Let me speak out

Let me speak out,  demands judge
Martin Evans and David Pilditch
17 September 2007
The Daily Express

He may be set to press charges on Madeleine

The judge examining evidence against Kate and Gerry McCann has asked for consent to speak out.

Judge Pedro Daniel Dos Anjos Frias has applied to override Portugal's strict secrecy laws and discuss the investigation for the first time.

The sensational development has led to speculation that the McCanns are about to be charged with killing their daughter Madeleine and hiding her body.

The application has been made to the Superior Magistrates Council in Portimao on the Algarve.

Last night there was a suggestion that the judge may be intent on scotching unfounded rumours about the case. One theory was that he may even be about to declare the case against the couple unfounded.

But a legal source in Portugal said last night it was more likely that he would be updating the public and the media on the progress of the investigation.

The judge is working his way through 10 files of evidence in an effort to ascertain whether to charge the couple with any offence.

The move comes as Portugal's ancient secrecy laws undergo a radical overhaul.

The secrecy of justice legislation is to be radically shaken up from today with changes that mean Kate and Gerry McCann, who have been declared official suspects - or arguidos - in the case, may be allowed to see crucial evidence against them.

The Portuguese law was changed on Saturday but comes into force today, the first working day after the weekend. The couple will now have the right to see investigators' files, which run to 4,000 pages.

The documents contain details about the forensic evidence against them and are also believed to have information gleaned from telephone taps and intercepted emails.

It means that for the first time since their daughter went missing on May 3 from the Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz, the couple will be able to comment publicly on what actually happened.

However, the public prosecutor maintains the right to impose a ban on the release of information if he believes it could jeopardise the case.

The four-month investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine has been awash with speculation and accusations of police incompetence.

While they are legally prevented from talking on the record about the case, police sources have offered daily briefings to Portuguese journalists.

Some of the more outlandish claims include allegations that the couple are swingers and that they faked Madeleine's birth certificate to hide the fact Gerry is not her real father.

Carlos Pinto de Abreu, the McCanns' family lawyer and a prime mover behind the new legislation, hailed the legal changes as "an important step towards a more open system that will benefit all parties".

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the senior detective in the investigation is to face a criminal hearing into an alleged cover-up in the case of another missing girl.

Chief Inspector Goncalo Amaral, head of Portugal's Judicial Police in the Algarve district of Portimao, has been formally accused of concealing evidence over the alleged torture of Leonor Cipriano by three colleagues.

It is alleged she was brutally beaten after her nine year-old daughter Joana disappeared in 2004. Joana vanished in the village of Figueira, just seven miles from Praia da Luz where Madeleine vanished.

Mrs Cipriano was allegedly tortured by police into confessing she had killed her daughter, whose body was never found. Amaral could appear before the secret hearing next month.

He has been made an arguido or suspect - the same status as Kate and Gerry McCann.

Mrs Cipriano and Joana's uncle Joao were convicted of killing her and jailed for more than 16 years.

Little Joana's stepfather Leandro Silva said: "I am worried Kate will be framed for a crime she did not commit, the way it happened to my wife."

But changes in the legal system mean the McCanns can be remanded in prison only if an investigating judge believes they planned to kill Madeleine.

The McCanns will be allowed to remain on bail in the UK even if they are charged with Madeleine's manslaughter, according to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

The latest legal amendments spare the couple the nightmare prospect of months behind bars in Portugal pending trial.

Under the modified Portuguese Penal Code, an investigating judge can
only remand suspects in prison for crimes punishable by five or more
years' jail.

Murder sentences in Portugal start at eight years but defendants convicted of manslaughter can only be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

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