It is, said the detective, like a school photo that any parent or grandparent would put up at home for everyone to see. With her shoulder-length hair and gentle smile, the picture is recognisably the older version of Madeleine McCann, whose doe-eyed photo adorned millions of missing posters nearly five years ago. Only the growing-up has been done in her absence. With no confirmed sighting since May 2007, the "age progression" picture is a product of computer manipulation and the close examination of dozens of photos of Madeleine and other McCann family members.
With the fifth anniversary of her disappearance nearing, the photo was released by the Metropolitan Police yesterday. The Met expressed the hope that the young girl, now approaching her ninth birthday, was still alive and called for the Portuguese investigation into her disappearance to be reopened.
That investigation was closed in 2008, 15 months after the start of the missing person investigation, with the authorities saying it would only be reopened on the basis of new evidence from a "serious, pertinent and authoritative" source.
Yesterday, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, of the Met, said: "We genuinely believe there's a possibility that she's alive." He added that his "open-minded" investigation was also looking into the possibility that Madeleine was dead.
His call to reopen the inquiry was based on the findings of a team of 37 detectives and staff who for nearly a year have been slowly working their way through the "vast" amount of material gathered by British and Portuguese police who investigated the disappearance in May 2007.
Madeleine was nearly four years old when she vanished while sleeping with her two siblings in the family's holiday apartment in the Algarve resort town of Praia da Luz. The initial Portuguese police investigation failed to find any evidence that would indicate whether the young girl had been abducted or murdered. Despite hundreds of sightings, and numerous wild goose chases, there have been no confirmed sighting since that date.
Last year, the Home Office asked Scotland Yard to conduct a review of the case after complaints from the family. They complained the government had not done enough and appealed to David Cameron to intervene in the case.
The dedicated review team – based in central London – brought together the documentation from inquiries by police from both countries. The vast cache of documents are being filed on to a central computer system along with the findings of private detectives brought in by the McCanns to help with the search. The system analyses the information and can find links where none had been spotted before.
The team of murder and missing person specialists have been told they will not investigate anything else for the "foreseeable future". The investigation has already cost around £2m.
Detectives said yesterday that they had worked through about one-quarter of the 100,000 documents, and other material, which had thrown up 195 "investigative opportunities". The potential leads include some sightings. It's understood that while none are "golden nuggets", there are some that are significant and have contributed to the theory that Madeleine, who would turn nine on 12 May, is still alive. Officers are "developing material which we believe represents genuinely new material", said DCI Redwood.
But the trawl has also highlighted the major gaps in the original investigation. DCI Redwood appealed for anyone who may have been at the resort at the time of the possible snatch to come forward.
Much of the focus in the early stages of the investigation was on the people who were dining with the McCanns near their apartment on the night of the disappearance. DCI Redwood is working with another police review team in Porto – away from the scene of the abduction and headed by an experienced Portuguese detective – which also wants the case to be reopened.
The decision to restart the inquiry can only be taken by the Portuguese judiciary but the McCann family has been buoyed by a new centre-right coalition taking control, amid hopes that it could be more accommodating.
While yesterday's developments brought some hope for the McCanns, the case has taken its toll. They have put in upwards of £3m from the public donations, libel settlements – when their own role in her disappearance was questioned – and from the proceeds of a book by Kate McCann.
The couple last year told the Leveson Inquiry of the media frenzy in the first days and months of the investigation. After their daughter was not found in the early weeks, coverage turned against them after the couple were named arguido – persons of interest – to the inquiry. They were linked with everything from selling their child to hiding her body in a freezer, they told the inquiry.
Only one other person, an Englishman who lived close to the complex, was named arguido and Portuguese police eventually ruled that there was no evidence against him either.
The family helped prepare the image of an older Madeleine with human identification artist Teri Blythe. "It can be quite an emotional and difficult time," Ms Blythe told The Independent. "There are certain things you can't describe. You can really see her mum in there."
Mr and Mrs McCann said they were pleased with the image and expressed hope that it would help to find her. "Kate and Gerry have always been firmly of the belief that she is alive," said their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell. "There's absolutely no evidence to the contrary."
Timeline: Years of pain
3 May 2007 Madeleine McCann goes missing from a holiday complex in Praia da Luz in southwest Portugal.
15 May 2007 Briton Robert Murat is questioned by police after a journalist reported his interest in the case.
25 May 2007 The McCanns give their first interview in which they say they were at worst naive for leaving their children.
31 August 2007 The McCanns launch a libel action against a Portuguese newspaper that claims local police believe they killed their daughter because of an accidental overdose of sedatives.
2 October 2007 A senior policeman is removed from the inquiry after accusing the McCanns of manipulating the British police.
18 March 2008 The Daily Express and Daily Star pay damages to the McCanns over stories hinting at their alleged involvement in their daughter's disappearance.
21 July 2008 The Portuguese police shelve their inquiry after 15 months. The McCanns and Robert Murat are cleared of any blame.
5 August 2008 The Portuguese police release a 30,000-page file detailing sightings and reports related to Madeleine. They included one in an Amsterdam shop of a girl calling herself Maddy who said she had been taken from her parents.
12 May 2011 The Home Office says it will ask Scotland Yard to help search for Madeleine McCann.
23 November 2011 The McCanns tell the Leveson Inquiry of their distress after being linked with their daughter's disappearance.
9 March 2012 Detectives in Porto to conduct a case review.
25 April 2012 Scotland Yard reveals they have identified nearly 200 new possible leads.Reuse content