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Months after their daughter Madeleine’s 2007 disappearance in Portugal, Kate and Gerry McCann were reeling. Not only had Portuguese authorities turned up nothing in the search for their 3-year-old girl, but they themselves had been identified as suspects in the case, a development that propelled the tabloid media in Portugal and the U.K. into a whirlwind of speculation.
Into that bleak setting stepped Brian Kennedy, a wealthy Scottish businessman who offered the McCanns financial support to not only provide them legal protection, but also jumpstart an investigation that, with police in Portugal primarily focused on the couple, had been growing stagnant.
Gerry and Kate had taken Madeleine and their 2-year-old twins to the vacation town of Praia De Luz. They were there with other friends and their respective children. On the night of May 3, the adults went to dinner at a restaurant a short walk from their rented apartments, with one of them getting up to check on the children every 20 or 30 minutes. Partway through the meal, Kate returned to the apartment — but Madeleine was gone. Thus kicked off an investigation that still continues more than a decade later.
It would only be a couple of months before some in the media began questioning whether Kate or Gerry were themselves involved. Eventually, Portuguese authorities began to share their own suspicions with the press, adding fuel to the fire.
Kennedy was one of many keeping tabs on the case and didn't like how the McCanns had become focal point.
"I was following the story like everyone else. I saw that the media and the world had turned against these people. I was thinking, 'No way. I will absolutely lose all faith in human nature if these parents are involved,'" Kennedy said on the new Netflix docu-series "The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann." "We were in the fortunate position in which we had the resources to be able to reach out and help them."
Patrick Kennedy, Brian's son, further explained he and his father's motivation for aiding the McCanns.
"If you can do something to help, you bloody better try and help. That's something that my dad is all about."
Brian got into contact with the McCann family's lawyers, believing Kate and Gerry to be totally innocent from the start.
"Kate started to tell the story and after 12 seconds, just reading the emotions, everything told me 100 percent that this woman was absolutely genuine and she was a victim," Brian said of first meeting with the couple.
Watch Out Of Sight: The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann Friday, March 29 at 9/8c, only on Oxygen
Brian helped fund public relations management to navigate a challenging media landscape and also met with the McCann's lawyer to establish the best legal approach for the family. And he also put money toward expensive private investigations. In fact, both Brian and Patrick themselves traveled to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to track down a young blond girl who resembled Madeleine and who was photographed traveling with a local family. (Upon their arrival, Brian noted blond children were fairly common in the Atlas Mountains and the girl in question was, in fact, with her own family).
Meanwhile, Brian would go on to hire a Spanish private investigation firm named Método 3 to aggressively pursue leads, both on the ground and in the seedy corners of the dark web. Patrick and the private investigator working the case, Julian Peribañez, would re-trace the early steps of the investigation by interviewing the first suspects, Robert Murat and Sergey Malinka. Their aggressive tactics involved following the two for days and bugging their cars. Malinka has since spoken about the fear he experienced during this time.
"I don't feel sorry for anybody at that time. Irrelevant. What was very relevant was the little girl that was missing. The little girl that had been abducted. That's the person that I felt sorry for. Nobody else," Patrick said in the documentary.
The Kennedys fired Método 3 after its director, Francisco Marco, made statements to the media that they'd discovered who kidnapped Madeleine when they were nowhere close to a breakthrough.
Brian Kennedy then hired the Washington D.C.-based Oakley International to carry on with the investigation, but that firm's owner, Kevin Halligen, would soon be the subject of fraud allegations. Ultimately, none of the privately funded investigations led to the discovery of either Madeleine or anyone involved in her abduction.
Brian would go on to pursue other charitable efforts, including the establishment of his own trust, through which donations have been made to organizations like Space4Autism, according to the Macclesfield Express, a UK-based news organization. He also began investing in films including the 2014 historical film "The Homesman," according to Variety. He would contribute funds and act as a co-producer on "The Great Gilly Hopkins," a 2015 comedy-drama, according to Screen Daily.
[Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images]
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