Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 15:15 UK

Sifting through McCann case files

By Alison Roberts
BBC News, in Portugal

Gerry and Kate McCann
The McCanns want to follow any leads that come from the police documents

Days after the McCanns' lawyers began sifting through files from the investigation into their daughter's disappearance, media organisations are doing the same, with different objectives.

The couple's lawyers are, according to their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, hunting for leads for private detectives to follow up.

But journalists are focusing on key parts of the investigation such as the questioning of the McCanns on the day they were named arguidos, or formal suspects.

The files released to dozens of journalists on 4 August contain nearly 30,000 pages in digital format.

These range from photographs of the room from which Madeleine disappeared, to the conclusions of the prosecutor, Jose Magalhaes e Meneses, outlining the decision on 21 July to shelve the case and lift the arguido status of the McCanns and of Robert Murat.

It has emerged that police on 7 September last year "confronted" the McCanns, in the prosecutor's words, with evidence that could point to their having committed "crimes, including homicide".

Inconclusive material

This "evidence" was the reactions of cadaver and human-blood sniffer dogs at points in the apartment and in a car hired weeks after Madeleine went missing and results from forensic tests on samples taken from these.

But the Birmingham laboratory that did the tests had already warned that the results were inconclusive.

In an e-mail dated 3 September 2007, John Lowe of the major incidents team of the Forensic Science Service wrote that findings regarding a possible match between DNA in the samples and Madeleine's DNA were "too complex for meaningful interpretation".

The McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, who had criticised police for failing to secure the crime scene, has now accused them of misrepresenting the evidence.

Madeleine McCann

Before putting the evidence to the couple in separate interviews, police had to declare them arguidos, assuring them the right to remain silent.

After Kate McCann was made an arguido, she declined to answer dozens of questions, such as what she saw and did on finding Madeleine gone; and why, when she raised the alarm, she left her two-year-old twins alone in the apartment.

She was fully within her rights not to respond, and according to the couple's spokesman was advised by her lawyer not to.

Only when asked by police if she realised she was jeopardising the investigation did she say: "yes, if that's what the investigation thinks."

In his final conclusions the prosecutor said, while referring to the McCanns' "carelessness" in leaving their children alone, he saw no evidence of wilful neglect.

As for other possible crimes, while there was a "high degree of probability" of homicide, hard evidence was lacking. Aspects of the FSS findings that seemed significant later turned out to be "innocuous".

Overall, no proof was secured that led to "any lucid, sensible, serious and honest conclusion" about how the little girl disappeared, "nor even - and most dramatically - to determine whether she is still alive, or dead, as seems more probable."

The report concludes by stating that further investigations may be undertaken if fresh evidence emerges to warrant them.

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