Madeleine McCann latest: Search to enter 'substantial stage'

British Police said a substantial stage of activity would being in Portugal within weeks

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The Independent Online

The search for missing British girl Madeleine McCann is heading towards “a substantial stage of activity” on the ground in Portugal, British Police have announced.

Madeleine vanished on 3 May 2007, after she disappeared from her bed in the Praia da Luz resort during a family holiday in Portugal.

British Police arrived in Portugal earlier this month to assist with the excavation of a number of sites near to where the three-year-old went missing.

Officers from the UK are currently running their own investigation into her disappearance, which was launched in July. Portuguese Police also re-opened their inquiry in October last year.  

However, police stressed that reaching this “substantial stage” did not mean a breakthrough in the case. 

"In forthcoming weeks we are going to be going to a substantial stage of operational activity on the ground in Portugal," London Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters.

"I want to keep expectations down. You shouldn't read into this that this is necessarily an end game or about to be a breakthrough of anything like that.

"The activity in Portugal is led by the Portuguese, that's absolutely crystal clear in law.”

London police began a review of the case in 2011 at the instigation of the Prime Minister David Cameron following appeals from Madeleine 's parents.

The new inquiry has thrown up a number of leads and last month, British police said their officers and colleagues in Portugal were investigating a string of sexual assaults or attempted abductions involving British children between 2004 and 2010.

In March, the British team also said they were in contact with their counterparts in Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany and the Channel island of Jersey.

The upcoming activity is likely to involve searches, speaking to suspects and people of interest, and checking telephone dates and financial records.

kate-mccann-libel-case.jpg"When you've got a massive investigation like this where you've got multiple lines of inquiry, potentially different hypotheses as to exactly what happened, then you have to systematically work through them all," Mr Rowley said.

"If we didn't think there were any potential fruitful lines of inquiry we wouldn't be where we are today."

Mr Rowley's briefing was to appeal to the media not to interfere with the inquiry or report planned operational activities before they had been carried out.

His call comes after a letter was subsequently sent to media outlets earlier this month advising that Portuguese police did not give media updates on ongoing investigations, and “activity” would cease if British police provided any information on the continuing investigation to journalists.

Mr Rowley added: "I want to be able to go back to Kate and Gerry at some stage in the future and tell them we've got to the bottom of this, or second best is to go back to them and say we've turned over every stone and we can't get to an answer sometimes.”