Suspect's description made public after family pressure

Suspect's description made public after family pressure
Threat of legal action forced Portuguese police into releasing details of sighting
Torcuil Crichton
27 May 2007
Sunday Herald

PORTUGUESE police were forced into releasing a description of a suspect wanted in connection with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann after the parents of the missing girl held discussions with prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown and threatened legal action.

Last night, 23 days after their daughter went missing from a Portuguese holiday resort, the British couple welcomed news that police had released the description of a man seen carrying what was thought to be a child.

The McCanns were desperate to release the details but the Portuguese police, bound by national secrecy laws, have issued little in the way of details about the case and few appeals for information in the course of the inquiry.

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, has spoken to Gerry McCann on several occasions in recent days and pledged to do everything he could to support the family, who remain at the Ocean Club Mark Warner resort in the Algarve town of Praia da Luz where Madeleine was snatched from her bed.

The McCanns are now convinced that a white man aged around 35 to 40, spotted by a friend of the couple near their apartment at 9.30pm, was holding Madeleine. He was of medium build, about 5ft 10ins tall and wearing a dark jacket and beige trousers.

Portuguese police have known about the sighting for three weeks but because of laws which forbid the release of details of an investigation, details of the sighting could not be made public.

However, after a meeting between the McCanns and senior Portuguese officials, the police issued the physical description on Friday.

Although they have praised the efforts being made to find Madeleine, the McCanns were said to be increasingly frustrated in recent days at perceived delays and communication problems.

The family, whose lawyers have been in the Algarve recently, threatened legal action to push for the information to be released. On Friday night, after clearance was given by a public prosecutor, Portugal's Policia Judiciaria finally released the man's description, appealing for information.

In the UK, such a vital piece of the jigsaw would have been released early on in the investigation in the hope of witnesses coming forward.

The family had a series of meetings with British ambassador John Buck over the past three weeks, as well as with British and Portuguese police.

Yesterday Gerry McCann said that the talks were amicable and constructive, and insisted the sighting could prove "significant and relevant" in finding four-year-old Madeleine.

McCann said he and wife Kate wanted "more than anything" to get their daughter back safe and well.

Appealing for help, he said: "Any information, no matter how unimportant you think it could be, might be vital in helping the Portuguese and British police find our daughter." Kate McCann – who was still gripping Madeleine's pink Cuddle Cat toy – held her husband's hand as he urged the public to step forward if they had any information.

"Was this man seen anywhere else in or near the town with a child, or what appeared to be a child? Which direction was he heading in? Did he have a vehicle?" he asked.

After making their plea, the couple spent the afternoon with their two-yearold twins, Sean and Amelie, and took them swimming. They say they are determined to make life as normal for the children as they wait for news of their elder sister.

The discussions with Gordon Brown were an added boost to the McCanns after all other leads appeared to have gone cold.

Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for the family, said: "I can confirm that telephone conversations have taken place between Gerry McCann and Chancellor Gordon Brown. He offered both Gerry and Kate his full support in their efforts to find Madeleine, although details of the conversations will remain private." A Treasury spokesman refused to confirm that Brown had personally intervened to get the Portuguese police to change their minds on releasing the information.

Already there have been reports of a possible second sighting of the man carrying what appeared to be a child in Praia da Luz that night.

Although the reports have not been confirmed, a friend of the family said yesterday: "This is why the family were pushing to get that [sighting information] out there early, because they are hopeful that a number of other people might have seen her." As the police investigation into Madeleine's disappearance continued, the cordons around the McCann's apartment were narrowed. Telephone experts from the UK have travelled to the resort to examine all landline and mobile calls made on the night of the abduction, May 3, according to local newspaper Jornal de Noticias.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall yesterday said they had been following Madeleine's case "closely and with deep concern" and they "fervently hoped" she would be reunited with her family.

The couple's remarks were made in a statement from Clarence House and are the latest in a series of high-profile messages of support for the family.

The McCanns are currently planning trips to Spain, Germany and Holland to raise the profile of their daughter's case.

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