Page last updated at 04:44 GMT, Wednesday, 2 July 2008 05:44 UK

Missing Madeleine case begins to fade

By Alison Roberts
BBC News, Lisbon

Poster
Thousands of posters were distributed in Portugal - with no result
The news that Portugal's criminal investigation force, the Policia Judiciaria, has submitted its final report on the Madeleine McCann case marks the beginning of the end of the country's most high profile investigation.

The prosecutors who are now poring over the files may ask police to tie up one or another loose end.

However, local media are reporting that detectives have concluded there is not sufficient evidence to charge anyone in connection with the little girl's disappearance in May last year, and that the case should be closed.

Lawyers for the McCanns and for Robert Murat, the other arguido, or official suspect, in the case, have said that they have received no word of a development that would mean the lifting of their suspect status.

Cautious tone

In a brief statement, the office of Portugal's attorney-general confirmed that prosecutors had received the final report from police but said that it was still "the subject of careful assessment and consideration".

Noting that the case files comprise several dozen volumes, it said that these, too, would be looked at by prosecutors to determine whether police should be asked to do anything more, or whether "the necessary and sufficient conditions" existed to close the investigation.

While the prospect of the case being closed was widely covered by the Portuguese media, within hours, other stories, such as the problems of the country's national health service, had taken over

But despite the cautious tone, the case looks to be in its final phase.

The blanket of judicial secrecy covering it remains in place until mid-August (as the attorney-general's statement confirmed) and many observers believe the prospect of its being lifted is acting as a spur.

As for the McCanns, their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said the removal of the couple's suspect status would be one welcome consequence of the case being closed.

Case files

But he argued that if police intend to give up the search for Madeleine, then it is all the more urgent for the McCanns and their private investigators to gain access to the case files.

"If they are simply going to archive or drop the case without any more searching being done, then the information in their files must also be made available to our private investigators, so the search for Madeleine can continue," he said.

It is unusual in Portugal, as in most countries, for an investigation into a child's disappearance to be wound up before the child is found.

But even before this case took its most dramatic turn last September, when the McCanns were declared arguidos (official suspects), it was clear that detectives did not see abduction as being the only crime that might have been committed.

Coverage of the case in the local media - apparently fed by leaks from police or former police officers - pointed to detectives being troubled, to say the least, by aspects of the testimony given by the McCanns and the friends with whom they were holidaying last May, and with whom they were dining on the night that Madeleine disappeared.

Crimes

Last month, the only court papers relating to the case to emerge so far confirmed that police had been looking at several crimes: abduction, homicide, "exposure to abandonment" (the equivalent of neglect) and concealment of a corpse.

Meanwhile, British tabloids have continued to criticise Portuguese police and their methods.

News of the World
The case generated huge headlines at the time, but media interest is fading

Although some newspapers also turned their fire on the McCanns - resulting in some cases in legal action and an out-of-court settlement - the barbs of British commentators against the Polícia Judiciária took their toll.

The resignations of both the co-ordinator of criminal investigations in Portimao, in October, and the PJ's national director, in May this year, were directly related to the Madeleine case.

With the stakes so high for all involved, relations between the McCanns and police charged with looking for their daughter have been poor.

Clarence Mitchell confirmed that the man co-ordinating the investigation for the past eight months, Paulo Rebelo, had not talked to Madeleine's parents once since taking over.

For well over a year now, this case has dominated the news agenda in both the UK and Portugal.

But while the prospect of the case being closed was widely covered by the Portuguese media, within hours, other stories, such as the problems of the country's national health service, had taken over.





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