Kate and Gerry McCann launched a robust fightback against the Portuguese police yesterday, as their advisers tore into the case against them and insisted that there are entirely innocent explanations for the reported discovery of their daughter Madeleine's DNA in their hire car.
A source close to the couple said that traces of DNA with a match to Madeleine were found in a Renault Scenic, hired 25 days after her disappearance, simply because her belongings were transferred in the boot of the car. These included her sandals which, experts have told the McCanns, would have left traces of DNA from her sweat.
The couple will also argue that at least 30 people connected to them, including blood relatives, used the Renault Scenic before police seized it to gather forensic samples. The source said yesterday: "What people have got to ask themselves is just how many people were associated with that vehicle over a 10-week period? How many family, friends and campaign workers? How many blood relatives, how many drivers? I know of at least 30 people being associated with that vehicle in the relevant period.
"People also need to consider what was carried in that car for entirely innocent reasons. These are all areas that will provide the innocent explanations. When viewed as a whole by any rational person, these reasons at best raise fundamental questions about the reliability of any so-called evidence and at worst render it totally useless."
It is a week since Sky News broadcast a report that DNA samples with a 100 per cent match to Madeleine had been found in the boot of the Scenic. Suggestions that the match might be bodily fluids prompted a rash of speculation about decomposing bodies. But bodily fluids can include sweat or urine.
The couple's new spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, who resigned his position at the Cabinet Office's media monitoring unit to take up work for them in Leicestershire, said any suggestion the McCanns had harmed their daughter was "as ludicrous as it is nonsensical". Standing beside the couple in the driveway of their home in Rothley, Leicestershire, he said the suggestion would "be laughable if it wasn't so serious".
The McCanns' new-found public confidence stems from the team they are quietly building to counter the unsourced allegations coming out of Portugal. The couple spent Friday and Saturday in consultation with their lawyers from Kingsley Napley and by Sunday were already insisting that the scent of death picked up by sniffer dogs was a legally discredited line of inquiry. Mr Mitchell is also believed to be involved in the process of monitoring claims about them from Portugal.
Mr Mitchell was initially seconded from the Cabinet Office to assist the McCanns, but he said his re-employment, after an approach supported by the couple's legal team and financial backers, meant that continuing to work for the Civil Service was "untenable" and so he had resigned.
"I have done so because I feel so strongly that they are innocent victims of a heinous crime that I am prepared to forgo my career in government service to assist them," he said. "I wish to stress that from now on I am in no way speaking on behalf of the British Government."
Mr Mitchell said the McCanns were happy to continue their co-operation with the Portuguese authorities to establish what has happened to Madeleine. "The focus must now move away from the rampant, unfounded and inaccurate speculation of recent days, to return to the child at the very centre of this, Madeleine," he said. He also said the family wanted to stop people photographing and filming the McCanns' two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie.
The twins did not seem to have been affected by Madeleine's disappearance, Mr Mitchell said. "They are very happy being at home. Mum and dad are constantly talking to them about Madeleine," he added. "It's not as if there's any secrecy. They are surrounded by her toys, books and pictures. They [Mr and Mrs McCann] make it clear, if they ask where she is, that she's not here at the moment."
The campaign's key figures
Mr McCann has assiduously nurtured contacts among national newspaper editors to counteract the stories emanating from Portugal. He is believed to have telephoned the News of the World's editor, Colin Myler, shortly before he was declared an arguido (suspect), to tell his side of the story, and it was a direct call by Mr McCann to Rebekah Wade last week that resulted in a Sun splash and inside headline: 'There's no proof.' By contrast, the day before the paper ran with the headline: 'Guilty or Innocent?'
The McCanns' communication operation was at its best when the former BBC News presenter was seconded for a month to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to replace the former Daily Mirror journalist and long-serving government spokeswoman Sheree Dodd in May. His decision to resign on Monday as head of the Government's media monitoring unit and return to the fray, replacing Justine McGuinness, has already helped the McCanns begin their fightback against innuendos in the Portuguese press. Calm and erudite, it was Mr Mitchell who briefed on Sunday that US case law might help shoot down 'evidence' that sniffer dogs had 'smelled death' in the McCanns' apartment.
Gerry McCann's brother, a pharmaceutical sales rep, is a director and trustee of the Find Madeleine Appeal Fund, but has also been the family's calm, public face, who toured television studios on Saturday to reassert his brother and sister-in-law's innocence. His sister, Philomena, has had a higher profile, visiting the Scottish Parliament to discuss the case and speaking live to rolling news channels, but the family values John McCann's less emotional output.
He, rather than his colleague Michael Caplan QC, seems to be taking a leading role in the case at Kingsley Napley, the London law firm recently appointed by the McCanns. Mr McBride toured many national newspaper offices with Justine McGuinness last week and, though he has not made any public statements, he is believed to have been behind the challenge to the sniffer dog 'evidence'. He defended the actor Chris Langham, who was recently sentenced for child pornography offences.
Carlos Pinto de Abreu
The McCanns' Portuguese lawyer is based in London and, after a brilliant academic career, is one of Portugal's most celebrated legal men, with a direct line to the country's Attorney General by virtue of their work together on human rights issues. Mr De Abreu's services have been put at £200 an hour but he is a vital source of clarity, explaining publicly last week that the McCanns' initial belief that they were offered a plea bargain was flawed.