Martin Brunt: 'I had 13 pages of notes, but it was all off the record'

These things are often simpler than you might think. I just phoned Robert Murat and asked if I could see him. He said sure. That was the easy bit.

An hour later, I was meeting his cousin Sally outside the village supermarket, ducking down in the back of her dusty little Punto and keeping my fingers crossed as we drove past the police guard and my rivals into the grounds of Murat’s villa.

His mother Jenny ushered us into the kitchen where her anxious, dishevelled son was trying to grasp just how much trouble he was in after 19 hours of police custody. He was keen to talk, but terrified of breaching the Portuguese secrecy law. He was free for the moment and didn’t want to give police an excuse to seize him again.

But I was in. Not only did I have my sandaled foot in the door, I was sipping coffee and chatting with the only suspect in a story that was continuing to grip if not the world’s media, at least most of Europe’s.

I’d got there because a local contact had given me the crucial phone number. I also had Murat’s mobile number, but that wasn’t much use because the police were examining it.

It helped that we had featured his mother on Sky News when she joined the rest of the expat community in the hunt for Madeleine. Murat was bursting to defend himself and, for an hour or more, words spilled from his lips as he paced up and down the kitchen. Eagerly, I filled the last 13 pages and both covers of my notebook. But it was all off-the-record, not for use and completely unattributable to him. I agreed I wouldn’t use any of it. I tried gently to persuade him to talk on camera and at one point I thought I’d done so. Bu tevery time we got close to agreeing even a bland statement, he rowed back with his genuine fear of the secrecy legislation. He wanted to talk to a lawyer first. I managed to talk him out of that.

Several times, I hopped over the villa’s back wall and left him to discuss it with his family, then returned to renew my efforts. Eventually, I realised he wasn’t going to do what I wanted. I said goodbye, convinced that I had failed. I needed Murat on the telly. I didn’t want to stitch him up by repeating a few quotes in an on-screen graphics sequence, not least because I thought he might still change his mind about a TV interview.

Then sense took over. I had an exclusive and couldn’t afford to waste it. And I knew that Murat was desperate to defend himself somehow.

So, at the risk of alienating him, we went with three short statements in which he protested his innocence. I talked around a few other details as well.

The next day, Murat was annoyed, betrayed, but still talking to me. And the police didn’t arrest him for speaking out.

I was astonished at the reaction of the rest of the media. A splash or two in Fleet Street and a string of European TV stations queueing up to interview me. I even did one with my sunglasses on.

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