Portuguese police in turmoil

Portuguese police in turmoil
17 September 2007
Daily Mail

THE official police spokesman in the Madeleine case has quit over the way the McCanns were treated, it emerged last night.  Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa resigned in disgust at the way fellow officers were briefing 'friendly' Portuguese journalists behind his back.

Mr Sousa will be familiar to anyone who has followed the case as the sole officer who gave press conferences, his good looks and decent grasp of English making him a natural choice for televised events.  His departure on Friday came at a particularly awkward moment for the police team investigating Madeleine's disappearance.

Another senior detective, Chief Inspector Goncalo Amaral, is still working on the case despite facing trial himself.  He has been charged after another woman accused of killing her daughter allegedly had her confession beaten out of her by police.

Leanor Cipriano, who like the McCanns made emotional public appeals when her daughter Joana, eight, went missing, was later photographed with her face black and blue after her police interviews.  She has since been convicted and is now serving 16 years for killing Joana whose body has never been found.

Mr Amaral strenuously denies covering up the alleged abuse said to have been carried out by three of his colleagues.

Yesterday it also emerged that the examining magistrate, Pedro Miguel dos Anjos Frias, has made an unprecedented appeal to be allowed to speak publicly about the Madeleine investigation.

Normally, judges and police are bound by Portugal's strict 'secrecy of justice' laws but Mr Frias has requested authorisation from the Superior Magistrates' Council to be allowed to brief the public.  But it is thought he will simply use the opportunity to defend the police action and explain why he is unable to make any more details public.

Chief inspector Sousa, chose to walk away from the investigation in protest at the way it was being handled.  In recent weeks he has been deeply frustrated because he - and the Press - have been misled as part of a strategy to put pressure on the McCanns.

Two weeks ago he issued firm denials when journalists asked him to confirm that the results of DNA tests had come back from a British laboratory. But two days later, after the story had been established beyond doubt from other sources, Mr Sousa was forced to admit on Portuguese television that he had given out false information. Widely regarded as an honourable man, Mr Sousa found the experience deeply humiliating.

He was appointed official spokesman a week after Madeleine disappeared, when the Policia Judiciaria was being bombarded with questions from more than 200 journalists who descended on the resort of Praia da Luz. But he was undermined by his superiors, who briefed Portuguese journalists personally on developments in the case and then either told Mr Sousa nothing or instructed him to deny them. The tactic was understood to have been designed to unnerve the McCanns by letting them know the police were 'on to them' in the hope the couple could be panicked into making a mistake.

Mr Sousa, who is based in Lisbon, has not been answering his telephone since standing down. He has felt several times that his position was being undermined.

On August 15, Mr Sousa told reporters that police were now 'sure' Madeleine died the night she vanished. When that appeared in newspapers the next day, Mr Sousa was told by his superiors he had 'misinterpreted' the information they gave him.  Yet now, a month later, it is clear that this death theory has long been the central plank of their investigation.

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