I'm far from qualified to opine over this latest can of worms for reasons simple. One, I have not been following the debate over this issue. Two, internet technology is not my forte.
All I can say, if it comes down to matters of trust, does one put one's trust in man or machine?
I cannot speak for machines, but I think I might offer an opinion about the man, in this instance, that man being Jim Gamble, late of the CEOP.
Of course you can trust Jim Gamble, he's a career policeman of twenty five years plus experience.
A TALE OF TWO FILES
The furore over Steve Marsden’s apparent discovery of inappropriate computer files having been generated by CEOP in connection with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, revolves around two entities that were archived, according to the San Francisco-based Wayback Machine, on 30 April, 2007, several days before Madeleine was reported missing – an impossibility according to some, just as it appears impossible for a file recorded on 30 April to include specific references to events the following October, under the heading: ‘Latest News’.
On the basis of these paradoxes a number of scrutineers have concluded that the Wayback Machine was at fault and subject to computer error – a ‘glitch’ as is commonly referred to by those who use computers without actually understanding how they work.
Whilst Marsden pointed up the potentially explosive significance of a premature CEOP-generated internet file with a URL that included the name ‘mccann’, it was another, more expansive document that revealed a chronological inconsistency. Although both were archived on the same date, distrust of the one promoted dismissal of the other and, with the WBM backroom staff now busily ‘tinkering’ with their own records, it would appear that what might have been a smoking gun has had its cordite fumes wafted away. Or has it?
The ‘computer done it’ school of thought would have it that some as-yet-unidentified species of error occurred in late October 2007 (on a date following those futuristic ‘Latest News’ references) which led to the CEOP home-page for that period being erroneously recorded as an archival on April 30 – a leap backward in time of six months. The smaller, yet infinitely more significant, ‘mccann’ file was deemed, by extrapolation, to have suffered the same fate.
There has since been intense scrutiny of/debate surrounding/speculation over the very coding of the files in question, in an attempt to discover what exactly happened to them, and whether Marsden’s first impressions were justified, or not, as the case may be. Equations abound, the academic fur has been flying, whilst staff at Wayback headquarters, after giving a handful of contradictory answers to initial questions, have remained resolutely silent on the matter. As has Jim Gamble, Head of CEOP at the time the puzzling files were created. Perhaps the Marketeer’s dictum (‘KISS’ - ‘Keep it simple, stupid!’) should be brought to bear.
Let us suppose, merely for the sake of argument, that the Wayback Machine did indeed suffer some calamity, of whatever origin, during late October 2007. The first question to ask is whether there has been any evidence brought forth of said disruption’s having affected all the internet files the Wayback Machine has ‘crawled’ in the eight years since (*/*) – a catastrophe almost beyond measure if so.
Answer: ‘You cannot be serious!’
So then we should re-iterate the question, but progressively narrowing the field each time, until we are left, more simply, with ‘all CEOP files ’ (ceop.gov.uk/*).
This is already the test case, since the two files which have given rise to the debate are each CEOP files, and no mistake. One, it is claimed, has been affected, the other simply tarred with the same brush. However, since the files in question are functionally independent of each other we are entitled to examine them independently.
According to the Wayback Machine, on 30 April 2007 the file ‘mccann/html’ featured a single photographic portrait of young Madeleine McCann, together with a provisional link to a second picture. If, however, we consider what that second picture eventually turned out to be, we discover it is a ‘head and shoulders’ view cropped from the now well-known ‘tennis photo’, which Kate McCann claims in her book to have taken on Tuesday 1 May. However smart a computer may appear, it cannot refer for information to an event that has yet to take place.
At a stroke it becomes obvious that the 30 April version of the internet page in question (‘mccann.html’) must have been incomplete. In point of fact, no ‘screen shot’ of this file’s 30 April output has succeeded in revealing more than one photograph, plus a ‘broken link’ icon in respect of the other. Subsequent archivals by the WBM (on 13 May, for instance) include both pictures, which are reproduced without demur.
Had this file been ‘crawled’ in October and wrongly assigned as an April 30 record, then what until recently appeared to the viewer to be the earliest known instance of the file ‘mccann.html’, should have incorporated two photographs. It did not. In reality this file probably did not even exist beyond August 2007 and is highly unlikely to have featured in any October review by the WBM.
Even if one were to trace the history of the ‘two-picture page’ backward in time, with a view to offering up the fatuous argument that the WBM found a ‘broken link’ example only slightly earlier than 13 May and proceeded to drop that into its 30 April folder instead, that contention is still untenable, since the ‘crawls’ conducted by the WBM in this instance were two weeks apart (30 April – 13 May). As far as ‘computer glitch’ proponents are concerned, 13 May should have marked the file’s very first appearance among the WBM’s records, given that CEOP did not join the party until officially invited to do so on 7 May.
Instead we are brought back to the ‘Marsden scenario’ that first set alarm bells ringing. Until such time as its ‘minders’ completely re-work their indexing in this regard (and they will) the WBM self-evidently contained a record of CEOP file ‘mccann.html’ archived on 30 April, 2007 – four days before Madeleine McCann was reported missing. Even if we dismiss its contents, the very existence of such an entity is potentially incriminating.
But…but…but…how do we explain the contradictions inherent in that other file – the CEOP home-page with its Latest News from October? How did that come to be identified with April?
Answer: By accident or design. It matters not a jot, since we have already adduced evidence to establish that not all CEOP files were affected by whatever caused their home-page to experience a premonition. Whatever befell that page structure, it was an event unique to that document and basically irrelevant to the focal issue, which requires resolution.
Instead of bombarding the keepers of the Wayback Machine with questions concerning a problem they have never experienced, we should be asking Jim Gamble to explain how and why CEOP came to be preparing a ‘find me’ campaign for a girl who had yet to go missing.