Chapter 22: Tennis Balls Photo

Tennis Balls Photo

My interest in this particular image was rekindled after the recent newspaper article by Tracey Kandohla, a vehement and uncritical McCann supporter and personal friend of Kate, who referred to the Tennis Balls Photo (TBP) where she says:
 “Pictures include the iconic last known image of Maddie in pink sunhat and clutching tennis balls while on holiday “      [1]

Having researched it further, some are now tending towards the conclusion that it could indeed be the last photo’ of Madeleine Beth McCann, taken some hours after the Pool photo.

* * * * 

Is there anything we can deduce from what we observe when we examine this image?

There are two versions in circulation.   [2]

This one, 

which has clearly been cropped from this one

The larger one shows up with an aspect ratio of 800 x 1067 which gives 1.33, or 0.75
depending which way we calculate it.  

This is normal for most cameras.
The Canon PowerShot A620 for example uses 3072 x 2304 = 0.75 / 1.33
and the Olympus C-50 similarly uses 2560 x 1920 = 0.75 / 1.33

But immediately we note that most cameras take images in ‘landscape’ format, that is to say the photo is wider than it is high.    4 units wide by 3 units high.

We sometimes observe keen photographers physically turning the camera through 90º, to achieve the ‘Portrait’ format, but in the days of high resolution digital images it is more common simply to crop the middle out and save it separately.

So has the larger of these images itself been cropped from a landscape format image?

If so the original must have looked like this:

This is on any test a very poor photo.  Modern cameras have a Zoom button, usually very close to the shutter release, and it would have been easy and far more normal  to create this. It also lacks contrast, and overall is too dark.

What else do we observe?

Almost total lack of shadow - indicating a lack of bright sun
2 Madeleine is wearing a bright pink sun hat, and sandals
3 She is clutching three full sized yellow tennis balls, possibly even a fourth

We also observe other things, which may be relevant at a future date.
The quality of the photo available is poor so we need to be careful with this - but

4 There appear to be bruises or scratches on Madeleine’s arm and leg,
5 The colour of her legs and arms are significantly different from the Pool photo
6 The position of the head seems unusual, though it may be to steady the balls
and then
7 She is wearing different shoes from the playground photos
8 She is wearing the pink hat worn by Amelie in the Pool photo
9 There is no one else in shot.  No Adults, no children, no nanny, no tennis coach.

The McCanns’ Camera, the Canon PowerShot A620 takes photos at 7 mega pixels, giving an extremely clear, crisp, and bright image, as we see in the Pool photo.  [3]

The TBP is dark, grainy, and dull - lacking contrast.  It is also badly ‘framed’.

Mark Warner specialise in Tennis at many of their summer resorts.  [4]

Mini and junior LTA tennis courses for younger players are designed to be fun with the opportunity to learn new skills and offer encouragement to all children. These courses can be pre-booked in the UK. Private lessons may be recommended by the Tennis Manager for children who are particularly strong players.
It is very clear what is offered.
Mini LTA courses
Ages 3 to 5 years
Mini red awards
This course is taught using short racquets and soft balls.  It's just like the real game and your coaching includes learning different shot types and focusing on longer rallies.

And a photo is attached showing both these items. 

The balls are yellow and RED, to distinguish them from the full “adult’ ones.
They are freely available.
For example on Amazon one can find   [5]
Wilson Kid's Starter Tennis Balls (Pack of 3) - Yellow/Red
Large low compression tennis ball for 10 & under tennis
Newly developed 75mm felt covered ball 
75% lighter than common tennis balls

So we may deduce that - 

Madeleine was not playing tennis on this occasion.   Her footwear is inappropriate, the sun hat is inappropriate, and the tennis balls she is clutching are inappropriate.  

There are three different accounts by three different people of how, when, and by whom, this photo was taken.  
They are, as we now expect, totally incompatible with one another, and openly contradictory.

It is variously described as having been taken by Kate on Tuesday 1st May, 

“. . .  I ran back to our apartment for my camera to record the occasion.  One of my photographs is known around the world now: a smiling Madeleine clutching armfuls of tennis balls”   p. 57   [6]

or by Jane Tanner on Thursday 3rd May  [7]

Rachael Oldfield (Rogatory interview):
1578 "The third of May, are you able to summarise the days activities"?
Reply "Yeah, ... . . . Madeleine and Ella and their sort of group came to have a tennis lesson as part of their crèche activities, erm and Kate didn't have her camera and Jane was there then as well and Jane took some photos of both Madeleine and Ella, that's one, that poster of Madeleine with the tennis balls, that sort of pictures".
1578 "That was taken on the"?
Reply "Yeah that was that morning."
1578 "Thursday"?

