PRODUCTION JOURNAL (2014 - PRESENT)

October 2014

* An innocent woman is dead after posting her opinions on Twitter. Martin Brunt from Sky News door-stepped her after being given her personal details by 'concerned members of the public'. 

We are told she has committed suicide after she was repeatedly shown on air and then hounded by members of the British media. Murderers and paedophiles struggle to get the amount of coverage she did.

What was her 'crime'? None, actually, as Leicester Police confirm several months later, but that hasn't stopped the demonisation to death of this woman.

The 'problem' for her is she eloquently opposed the abduction theory of Madeleine McCann and it is my experience, as a journalist of almost three decades, that this is one story where questioning the official narrative is a frowned-upon and seemingly dangerous pursuit. Poor Brenda Leyland. RIP.

* I can't get over Brenda's death. I only had two communications with her on Twitter about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann but her passing has resulted in me screaming inwards. The whole thing stinks and I am disgusted by media peers who primarily act as if she deserved to die. Just awful stuff being written about her.

It's times like this that I realise I am an outsider who managed to get inside. It's a lonely place when people you've worked with for almost 30 years, people who bang on endlessly about freedom of speech and encroaching censorship, and who show no compassion for another human being hounded to death - first on Twitter and then by mainstream media - for expressing her opinion.

* I can't settle. I don't trust what media is telling us about Brenda's suicide. I don't trust the people involved with this case and I don't trust the vicious individuals who are online 24-7 attacking those who dare to question the official abduction theory. I decide to make a YouTube expressing my feelings. I am shocked by the sheer volume of responses. People Tweeting, Facebooking, You Tubing and blogging: 'at last, a journalist who's prepared to stand up and be counted'.

* The story of Madeleine's disappearance has, across the mainstream media board, been portrayed in exactly the same way. Having studied the case since the beginning, including reading end to end the Portuguese police files, I know the story is far from straightforward. Certainly, it's not as simplistic as we have been told. That is what I want to tackle. 

It is not an attack on Kate and Gerry McCann but a desire to help find out what happened to Madeleine. Given that millions of pounds have been dedicated to this search, it is clearly a matter of public interest.

I realise that there's not a UK TV company who will commission me to make a documentary that questions the abduction theory in the way that it needs to be questioned. Primarily because most broadcasters have played a part in maintaining the abduction theory and, in turn, shooting down those who oppose it. Like Brenda.

But there's also the issue of how litigious Kate and Gerry McCann have been with media. They have successfully fought, and won, numerous cases against media outlets and executives are worried to put their necks on the line. 

I suspect that a TV company will be interested as time progresses but I wouldn't want it financed, and therefore shaped, from the beginning by one. I wonder how I could finance such a project? As a freelancer and a single parent I am not in a position to finance it myself but I know it needs to be made. I mention it to a couple of TV producers of my acquaintance. Both tell me roughly the same thing. 'don't do it, it will be the end of your career'.

How can one story have cowed the media so much? That, on its own, is worthy of investigation but I'm uncertain how it is going to be possible. I will ponder it.

* Mid month and I receive a call from Dave Eden, a former whistle-blowing cop, who has a production company and an online media outlet. He wants permission to use my YouTube in a story they are doing about Brenda and Madeleine. I tell him to feel free to share it far and wide. 

I then reveal my frustration about not being able to explore the story from a different angle. Right there and then he says "Let's make that documentary, I'll finance it." I don't need asking twice.

With hindsight I realise the naivety of that moment. The fact is none of us had a clue what a murky, obstacle-prone arena we are entering into. We set out to do it because it needed to be done. Neither Dave or I have ever made a documentary from scratch but seeing as no one else in my profession is prepared to speak up, I don't see what choice I have. I didn't come into journalism to be quiet about things that matter.

* End of the month and we begin filming the documentary outside Brenda Leyland's front door in Leicester, a short drive from the McCann family home. It seems the right and proper place to start. Overnight we stay at the hotel where she died. Our small four person crew all report feeling extremely disturbed during the night. It's horrendous to imagine Brenda fleeing here and dying in the way we are being told. Poor Brenda.

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November 2014

* I take part in a debate on Sky News with media personality Katie Hopkins who has become famous for making bigoted and sensational comments. I mention the dossier that was given to Sky and which led to the death of Brenda Leyland. Within 15 minutes of the debate airing, Sky release a video of it. 

It has been edited from six minutes to just over two minutes and has turned me into someone who is pro-censorship. Interestingly, and not entirely unexpectedly, any reference to the dossier has been edited out. 

* Days later I manage to get hold of one of the producers involved to ask him what happened. He said there was a temporary editor on who was responsible. He reassured me that such a misleading edit would not be done again, but it's too late. 

Hopkins has begun to distribute the edit seeing as it makes her look good and it makes me look as if I want to stop people expressing their views on the Internet. Absurd, of course. Given the reason this documentary started in the first place, it's ironic at best. 

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December 2014

* I've talked to a number of people online who have spent many hours disputing, in great detail, the official abduction theory. I ask them to appear in the documentary. All, bar two, refuse. The reason is the same; they are scared that Brenda's fate will befall them.

It's so sad that people are frightened to speak up. Many of them are anonymous online. Several tell me that they are forced to be anonymous because the abduction theory supporters, who frequently refer to themselves as a 'team', have previously contacted their employers and tried to get them sacked - and only for expressing an opinion.

I'm not sure if I believe this story, it sounds a bit conspiratorial for my liking. Until it happens to me, that is. I have collated all the evidence to prove this happens. It's shocking how extensive this is. It is with a legal representative for my protection.

* One of the original McCann defenders, a late middle-aged woman with a social network account that reads like an erupted sewer, has taken it upon herself to start leaving public warnings on social networks for me. 

She has long time claimed that she knows the McCanns. People tell me I should be concerned as she was involved in publicly outing Brenda Leyland before her death.

* There are some utterly vile people supporting the abduction theory - and publicly lying in their desire to support Kate and Gerry McCann - and so I contact the Find Madeleine Fund, which the McCanns work on, and inform them of the level of abuse that is carried out in their name. 

I want to know if they are happy about these online abusers. I hear nothing. I know the email has been seen because it sends me a notification that it has.

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January 2015

* We continue filming. I am conscious that this is an unusual situation for me. Generally, I enter into a story investigation with no firm conclusion but a desire to explore the truth of the matter.

However, having studied this case from the beginning in 2007, I have never fully accepted the abduction theory as it lacked, what is know in journalism, 'the ring of truth'. Nonetheless I am determined to keep searching for evidence to prove the story, one way or another.

* A former senior policeman, who was involved in the Sky report which led to Brenda's death, has started yelping like a man possessed on Twitter about me. He is not happy about the documentary. 

He has been involved with the case from the beginning and has become firm friends with the McCanns. He has taken it upon himself to publicly attack me alongside people who have been trolling me for three years and ever since I began exploring the issue of child abuse in the Establishment. 

He openly attacks me alongside a failed politician who is responsible for a misinformation blog about child abuse. Oddly, the ex-cop now has a company that specialises in tackling online abuse. You can't make this stuff up.

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February 2015

* People are already impatient for the documentary to surface, I can't blame them. They have waited eight years, and millions of pounds of public money later, for an alternative view to be aired. 

Eight long years in which people have theorised about media blockages on the case. Well I am already experiencing them and people expect me to be able to pull rabbits out of hats and remove the obstacles to this story getting out. I wish I could.

The thing is, like me, most people online have no clue about the true process involved in making a documentary. I get messages saying that I should put the documentary 'on the internet' but that's besides the original point. 

There are over 36,000 entries on the subject on YouTube with hundreds of thousands of comments disagreeing with the abduction theory - but that is where it remains: on the Internet.

This is a story that needs to be challenged in mainstream media and on TV and that's where such a documentary needs to be.

Of course there are many advantages on YouTube. You don't have to go through a gatekeeper who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and it takes a fraction of the time to do it compared to what it takes to create a film to the standard demanded for TV. 

The pros, though, do not outweigh the cons and that is it is too easy to dismiss the veracity of YouTubes because they do not go through the same scrupulous fact checking demanded on TV. 

Anyone can make a YouTube and there is no comeback from a legal perspective. A lawyer tells me it's because YouTubes are easy to discredit as the work of amateurs with flawed research. 

It's interesting that despite Kate and Gerry suing many media outlets, there is no suggestion of the same happening with the multitude of online videos even though there are some excellent, well-researched ones.

We plough on, driven by the need for the mass majority to understand that there is something very wrong with the version we have been force fed.

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March 2015

* I'm at Sky News for a TV debate even though critics say I shouldn't be on Sky because of Brenda's death. Fact is, these people are missing the crucial point that I stand up for many injustices - including disability discrimination, corruption and poverty - and it is absurd not to use a platform as big as Sky in which to raise awareness to these issues and more. 

After I have talked on air, I return to the green room to get my bag. A producer follows me in. He wants to have 'a chat' with me. He says he is aware of the film and he wants to know if there is a 'conflict' with me being on Sky and the film I am making.

I tell him that the film is highly critical of the actions of Martin Brunt and the subsequent death of Brenda Leyland.

