British experts fly to Portugal to help in hunt for Madeleine

British experts fly to Portugal to help in hunt for Madeleine:
Portuguese detectives hit back at criticism of inquiry:
More than 500 apartments searched near resort
Steven Morris, Praia da Luz and Sandra Laville
9 May 2007
The Guardian

British police and behavioural experts are working with Portuguese officers to try to solve the mystery of Madeleine McCann's disappearance, it emerged last night.

In an "unprecedented" move, two staff of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, one a police detective with experience of heading investigations, flew to Portugal yesterday to give an insight into how a child abductor might have acted and how he or she may now be thinking.

British police are also following up calls from around the UK over the disappearance of the three-year-old girl. Britain's ambassador to Portugal, John Buck, said last night he had been in touch with the office of the Portuguese prime minister, Jose Socrates, and senior police chiefs to make sure that links between British and Portuguese officers were working. The developments followed concerns that Portuguese police had lost control of the investigation and did not have the experience to deal with such a complex case.

Earlier, a potential sighting in northern Portugal briefly raised hopes that the police may have had a breakthrough but it turned out to be a false alarm. Local television reported that a man with a girl matching Madeleine's description was seen in a supermarket in the town of Nelas, six hours away from where she vanished. An hour later police said it was only one of many leads that had been followed.

Another lead came from a worker in a bar near the apartment from which Madeleine disappeared last Thursday who said police showed him a sketch of a tanned suspect with shoulder-length hair. He was sure the man had been repeatedly using a telephone near the bar in the days before Madeleine vanished.

Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, who is leading the investigation, said at another chaotic press conference that his officers had been following 350 leads and interviewed more than 100 people. Five hundred apartments and an area nine miles around the resort of Praia da Luz on the Algarve, from where Madeleine disappeared, had been searched. Mr Sousa, clearly impatient, hit back at claims that the police operation was botched, saying: "We are doing everything we can."

Responding to growing frustration at the lack of information, he added: "I ask the British people for their cooperation. The legal system in Portugal is not equal to the British system. It's not my fault."

At lunchtime yesterday Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, spent 15 minutes with the parish priest at the church of Nossa Senhora da Luz in Praia da Luz. In the UK, Leicestershire police received calls from people who were on holiday when Madeleine went missing from her bed last Thursday as her parents dined nearby, including a woman who reported seeing a man trying to walk off with a pushchair.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said the decision to send their staff to Portugal was "unprecedented".

Portuguese newspapers reported that one of the theories is that a British paedophile gang snatched Madeleine.

The Manchester United and Portugal footballer Cristiano Ronaldo appealed yesterday for anyone with information to come forward.

The investigation

What we do and don't know about the kidnapping case

Portuguese police have so far refused to provide a timeline, have not issued descriptions of possible suspects and have not said how she might have been taken. This is what we do know about how Madeleine disappeared

When did Madeleine vanish?

Between 9.30pm and 10pm on Thursday. Her parents were dining at a tapas bar within a Mark Warner resort about 100 metres from where Madeleine and her twin siblings were sleeping. There is a pool, a hedge, a wall and an alleyway between the bar and the apartment. Kate and Gerry McCann were checking the children at half-hourly intervals. Mr McCann checked at 9.30pm. When they returned at 10pm, Madeleine had gone.

How could a kidnapper have got into the apartment?

There are three likely routes. The bedroom where she was sleeping has a window with a plastic shutter, and a door leading on to a narrow car park and a quiet residential street. This side of the apartment cannot be seen from the bar. At the back of the apartment, which can partially be seen from the bar, are french windows. These were the doors the parents were using when they checked the children. They may have been left unlocked.

Were the doors or window forced?

Family members said the shutter on the street window was forced. Police have dusted the shutter for fingerprints. But the Mark Warner holiday firm has said there was no sign of a forced entry. A kidnapper could have come through the street window and left via the street door. It is unlikely he or she would have entered or left via the french windows as they face the bar and the complex.

Do the police have any suspects?

At the weekend the police appeared to say they had a suspect, but it became clear that this was not a named person but a man seen by witnesses acting suspiciously. This has been turned into a sketch but has not been published - normal procedure for local police. The sketch is not a clear image.

Why has so little information been published?

Police claim their judicial system makes it impossible to release information for fear of prejudicing any future case. But Madeleine's family are known to be frustrated by the investigation. It was their decision to make the direct appeal to any kidnapper and their decision to release details of what Madeleine was wearing. The police had not done that.

Has the search been thorough?

Many people, including some family members, believe not. Criticism that the police did not begin searching immediately, however, seems unfounded. Officers and members of the public did begin searching as soon as Madeleine was reported missing. But there is scant evidence of an organised, exhaustive search. Neither border nor marine police were given descriptions for many hours after she vanished. Officers have not been seen making extensive door-to-door inquiries.

What about the police investigation?

Again, it appears unsatisfactory. The scene has not been secured as tightly as it would have been in the UK. Passers-by are allowed to go right up to the shutters of the window that Madeleine's parents say were forced. The lack of appeals for help and information has upset the family and surprised police experts.    

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