Madeleine officer charged over another missing girl

Madeleine officer charged over another missing girl
The Times 
11 June 2007 
David Brown, Tangier

* Claims of torture and falsifying papers

* Detective remains in charge of case

The investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann was in chaos last night after the detective co- ordinating the hunt for her abductor was charged with criminal offences over another notorious missing child case.

Goncalo Amaral and four other Portuguese police officers were charged over the weekend with offences relating to the inquiry into the disappearance of Joana Cipriano from a village seven miles from where Madeleine was abducted.

The nine-year-old girl has not been seen since her disappearance three years ago but her mother and uncle were convicted of murdering and dismembering Joana because she caught them having an incestuous relationship. Joana's mother, Leonor, has alleged that she was beaten into a confession during a police interrogation that took place without her lawyer or the knowledge of the public prosecutor.

Portugal's Ministerio Publico, the district attorney, confirmed last night that it had charged three police officers with torture, a fourth with omission of evidence and a fifth with falsification of documents. It did not reveal who had been charged with which offence.

Despite the charges, Mr Amaral, the co-ordinator of the Policia Judiciaria in Portimao, has not been suspended from working on the Madeleine investigation, which started 39 days ago.

Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were informed of the charges by a Foreign Office representative yesterday. A spokesman for the family said: "They do not remember meeting Goncalo Amaral face to face but naturally they were concerned to hear of the charges."

Police sources said that Mr Amaral was "very angry" about the allegations and was considering taking action against the Ministerio Publico. "He is very professional and has had a lot of success in solving cases," the source said. "He is very upset because reporters never speak of these successes."

In echoes of the Madeleine case, the investigation into Joana's disappearance got off to a false start when the Republican National Guard failed to seal off the house where Joana was last seen. Mr and Mrs McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, have also expressed frustration at delays in the early stages of the investigation into Madeleine's disappearance.

Last night it emerged that a witness who claims to have seen Madeleine days after she disappeared had still not been properly interviewed by police even though detectives had assured Mr and Mrs McCann that they had fully investigated the sighting.

Mari Olli says that she saw the girl at a petrol station on the outskirts of Marrakesh in Morocco on July 9. Despite contacting Portuguese, Spanish and British police, she has still not been formally interviewed and no statement has been taken. Portuguese police admitted last week that they were still waiting for footage from the CCTV camera at the petrol station.

A McCann family source said: "We had got the impression that they had sat down with her and gone through her statement in detail, which is not the case. The Portuguese police have complained about the lack of co-operation from the Moroccan authorities. None of it fills you with confidence."

Madeleine's family reacted with disbelief to the claims against Mr Amaral. The missing girl's aunt Philomena said: "Just about every country in the world is watching this. What do you think the (Portuguese) Government would do? Would they have some kind of rogue policeman there? I doubt it. I find it highly unlikely. No way would they have him on such a high-profile case."

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