Personally, I want to continue working on Sky as there is something else that makes my regular appearances work in favour of the documentary. It's this: when the film is released, and the likely savaging I will take, it clearly shows that Sky thought highly enough of me to repeatedly feature me as a 'journalist and social commentator'. My critics, blinded by their need to tar me, fail to understand any of this and the attacks on me mount daily.

* One of the most prolific McCann supporters, and one who threatened to put Brenda's home details online, has the temerity to show up at Brenda's inquest. It's shocking. Some of these people have no shame. During a break in the inquest, I approach her with a camera and ask her why she is here. She runs away. She wasn't quite so cowardice when she was part of the team bullying Brenda.

Back in the inquest, she sits behind me, pokes me in the back and asks if I want to do a proper interview with her after the inquest. I say yes, absolutely. 

After the inquest I wait outside for her. She never appears. One of the ushers tells me she has been hiding in the toilets and has left via the back door. Something - or someone - has clearly changed her mind about speaking out. Mind you, I probably couldn't trust a word she says on camera, anyway. She's been revealed as a prolific liar and bully.

Online she previously claimed that she worked for the police but on camera earlier she denied it. Another rent-a-gob liar upholding the official abduction narrative but a coward away from the relative safety of the Internet. 

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April 2015

* We've encountered a problem with the archive footage we will need. It's fairly extensive and costly. I ache to have the freedom of making a You Tube where you can mostly use what you want free of charge, without clearance and under a fair use policy. Alas, a commercial broadcast is a whole different ball game.

First the copyright owner has to agree to use of the material and second, a price has to be agreed. We are looking at tens of thousands of pounds. It's a lot for a small production unit but Dave is right behind this. 

* More defamation online about me. It's a shock to discover how many duplicitous characters are online and claiming to want justice for Madeleine but are actively working against the film by taking everything I say and twisting it in deep, dark and immoral ways. I am now use to daily assaults on my character on Twitter, Facebook and in blogs.

One of the shady characters has teamed up with a long term stalker of mine, a man with a history of serious sex attacks, and has run a series of tweets on a forum claiming they are mine. They are violent and vicious tweets written by my stalker and yet the man claims they were written by me. Thankfully, several of the posters call the man out and he is forced to admit that the tweets are not mine at all. The games people play. The question is: why?

*The Daily Star, a British national daily newspaper, has run a piece claiming that the documentary is being made by Lee Ryan, a former lottery winner and my former partner. The article is a lie. 

Lee has supplied some filming but that's it. The entire film is my research (with the help of several case researchers supplying fantastic material) and my script. Interestingly, the piece is written by Tracy Kandohla. A woman who has written many biased articles about the case for a number of British newspapers. 

Kandohla was at Brenda's inquest and she fixed her sights on Lee outside the court and asked him questions about the documentary. He told her it was not his film. He was clear about that. We have that all captured on film. 

Kandohla clearly didn't realise that and so she sold a lying article to a newspaper hoping to cash in on Lee's former tabloid notoriety from over 20 years ago. I'm not surprised. She is too close to the case for any serious objective reporting.

At Brenda's inquest she bragged to me, and others, that she knew Kate McCann so well they did exercise classes together and that she regularly lunched with the McCann's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, who she quoted in the article. 

Mitchell, a Rottweiler when it comes to defending the abduction narrative, refers to me in the article as someone with 'conspiracy theories'. Extraordinary bias, of course, and this is what passes for journalism in this case. That's an indication of what we are up against.

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May 2015

* We're filming in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on the eighth anniversary of Madeleine's reported disappearance. What a beautiful part of the Algarve. The locals are happy to give their opinions off-camera, but not on it. Just like those back home in England, really.  I wonder how this story is ever going to be fully told if people are too scared to speak up?

One villager tells me their lives have been turned upside down, people he grew up with originally viewed each other with suspicion because there was an alleged 'kidnapping paedophile' in their midst, he tells me no one believes that now and they are waiting for the day that the official story is fully challenged.

* We finally manage to get Clarence Mitchell on film. He is furious as he has successfully avoided us from the start of filming. His actions show this is a man who is unaccustomed to not controlling media output. Colleagues tell me to beware. Mitchell has many contacts in the media. I'm way past caring how this documentary may, or may not, harm my career. That's a superficial concern to me.

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June 2015

* Dave, from the production company, called. There's a problem with money.
His bank have informed him that all funds are frozen until further notice and pending investigation. What has happened....?

* Undeterred, Dave and I begin editing two versions of the documentary.  I have written two scripts. One for a TV edit and one for a long form version. After three weeks in editing we realise in order to complete the project to the necessary standard, we need the backing of a large documentary company. I begin making contact with several reputable ones.

