McCanns demand inquiry over leak

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Strict secrecy laws in Portugal ban anyone linked to an ongoing police investigation from speaking about it. But this has not stopped a steady stream of leaks about the Madeleine McCann case emerging from Portuguese officials.

Kate and Gerry McCann have repeatedly complained about restricted information being made public, and the couple believe there is a concerted smear campaign against them.

Concerns have also been raised at the top level in Portugal - in February the country's justice minister, Alberto Costa, said the leaks were "worrying".

Portugal's "segredo de justica", or secrecy of justice, legislation severely restricts what can be said about a police inquiry.

It is intended to protect the investigation and the identity of suspects in the case.

The UK's similar contempt of court laws, which prohibit reporting details of evidence or previous convictions, apply only once a suspect has been arrested.

In the early stages of the Madeleine inquiry, Portuguese police frequently cited their secrecy of justice laws to explain why they could not answer journalists' questions.

But Portuguese newspapers printed a series of articles, quoting anonymous "police sources", that shed light on how the case was developing.

The stories often proved to be accurate, and respected Portuguese reporters confirmed that senior detectives were leaking information to them.

For instance, the well-known investigative journalist Felicia Cabrita published a number of extremely detailed reports in Portugal's weekly Sol newspaper.

She was the first reporter to name the friends - the so-called Tapas Seven - on holiday with the McCanns in Praia da Luz when Madeleine went missing.

Police gave Ms Cabrita details from statements and the telephone numbers of all seven friends and at least one other witness, according to The Times.

Other leaks correctly suggested that detectives were turning their attention to Mr and Mrs McCann, months before they were formally made suspects in their daughter's disappearance.

Now potentially damaging passages from the couple's initial police interviews have been passed to journalist Nacho Abad, of Spanish television programme Ana Rosa Quintana.

The McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, is in no doubt that this was deliberately done to coincide with their high-profile appearance before the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday.

The Portuguese authorities have insisted they do not brief journalists on the progress of the hunt for Madeleine.

Last August the then-police spokesman in the case, Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, said the leaks were probably not deliberate.

He told the English-language paper Portugal News: "I believe sometimes things are said at an informal lunch after which a friend tells a friend who knows a journalist.

"But there's no doubt, these leaks do complicate my job."