McCann friends face new probe

McCann friends face new probe
22 October 2007
Daily Express
David Pilditch in Praia da Luz

Portuguese police chief wants holiday couples interrogated

FRIENDS of Kate and Gerry McCann face new interrogations by detectives about the night their daughter disappeared, it was revealed last night.

Portuguese police have drawn up an official request for the group who holidayed with the couple to be formally interviewed.

Investigators believe members of the party - dubbed the Tapas Nine - may have helped the couple dispose of their daughter's body and covered up the crime.

Moves could be made to name members of the group as official suspects.

Under Portuguese law detectives would have to declare them "arguidos" in order to ask them key questions.

A team of high-ranking detectives and Portuguese public prosecutor Jose Cunha de Magalhaes e Meneses are now preparing to fly to Britain this week.

They will present a legal letter to their British counterparts signed by a Portuguese judge.

It is likely the interviews will be conducted by officers from Leicestershire Police who have been helping in the investigation.

Portuguese officers will ask to be present during the interrogations - the first to take place since the days after Madeleine disappeared from the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz on May 3.

The McCanns were dining with the seven friends at a tapas restaurant in the Ocean Club complex when Madeleine vanished.

Last night a friend of the McCanns said:
"Kate and Gerry's friends are expecting to be interviewed again at some point and are happy to co-operate and do anything they can to help find Madeleine."
The development was revealed yesterday by Portugal's most senior police officer Alipio Ribeiro.

Mr Ribeiro is head of the Policia Judiciaria which is carrying out the investigation into Madeleine's disappearance 172 days ago.

Yesterday, Mr Ribeiro told how he was now "optimistic" the case would be solved.

He also insisted that detectives had made dramatic progress in the inquiry and were close to a breakthrough.

He spoke out after appointing his deputy Paulo Rebelo to take over the investigation based at police headquarters in nearby Portimao.

Mr Rebelo has opened new lines of inquiry and has ordered a series of fresh searches. He is continuing to treat Kate and Gerry, both 39, as chief suspects.

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, Mr Ribeiro said:
"I am convinced that sooner or later we are going to have a result. I cannot say when. But I am optimistic.

"Many similar cases have lasted longer and were resolved in the end.

I think this will also happen in our case. We have an idea of what happened.

"We've performed a huge job analysing and discounting hundreds of leads and pieces of evidence. In every investigation there is a key moment, a click that clarifies everything and helps you to reach the end."

Of the plans to interview the McCanns' friends, he said:
"Formal letters of request are ready and will be sent in a few days with a police team and Portimao's public prosecutor."

One member of the group, Jane Tanner, 36, told police she saw a man carrying a child wrapped in a blanket near the Ocean Club complex on the night Madeleine disappeared. Miss Tanner told police the man was heading towards the home of Robert Murat - the British expat who was named as the first official suspect.

Murat, 33, was also placed in the frame by three other members of the McCanns' party.

Miss Tanner's hospital consultant partner Dr Russell O'Brien, 36, Dr Fiona Payne, 34, and doctor's wife Rachael Oldfield, 36, all claimed they saw Murat near the McCanns apartment on the night Madeleine disappeared.

In July the three friends flew back to Portugal to confront Murat over his alibi during a tense five-hour grilling.

Murat - now set to be cleared - insisted he did not leave home that night and went to bed early after dining with his mother Jenny, 71.

The face-to-face showdown was set up by detectives to discover whose story was true.

Dr Payne's medical researcher husband David, 41, is said to have been one of the last people to see Madeleine. He joined Kate and her children at the McCanns' apartment at 6.30pm on May 3 after Gerry asked him to check on them while he was having a tennis lesson.

Members of the party took it in turns to check on the children during the evening.

Police are said to be concerned at inconsistencies in the statements of the McCanns and their friends of the events that took place that night.

The McCanns' friends consistently deny any wrongdoing.

Police believe part-time GP Kate played a part in Madeleine's death in an accident in the couple's apartment.

They are working on the theory that she enlisted consultant cardiologist Gerry to help cover up the crime and dispose of her body.

Kate and Gerry categorically deny the claims, insisting they have been victims of a "black propaganda" campaign in the Portuguese press fuelled by leaks from detectives.

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