Or perhaps not by Jane Tanner, even on Wednesday 2nd May  - she doesn’t say.  [8]

Jane Tanner (Rogatory interview):
Reply "No. Err the Wednesday, err again I think it would have just been a, Evie would have had a sleep and just round the pool or in the, each other apartments, until, until high tea but I think Ella, and Ella would have, Ella went to err, Ella went to the err the kids club.
Actually that morning was the morning Ella and Madeleine had the tennis lesson I think on the Wednesday. You've got the picture of..." 

Many years ago a commentator and researcher posted this on a blog  [9]

In short, Rachael describes how Jane took the photograph on Thursday, Jane describes the event taking place on Wednesday and Kate describes how she (Kate) took it on Tuesday. SNIPPED
And yet the photograph cannot have been taken during a mini-tennis session on the Tuesday either, because there wasn't one.   Mini-tennis took place, according to the 'kids' club' schedule, on the Monday morning. If, this photograph is construed as representing Madeleine McCann's 'last hours' therefore (as a recent Sunday Telegraph report would suggest), then these will have been spent on the morning of Monday April 30th, not the early evening of May 3."

Looking at clothing and the tennis balls it becomes more clear that this was not during any mini-tennis session.  Which neatly disposes of Rachael’s and Jane Tanner’s “evidence”.

In any event there was only one mini-tennis session scheduled for Madeleine's play group – on the Monday morning (10.00 – 11.00 a.m.) 30th April   [10]

On that day -Monday -between 10.00 and 11.00 it was a chilly 17º with almost total cloud cover.

On the following day, when Kate insisted it was taken, the weather was no better   [11]

Is Madeleine not merely clutching tennis balls, but also ‘freezing’ ?

But now let us look away and think of an alternative, maybe more probable scenario.

We know that Sunday 29th April was the only warm and cloudless day in the entire holiday, but even that day by later afternoon and early evening the weather front brought a cloud bank which persisted for the following five days, and brought cold wind and rain.   [12]

The chart shows that by 6 pm on Sunday there was 50% cloud cover but, also importantly, that the air temperature was at its warmest for that day, 21º C, a relatively pleasant 70ºF.

If that be correct, then the T shirt, shorts and sun hat are entirely appropriate. 

As would be keeping the children up and outdoors for a little longer than planned.

We then look at the position of the sun.

Sunset on Sunday 29th April was 20:15, but it was early in the season, and the sun only reached 67º at Solar Zenith at 13:29.

Again the charts are instructive   [13]
17:30  32º
18:00  26º
18:30  20º

In other words the sun is very low in the sky, and there is a dense bank of cloud as shown clearly in the available photos.   [14]

Is this then compatible, at least, with Madeleine collecting tennis balls, during or after a game involving Gerry, late in the afternoon, possibly even after tea, with the sun low in the sky and behind a cloud bank ?

If so, then that could easily have been on Sunday 29th April

We note that on the available Tennis Court booking sheets, which apparently start only on Tuesday 1st May, the time from 5:30 to 7:30 is shown as “Mixed night”.

On the previous evenings the courts may either have had this session, or may well have been ‘free’ - as in not booked - and the men may well have gone for a short knock-up. 

Is it not at least conceivable that as a ‘special treat’ Madeleine was
allowed to stay up and act as ball girl ?

Other hypotheses are possible.

The Tennis Balls Photo (TBP) was not  taken by Jane Tanner on Thursday (Claim 1). 
The TBP was not taken by Jane on Wednesday (Claim 2). 
The TBP was not taken by Kate McCann on Tuesday (Claim 3). 

Instead, it is possible that it is a genuine photo of Madeleine taken by Gerry or Kate McCann during the early evening of Sunday 29 April, perhaps after some of the men had been playing tennis. IF CORRECT, the three separate, false claims would surely suggest a deliberate attempt to conceal the real date that the photograph was taken.

An additional observation leads to a slightly different hypothesis.

There are four photographs from the holiday that we can accept as having been taken on the McCanns’ camera on that holiday:   the three 'playground' photos, which were clearly taken on the Saturday, and the Pool photo, which the McCanns insist was taken on Thursday 3rd May, but evidence clearly indicates was actually taken on Sunday 29th April. 

