Truth about the Madeleine police

Truth about the Madeleine police
6 October 2007
The Daily Express
David Pilditch in Praia da Luz and Rachel Porter

In the week that the top detective was sacked and his deputy quit, we reveal the lies, boozy lunches and alleged incompetence of a farcical investigation

ANOTHER day, another casual stroll through the sunny streets of Portimao from his office to that little bistro round the corner, where the seafood is fresh and everybody knows his name.

When the Madeleine McCann case landed on the desk of chief inspector Gonçalo Amaral this summer, this daily ritual might, quite reasonably, have fallen to the bottom of his list of priorities. As the world's press set up camp on the police station doorstep and demanded regular progress reports, surely Amaral had quite enough on his plate without having to snap open another lobster.

But dressed in his trademark baggy jeans and crumpled shirt barely big enough to cover his belly, he refused to let a little matter like a missing girl come between him and the fish platters at Carvi, a popular local eatery.

So, for instance, on the day that Kate and Gerry McCann flew to Berlin as part of their own desperate campaign to keep their daughter's image in the public eye, Amaral could be found at his usual table where he and his colleagues spent two hours eating, smoking and knocking back the booze. A fellow diner said the men laughed and joked as the McCanns appeared on a TV news broadcast.

"They asked for the Portuguese TV news to be switched on and sat watching it, " he recalls. "Madeleine's parents had given a press conference and the police were laughing while it was on. They seemed to be sharing some sort of joke. I thought that laughing like that – in public – was in really poor taste."

Just last week – after almost five months leading the country's biggest missing child inquiry and with no sign of a breakthrough – he still saw no reason why he shouldn't spend more than two hours a day getting his fill at his favourite restaurant. Meanwhile, as many as 250 potential leads are said to have piled up on his desk.

ON WEDNESDAY he and Guilhermino Encarnacao, deputy head of the Judicial Police, spent hours there over a bottle of white wine and two heaving seafood platters. He returned the next day, not once but twice, for an £84 lunch with a female companion and later for a drink or two, while he watched the TV news and presumably caught up on the latest developments in the case. On Friday, after less than three hours at his desk, he collected his daughter from school and took her to lunch with another colleague for a further three hours.

No doubt this week he was looking forward to more of the same but on Tuesday – his 48th birthday – he was told that enough was enough. A fax from his boss in Lisbon said he had been "transferred to Faro for convenience of the service". His lazy ways may have been an embarrassment to the investigation but they were the least serious of his many mistakes.

His sacking came after an astonishing attack on the British police and their methods in which he claimed they "have only been working on what the McCann couple want them to and what suits them most". He was also overheard telling Portugal's exFormula One star Pedro Lamy that he was sure the girl was dead, despite apparently having no proof to support that theory. He said he believed the McCanns accidentally gave Madeleine an overdose of drugs intended to keep her quiet.

"We are sure the parents killed Madeleine, " Amaral said. "They are both doctors and know about drugs. We are confident in our case."

With politicians anxious to avoid a diplomatic crisis with Britain, the at times farcical investigation needed a new figurehead. So Amaral was ordered to clear his desk at police headquarters in Portimao, was demoted to the rank of inspector, stripped of his role as regional head of the Policia Judiciaria and removed from the case.

Although the McCanns refuse to openly celebrate his departure, they say they hope his successor will refocus the investigation on the hunt for Madeleine rather than try to pin the blame on them. Friends believe they only became suspects in the case when Portimao's desperate detectives ran out of other ideas.

Sources have said Amaral was largely responsible for a string of leaks to the Portuguese press which led to a devastating propaganda campaign against them. And last month the Portuguese police spokesman in the inquiry, chief inspector Olegario Sousa, quit, allegedly over the way the McCanns have been treated.

Sousa is reported to have been unhappy after he was misled about key events in the investigation. On several occasions, police bypassed Sousa in informing sections of the Portuguese press of developments, then instructed him to issue denials.

The McCanns have been unable to defend themselves against the slew of slurs against them as Amaral and his colleagues repeatedly warned that they could be jailed for speaking out.

The McCanns believe Portugal's strict secrecy laws, which Amaral himself fell foul of last week – as well as the well-documented incompetence of officers in the first vital hours after Madeleine's disappearance – have seriously hampered the case.

Long before they were named as suspects, the McCanns had good reason to fear that Amaral was not the best man for the job. For, despite 26 years experience with the force, he had investigated only two child murders before – including the notorious Joana Cipriano case. Astonishingly, he is an official suspect in a criminal investigation connected to that case.

In September 2004, eight-year-old Joana Cipriano disappeared from her home in Figuera, about seven miles from Praia da Luz. Her mother Leonor Cipriano is serving 16 years for murder after making a confession which helped secure a conviction. But she has insisted her confession was extracted through torture.

She withdrew her statement a day after making it, claiming she had been forced to kneel on glass ashtrays with a bag over her head as police repeatedly beat her during almost 48 hours of non-stop interrogation. Shocking photographs of Mrs Cipriano show the extent of her horrific facial injuries. And while detectives insist they were caused after she fell down the police station stairs, Amaral is accused of helping to cover up a vicious assault on her. In a chilling parallel to the Madeleine investigation, the case was treated as an abduction until Amaral became convinced of the mother's guilt.

PORTUGUESE newspaper Expresso reported: "Gonçalo Amaral convinced himself that the child's mother was involved in the crime when he saw her on a TV programme, mourning and speaking of her daughter in the past tense. Joana's mother and uncle are arrested and accused of the little girl's murder. But the body is never found." The paper also reported that he left the case during the final phases of the investigation after a public row with another high-ranking police officer.

Roy Ramm, a former Scotland Yard commander, said: "It is extraordinary that a man accused of an unresolved, serious complaint such as this is still handling a high-profile inquiry. You would expect him at best to be in a desk job." The twice-married father of three had a reputation as a tough street cop who worked his way to the top. He served in posts across Portugal before specialising in drug-busting operations, starting out on dangerous undercover work. He was appointed head of the Policia Judiciaria in the Algarve district of Portimao in 2001.

The third of four sons from a middle-class Lisbon family, he complied with his parents' wishes and studied engineering but soon switched to law which allowed him to pursue a police career. He shot up the ladder within the force, serving in Lisbon, Faro, the Azores and on secondment in Madrid. During this time he gained further qualifications in criminology, psychiatry, psychology, sociology and law. Despite his professional ambition, this week he shrugged off the significance of his dismissal from the case, saying: "A policeman does not limit himself to one case. There is plenty of work still to be done." His successor was widely tipped to be chief inspector Tavares Almeida, 48, who played a large part in the interrogation of Kate McCann. Described as the McCanns' chief tormentor, he is thought to have offered Kate McCann the plea bargain of a short sentence in return for a confession.

But Almeida shocked his superiors by requesting an extended leave of absence days before Amaral's sacking.

A police source told Portuguese newspaper 24 Horas: "It is very unlikely to be denied. If that happened it would be the first time in the history of the Policia Judiciaria." Insiders say his departure signalled that the investigation was in free-fall.

With no leadership and no end to the case in sight, morale among the remaining investigators is low.

Carlos Anjos, president of the Portuguese police union, told 24 Horas: "The investigators in question have worked without a rest since the little girl disappeared and as is natural, that is not healthy. Nobody can think clearly if they are exhausted." According to Alipio Ribeiro, national director of the Judicial Police, finding a replacement for Amaral is "a priority".

And as things stand, Guilhermino Encarnacao – Amaral's lunch companion – is the favourite to step in.

In contrast to his colleague "he is very charming and polite", says one source. "He is a very good operator – he always gets his man." Lisbon-based Luis Neves, 41 – who is famed for solving the high-profile kidnapping of an ex-president of top football club Sporting Lisbon – is the only other name in the frame at present.

In these tense times, if there is one thing that British investigators and their Portuguese counterparts can agree on, it has to be this – someone must step into the breach before the search for the truth descends irretrievably into chaos.


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