True Crime Analysis, Breakthroughs, Insights & Discussions Hosted by Bestselling Author Nick van der Leek

“The McCanns insisted they had given their children nothing more potent than Calpol, which is a painkiller and has no sedative effect.” – Sunday Times, 9 September 2007, Victims of the rumour mill?

It’s a popular misconception that Calpol Night helps children to sleep.

Is it really?

On the same day the McCanns finally arrived home at the end of a disastrous summer in Portugal, the Sunday Times published an analysis of how the well-to-do British parents [both doctors] had been unfairly victimized by Portuguese cops and Portuguese tabloid media.


One of the “most powerful rumours” quoted in the article was this one:

The inference is that the gossip surrounding the use of a Calpol as a sedative cannot possibly be true simply because – medically speaking – Calpol isn’t a sedative.

Do a Google search of “Calpol sedative” and Google will inform you that:


This must mean that the article in the Sunday Times, especially the bit about Calpol having “no sedative effect” was 100% accurate, right?

Well, it depends on “when”. If the question is: Does Calpol Night have a sedative effect today? the answer is no. The date of the article cited in the Google search [February 16, 2005] seems to predate the incident involving Madeleine McCann by over two years.

The problem with the assessment that the active ingredients have no sedative effect is that they don’t refer to the actual active ingredient that does: diphenhydramine hydrochloride.

There are three important points to raise in this respect:

1. While the original Calpol Night did contain Paracetamol, and while Paracetamol is a painkiller as opposed to a sedative [confirming the accuracy of the text above] the other active ingredient is used to treat coughs and runny noses.


It dries nasal secretions and is, as such, an antihistamine. Antihistamines are famously sedating, and diphenhydramine hydrochloride is no exception. So the original Calpol Night does have a sedative effect, despite the claim in the Sunday Times that this was a rumour, and apparently the same claim by the doctors at the centre of the allegations that it had no sedative effect.

2. What is astonishing is that the Sunday Times either was ignorant of the well-known trend in British to sedate their children using cough-medicine in the decade following 2000, or was deliberately ignorant. In other words, they either misled their readers on a misconception that wasn’t, or they did so accidentally. A year and ten days after “setting the record straight on the safety of Calpol” the same newspaper referred to the “Calpol generation” in a headline, and the dangers of the medication leading to long term side-effects.


3. By March 2009 the original formula of Calpol Night was discontinued, and the product packaging of the replacement product was altered to reflect this. After coming under review, it was no longer recommended to dose any children under six years of age with Calpol Night. [Madeleine McCann was three-years-old at the time of her disappearance]. Some of the side effects associated with the original formula now officially included drowsiness, hallucinations and potentially serious liver and kidney damage.

The Calpol product that replaced Calpol Night in 2009 doesn’t have a sedative effect. The Calpol product that existed at the time something happened to the doctors’ daughter during their holiday in Portugal in 2007, absolutely did.

More: Are we using too much Calpol? – The Telegraph [2005]

Doctors are now being told to prescribe Calpol instead of antibiotics to children – Daily Mail [2017]

Are we raising a generation of Calpol kids? Doctor warns in TV doc that our children are overdosing on drugs – The Mirror [2018]

Madeleine McCann cops thought Kate and Gerry had accidentally killed Maddie with Calpol overdose, Netflix documentary reveals – The Sun [2019]


  1. Sylvester

    I’ll state the obvious – if the McCann’s state Calpol is not a sedative but a painkiller, why were they giving their children a painkiller? Were they in pain?

  2. Sylvester

    If Madeleine fell before May 3 – say the evening of May 2, after dark, whilst looking for her parents then that means they would have had to have “stored” the body for a full day and evening, until they could instigate the ruse of the well being checks from the restaurant and finding her gone. I don’t have a problem with that – but it’s so very risky. What if the twins said something about it at the Creche during the day May 3 – I understand little toddlers aren’t fluent in language but it’s rather macabre to think of them sharing space in the apartment with a dead body in the master bedroom cabinet. Yet I do think it happened before May 3 – because if she was not abducted then the plan to cover their tracks and their negligence, couldn’t have been hatched between the time they went to dinner and the second or third check up from the restaurant May 3.

    And I liked what you said toward the end of the McCann book #1. You said “if we can all be better, why aren’t we?” Yes, why indeed.

    • nickvdl

      the plan to cover their tracks and their negligence, couldn’t have been hatched between the time they went to dinner and the second or third check up from the restaurant May 3.>>>But that doesn’t mean one has to necessarily go to the previous day/night to find that time.

    • Ralph Oscar

      “it’s so very risky. What if the twins said something about it at the Creche during the day May 3 – I understand little toddlers aren’t fluent in language but it’s rather macabre to think of them sharing space in the apartment with a dead body in the master bedroom cabinet.”

      This is absolutely an accurate observation and a potentially acute risk – and exactly what happened in the case of the disappearance of Susan Powell. Her two sons were 4 and 2 when their dad took them along to dispose of her body in the mountains. Three years later:

      Another lawyer representing the Cox family said the children had started talking to their grandparents about things they remembered from the night their mother vanished.

      “They were beginning to verbalize more,” said attorney Steve Downing. “The oldest boy talked about that they went camping and that Mommy was in the trunk. Mom and Dad got out of the car and Mom disappeared.”

      The attorney said Charlie Powell drew a disturbing picture as a part of a school assignment several months ago. The drawing depicted the boy’s father driving the van with Charlie and Braden sitting in the backseat, and their mother in the trunk.

  3. Sylvester

    Pretty tight timeline then. 1. Madeleine was tired; 2. Gerry was still out playing tennis; 3. Strange visit from Dr. Payne; 4. McCann’s were the first at the dinner table. I thought it happened at night, but if it got dark then around 6:30 then they could have scrambled between 6:30 and 8:30. Or a fall could still occur when one takes one’s eyes off the children, before nightfall. If that was the case, then it would be the Calpol they were wanting to cover up, as an accidental fall – wouldn’t be their fault. Unless of course it wasn’t an accidental fall.

    • nickvdl

      That was what Joseph Moura [who went undercover for CBS] also came away with. Couldn’t have happened, there was no time. It’s a sensible counterargument.

  4. Sylvester

    I think what didn’t happen was reading the children a bedtime story. What didn’t happen was a 5 minute shower. What didn’t happen was Dr. Payne seeing all three children – didn’t he say they were all in white (like some kind of ethereal vision of white light?). It still could have been neglect – leaving a door open, not knowing where all three were at a given time. A fall over the railing need not have been accompanied by a scream and it could have happened in early evening. But wow. Why not just report it as an accident. Probably the same reason Chris Watts didn’t want autopsies done on his children before he had a chance to try and obliterate their body chemistry in oil.

  5. Sylvester

    Moura thinks an abduction did take place – so I won’t swing that far over the edge. But if something did happen that points to neglect May 3, then why screw with the pictures (alter them to look like Madeleine was alive days before). We know Madeleine was gone May 3. There is time in the timeline before the good doctors went out to dinner but barely.

    • nickvdl

      Yes, and there is a little bit of time during their dinner, if you look closely.

  6. Sylvester

    Now that’s intriguing! Gerry had the first check. And, he says he used the restroom. That adds some time to his story to move things and people around. With the twins still asleep he could do things in that apartment and no one would hear. Then Dr. Matt O. took the second check. Gerry wouldn’t have minded if Matt looked in and saw only two sleeping figures. But somehow Gerry has to break the news to Kate without her registering alarm at the table. Would he really be so cold as to let her discover a missing Madeleine while he sits calmly at the table?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *