Madeleine McCann inquiry almost over, says Portuguese minister

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The Independent Online

The police investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is almost over, Portugal's Justice minister has said.

Madeleine, who was three when she vanished from her parents' rented holiday apartment in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz, has not been seen since 3 May last year.

Her disappearance led to a huge police investigation in Portugal. But Alberto Costa, the Justice minister, said yesterday that the investigation was nearing its end. He told a parliamentary committee hearing in Lisbon: "We are at a stage now where we are approaching the conclusion of the process."

Mr Costa added that it was "premature" to say whether the inquiry would reveal what happened to Madeleine, citing British statistics showing that about 80 per cent of similar cases in the UK remained unresolved. But the McCann family spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said the only satisfactory outcome for Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry, would be if the child was found.

"I am not going to react specifically to what the Justice minister has said to parliament," said Mr Mitchell. "However, if the case is coming to a conclusion, we hope it will conclude shortly with the finding of Madeleine and her being reunited with her parents. That is the only satisfactory conclusion for us."

Madeleine's parents launched an appeal to find their daughter, holding press conferences across the globe and launching the Find Madeleine website.

The McCanns have always insisted their daughter was abducted from the apartment as she slept while they ate with friends at a nearby restaurant.

However, police in Portugal are investigating a theory that Madeleine died by accident in the holiday apartment, and that her parents hid her body. The McCanns were officially named as arguidos – suspects – in the case in September and have remained so since then.

But earlier this month Alipio Ribeiro, the national director of Portugal's Policia Judiciaria, admitted that his officers has been "hasty" in naming the McCanns as suspects in the case. He reportedly said there "perhaps should have been another assessment" before this happened.

Yesterday, Mr Costa also had to answer questions from MPs about Mr Ribeiro's comments.

He said there was no indication that the senior policeman had broken Portugal's secrecy laws banning public discussion of continuing cases. "If there was any such sign... I am sure an inquiry would have been opened, and it hasn't been," he said.

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