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July 2015

* I am put in touch with an executive at Journeyman Pictures. I spend over an hour one Friday explaining our investigation to her. She loves it and tells me to leave it with her so she can arrange a date for me to come in and talk the project through with her colleagues. She promises to call me after the weekend. The call never came and, despite several attempts to reach her, she refused to take my call.

* A colleague suggests I approach TVF, another large documentary maker and distributor in the UK. Tom, the head of TVF Digital, 'gets it' immediately and, after much persuasion, we begin working together on a TV edit. 

As I write this, I recall something he said: "I keep thinking this could take me down but at least I'll go down with you." I am barely reassured but I thank him for his belief in me.

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August 2015

* Tom thinks he has 'just the person' to help me create the type of TV documentary that will get us over the obstacles. It's a former colleague of his who he rates highly. 

She has previously produced, amongst other things, a documentary about Kate Middleton which was said to be 'not the usual PR gloss'. Her business partner had also won a BAFTA so I figure this is someone who knows the business well enough and could get our documentary into the right places. It wasn't to be. 

* We have the meeting with the producer. She is quick to express her utter disdain for Brenda Leyland. She describes her as 'an unsympathetic character' that people 'wouldn't get'. She feels that Brenda shouldn't be in the final film. I tell her, in no uncertain terms and not repeatable here, that I wouldn't have done the film without what happened to Brenda and to leave her out would be a betrayal of my principles.

Mind you, her disdain is not reserved for Brenda. She said there was a general feeling that  people who obsessed about the case online, from both sides of the argument, were seen as weirdos and commissioning editors were not interested in portraying them as anything but.

I left that meeting knowing I couldn't work with her and I expressed as much to Tom a couple of days later. I was still angry with what she had said about Brenda. 

Still, she's what I call a 'meme person'. Fills her social media account with memes that say things like 'I would rather live my life like a lion than die a coward' but in reality she's not got the strength to make the difference to this case in the media. All meme, no action. Next.

*I am losing count of how many FOIs I have had rejected now. Apparently Madeleine's disappearance is an issue of 'national security'. Not sure how that is possible but either way trying to get info from Government and Police about this case is akin to getting blood from a stone. It's not going to happen.

*The McCann trolls - and by this I mean the ones who smear and savage those questioning the official story - have written so much about me online it's shocking. 

One forum has 80 pages about me, mostly cobbled together from my old articles, and hardly any current discussion about Madeleine. The important thing, clearly, is to destroy me. I suspect poor Madeleine was lost in this a long time ago. 

This is a game of saving names and, certainly, money from Madeleine's public fund has been used for reputation management. A very odd state of affairs in the case of a missing child. In almost 30 years of journalism I've never known anything like it.

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September 2015

* Despite having to oversee the day-to-day running of TVF Digital, Tom has taken up the challenge of co-producing a TV edit with me. After several weeks of beavering away he announces he is leaving TVF. Having now worked on this project he says he misses the creative process of film and wants to return to that. He says he is giving me advanced notice so we can complete the film before he leaves. I'm gutted by this turn of events.

* We are starting to get feedback from commissioning editors in the UK and other territories. Globally we're told that there isn't as big a market of interest for the Madeleine story as we had thought. I disagree with this but he says that's what his sales team are telling him.

In terms of UK commissioning editors, we are told that no one would consider our film until legal investigations - the current Operation Grange - is finished. 

That's fair enough. I have been conscious not to cause any potential sub judice problems. Ultimately, I just want justice for Madeleine McCann and Brenda Leyland and I don't want the British taxpayers to have shelled out £12million on an investigation without some decent closure.

* Journalist and broadcaster, Andrew Pierce, interviews me about the case for his LBC radio show. He allows me sufficient space to say what I need to without saying anything that will get either of us in trouble. I am impressed with his approach. He also interviews a former Metropolitan senior policeman about the case and it sounds like the cop ate the official abduction press release for breakfast.

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October 2015

* Tom has fallen on the back burner, he admits that he has a lot of personal stuff going on. Nonetheless I am insistent that we will release a teaser trailer on the first anniversary of Brenda's death. I wanted desperately to have had this film out already but that has proven to be unrealistic. I feel the least I can do is release a short trailer to acknowledge the dreadful passing of Brenda Leyland.

On October 4th - a year to the day since Brenda was reported dead - we release the trailer. Later in the day, the official Find Madeleine Twitter account says it is closing down. Newspapers report on the closing of the account but not on the trailer. I am shocked. Not.

