Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 18:35 UK

Police files give McCanns 'hope'

The McCanns holiday apartment
Police images show the Algarve room after Madeleine disappeared

The parents of missing Madeleine McCann have "drawn strength" from the lack of any evidence in police files that she is dead, said their spokesman.

Clarence Mitchell was speaking after the release of thousands of Portuguese police documents on the case.

He told the BBC: "They hope against hope she is being held somewhere".

Kate and Gerry McCann have accused police of exaggerating DNA evidence to name them as suspects after Madeleine vanished, aged three, in May 2007.

The police inquiry into the girl's disappearance was wound up last month due to a lack of evidence.

The McCanns and a third British national, Robert Murat - who have always strongly denied having had any involvement in what happened to Madeleine - were then declared to no longer be formal suspects.

This is not, unfortunately, a detective novel, a crime scenario fit for the investigative efforts of a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot
Portuguese public prosecutors

The Portuguese police files, made public on Monday, include details of the lines of inquiry pursued, forensic reports, reported sightings, pictures of the bedroom where Madeleine was sleeping, witness statements and transcripts of interviews with the McCanns.

Among the files was a prosecutor's report that said the investigation had uncovered "very little" conclusive about Madeleine's fate.

In their final 58-page report, dated 21 July, public prosecutors Jose de Magalhaes e Menezes and Joao Melchior Gomes noted that detectives were unable to achieve any proof.

They added: "This includes the most dramatic thing, ascertaining whether she is still alive or dead - which seems the most probable."

They went on to say investigators were aware their work was "not exempt from imperfections".

"This is not, unfortunately, a detective novel, a crime scenario fit for the investigative efforts of a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, guided by the illusion that the forces of law and justice can always re-establish order," they said.

The bedroom at the McCanns' apartment

They said Kate and Gerry McCann could not have predicted that "in the resort they chose to spend their holidays they could place the life of any of their children in danger".

Other new information revealed in the files includes the account of one witness who reported seeing a man carrying a young girl with blonde hair on the night of the disappearance. He later told the police the man could have been Madeleine's father.

Martin Smith, 58, on holiday at the time, was interviewed by detectives in Portugal and his native Ireland but the line of inquiry was later discarded.

Four months after his initial statement Mr Smith contacted the police to say he had seen Madeleine's parents arriving back in Britain on BBC News, and the way Mr McCann carried one of the couple's twins reminded him of the man he had seen in Portugal.

When detectives replayed video footage of the couple's arrival at East Midlands airport, the witness said he was 60-80% sure that the man he passed was Gerry McCann.

But this was later dismissed by prosecutors because at the time of the reported sighting, shortly before 2200, Gerry McCann was sitting in the Ocean Club's tapas bar with other members of his party.

Many other reported sightings were listed in the files, including one report in which a little girl calling herself "Maddy" claimed to a shop worker in Amsterdam that she had been taken from her mother on holiday.

Madeleine McCann
Madeleine went missing in May 2007, days before her fourth birthday

A report about this was sent to the Portuguese authorities on 18 June but it is not clear what action was taken.

Among the other statements listed were reported sightings in Dorset and Gatwick Airport in England, in various regions of Spain, in Latvia and in different parts of Portugal - all of which came to nothing.

It has also come to light that Portuguese police drew up e-fits of suspicious men seen hanging around the resort of Praia da Luz before Madeleine McCann went missing but never made them public.

The police papers also confirmed that police focus turned to the McCanns following a visit to Portugal by UK detectives last August.

Portuguese police cited DNA evidence as grounds for their suspicions.

Clarence Mitchell said police had told Mr McCann during interrogation that his missing daughter's DNA had been found in the boot of the car - hired 24 days after her disappearance.

Clarence Mitchell says the files will be investigated privately

But an e-mail from a UK forensic scientist had already warned that DNA samples taken from the couple's hire car was "inconclusive".

The investigation papers show a sniffer dog detected the apparent odour of a body in their hire car and apartment, and a second dog detected what was thought to be blood in the same locations.

British forensic scientist John Lowe, of the major incidents team of the Forensic Science Service (FSS), said the car sample contained 15 out of 19 components of Madeleine's DNA but they were not "unique to her".

The e-mail was translated into Portuguese on 4 September and four days later detectives named the McCanns arguidos, or formal suspects.

Mr Mitchell told the BBC: "You have to ask yourself what the police were trying to achieve by overstating evidence they simply didn't have in that way to Gerry."

Interview transcripts reveal that Kate McCann was asked directly if she had anything to do with the disappearance of her daughter.

She refused to answer this and nearly 50 other questions, as was her legal right, following advice from her lawyer.

Lawyers for the McCanns, both 40, from Rothley, Leicestershire, were given access to the police documents last week.

They are studying the papers for fresh leads that the couple's private detectives could follow up.

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