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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Madeleine police under spotlight
By Alison Roberts
BBC News, Portimao

As the search for three-year-old Madeleine McCann continues, Portuguese police are coming under growing pressure, not only to come up with results, but to release more information about their progress.

Regional Director of the Judicial Police, Guilhermino Encarnacao, speaks to the media
An impromptu press conference on Saturday was unprecedented

Early criticisms by family members that the national guard in the nearby town of Lagos were slow to launch the search have since been played down, and the McCanns have thanked all involved for their efforts.

But, after the local polícia judiciária, Portugal's criminal police, took over a case the authorities say is unprecedented in the area, their lack of resources and experience in dealing with the media drew fresh criticism.

By Monday morning, when police had made no comment for almost 48 hours, pressure was mounting not only from the British media, which has descended on Praia da Luz in force, but also from some Portuguese commentators to release more information about progress in the case.

I don't even dare to take my dog out now at a set time because you get the feeling that you're being watched
Local pensioner, Praia da Luz

Criminologist Barra da Costa told the country's RTP breakfast television programme that aspects of the case could certainly have been handled better, particularly where communication was concerned.

He cited reports that police, who have been showing residents in and around Praia da Luz a photo-fit with no facial features, were looking for a British man.

There was no official confirmation of that, although police did make clear to the BBC that they are not looking for a specific individual.

In Portugal, as in other southern European countries with similar legal systems, once a criminal investigation is under way no details of it may be released publicly.

'Safe place'

An impromptu press conference in Portimão on Saturday by police chief Guilhermino da Encarnação - who admitted his men were working on the assumption the case was an abduction with motives that could be sexual or to secure a ransom - was unprecedented.

A second press conference planned for that evening did not take place.

Only after further complaints from British news organisations and behind-the-scenes advice from British diplomats did Portuguese officials take on board the need to supply more regular information, at least about how detectives are spending their time.

Poster appeal for Madeleine McCann
The case could have longer term effects on tourism in the area

On the fourth day of the search for Madeleine, as senior detectives from the Lisbon criminal police joined the 80 or so Algarve detectives already on the case, the Ministry of Justice designated a spokesman to liaise with the media.

Relations with the British media are all the more important given the huge importance of tourism in the Algarve and the damage the case could do to its image and so to the regional economy.

Júlio Barroso, the mayor of Lagos, told the BBC: "In my 50 years, nothing like this has ever happened.

"Lagos is one of the safest places in the world. That's why so many British people came here - half the residents of Praia da Luz are British."

'Creepy'

In Praia da Luz, whose population is still little more than 1,000 even after decades of foreigners settling in what once was a fishing village, some locals say they will never be able to feel the same way about it again.

Some described as "creepy" the idea that someone might have snatched a child after observing the habits of her family.

"It was apparently the parents' habit to go out for a meal in this restaurant close by every evening," said Nana, a pensioner who has lived in the village for seven years.

"I don't even dare to take my dog out now at a set time because you get the feeling that you're being watched, and we have never had that before here."

Meanwhile, the local national guard, fire services, civil defence, maritime police and Red Cross continue their searches in a radius of up to 10 miles, with many British residents and holidaymakers still lending a hand.


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