Police seal off villa in hunt for Madeleine

Police seal off villa in hunt for Madeleine 
Search at home of British mother and son 160 yards from where child disappeared
15 May 2007
The Herald

POLICE investigating the disappearance ofMadeleineMcCann last night questioned several people as they searched the home of a British man 160 yards from where the four-year-old was abducted.

As relatives of the missing girl met at the Scottish Parliament to recruit the help of the country's newly-elected MSPs, intense police activity surrounded the house in Portugal lived in by RobertMurat.

Forensics experts and sniffer dogs were brought in to examine the villa which is just yards from where the girl's parents Gerry and Kate McCann are staying while the search continues for their daughter.

Mr Murat's mother, Jennifer, who is believed to own the house, has been running a stall on the seafront in the Algarve village of Praia da Luz appealing for information from the public about the girl's disappearance.

Mr Murat, who worked as an estate agent, was seen regularly crossing the police tape and approaching the McCanns' apartment. He said he was helping theMcCanns as a translator, but some journalists informed the police earlier this week that they had suspicions about him.

The Policia Judiciara confirmed last night they were questioning a man, but a spokesman did not confirm the nationality or identity of the person. Police stressed no-one had been charged, and said two or three people were being questioned.

Late last night, a car containing a man crouched forward, who was of a similar description to Mr Murat, was driven out of the rear of the police station in Portimao. Local media reported that he was being treated as a witness rather than a suspect.

A shed in the grounds of Mrs Murat's home, called Casa Liliana, was searched by forensic specialists and the water was drained from the swimming pool.

On May 4, the day after Madeleine's disappearance, Mr Murat chatted to reporters about the case but refused to reveal what his role was initially. He told people he had a daughter the same age asMadeleine.

A few days later Lori Campbell, a British journalist, reported him to Leicestershire Police because she thought he was suspicious.

She said: "He was coming in and out of the family apartment speaking with the media and acting like he was somebody official.

But when questioned about it, he was very vague about his position. He said he was just helping to translate witness statements.

"He was in and out of their apartment all week. He said he was from the UK going through a divorce there. He kept trying to emphasise parts of the investigation such as 'maybe she's gone to Spain, maybe it's too late'."

Gaynor de Jesus, a local translator who went to school with Mr Murat, said she was "shocked" at the development.

She said he had joked with her about media rumours that he was a suspect in the inquiry.

Last night Mr Murat's cousin, Sally Eveleigh, said there was "absolutely no way" he could have anything to do with Madeleine's disappearance.

She agreed Mr Murat's daughter looked very like the missing girl, but added that lots of children could look similar to her.

As the forensic search got under way John Buck, the British ambassador to Portugal, praised Mr and Mrs McCann's "remarkable resilience and dignity in very distressing circumstances".


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