Thursday May 31, 2007

David Piditch and Matt Drake in Praia da Luz

PORTUGUESE police hunting for Madeleine McCann faced further criticism last night for allegedly failing to search empty apartments yards from where she was snatched.

Detectives in the Algarve have come under intense pressure over a growing catalogue of mistakes during an inquiry that critics fear has stalled.

Another shortcoming came to light yesterday when it was revealed officers never carried out a full search of holiday apartments close to the crime scene. Many properties have metal shutters on their windows and doors that would have prevented any of the search teams seeing if anyone is inside.

In Britain, a sweeping door-to-door police search of the area would have been standard procedure.

Businessman Michael Askew, 60, owns a two-bedroom apartment in a large complex just 500 yards from the Ocean Club where the McCann family were staying on holiday.

He said none of the owners had been asked who was living in the complex at the time four-year-old Madeleine was taken on May 3.

Mr Askew, who owns a building company in Derbyshire, said: “I’m amazed the police haven’t searched my place.

“Soon after Madeleine was abducted I saw an interview on television with a Portuguese policeman who said they had
master keys to all the nearby empty properties.

“He said they were all going to be searched but mine certainly hasn’t.

“My son Robert went out there this week for the first time since Madeleine went missing and it’s obvious no one has been into the apartment. He’s spoken to the neighbours and none of theirs have been searched either. I’ve spoken to the complex managers and they say they haven’t handed over the master keys to anyone.”

Mr Askew has now told Leicester-shire Police of his concerns.

“I’m also surprised that no one seems to have been asked whether they were staying in the apartments or who may have been renting them at the time,” he said.

“That would seem a very obvious thing to have done. It makes you very sceptical about how they have conducted their investigation.”

Last Friday Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, who is leading the investigation, was forced to take the unprecedented step of issuing a description of a man seen carrying a child on the night Madeleine was snatched.

But it has since emerged the description issued around the world was wrong. Police gave the suspect’s height as three inches taller than the witness had said. It appears the mistake was made in the conversion from centimetres to inches.

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