Last updated at 22:00 21 December 2007

Lost cause: A worker at Cafe Polly removes a Madeleine poster
Lost cause: A worker at Cafe Polly removes a Madeleine poster

Once they were on every street corner and in every window – the posters which bore the face of the most recognised little girl in the world.

But now, seven months on, it seems the town where Madeleine McCann went missing would rather forget her.

The hundreds of posters have vanished entirely from Praia da Luz.

The yellow and green ribbons that dangled from trees around the Portuguese resort had been removed.

At the Ocean Club complex, where she went missing on May 3, her poster had been torn from the door.

Even the church where Kate and Gerry McCann prayed for their daughter’s safe return no longer has her poster on its noticeboard.

With support for the McCanns wavering as they face the prospect of a fresh police interrogation, residents of the town say they cannot bring themselves to display Madeleine’s poster when her parents are still considered suspects.

Others said their hopes of finding the missing four-year-old alive had faded and they feared the case had discouraged tourists.

It was not clear whether there had been an agreement among the town’s businesses to remove the posters and ribbons, or whether individual traders had taken the initiative.

At the Alisuper minimarket, opposite the church, a cashier said: “It was my idea to take down the posters with Madeleine’s photos and I no longer wear the bracelet that the child’s father gave me.

“It no longer makes sense to display symbols of a child’s disappearance when the parents are suspects.”

Meri Hanlin, who runs the Harmony health food shop, explained: “It’s not that the locals don’t care about what happened but they just want to get the village back to how it was.

“It’s so many months on now and when it happened it just ruled everything here. For the locals it just got a little too much.”

The Canadian, who has lived in Portugal for four years, added: “I think to a certain extent a lot of the Portuguese thought there was so much focus on the poor little girl because she was English and the police were not looking for their own lost children – there are plenty out there.

Mystery: After 223 days, many believe no one will ever know what happened the night Madeleine disappeared
Mystery: After 223 days, many believe no one will ever know what happened the night Madeleine disappeared

“I’m sure there are a lot of businesses who have lost a lot of money because people have stopped going.”

British expat Natalie Baker, 36, said of the posters: “Well, what’s the point? It’s ridiculous.”

The mother of three added: “She is obviously dead. There is no point in looking for her.”

The McCanns will be particularly disappointed at reports that Jose Manuel Pacheco, the Roman Catholic priest who befriended them, has ordered every trace of the Madeleine appeal removed from his church of Our Lady of the Light.

The tiny white-washed building became a focal point of the Find Madeleine campaign, and was later searched by police looking for the body.

But Friends of Fr Pacheco said he could no longer bear to discuss the case.

“Even when his friends broach the subject he immediately changes it,” said one.

“He says it is an extremely unpleasant situation and the McCann family only ever brought him problems.

“He even told one friend they ruined his life.

“There are two completely different Pachecos, the one before the McCanns and this shell of a man after the McCanns. He is a nervous wreck.”

But friends of the McCanns said they still had the support of many in the resort. Their spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: “The people of Praia da Luz were incredibly supportive when Kate and Gerry were there and we believe that affection and support is still there.

“They have nothing but fond memories and remain very grateful to the people of Praia da Luz for their help.

“They believe they would still do everything they can to help them in the hunt for Madeleine.”

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