* I receive a telling email from a producer I work with. He says there may be a problem in the future because of the new boss. I have no idea what he is talking about. Over the next few months I discover that the new boss is someone who has socialised with the McCanns and my work with the company dries up. 

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November 2015

*The attacks on me are so great the Metropolitan police are now involved. I have been targeted for over three years ever since I started writing about child abuse in the Establishment and these same people have now teamed up with the McCann trolls who have been smearing and defaming me. Like attracts like, I guess.

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December 2015

*Dave and I have a meeting with a production company that has worked with mainstream broadcasters. The owner sees the potential and wants to work on a TV edit with us. We will start in January.

* As the year draws to a close, my PA and I decide that we can no longer answer social network questions about the documentary. Throughout the process we worked to be as transparent as possible, completely aware that what this case lacked was that: transparency.

However, enemies of this investigation, and there are a few, have taken the info given out and twisted it to try and work against the documentary.

Sadly, that means we are also restricted from keeping the genuinely interested up-to-date. I hate it when a few rotten apples ruin a barrel but this documentary - and what it is about - is too important to allow for mischief at this stage.

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January 2016

*The deal with the production company has fallen through. More obstacles, more difficulties. I wonder if it's time to call it a day. We've had over a year of challenges, obstacles, loss of income and I have to re-evaluate all this. 

Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe all the thousands commenting on the Internet have it wrong. Maybe Brenda Leyland got it wrong. Maybe the abduction theory is right.

I recall a quote 'You're allowed to change your mind...as soon as it becomes clear'.

And I realise that, to date, we have found nothing substantial to make me change my mind. Because of that, we will continue on.

People tell me that as soon as Operation Grange concludes there will be a market for our version. Others have pointed out that there is still an investigation in Portugal and I must be careful not to interfere with the due process. There are so many conflicts to satisfy in this story it's a mammoth task. But not impossible. And it's that outside possibility that drives us on. 

That and the fact that we have secured unique footage with those at the heart of this case. Footage that has been copied and securely stored away. Footage that will prove to be immensely valuable to this story in the future.

* My home is now wired up to the Metropolitan Police and we have been placed on 'special schemes' which means that calls from our home are given priority. This is crazy. I am only doing my job but I am being heavily attacked and threatened for it. 

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February 2016

* My attackers have now started claiming that I, somehow, have received the funds that were donated to Gonçalo Amaral's Just Giving Fund. This is public donations for the ex-Portuguese cop who has been pursued by Kate and Gerry McCann after he refused to conform to the official abduction narrative.

It beggars belief. These trolls are without morals. They will do and say anything to stop the story being questioned and to deflect from it. Regardless of whether it harms the case for getting justice for Madeleine or not. That is not their priority. Destroying the messenger is.

*I give a talk at a London University. I give them an insight into what my working life, with all the threats and smears, is like. The students are incredibly supportive. This is what it is about for me. Educating those in the dark and fighting against media censorship.

* A strange day as I find myself in the unusual position of partly agreeing with something that Katie Hopkins has said. Having had more than my fair share of TV and radio debates with her, including the Sky debate that was edited and the meaning distorted, I did not expect to read an article of hers that made any sense at all. We are well known opposites but I have to acknowledge her piece for the MailOnline about Madeleine and her parents. She has made errors in it but the essential message - that something is wrong here - still carries.

The comments section is particularly illuminating. Many people expressing relief that not all the media is tamed. She has backed up what I know to be true about media obstruction and the MailOnline - as the most widely read online newspaper in the world - is a fantastic platform to do it from. It doesn't mean I will support her from now on, of course not, but I am reminded of the old adage that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

* A positive development. A wealthy man has offered to back me in travelling overseas to talk with a broadcaster. Our journey continues.....

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I was naive to think that the British media could openly support my stance. People do in the background but they fear their livelihoods will be put in jeopardy if they go public. 

I make it my business to not talk publicly about the media organisations I am currently working with behind-the-scenes for fear they will be targeted, too.

The truth remains, there are people in influential positions in the UK and they have no appetite for questioning the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.  I have discovered that they will go so far as to penalise you if you publicly question the official abduction narrative as I have. 

This is a story with friends in high places and it involves people who have promoted the abduction of Madeleine McCann to feather their own nests. Irrelevant of the fact that the official abduction narrative does not add up.

Never mind, I have faith that the full story will be explored. Either by me and our small (but passionate and dedicated) team or by someone else prepared to stand up and be counted. 

The court of public opinion refuses to accept the official story lock, stock and barrel, and one day our media will have no choice but to truly reflect those serious misgivings.


Sonia Poulton

© Copyright Sonia Poulton 2015