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Last Updated: Friday, 25 May 2007, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Where next for Madeleine inquiry?
By Alison Roberts
BBC News, Algarve

Madeleine McCann
Police say they have several lines of inquiry in the hunt for Madeleine

More than three weeks after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from an apartment in the resort of Praia da Luz, the only man formally declared a suspect by Portuguese police is holed up at home, with no sign of evidence emerging to arrest or charge him or anyone else.

Robert Murat faces no restrictions on his movements - something that could only be imposed by a judge - and has, through family and friends, protested his innocence.

But he has remained out of sight of journalists who are still staking out the short stretch of tarmac between his home and the block from where Madeleine disappeared on 3 May.

Robert Murat's mother Jenny, describing her son's state of mind as "desperate", told the BBC he was "pacing up and down all the time".

Tuck Price, who has known him for a decade, said his friend "just wants to get his own life back on track and back to normal".

He dismissed the idea that Mr Murat's involvement in the early stages of the investigation, when he acted as an interpreter, might have had ulterior motives.

"Robert was sometimes overeager in his help, but that's all," he told the BBC.

"That's just his nature and I think that in this world we should be grateful for people like Robert around, who do help."

Rush to judgment

Police have confirmed that the suspect helped out with translations early on in the investigation, but said he had access only to "minor elements".

We shall work, remain calm and keep a cool head
Chief Inspector Olegario de Sousa

On Friday, they went further, dismissing reports that he had acted as interpreter for the McCanns themselves - and thus been in a position to mistranslate - when the couple were interviewed by police.

Gerry McCann, asked this week by journalists whether the couple had met Mr Murat, declined to comment.

In Portugal, witnesses may not comment on ongoing criminal investigations.

Mr McCann did say, however, that he hoped the media and public would not rush to judgment on anyone.

"As a family we hope that all suspects are treated as we would be - innocent until charged and convicted," he said.

Phone contact

So far, it is clear, forensic tests have not shown any link between Madeleine's disappearance and Robert Murat.

Artur Rego, a local lawyer, expressed surprise that Robert Murat had been declared a suspect by police before they had sufficient evidence to arrest him.

In an interview with the BBC, he said: "I believe that if one single hair of Madeleine had been found in the house he would have been arrested by now."

No date has been given for the expected completion of tests on samples taken from the McCanns' apartment, the Murats' house, and other premises searched over the past two weeks, and police have made clear they may not announce them anyway.

Police have, however, linked Mr Murat with witness sightings of a man seen near the McCanns' apartment on the night of Madeleine's disappearance.

They are also interested in phone contact that same night between the suspect and Sergey Malinka, a 22-year-old Russian man questioned by police a few days after Mr Murat who has told journalists that their relationship was purely professional.

The timing and content of any call or calls between the two men is not clear.

Morocco sighting

Portuguese police said the line of investigation that led to their declaring their one suspect remains their main one, although they say "two or three" others are still open.

Kate and Gerry McCann
The McCanns have expressed their frustration at the investigation

Among leads still being investigated is a sighting in northern Morocco of a blonde girl, accompanied by a man, at a petrol station on the highway near Marrakesh, reported to the British authorities by a Norwegian woman who only knew of Madeleine on leaving Morocco, several days after the little girl's disappearance.

Interpol is co-ordinating ongoing contacts between police in Portugal, the UK and Morocco.

This is just one of several aspects in which British police have been involved.

From the early days, two officers from Leicestershire were in Praia da Luz and Portimao, and others have since joined them.

Numbers have fluctuated but there are currently five British specialists based in Portugal, while the Portuguese have one in Leicestershire.

British role

Back in Britain, police said today that they had received 330 photos and 755 phone calls from the public in response to Monday's appeal for people who had been in Praia da Luz in the two weeks before Madeleine's disappearance to send any snaps that portrayed any individuals they thought looked "out of place" or suspicious.

While the Portuguese retain control of the investigation, this is just one of several signs of British police playing an active role amid reports of frustration on the part of the McCann family that the investigation is taking so long.

A spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann confirmed that "at times it can be frustrating" for them, "especially when their questions take time to be answered", although he stressed that the McCanns were aware of the legal restrictions.

"The only thing that will make them happy is Madeleine's safe return," he added.

Press criticisms

On Thursday, the McCanns released some poignant holiday snaps of their own, including the last photograph taken of Madeleine before her disappearance in which she sits beside her sister Amelie and her father as she smiles and dangles her feet in a pool.

The same day, when the McCanns were again visited by Britain's ambassador to Portugal, John Buck, a Portuguese detective was sent in to brief them on the investigation as far as was possible, according to a police spokesman.

As for criticisms by the British press of local detectives' work, Portuguese police maintain these have been caused largely by a lack of information about or misunderstanding of local procedures and legal restrictions.

"That's not going to affect our work," said Chief Inspector Olegario de Sousa.

"It's natural for our officers to feel hurt by these criticisms, but it has just made us more determined. We shall work, remain calm and keep a cool head."

Local police are, however, clearly relieved that journalists are trickling away from the scene, leaving them to focus on their work out of the media spotlight, as they are accustomed.


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