Portuguese media clamour for conviction

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The Independent Online

Despite the departure of Kate and Gerry McCann from their rented home in Praia da Luz yesterday morning, speculation mounted in the Portuguese beach resort that they will be back next week to face charges over the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine.

The rumours were fuelled by vivid descriptions of the McCanns' interrogation at the hands of the Policia Judiciaria (PJ), details of which were leaked to the local and national press. Many newspapers have been accused of running a smear campaign against the McCanns, and several of yesterday's headlines appeared to be clamouring for a conviction.

There was a clear suggestion that police based in the town of Portimao 15km (9 miles) east of Praia da Luz are confident of gathering sufficient evidence to make an arrest within days, for which the McCanns will be required to return immediately.

As a result the atmosphere in the seaside resort which the McCanns have stayed in for over four months was loaded with suspicion. "You don't want to believe the worst," said one mother holidaying in the resort, "but when you read headlines like these, obviously one conclusion seems more likely than another." The Diario de Noticia, a leading broadsheet, ran the front page headline "PJ wait for final examinations to arrest Madeleine's parents". The newspaper alleged that Kate McCann was repeatedly asked by police on Friday why there may have been blood in her apartment. It claimed Mrs McCann, a GP, replied that it could have come from a wound or a nosebleed. The police said they had reason to believe the blood came from a corpse. Diario alleged that at this point Mrs McCann declared: "That's impossible".

The newspaper said she then "got nervous", "gave way", and that the interrogator "took advantage of this moment of weakness" and confronted her with news that forensic scientists had found traces of blood in the back of their hire car with a 78.9 per cent match to Madeleine's. At this point, Diario reported, Mrs McCann "refused to answer any more questions" and "broke down". The police allegedly took Mrs McCann's refusal to answer any further questions as evidence in the case.

Diario also reported that "investigators admit the probability that Kate slapped Maddie and she then hit her head. What surprises them is that the mother didn't use her initiative to call 112 [the Portuguese emergency services number]".

Another newspaper, the Correro del Manho, alleged that Mrs McCann was shown video footage of sniffer dogs scenting blood in the back of the McCanns' hire car.

The McCanns have denied such allegations and threatened to sue. They are barred from commenting on the interrogation. One major point of contention was the precise way in which Mrs McCann was declared an arguida.

The tabloid 24 Horas suggested that, during questioning, Mrs McCann's translator failed to make the distinction between arguida and suspect. This led Mrs McCann to declare the accusation that she was a suspect "absurd". Only then, according to 24 Horas, did her translator make the distinction clear.

He went on to explain that as an arguida she had a right to remain silent. 24 Horas claimed that Mrs McCann then telephoned her husband, and they agreed she should become an arguida in order to make not answering police questions an option.

A family friend said "Kate and Gerry are not running away. They're simply changing location." She also revealed that a request by the McCanns for a British review of the police investigation had been refused. Asked whether the McCanns would return to Portugal even if they were going to be charged, she replied "yes".