September 24, 2007

David Brown in Praia da Luz and Patrick Foster

A private security firm has been secretly investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann for four months because her parents feared that Portuguese police were failing properly to search for their daughter.

Control Risks Group (CRG) is believed to have been checking reported sightings of Madeleine from around the world and building up profiles of likely abductors.

Kate and Gerry McCann turned to the company, which employs former members of the intelligence services and special forces, after becoming concerned that officers in the Algarve assumed their daughter was dead.

A source close to the couple’s legal team confirmed that CRG had been working with the family since May but refused to discuss how the company was being paid.

“Control Risks are one of the groups who’ve offered their services to the McCanns,” he said. “You can assume that they are doing some things that the Portuguese police can’t do.”

Friends of the couple said the decision showed that they believed Madeleine may still be alive 144 days after she was reported missing from the bedroom of her holiday apartment in Praia da Luz.

Mr McCann first contacted private investigation companies less than three weeks after his daughter was reported missing on May 3 because of concerns that the Portuguese police were not properly checking out all reported sightings. But he had publicly to deny that they were using private detectives when Portuguese police said it would be against the law.

Detectives from the PolÍcia Judiciária say that have checked out 250 reported sightings in Portugal and a further 150 from around Europe and North Africa. But the McCanns have privately expressed fears that key pieces of information may not have been acted on. A source close to the family said that they were particularly dismayed that officers had failed properly to investigate two reports that Madeleine had been spotted in Morocco six days after she disappeared.

A British tourist from Yorkshire told police that he saw a girl resembling Madeleine outside the Ibis hotel in Marrakesh. His testimony was identical to that of another tourist, Marie Pollard, 45, from Norway, who claimed that she was “100 per cent convinced” that she saw Madeleine at a police station opposite.

Both witnesses have complained that Portuguese officers were not interested in what they believed were potentially key sightings. Mr and Mrs McCann, both 39, spent two days in Morocco in June to seek assurances from the authorities that sightings would be investigated and to promote the hunt for Madeleine.

“Gerry and Kate McCann have always believed the Morocco sightings were vital,” a friend said. “Kate said her instinct from the start has been that Madeleine was smuggled into North Africa.”

Clarence Mitchell, the couple’s spokesman, said: “We have been aware of it for months. It was made known to us when it happened. All I can say is that any possible sightings, if credible, we hope would be examined thoroughly, whether it’s in Portugal, Spain or anywhere else.”

Other sightings reported in Spain, Malta, Belgium and Switzerland have been ruled out after investigations by local police. The McCanns hope that CRG will help to verify such reports as well as provide information on the type of people who might have abducted Madeleine and support networks that might operate in each country.

The company has more than 600 employees, many former members of MI5, MI6, the SAS and Special Boat Service. It is the highest-earning British security firm operating in Iraq.

A former intelligence expert who has worked with CRG said: “They can offer advice on personal safety, counter safety. For example, who is watching the McCanns and even advice on hostage negotiation should that be needed. In addition . . . they will most likely offer the McCanns security advice and how to deal with bogus tips.”

A CRG spokesman would only say: “Our policy is simply not to talk about our clients. We promise our clients 100 per cent confidentiality – discretion is our watchword.”

Inconclusive proof

What forensic evidence has been collected?

Dozens of samples were recovered from apartments used by the McCanns and another family at the Ocean Club resort. Police have also searched the McCanns’ hire car. The material has been examined by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in Birmingham

Is there enough evidence to convict Kate and Gerry McCann?

Portuguese detectives have been briefing the media since the middle of August that there was compelling evidence from hair, bodily fluids and blood. But in the past ten days the briefings have been more doubtful. A police source told 24 Horas newspaper yesterday: “There is no element which can definitively state that the body of the little girl was transported in that vehicle”

What does the FSS say about its results?

The laboratory was reported yesterday to have sent an e-mail to Portuguese police complaining that its findings had been “widely misused”. The Mail on Sunday said that the FSS had criticised detectives for overplaying the results and leaking information – most of it inaccurate – to the Portuguese media

What do the British authorities say?

Leicestershire police say they are bound by the Portuguese laws of judicial secrecy and that releasing any information on the case could jeopardise their delicate working relationship with colleagues in Portugal

The rich list bankrolling the McCanns

Brian Kennedy Made £250 million from double glazing and home improvements and now owns Latium Group plastics and Sale Sharks rugby union team. Offered Latium’s in-house lawyer and is paying the McCanns’ new official spokesman, Clarence Mitchell

Sir Richard Branson Contributed to rewards totalling £2.5 million after Madeleine’s disappearance. Has spoken to the McCanns several times and this month donated £100,000 to a fund for their legal costs. “I trust them implicitly,” he said. Is trying to encourage other wealthy people to contribute to the legal fund

Sir Philip Green The billionaire owner of TopShop and BHS lent the McCanns his private jet for their visit to meet the Pope. Known to have been annoyed when news of his involvement emerged and has refused to comment on his current involvement

John Geraghty A 68-year-old businessman from Leicestershire who now lives on the outskirts of Praia da Luz. Offered to store the McCanns’ hire car so that they could commission independent forensic tests

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