We blundered

Maddie case police: We blundered
Mark Townsend and Ned Temko
17 September 2007
The Press (Christchurch)

The McCann family releases new pictures and announces a fresh campaign as police admit that confusion and infighting wrecked the early days of the investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance. Ned Temko in Praia da Luz and Mark Townsend report.

Portuguese police have admitted that confusion and disagreements in the early stages of the Madeleine McCann investigation mean that they could find it "very, very difficult" to prove their suspicion that her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were somehow involved in the girl's disappearance and death.

And The Mail on Sunday has learned that the senior Portuguese detective jointly in charge of the investigation into Madeleine's disappearance is set to face a criminal hearing into an alleged cover-up involving another missing girl.

Chief Inspector Goncalo Amaral has been accused of concealing evidence that the mother of eight-year-old Joana Cipriano, who disappeared in the Algarve three years ago, was tortured by police into confessing she had killed her daughter, whose body was never found. The senior officer, who heads the Policia Judiciaria in Portimao, the nearest town to Praia da Luz from where Madeleine vanished, could appear before the secret hearing as early as next month.

The McCanns have strongly and repeatedly denied any involvement, yesterday launching a fresh advertising campaign aimed at finding their daughter.

The sources said that potentially crucial evidence about what happened to Madeleine, aged four, on the night of May 3, had been lost by the time the first local police arrived, due to the presence of "the McCanns, their friends and others" in the holiday flat from which she disappeared.

In the days that followed, there was growing tension between the Algarve force, which took the lead in the investigation, and senior officers from Lisbon, who were particularly sceptical about the decision to focus on a British local resident, Robert Murat, as a suspect nearly two weeks after Madeleine's disappearance, following a tip-off from a British journalist.

The source -- in the most detailed explanation yet of the reasons behind the naming of the parents as "arguidos", or formal suspects -- also told The Observer that Portuguese investigators were now united in their conviction that the McCanns' accounts of what happened on May 3 "never rang true".

Revealing details of the investigation, which were passed in a 4000-page file to the judge last week, he singled out what he termed as contradictions in the "changing versions" of events offered by each parent and their friends in the days immediately after Madeleine went missing. Specifically, he said Gerry McCann had initially told police that he entered the flat in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz from a "locked front door", but later said he had entered through the open back terrace facing the restaurant where the McCanns and their friends had been having dinner.

Kate McCann, he added, at first said the back window was open and the blind raised, while other witnesses disagreed. He also described how a plastic barrier near their restaurant table would have "prevented any clear view of events inside the flat" and that contradictory accounts had raised doubts among the investigators about their claim to have checked on Madeleine and the McCanns' two-year-old twins during dinner.

Yet in an apparent acknowledgment that the police remain far from confident of being able to move on their suspicions concerning Madeleine's parents, the source also raised for the first time the possibility of prosecutors bringing lesser charges -- "notably, the abandonment or neglect of a child" -- against them.

The McCanns insist they checked on their daughter every 30 minutes during the evening of May 3. "It will be very, very difficult, until and unless a body is found -- and with DNA and other evidence so far inconclusive -- to bring a charge of homicide," the source said.

Madeleine's parents, however, insist that their daughter is still alive, and an £80,000 ($NZ225,000) advertising campaign to help find the four-year- old was announced yesterday by Gerry McCann's brother John, who urged the public to remember "lovely wee Madeleine". The campaign is set to launch in two weeks and will involve newspaper, television and billboard adverts in Spain, Portugal and other parts of Europe.

John McCann, who is also a fund director, said: "The main objective of the Madeleine fund is to leave no stone unturned in the search for Madeleine.  "I hope the general public will continue to support us in this."

It has also emerged that the McCanns have appointed former government media officer Clarence Mitchell to oversee the campaign, after their spokesperson for the past three months, Justine McGuinness, stood down on Saturday night.

Mitchell was sent to Portugal by the Foreign Office as chief adviser to the McCanns shortly after Madeleine was reported missing, before then returning to the UK last June. He is expected to resign from his post as director of the Media Monitoring Unit in the Cabinet Office this week.

Part of his new brief will involve studying the Portuguese press, amid concern that a recent spate of negative newspaper reports has led the McCanns to believe there has been an orchestrated campaign of leaks to undermine them.

To counter perceptions of an anti-McCann campaign within elements of the Portuguese media, Olegario Sousa, the official police spokesman since the start of the investigation, was moved from the role last Friday.

One police source yesterday referred to "pure speculation in the Portuguese media" ahead of the judge's ruling. He dismissed a local newspaper report, which was picked up world-wide, that police were now increasingly convinced that Madeleine's body had been dumped into the sea.

Particularly upsetting for the family were reports alleging that extracts from Kate McCann's diary suggested she was sometimes impatient with her "hyperactive" children and felt insufficiently supported by her husband.

Yesterday, two of Kate McCann's closest friends stepped forward to defend her, insisting she could not have had anything to do with her daughter's disappearance.  Linda McQueen, 45, and Nicky Gill, 39, who have been known Kate since she was a child, described her as a devoted mother.

"To have these words said about her is just so unfair and hurtful," said Gill. Asked if she had ever doubted Kate's innocence, McQueen added: "Not at all, not a shadow of a doubt. They are the most loving, caring, family-oriented couple that you could ever meet. They are absolutely fabulous. Those three children are the world to them, as our children are to them as well."

Among the issues the judge will decide this week are whether the McCanns should remain as arguidos; what further interrogations, searches or seizure of potential evidence will be authorised; and what charges, if any, should be brought. --Observer

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