All these four photos, almost certainly taken by Kate, show evident ability to use the 'Zoom' button, and to frame a shot reasonably well.
The larger version of the TBP, however, even in the format available to us, shows that the 'Zoom' button was clearly NOT used.  When that is added to the poor framing and ‘construction’ of the image and the grainy and unclear colour saturation, there is therefore a reasonable argument that Kate did NOT take the Tennis Balls Photo on the Canon PowerShot.      

That in turn leads one to question whether someone else – neither Kate nor Jane – may have taken the photo on another camera.  When we consider such a scenario, still other possibilities come into view.
Was the photo actually taken that week ? 
Could it be a composite photo, with Madeleine superimposed on a background shot of the tennis court ?
Also, as some have suggested, could it be a triple composite: a girl, not Madeleine, added on to a background shot of the tennis court, with Madeleine’s head photoshopped on to replace the head of a different girl ? The image is so grainy that this might not be difficult.

Once we begin to accept
1 that Kate McCann’s account of how and when the Tennis Balls Photo was taken is false 
2 the garbled and contradictory accounts of Jane Tanner and Rachael Oldfield are false
3 the photo was NOT taken on the Canon PowerShot, and has therefore never been presented with the EXIF date and time shown
any serious researcher must consider every one of the possibilities and scenarios listed above to be a reasonable hypothesis.
Further analysis can then be undertaken to try to eliminate some of those scenarios and to concentrate on the one that has the best evidence to support it.   

ADDENDUM Another strange issue

In her autobiography, ‘madeleine’, Kate McCann is clear about the sequence of events on Tuesday 1st May.  It is so extraordinary that I quote it in full from p. 57   [6]

During Gerry’s tennis lesson, Madeleine and Ella came to the adjoining court with their Mini Club for a mini-tennis session. Jane and I stayed to watch them. It chokes me remembering how my heart soared with pride in Madeleine that morning. She was so happy and obviously enjoying herself. Standing there listening intently to Cat’s instructions, she looked so gorgeous in her little T-shirt and shorts, pink hat, ankle socks and new holiday sandals that I ran back to our apartment for my camera to record the occasion. One of my photographs is known around the world now: a smiling Madeleine clutching armfuls of tennis balls. At the end of their session, the children had been asked to run around the court and pick up as many balls as they could. Madeleine had done really well and was very pleased with herself. Gerry loves that picture.
The implication is clear.
There was an entire group of children, the mini-club, comprising 6 children, (according to the somewhat dubious crèche sheets)  under the instruction of Cat, the nanny.
They were playing mini-tennis, so there would have been racquets and the special soft balls appropriate for 3 year olds. (see above)
But the photo shows Madeleine, alone, with “adult’ tennis balls.
No nanny, no adults, no Mini Club of other children, no tennis coach 
No parents, no adults playing tennis on the other court . . . 

And Kate says she ran back to the apartment to collect the camera to record the occasion.
So let us accept what she says, apply logic, and consider whether this is remotely credible. 

Kate implies that she saw Madeleine in that pose.  ( Her use of the pluperfect ‘had been asked”  denotes an action completed prior to her next action)
THEN thought how 'gorgeous' she looked
THEN decided to run back to her apartment for her camera
THEN ran back
THEN unlocked the door (if she went round the front through the car park, or opened the unlocked sliding patio doors if they were leaving the apartment unlocked - with camera and passports, and other valuables - during the day as well as during the evenings)
THEN retrieved the camera
THEN locked the door again - (if she did,) or pulled the patio doors closed
THEN ran down the stairs, out of the wicket gate which she closed behind her, 
THEN ran or jogged through the reception area, round the pool, across the lawn
THEN found Madeleine
THEN asked her to pose and
THEN took the photo.

How long would all this take?
It is possible to envisage and then to calculate the distance involved.   [15]
Applying the shorter distance option with the unlocked patio doors and insecure apartment we see this

 and we can put way-points on the path - thus - ( blue with red and white dots)

and then allow the computer to calculate this distance - thus   [16]

Allowing Kate to climb the stairs, enter, visit whichever room contained the camera, and exit we can probably round this up to 110 metres.      Each way.

Kate herself says the distance from Tapas bar to apartment “ was only thirty to forty-five seconds away,”.  That is the way-point marked in black above. (In fact at a brisk walk from Tapas to the wicket gate it is one minute).

Even allowing that Kate is a distance runner, the return trip, past obstacles, with frequent changes of direction, of 220 m. and at a civilised jog perhaps mixed with a brisk walking pace, rather than a determined sprint, is likely to have taken at least three minutes, and very probably up to, and even well over four.

