Monday May 14, 2007
By David Pilditch and Matt Drake in Praia da Luz
PORTUGUESE police are tonight searching a villa just 150 yards from where Madeleine McCann went missing.
Forensic detectives sealed off Casa Liliana in Praia da Luz, where a British man lives with his mother. He was taken to a local police station for questioning.
It is understood that they are yet to find anything, although police sources said several items had been taken away for examination.
The man who lives in the house has been close to the investigation into Maddy’s disappearance – and has repeatedly appealed for help in finding her. He has even been assisting local police with English translations.
Still missing: Maddy
It came just hours after Maddy’s parents reaffirmed their belief that their daughter is safe and well as they stepped up international efforts to find her.
Gerry McCann said that until the family saw “concrete evidence to the contrary”, they continued to be convinced that the four-year-old is “safe and being looked after”.
His wife, Kate, also emphasised that the couple had no intention of returning to Britain from Portugal in the immediate future.
Speaking just outside the apartment where their daughter was abducted, Mr McCann looked relaxed standing beside his wife, who was holding Madeleine’s favourite cuddly toy.
For the first time the couple took questions from the media.
They were asked how they were coping and Mr McCann replied that although it was extremely difficult, they had received help from travel trauma consultants, helping them to look forward and direct negative emotions out of their minds.
He said the process was helping them channel everything into looking forward.
He said: “As far as we are concerned, until there is concrete evidence to the contrary, we believe that Madeleine is safe and being looked after and that’s how we can continue in our efforts.”
The family have asked potential witnesses to look out for Madeleine’s “black flash” in her right eye – where her pupil runs into her blue-green iris.
They have issued a poster headed “Look into my eyes!” which shows how distinctive Madeleine looks, even if an abductor tries to alter her appearance.
One theory is that the kidnapper may have dressed Maddy as a little boy to smuggle her out of the country.
It was her fourth birthday on Saturday but 11 days after she vanished, police yesterday confessed that they were nowhere nearer to finding her captor.
Police, who earlier claimed Maddy may have been drugged with chloroform by her abductor, also claimed Maddy’s kidnapper may have cut or dyed her hair in an attempt to disguise her looks.
But Madeleine’s parents Gerry and Kate could this week come face-to-face in court with a man who has been questioned by police after he was seen acting suspiciously outside the family’s holiday apartment on the night she disappeared.
He is one of 10 people who have been quizzed by detectives so far.
Reports claimed the ex-pat lives within the perimeter of the Ocean Club complex where the family is staying. Under Portuguese law the man will be asked to swear a witness statement to a magistrate.
Madeleine’s parents will be allowed to be present at the hearing and put questions to him.
Yesterday the couple, in T-shirts and shorts, spent the afternoon walking hand-in-hand along the beach in Praia da Luz.
They headed to an isolated spot where they spent around half an hour sitting quietly on rocks overlooking the Atlantic.
As they returned to their apartment, GP Kate, 38, clutched Madeleine’s favourite soft toy called Cuddle Cat – as she has done throughout the ordeal.
At one point she lifted the toy to her face and appeared to kiss it.
The Policia Judiciaria are now working on the theory that Madeleine was subdued by her abductor before being snatched.
Detectives have asked chemists if they have sold insect sprays containing chloroform or other knock-out type drugs to a man matching the prime suspect’s description.
They believe a drug was used because there were no signs of disturbance in the apartment where Madeleine slept.
They have also asked chemists if they have seen anyone suspicious buying medicines for children or tablets for travel sickness.
Kate’s mother Susan Healy, 61, called her granddaughter her “bright, shining star” and begged people: “Please look at children, don’t be afraid, look for this black flash that goes from her pupil to the iris of the eye.
“If those who have got Madeleine realise she has this distinctive marking, take her somewhere safe. Leave her, you can run off, we don’t care. We just want Madeleine back.”
A British ex-pat seen acting suspiciously was picked up by police at 7pm on Saturday. He is one of the 10 people questioned who are now being regarded as being key to finding Madeleine’s kidnapper. They include eight Britons and two people described locally as being “foreigners”.
Madeleine’s parents are among the 10 who have been questioned but they are not suspects.
On Friday, two men and a woman, all Britons, were questioned after being picked up in Praia da Luz dressed in their beach clothes.
The McCanns took their twins Sean and Amelie, two, to a crèche yesterday. Catholic Mrs McCann said prayers for Madeleine at the local church half an hour later.
She wept as Father Jose Pacheco read the words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me say I am going away and shall return.”
Father Pacheco added: “We can say that Madeleine can also say the words ‘I’m going away. I shall return’. We hope this.”