Friday May 11, 2007

By David Pilditch and Matt Drake in Praia da Luz

THE parents of missing Madeleine McCann faced fresh agony last night when police announced they were scaling down the search.

Police and volunteers have been hard at work scouring the 150-square-mile area around the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz where Maddy was snatched from the family’s holiday apartment eight days ago.

But the officer in charge of the investigation has decided to call off the local hunt because nothing has been found.
The shock decision prompted increased criticism of their bungled inquiry into the abduction of the three-year-old Briton and the way the hunt for the toddler has been conducted.

Police spokesman Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, said: searches of the local area “initiated as soon as the disappearance was reported” were “coming to an end”. He added: “All the places have been checked. The results are zero.”

But he added that police were “still looking” for Maddy. “We are pursuing lines of investigation. It was a decision of the officer in charge of the case. So I think they have changed something.”

Mr Sousa refused to confirm if police now believe Maddy is being held in another part of Portugal or has been smuggled abroad. “I will not speculate on this,” he said.

Maddy’s parents also faced the harrowing task yesterday of scanning CCTV film for a glimpse of their kidnapped daughter.

Footage at a garage in Portugal captured an image of three suspects, including a woman, with a girl who matched Maddy’s description. The camera also caught the car’s British number plate and the registration has been circulated by Interpol and British police.

We are pursuing lines of investigation. It was a decision of the officer in charge of the case. So I think they have changed something

Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa

Kate and Gerry McCann were driven at speed from their holiday apartment to a police station in Portimao to help officers examine the tapes after Mrs McCann again went to the local church to pray for her daughter.

Bill Henderson, the British Consul in the Algarve, was seen leaving the police headquarters while Mr and Mrs McCann were still inside.

Two of the three suspects in the CCTV footage that may show the missing girl have been identified by a man who claimed he caught them photographing his own child two weeks ago.

The witness, Portuguese-born Nuno Lourenco who lives in Germany, said the gang attempted to abduct his own young daughter.

He told detectives that he saw a man of English appearance photographing his daughter, described as strikingly similar in appearance to Maddy, on April 30 in Sagres, a town just a few miles from the holiday complex where the McCann family was staying.

The witness, who with his German wife has two children aged two and four, said he chased the man, who fled, jumping into a car with a woman and another man before speeding off. Mr Lourenco is believed to have provided the authorities with a photograph taken on his mobile phone.

The witness has told officers he was “100 per cent certain” they were the same people caught on CCTV with the girl matching Maddy’s description hours after she went missing.

The description of the woman also matches that given by a witness who spotted someone acting suspiciously outside Madeleine’s bedroom on the night of her disappearance. The CCTV footage from the garage shows a young girl with a blonde, middle-aged woman and two men. The child apparently wanted to say something, which made staff suspicious.

Crimestoppers has revealed that police are examining 14 potentially vital new leads after hundreds of calls from Portugal to a new number, 44 1883 731 336, set up because of problems with routing calls from Portugal to its normal 0800 555 111 number.

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