exercise for an stylist and so she set off revving up the clippers. All was well and I was settling in for 10 minutes of being pampered in the hope and belief that it would knock ten years off me.

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However, the mood changed as I tuned into the conversation that was taking place in the chair beside me. It was all about Madeleine McCann.

Both the stylist and the bloke getting his hair cut were blethering on about Kate and Gerry McCann. As soon as I heard the name McCann, something instinctive kicked in and my curiosity was sparked into life. It always is when I hear the name Madeleine McCann as I for one live in hope that one day she will crop up somewhere alive and well.

I’ve never met Kate or Gerry McCann, but they are of my generation. Madeleine’s disappearance is for me and many like me I would guess, a bit like what the shooting of JFK felt like for the generation before us. I will always remember where I was and the pictures being beamed out of Paia da Luz in May 2007 when she was reported missing.

Even more powerful is the fact that I have had holidays in resorts like this at that time and felt it was safe to let the children be out of my sight. So, I was immediately fixated on the dialogue taking place only three metres from me, punctuated by the sound of snipping scissors.

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The conversation went something like this: in short, Gerry and Kate were covering something up and had a guilty conscience. That is why they have to keep “looking” and blaming the Portuguese cops. Only because they were doctors and had money was so much attention being focussed on the investigation.

And, of course, why were they not arrested for child neglect as soon as they arrived back in the UK etc ... The tone of the conversation was accusatorial and frank.

I immediately felt on edge and irritable. I could tell that the stylist cutting my hair could sense I was starting to move on my seat and fidget.

She also, I could feel, was not at all comfortable with the narrative emanating from her colleague and her customer and then started to chat to me about “Was I going anywhere nice on holiday this year?” This pleasant distraction then moved my attention to other things and very quickly I was handing over my cash and escaping from the barbers into my car and up the road.

In a “free” country, we have the opportunity to voice our opinions and we must let others have their say. This is only right and proper in a civil, democratic society. So, why was I so incensed at the spurious arguments I heard at the barbers. And why is that I am so irritated if I hear any negativity around Kate and Gerry McCann, a couple who are in a living hell and always will be to the day they die, unless Madeleine re-appears?

I fully accept that the McCann media strategy was impressive and really kicked off global interest in Madeleine’s disappearance. But, if we are all being honest, we would have done the same.

Would you not have moved heaven and earth to recover your child? Yes, and a little bit more on top of that. This type of media strategy is currently being played out again as the parents of baby Alfie Evans do all they can to give him that one last chance of survival. The media is interested and the couple have to optimise this to the fullest extent. What parent would not do this for a child?

The disappearance of Madeleine is perplexing and has been investigated fully by Portuguese and British police officers. The Metropolitan Police has had its best brains on the case, while Kate and Gerry have done all they can to continue to stimulate interest on behalf of their missing child.

It is all very public and they have shown stoical commitment and determination with great dignity as they face down critics, court cases and, of course, armchair lawyers who speculate and comment.

But, as I reflect and struggle with what I heard in the barbers, I have to accept that many people in this country and in Portugal will have their own opinions and they are entitled to them.

The question for you or me is a simple one. If we hear something that riles us up and we do not like it, do we sit quietly and give people their say? Or do we turn to the barber’s chair beside us and hit back with a reasoned argument for the defence?

Living in a more polarised world these days with massive debates around anti-semitism, global trade wars, Brexit fears, Facebook dominance, London gang violence and Russian espionage, at what point do we speak up? Or like me at the barbers, does one sit feeling uncomfortable, annoyed and out of kilter in an attempt to allow others to have their say and keep the peace?

I think we must all be careful not to become too anodyne and passive, even when at the barbers. Especially, when it involves the hopes of parents like Gerry and Kate McCann.