Fears for Maddy search after police chief is axed

Fears for Maddy search after police chief is axed
Evening Standard
3 October 2007
Kiran Randhawa in Praia da Luz

The parents of Madeleine McCann fear the search for their daughter could come to a halt following the sacking of the Portuguese detective in charge of the investigation.

Goncalo Amaral was removed from his post after he condemned British police, saying they 'have only worked on what the McCann couple want them to work on'.

But the move has sparked new fears that the already slow-running inquiry could falter as a new detective is sought to replace him. A friend of Gerry and Kate McCann told the Evening Standard today: 'I've never been confident that Madeleine will be found through the Portuguese investigation and now I fear this is even more unlikely.

'The Portuguese police are completely incompetent and things have got very nasty. But the whole time Gerry and Kate have insisted the criminal investigation was their best chance of finding her. Now that this has happened, I don't know where that leaves them. I definitely feel it will slow the whole process down.'

The source added that although he is unhappy with the direction the case has taken under Mr Amaral's lead, he does not believe another detective will necessarily improve the situation.

'I'm pessimistic about the police re-focusing the criminal investigation as a result of his departure. It definitely will slow the case down.'

Mr Amaral, 47, told the newspaper Jornal de Noticias today: 'A policeman does not limit himself to one case. There's a lot of work still to be done.'

He is said to have been sacked in a fax from Alipio Ribeiro, national director of the Policia Judiciaria - Portugal's criminal investigation department. Portuguese newspapers today said the inquiry was at an 'impasse'.

Mr Amaral claimed his quotes had been taken out of context, and that he was not attacking British police, but rather the private investigators working for the McCanns. But his bosses believed he had broken the pact of silence over the case and feared he was responsible for leaking stories to the media.

Carlos Anjos, president of the Judicial Police Inspectors Union, said: 'He was the victim of personal attacks by the British media which not only questioned his honour as a policeman, but also attacked him as a human being.'

It is claimed Mr Amaral is planning to sue British newspapers for defamation.

McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the decision to remove Mr Amaral was 'a decision for the Portuguese authorities'.

'Kate and Gerry have always said they were more than happy to co-operate with the Portuguese authorities whoever that might be,' he said. 'So in other words, whoever takes over from Mr Amaral as head of the investigation, they will continue that co-operation and do anything that is required - including going back to Portugal for more interviews if necessary.'

Asked if it was true the McCanns were identifying lines of inquiry for Leicestershire Police, he replied: 'Of course not, it's an absolutely ridiculous suggestion.'

Mr Amaral was also sacked from his post as the head of the detective force in the town of Portimao, a 30-minute drive from Praia da Luz, where Madeleine went missing on 3 May, shortly before her fourth birthday. Mr Amaral will now be transferred to a police force in Faro.

He is himself an arguido, or suspect, over allegations he concealed evidence, after a woman jailed for the murder of her daughter claimed his officers tortured her into making a confession.

Leonor Cipriano, 36, is serving 16 years for the murder of eight-year-old Joana, even though her body has not been found and she has retracted her statement.

Mark Williams-Thomas, a former detective who worked on the Sarah Payne inquiry, said: 'Amaral has been a liability for the Portuguese police but I fear his departure could be a major setback in the search for Madeleine.

'The Portuguese police have very limited experience in child abduction cases, so there may be nobody with more experience than Amaral to fill the position. It could be a severe setback.'

His position became untenable after he gave a brief interview to a Portuguese newspaper in which he appeared to be highly critical of British detectives.

It came days after he was criticised in a British newspaper for allegedly working four-and-a-half hour days, enjoying 'boozy lunches' and failing to investigate the majority of the 252 tip-offs his officers have received.

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