For months the cute bug-eyed face of poor little Madeleine McCann has been staring out at us across Europe – one of those disappearances that become symbols of life’s fragility, of the door in the floor you can go through at any moment.

You couldn’t help but be moved by it, all the while knowing the uses to which such mass sentiment was being put. The British dailies – the Express, in particular which has made public emotionality a la St Diana, its stock in trade – have been running it full-bore for months.

This week it kicked up again when the Portuguese police were reported to allege that it was the McCanns themselves who killed Madeleine (a French name meaning “sacrifice in the wilderness” – “mort-dans-l’air”). It is alleged she was accidentally killed by her mother Kate, and the incident covered up by the abduction story.

Traces of blood in a car rented by the McCanns weeks after the disappearance match Madelaine’s DNA, and it’s suggested that the accounts of the night by people who were with the McCanns don’t match up.

If this turns out to be true, Kate and Gerry McCann put up one of the greatest performances of all time, running a media campaign that went global, hiring PR advisors and taking up every appearance offer short of non-stick frypan demonstrations at Doncaster Shoppingtown.

Really, it’s hard to see why they would do this. Their feral media activity attracted some criticism in the first place (they said that anything that kept the case alive helped) and no-one would have blamed them if they’d quietly returned to England with their two other children, accepting that Madeleine was gone. Or is it exactly that incredulity they have laboured so long to create?

You can already feel the mood start to change. Much of the case has centred around Kate McCann, a high-cheekboned bottle blonde Amazon the press couldn’t believe their luck in getting. Together with a cute lost daughter and a gormless husband, the chance to run photos of Kate McCann kept the show on the road. “Ugly Mothers Child missing”? – a week, tops.

Now that strong face starts to look not resolute but hard, merciless. The Platinum No.12 dye-job suggests a femme fatale, the frenetic activity not relentlessness, but hysteria. Kate McCann is morphing into Heather Mills before our very eyes.

If Ms Media turns out to be Medea, then I am not quite sure what it will do those millions of readers who have attached their hopes and fears to the story. Induce a greater scepticism about public emotionality? Nah. Mass nervous breakdowns more like.