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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 09:24 GMT 10:24 UK
House search causes media scrum
By Alix Kroeger
BBC News, Praia da Luz

As there appeared nothing new to say about the search for Madeleine McCann, the British toddler abducted from her holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, news that a nearby home was being search created a media scrum.

Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, had given a brief news conference earlier in the day - the first time they took questions from journalists as well as giving a statement.

Poster in village
Madeleine has been missing for 13 days

They seemed to be settling in for the long haul - setting up a fighting fund to continue the search for Madeleine and engaging lawyers.

Even their anguish at Madeleine's disappearance had lost its frenzied, keening edge and had taken on a tone of valiant determination.

Rewards had been offered; awareness had been raised, both in Portugal and in Britain. There had been prayer vigils, campaigns launched, appeals by footballers, tycoons and JK Rowling.

None of them had succeeded in returning Madeleine to her parents.

The media had gathered at the police barrier outside the McCanns' holiday apartment to wait for a statement from the British ambassador to Portugal, John Buck.

Not that anyone expected him to say anything radically new. There seemed nothing new left to say.

Road run

Suddenly, there was a flurry of movement - photographers and reporters were running down the road, away from the crash barrier and the police van that have stood outside the Mark Warner apartment complex since 4 May, the morning after Madeleine's disappearance.

I ran after them. There wasn't far to go. They, and I, skidded to a halt about 100 yards (90 metres) away, at the end of the street, the gated entrance to a low white villa, only partly visible through the hedge.

Praia da Luz has taken the McCanns to its heart
BBC's Alix Kroeger

Casa Liliana, it said on the blue-and-white tile at the entrance. Police were guarding the entrance. Over the gate, we could see figures moving around in the courtyard. One of them appeared to be wearing a white forensic suit.

"That's Robert's house!" The word went round in seconds.

All the journalists who'd been there since the beginning knew Robert. In his neatly pressed chinos and short-sleeved shirts, hair slicked back, eyes half-obscured behind tinted spectacles, he looked like some kind of official, perhaps from the British embassy.

I'd spoken to him myself.

"Just call me Robert," he said, as we sat on the pavement under the shade of the trees outside the McCanns' apartment.

He didn't want to give his surname. He had grown up in Portugal, he told me, before returning to Britain in his mid-teens. He spoke both English and Portuguese fluently, so was helping the police with translation and liaising with the media, he said. He'd recently come back to the Algarve and was doing something in property.

Robert Murat
Suspect Robert Murat has said he is being made a scapegoat

It was Robert who, two days after Madeleine disappeared, came striding out from behind the police cordon to tell journalists, myself included, that we could follow a Red Cross search party on the hills above Luz, but we weren't allowed to interview them.

I didn't quibble, just grabbed a cameraman and followed the Red Cross. Sure enough, they refused to speak on camera but told me enough off the record to convince me of their genuine concern for Madeleine.

After a few days, Robert was no longer to be seen. I heard that one of the British journalists thought he was acting strangely and had reported him to the police.

The night before the police search of his house, I saw Robert again. It was late. He was walking up the street past the McCanns' apartment. He nodded and disappeared in the darkness before I had realised who it was.

As has by now been widely reported, Robert's surname is Murat. His mother owns Casa Liliana; Robert is a frequent visitor. He is now officially designated a suspect in the abduction of Madeleine McCann.

In the past two weeks, the family beach resort of Praia da Luz has become accustomed to living in the midst of a major police investigation.

Satellite trucks

Cars take the long way round because of the roadblock outside the McCanns' apartment. Satellite trucks clog up the parking outside the holiday flats nearby.

Journalists prowl the beachfront, looking for happy families to quiz about how the McCanns' ordeal has affected their holiday plans.

Madeleine's abduction has done nothing for Anglo-Portuguese relations.

The British media grumble about Portuguese policing methods, which make it very difficult to get information about an ongoing investigation, even before a suspect has been arrested.

Hall of mirrors

The Portuguese media snipe back, jeering at the British media circus and criticising the enormous resources that have been dedicated to this case, in comparison to the disappearances of Portuguese children.

For journalists accustomed to police and court reporting in the UK, the Portuguese system is like a hall of mirrors. Because nothing can be confirmed on the record, rumour and speculation proliferate.

One Portuguese journalist, the crime correspondent for a national weekly, told me how the system of "judicial secrecy", intended to protect the rights of the individual, can produce perverse results.

"The only way you know you are right is if you get sued," he said.

Police did not bother contradicting false reports, he told me.

Only if the report was accurate, and could therefore prejudice a court case, would the authorities take action. So far, that has not happened.
Kate and Gerry on beach
Kate and Gerry McCann have taken questions from the media

As for the McCanns, the emergence of Robert Murat as a suspect has diverted attention from them, if only briefly.

On Sunday 13 May, the day after their daughter's fourth birthday, they ventured out on their own for a walk along the beach.

A row of photographers crouched behind the beach umbrellas, recording every step. Kate McCann took off her sandals. One of her hands held that of her husband's; the other clutched Madeleine's favourite toy.

Police have said they do not have enough evidence, yet, to charge Robert Murat. If he has been wrongly accused, his life will have been destroyed for nothing.

But even now, there is no sign of Madeleine McCann, nor any indication as to what has happened to her.

Her parents may have learned to get from day to day, but they still have no answers, nor, more importantly, their daughter.

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