Compassion fatigue sets in at the resort forever scarred by the fate of a lost child

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The Independent Online

The yellow ribbons in the trees are tattered and faded near the Church of Our Lady of Light here, where the spiritual torch burned at its brightest following Madeleine McCann's disappearance. The last image of the child has gone, too – covered by a list of this month's festival services.

The locals won't put their name to the assertion, but now Kate and Gerry McCann have gone they want to put the business behind them. "They (the McCanns) have given this place a reputation for danger and evil," said one of the many resident ex-pats yesterday – and even the local Anglican priest, who formed a deep friendship with the couple, admits it can be a struggle keeping the focus on the child alive. "I guess it becomes a boring prayer (for Madeleine) when they've heard it so any times, but nobody said the church was always going to be interesting," said the priest, Haynes Hubbard. "My congregation knows where I stand."

After a week of sound and fury in the Portuguese media, there were hints that the police investigation might be running out of steam, too. Though some who have been observing the behaviour of the detectives for many weeks currently detect an air of quiet confidence. The mood towards the McCanns in the Portuguese press seemed to have softened yesterday, and one senior officer said the Policia Judiciaria (PJ) simply had "nothing concrete" to go on.

There were "a lot of indications," the officer told a Portuguese paper. "But without more elements it's impossible to determine what happened in the four vital hours of the case (between 5.30pm and 10.41pm when the McCanns raised the alarm)." The absence of a body – and one source believes Madeleine's may "no longer exist" – is the major problem. "Even if the blood and traces gathered in the car or in the apartment were confirmed to correspond 100 per cent to the little girl's DNA, that wouldn't prove anything," said the officer. "[It would not] prove homicide."

Another paper reported the PJ as saying the police intend to ask Leicestershire police to re-interview member of the McCanns' holiday group, in Britain, because of alleged evidential discrepancies.

The inquiry seemed to be far nearer a conclusion on Tuesday evening, when sources in Portugal told Sky News that a 99 per cent DNA match for Madeleine had been established from blood in the Renault Scenic. But the chief of police dismissed the story within hours and the match was subsequently put at 88 per cent and said to have been from "bodily fluids" found in the car.

This prompted descriptions of fluids generated by the decomposition process but "bodily fluids" can include sweat (which are still detectable after weeks), urine from a potty and many other sources.

The McCanns, who met lawyers yesterday, were driven from their home in Rothley, Leicestershire at around 9.50am. Despite appearances to the contrary, Mr McCann has maintained his courtship of the media this week in an attempt to counter the torrent of innuendo.

He telephoned The Sun's editor Rebecca Wade directly on Thursday to restate his innocence and keep the McCanns' side of the story alive. "There are large craters in every one of these theories, in these just ludicrous accusations," he said. He is known to have made similar calls to the editors of the News of the World and Sunday People, just hours before being declared a suspect (arguido) in the case.

The McCanns' future now lies in the hands of Judge Pedro Frias, 36, who has until next Thursday to consider the 4,000-page prosecution document and decide whether to give prosecutors more time, make charges, or – more unlikely – drop the case.

Mr Frias is known for his painstakingly detailed legal judgments but has a huge sense of conviction about decisions he makes which can make it difficult for defence lawyers to dissuade him, according to one lawyer, Artur Regos.

He spent three hours with the head of the PJ, Guilhermino Encarnacao, and the chief investigator in the case, Gonsalo Amaral, in Portimao yesterday afternoon. They left at 5.30pm.

At the church, Rev Hubbard maintained that the chance to help the McCanns was a blessing. "We are always telling people that they need the church, " he said. "What an extraordinary gift, to work with people when they really do."

The McCanns will benefit from a change to the Portuguese law, which is introduced from today. The changes mean arguidos will be given more information about the way the investigation is progressing. The change also brings to an end the current system where information about arguidos is disclosed after eight months – whether they are charged or not.

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