Wednesday, 7 November 2007

McCann friends breaking ranks

Lawyers from two of the McCann friends who were having dinner at Tapas Bar, on the night of May 3, have contacted Police, recently, and told their clients were willing to be questioned again, in order to "correct" some details that were mentioned in their initial statements. The two members of Tapas' group asked for their identity to remain confidential, as they fear the "clarification" they want to do, about the events on the night Madeleine disappeared, could bring some pressure from people connected to the McCann family.

Contradictions among the seven friends that were having diner with the parents of Madeleine McCann have been, since the beginning, one of the reasons why the investigation of Polícia Judiciária has looked into other theory, apart the possibility of a kidnapping. After Gonçalo Amaral was replaced as the head of the investigation, by Paulo Rebelo, on October 3, a complete review of the case and all evidence collected has taken place.

But the results of this review, until now, didn't changed the main line of inquiry – one that Portuguese police first referred on August 11, exactly hundred days after Madeleine's disappearance. Paulo Rebelo called a meeting with the all investigators involved in the case and invited Gonçalo Amaral to participate, last week, in order to be briefed about the review made by the team of experts he brought from Lisbon.

Police is now getting ready for the final steps of the investigation: a new round of questioning of the McCann's friends, to take place in UK, after all the results from the samples collected at the crime scene and sent to the Forensic Science Service, in Birmingham. Until now, all evidence collected "gives consistency to the possibility of Madeleine McCann being dead and there are almost no leads than point to a kidnapping", according to a source close to the case.

Since the end of May, when first reports were published in the Portuguese Press, casting doubts about the statements of parents and friends, the McCann started their own private investigation. They hired Control Risk Group, a risk management and security company, staffed with former members of the British Special Forces and Intelligence services, to help find Madeleine. But this contract was revealed only in September and, during that time, the couple from Leicester always made clear they trusted the investigation of the Portuguese police.

When the former head of PJ team, Gonçalo Amaral, was replaced, after criticizing the lack of cooperation from the British Police, the McCann said they hoped the man in charge, Paulo Rebelo, would drop the status of "formal suspects" the parents were given, in early September, and go back to the initial theory – that Madeleine was kidnapped. At the same time, they hired Metodo 3, a leading Spanish detectives company, to set up a hotline for witnesses with information about the child.

In the first weeks, dozens of alleged sightings were reported to that hotline, putting Madeleine McCann in specific areas, in Morocco. This weekend, Moroccan authorities made a clear denial of the existence of any clue about the presence of Madeleine McCann in Morocco and announced that one of the alleged "positive identifications", in the city of Fnideq, was a local girl who lives with her parents.

The campaign to find Madeleine was supposed to start a new phase, in October, with Portugal, Spain and Morocco as main targets but no signals of that new phase are visible, yet. A request for an interview with the McCann, on behalf of French and Moroccan TV channels, was considered "very interesting" but postponed to a unknown date because, according to the McCann's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, Gerry and Kate's lawyers advised them not to do any interviews. The last one, to Antena 3, gave the opposite results the McCann expected. Even with Kate McCann crying in public, for the first time, a pool showed around 70 % or Spanish viewers believed the parents are not telling the truth about their daughter.

Duarte Levy (London) and Paulo Reis (Praia da Luz)

Version Française - Story published on El Mundo