The children - all six of them, have to collect a few tennis balls from a court which is totally surrounded by chain link fencing.  How long would this realistically take ?

And who was with Madeleine while Kate rushed back?  

To whom did she speak and say: “Hold Maddie there for three or possibly four or five minutes, I must just grab a pic of her!” 

Kate tells us none of this, arousing suspicions that her account of this incident may not be entirely accurate !

But to reiterate, so that we do not get seduced into believing even a little bit of this extraordinary story:

There was only one mini-tennis session scheduled for Madeleine's play group – on the Monday morning (10.00 – 11.00 a.m.) 30th April     [10]

Some time ago another researcher and seeker for the truth, who posts under the name Dr Martin Roberts, examined the claims made about the Pool photo - according to Kate McCann the very last photo she took of Madeleine - in some detail.  [17]

He begins quoting the same passage from Kate’s autobiography “madeleine”.

During Gerry's tennis lesson, Madeleine and Ella came to the adjoining court with
their Mini Club for a mini-tennis session... Standing there listening intently to Cat's
instructions, she (Madeleine) looked so gorgeous in her little T-shirt and shorts,
pink hat, ankle socks and new holiday sandals that I ran back to our apartment for
my camera to record the occasion. One of my photographs is known around the
world now: a smiling Madeleine clutching armfuls of tennis balls".

“Thus Kate McCann tells us in her book (madeleine), clearly and unambiguously, exactly where her daughter Madeleine was that Tuesday morning, May 1st. She arrived at the tennis courts, together with Ella O'Brien, during Gerry's tennis lesson, which had started at 10.15. She [Madeleine] was not therefore where she should have been at that time – with her kid's club playmates, at the pool.

On Thursday afternoon at about 2.40 p.m. [actually Kate says it was 2.29pm] Kate McCann tells us she captured the iconic 'last photo' - the pool photo - of her daughter dressed in "an outfit I'd bought especially for her holiday: a peach-coloured smock top from Gap and some white broderie-anglaise shorts from Monsoon".

Madeleine was wearing nothing else but a sun hat. She was signed into the crèche by Kate that same afternoon at 2.50 p.m., [Kate actually says she dropped the twins off at 2.40pm]  no doubt following a hurried exodus from the pool area, but unfortunately twenty minutes late for the 'chalk space pictures' activity, which began at 2.30 p.m.    Between them the McCanns arranged for Gerry to collect the children later while Kate went off for a run. That is what Kate McCann says in her book. There is no mention whatsoever of any additional visit to the children's playgroups in the meantime.

Since Kate has told us exactly what Madeleine was wearing at 2.40 p.m. [actually from 2.29pm to 2.50 pm and also of course whilst she was at the pool with Gerry and Kate before 2.29pm ] we also know what she was not wearing – her swimming costume. So what did she do come the 'dive and find' time at the pool from 3.30 to 4.30 p.m., stand and watch?”

[My observations]

Our earlier analysis has shown that the only time the ‘Last photo’ - the Pool photo - could possibly have been taken was the Sunday that week, 29th April. Only on that day does the weather match what we see in the photo.  This clearly implies that what Kate says about taking Madeleine to the crèche at 2.50 pm is simply unsustainable.

But to return to Dr Martin Roberts’ analysis of what Kate says about the Pool photo in her book, he finishes off his article with the trenchant observation:

"It is not possible to be certain that Madeleine McCann attended at the Ocean Club playgroup during the times referred to above and, by extrapolation, on any other occasion that week.”


It must be noted that Kate’s account was published in her book in 2011.
The PJ files, including Kate’s and Gerry’s statements, the Tapas 7 statements and rogatory interviews, crèche records, photos, and everything else were released on DVD by the PJ when the case was ‘shelved’ in 2008.

Kate and her husband Gerry, her advisors, their teams of Lawyers, proof readers, friends, the Tapas 7, and their family had ample opportunity to cross check what she had written before publication, if only to ensure that what was said did not personally compromise them or impugn their individual veracity.

It seems no one took on that awesome responsibility.


3 google search < madeleine mccann pool photo >

6 madeleine’, by Kate McCann, Bantam Press, 2011,

7 Rachael Oldfield rogatory interview

8 Jane Tanner rogatory interview -

14 Flickr. Search < algarve, 29 April 2007 . . .>

15 google earth < Praia da Luz >