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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 February 2008, 18:47 GMT
McCann suspect move 'too hasty'
Kate and Gerry McCann
The McCanns are formal suspects in Madeleine's disappearance

The decision by detectives to make Madeleine McCann's parents suspects in her disappearance was too hasty, Portugal's top policeman has said.

Kate and Gerry McCann were named as formal suspects - or "arguidos" - four months after their daughter vanished from their holiday flat in the Algarve.

Alipio Ribeiro, head of the Policia Judiciaria, said another assessment should perhaps have taken place first.

Madeleine disappeared from the resort of Praia da Luz on the night of 3 May.

In an interview with Portugal's Radio Renascenca being broadcast on Sunday, Mr Ribeiro, national director of the PJ - Portugal's equivalent to the CID - stressed he did not give his officers orders about who should be named an arguido.

But he said there was a "certain hastiness" in making the McCanns suspects.

'Act humanely'

The couple's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said: "Now the national director of the Policia Judiciaria apparently accepts they should not have been made arguido, it follows that there is no case for Kate and Gerry to answer.

"As I have consistently said, Kate and Gerry are entirely innocent of any involvement in the disappearance of Madeleine."

He urged Portuguese judicial authorities to "act humanely" by removing their arguido status as swiftly as possible.

"If the Portuguese police, under Mr Ribeiro, now do the only proper thing by eliminating Kate and Gerry from their inquiry, they and our own investigators can work together rapidly and effectively to find Madeleine and to bring those responsible for her abduction to justice."

Speaking from Lisbon, the BBC's Alison Roberts said: "It is not clear whether Mr Ribeiro means tactically it was wrong to make them arguidos at that point or that they should not have been made arguidos at all."

She stressed the full text of the interview has not been published yet, adding: "These comments are likely to stir up controversy, but would not carry legal weight.

Forensic tests

"Mr Ribeiro makes the point that he does not give orders to officers to declare arguido status and it would not be normal for him to step in and order them to remove it."

And she emphasised that arguido status was intended as a means of protection, giving those involved in investigations more rights than witnesses - for example over access to lawyers.

Mr Ribeiro has previously expressed caution about the case.

On 10 September - three days after Mr and Mrs McCann were named suspects - he suggested forensic tests had not been conclusive.

Mr and Mrs McCann have been marking the third birthday of their other two children, twins Sean and Amelie, with family friends at their home in Rothley, Leicestershire.

In his latest internet blog entry, Mr McCann wrote: "We hope and pray that they will never have another birthday without Madeleine here."



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