The parents of Madeleine McCann have been told that they have been cleared of any blame in the disappearance of their daughter but also that they must continue their 15-month hunt alone after the Portuguese police investigation was formally shelved.
Portugal's Attorney General, Fernando Pinto Monteiro, sought to draw a veil across the troubled inquiry, which has placed the country's criminal justice system under unaccustomed scrutiny. He has declared that the police investigation found no evidence of a crime by Kate and Gerry McCann, or by Robert Murat, the third arguido – formal suspect – in the case.
But yesterday, Mr Monteiro also signalled the end of any significant official involvement in the hunt for Madeleine, who disappeared in May 2007 during a family holiday in Portugal's Algarve region, by saying that the inquiry would now only be reopened if new evidence emerged from a "serious, pertinent and authoritative" source.
In a statement, the Attorney General's office said: "The investigation into the disappearance of the minor Madeleine McCann has been halted because no evidence was discovered of any crime committed by the suspects."
The widely expected decision to end the inquiry, which started after the three-year-old vanished from the hotel room where she was sleeping with her two siblings in the resort town of Praia da Luz, was made following a review of the final police report into the case. A leaked copy of the file showed that detectives had failed to find any evidence that would indicate whether Madeleine was abducted, murdered or her body concealed after an accident.
At a press conference last night near their home in the village of Rothley, in Leicestershire, the McCanns said they welcomed the announcement but that it was "no cause for celebration". They made clear their determination to continue the hunt for their daughter, who was a few days from her fourth birthday when she disappeared while her parents were dining at a nearby restaurant with seven friends.
Kate McCann said: "It's hard to describe how utterly despairing it was to be named arguidos and subsequently portrayed in the media as suspects in our own daughter's abduction. Equally it has been devastating to witness the detrimental effect this status has had on the search for Madeleine. We look forward to scrutinising the police files to see what has actually been done, and more importantly, what can still be done, as we leave no stone unturned in the search for our little girl.
Lawyers for the McCanns, who have hired a team of Spanish private investigators to try to find their daughter, are expected to be told this week that they have been granted access to the 10 volumes of police files from the investigation, allowing them to see for the first time the nature of the inquiries against them and the information received by detectives. Portuguese law permits the courts to grant access to "interested parties" to such documents.
Goncalo Amaral, the detective in charge of the initial inquiry who was removed from the case, will publish a book this week making clear his belief that Madeleine died in her parents' apartment on the night of her disappearance.