Sunday May 6, 2007

By Matt Drake and David Paul

KIDNAPPED toddler Madeleine McCann is in the clutches of a paedophile, Portuguese police said last night.

Detectives are convinced the three-year-old is still alive and they believe she is being held in a lair no more than three miles from the luxury holiday apartment where she was snatched from her bed.

A prime suspect has been identified, thanks to more than 30 witnesses contacting police with his description and a desperate hunt to find him was under way yesterday. But detectives were last night refusing to release copies of a sketch of Madeleine’s kidnapper in case he panics for fear of being caught and kills her.

Dozens of tourists in Praia da Luz in the western Algarve abandoned their holidays yesterday to join police search teams and local residents looking for golden-haired Madeleine.

And volunteers from more than an hour’s drive away from the seaside village of Praia da Luz have been turning up at the Mark Warner resort in the village offering their services.

I cannot deny we are looking for a paedophile
Director of judicial police, Guilhermino Encarnacao

Search co-ordinator Dave Shelton, 38, from Manchester, who has lived in the village for more than 16 years running an air conditioning company, said: “I came here first on Friday morning, I speak a little Portuguese and was helping police knock on the doors of all the apartments. Then people just started coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘We’ve heard, what can we do to help’.”

But despite the news of a prime suspect there was mounting criticism of the Portuguese police’s failure to respond quicker and more decisively when the youngster was first found to be missing at 10pm on Thursday.

Friends and relatives of the McCanns alleged yesterday that the search was only upgraded to a major investigation after the intervention of John Buck, Britain’s ambassador in Portugal.

Despite being convinced – for reasons they have refused to make public – that Madeleine is still in the Algarve, Interpol have been alerted about her disappearance and checks were being made at every Portuguese port and airport.

At a chaotic press conference held on the steps of a police station in Portimao yesterday, Guilhermino Encarnacao, director of the judicial police in the Faro region of Portugal, confirmed that the search is centred on an area no further than three miles from the swish Mark Warner Ocean Club resort where the McCanns had hired a ground-floor holiday flat for £1,600 a week.

“There is a prime suspect,” said Mr Encarnacao. “There is a portrait sketch of the suspect but I am not going to release it because it may put the little girl’s life in danger.”

When asked if he thought Madeleine was still alive he added: “Yes, I believe she is still alive. However, in Portugal such kidnappings are not only just for money, they can be for sexual abuse. I cannot deny we are looking for a paedophile.”

Forensic experts have sealed off the apartment, in a three-storey block, where Madeleine disappeared. Her parents had been dining at a Tapas bar several hundred metres away but had checked on Madeleine and their other children, two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie, every 30 minutes.

It was when Kate McCann returned to the flat that she found the shutters of the front window had been jemmied open and the door left wide open. Madeleine was taken while her brother and sister slept either side of her.

At one point yesterday morning sniffer dogs were taken into the apartment where Madeleine had been sleeping to pick up her scent before heading off around the Ocean Club complex and into the nearby village.

Yesterday the McCanns faced the grim task of returning to the apartment to take away Madeleine’s toys and clothing. The family have moved to another flat a few yards away while the increasingly desperate search continues.

Doctors Gerry and Kate McCann, both 38, from Rothley, Leicestershire, looked shattered as they collected buckets and spades, suitcases and other items from their holiday home.

Meanwhile, Gerry’s sister Philomena slammed Portuguese police for not doing enough to find Madeleine’s faster.
Speaking from her home in Glasgow she said Gerry was furious with the way the inquiry was being handled. “My brother is at his wits’ end. They’ve just played it down from the minute he first approached them.

“I mean, you can hear his voice breaking. His wife, she can barely stand up. She can’t sleep, she can’t eat.

“They spent seven hours in the police station yesterday. What for? It took three hours just to get a statement from Kate, and Kate is an extremely articulate young woman. What’s going on?”

The McCanns could have dropped all their three children off at a drop-in creche provided by the Mark Warner holiday firm at the Ocean Club while they dined out last Thursday, or paid for one of the firm’s staff to babysit for them at the apartment, but chose not to use either option.

That has sparked a wave of criticism of the couple, but yesterday their friends and family hit back.

Madeleine’s uncle, retired head teacher Bryan Kennedy said: “Kate and Gerry are highly responsible parents, very much devoted to the family idea.”

He added: “We understand that it is a pleasant resort which is supposed to be safe for families – just the type of place where you can put your children to bed and keep popping back to make sure they were safe.”

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