Portuguese police kept up the pressure on Gerry and Kate McCann yesterday, announcing new searches for their missing daughter Madeleine and passing details of the case to the public prosecutor, who will assess whether charges should be brought against the couple.
The mystery deepened further last night amid reports that a full DNA match to Madeleine had been found in the hire car used by the family, in addition to the partial match in traces of blood found in the boot of the vehicle.
Although the Policia Judiciara called off the search for the four-year-old months ago, it inexplicably revealed plans for another hunt in Praia da Luz, the Algarve resort where she vanished on 3 May. Last night, there were no signs of any search beginning at the rented villa vacated by the McCanns on Sunday. This would, say British police, be a priority if the couple really were prime suspects. The private agonies of the couple, now back at home in Rothley, Leicestershire, were no doubt compounded by the knowledge that British police and social workers were meeting to discuss the safety of their two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie. The McCanns' decision to leave all three children unattended at their holiday apartment on the night Madeleine disappeared is likely to have been on the agenda, said child protection experts.
The Local Government Association said a lengthy assessment would precede any decision to place the children on the "in need" or "at risk" registers, although that would not necessarily mean them being removed from the family home.
While the McCanns' return to England may give them a brief respite from intense scrutiny in Portugal, many observers believe it would be in their interests for Mr McCann, at least, to return swiftly to the Algarve and defend their position. "They are going to have to take stock but I can see the McCanns going back to Portugal within a week, once they have settled the children at home," said Mark Williams-Thomas, a former Surrey detective who is now a child protection specialist. "They are going to have to strike back because the mood among some people now seems to be 'surely the Portuguese police are working on something'."
They do not plan to return to their jobs as doctors, according to Mrs McCann's uncle, Brian Kennedy, who emerged from the couple's home yesterday saying only that they had enjoyed "a decent night's sleep" and that the twins slept soundly. "They are holding up extremely well," he added. During the day, a doctor was among the visitors to the detached house, but he refused to comment on the reason for his visit.
In Portugal, meanwhile, police said they would be searching an area to the south of the Ocean Club from which Madeleine disappeared and along the coast to the nearby town of Lagos. Local newspapers described the McCanns' departure as a fuga (escape), with several claiming that officers lacked evidence to charge the couple and would be impeded by their return to Britain. Police sources were quoted in one newspaper as saying that Mrs McCann was "visibly out of control" and "hysterical" during her interview last week. Detectives are said to believe Mrs McCann may have killed Madeleine accidentally before disposing of the body and claiming she was abducted. Mr McCann is apparently thought by the PJ to have been an accessory to the crime. The couple insist the claims are "ludicrous".
* BBC Radio Five abandoned a debate about the case yesterday after it was bombarded with calls from listeners to Victoria Derbyshire's morning show, who complained the subject was inappropriate.Reuse content