McCanns plan independent forensic test

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The Independent Online

The parents of Madeleine McCann are considering commissioning independent forensic tests on the hire car they used in Portugal which appears to be the main source of the Portuguese police force's evidence against them.

A friend of the family said the silver Renault Scenic was being kept in a "safe place" – believed to be a pound at Faro airport – and the Budget rental car company confirmed earlier this week that the McCanns had not returned it, contrary to the firm's expectations.

Police sources in Portugal have been briefing local newspapers that "bodily fluids" – substance created during the decomposition of body tissue – with an 88 per cent match to Madeleine have been found in the vehicle, hired 25 days after Madeleine vanished.

A forensic examination of the car was undertaken by Portugal's Policia Judicaria, but they did not seize the vehicle. An independent forensic examination would give the McCanns an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate that the Portuguese forensic examination was inadequate.

It is known that some of the officers who undertook an examination of the McCanns' apartment did not wear protective clothing, which means there is a risk that they passed on DNA to the vehicle and "cross-contaminated" it.

The McCanns emerged from their home in Rothley, Leicestershire, yesterday to spend an hour walking with their twins in a local park, in an attempt to demonstrate a return to normality. But within hours of that, Portuguese prosecutors served notice of their intent to pursue the McCanns when they disclosed that the judge considering the case had written to Leicestershire police asking the force to secure and pass on a white laptop used by the McCanns in Portugal, Kate McCann's diary and a number of letters.

"Gerry's computer is the main thing police want to analyse," a Portugese police source said last night. "They want to know what kind of emails Gerry exchanged with certain people. The police think Gerry controls Kate and they want the computer and lots of things including letters and personal items."

Police also intend to seize some of Madeleine's toys for analysis, a Portugese newspaper reported yesterday. Among them will be Madeleine's favourite stuffed animal, Cuddle Cat, which Mrs McCann has been seen clutching almost continuously since her daughter went missing, the Diario de Noticias said. A family spokesman, David Hughes, could not confirm either of these claims, but said he believed "Cuddle Cat" had already undergone forensic testing. Mr Hughes said the McCanns will not seek to use any of the £1m raised by the fund to find Madeleine to pay for their legal defence. But they may seek to set up a separate fighting fund to pay mounting legal costs from defending themselves against accusations they were involved in her death.

"Gerry and Kate's view is that if they take money from the fund, it might be that 90 per cent of people who made donations aren't bothered about it. But if 10 per cent of people are bothered about it, they don't want to upset them. They want to take the controversy out of the situation," said Mr Hughes.

Family sources suggest that an alternative fund is "one of the options they may look at" to pay for the lawyers they have appointed both in Portugal and the UK.

Portuguese law

Criminal investigations in Portugal, as in most European countries, are part of an inquisitorial system rather than the UK's adversarial one. The public prosecutor decides if there is sufficient evidence but this must then be placed before an examining magistrate or judge responsible for formal charging. The judge will either agree with the prosecutor or throw out the case. Where powers are sought to gather more evidence the prosecutor must ask the examining magistrate. Should the case go to court the magistrate determines issues of both fact and law deciding the defendant's guilt or innocence.