New Maddy suspect 'highly significant'

The new suspect being hunted in connection with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a "highly significant person of interest" to the investigation, the family's spokesman said today.

Clarence Mitchell refused to confirm or deny that the woman, described as a Victoria Beckham lookalike, had asked a British man: "Have you got her? Have you got the child?"

But he said it was right to identify the woman as a possible accomplice in the abduction of Madeleine.

Private detectives released an e-fit of the woman, described as glamorous and stylishly dressed, yesterday. They said she spoke with an Australian or New Zealand accent.

The conversation with the British man, who has not been named but is a married 41-year-old professional without children, is said to have taken place at a marina in Barcelona, Spain, three days after the youngster disappeared from Portugal.

Speaking on GMTV, Mr Mitchell said: "This is potentially a highly significant person of interest to the investigation. I can't go into any more detail.

"This woman is formally not accused of anything."

But he said reports identifying her as a potential "accomplice" were "right to identify that aspect of the story".

Appeals have been made in Australia in the hope of attracting further clues but Mr Mitchell admitted the whereabouts of the woman were unknown.

"We're not even absolutely sure she is in Australia," he said.

Mr Mitchell said Kate and Gerry McCann, Madeleine's parents, remained cautious about the new development.

"They have learned through bitter experience to neither let their hopes go up or down," he said.

But he said they had "drawn strength" from the new momentum in the investigation.



Mr Mitchell said the source of the information had been "checked out" and stressed there were "good operational reasons" for not disclosing exact details of the evidence.

"We specifically have not revealed the contents of the conversation this woman had with the new witness for good operational reasons," he said.

"The papers, of course, were going to speculate, we knew that. I'm neither going to confirm or deny that those quotes were in that conversation but it's potentially significant. What she said needs to be highlighted for the investigation."

Mr Mitchell said it was not known exactly why the new witness had waited until now before coming forward.

"That's a question that only he can really answer," he said. "He has told the detectives it was for personal reasons. They respect that. They've checked him out.

"He is a respectable businessman in his early 40s. He felt it was important. We understand he has grappled with his conscience to a certain extent but we are grateful to him for coming forward, even though it is so late."

Investigators said it was possible that Madeleine was smuggled hundreds of miles from the Algarve to Barcelona by yacht.

Former UK detective inspector Dave Edgar, who is leading the McCanns' private investigation, said it was a "strong lead" and appealed for information about the woman.

Madeleine was nearly four when she went missing from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in the Algarve on May 3 2007 while her parents dined with friends nearby.

Just over 72 hours later, in the early hours of May 7, two British men saw the woman while on a night out in Barcelona's popular Port Olimpic Marina.

She was well-dressed but appeared agitated and kept walking up and down outside the El Rey de la Gamba restaurant-bar as if she was waiting to meet somebody.

One of the British men approached and spoke to her before she went into a bar next door where she had a heated conversation with a local in what seemed to be fluent Spanish.

The British man did not disclose his brief conversation with her until he approached the McCanns' investigators about six weeks ago.

The woman was last seen walking away in the direction of a local hospital and ferry and cruise ship terminals.

The main witness described her as "a bit of a Victoria Beckham lookalike" who was aged 30 to 35, slim, about 5ft 2ins and had short brown hair.

She was wearing expensive-looking blue jeans and a jersey top, possibly of a pastel colour.

Anyone who knows the woman is asked to call the McCanns' investigation team on 0845 8384699 or through investigation@findmadeleine.com .

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory