On the evening of May 3rd 2007, in the small Portugese fishing village of Praia da Luz, a 3-year-old British child is reported missing.
Her name is Madeleine Beth McCann…
So begins one of the most compelling and perplexing mysteries of recent times – at the heart of which, is a little girl who went on holiday with her family and never came home.
Where is Madeleine McCann?
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann had been dining at the nearby Tapas restaurant with seven of their friends, with whom they were holidaying.
The group claim to have checked regularly on their children but when Kate goes to check on her children, at 10.00pm, she discovers Madeleine has gone.
Through their carefully orchestrated use of the media, the McCanns’ campaign to ‘find Madeleine’ has drawn in the Pope, Oprah Winfrey, politicians in the UK and Europe, and a host of TV and sporting celebrities.
But for the all the questions asked, the most important one remains unanswered:
Where is Madeleine McCann?
What happened to Madeleine?
What happened to Madeleine remains cloaked in mystery.
Initially, this was due to Portugal’s ‘secrecy of justice’ laws which prevented the police and anyone else from openly discussing the case. However, information did eventually find its way, through a series of leaks, into the Portuguese press and subsequently onto front pages in the UK.
On 21 July 2008, the case was archived and the arguido status of the McCanns was lifted – as well as the only other arguido in the case, Robert Murat – allowing them all to speak freely. Yet, despite this freedom, the three former arguidos have shown no appetite to discuss the case in any significant detail.
Following the archiving of the case, by the Portuguese prosecution service, the police files were made public. These highlight, as was previously reported, the number of inconsistencies inherent in the testimonies of many of the principal participants.
People the world over continue to develop their own theory about what happened to Madeleine; from the plausible to the outlandish.
But the most important aspect of the case remains undisputed.
To find out what really happened to Madeleine and bring her home.
The sighting by the Smith family
Praia da Luz, 03 May 2007, just before 10:00pm
The Smith family, from Ireland are returning to their apartment after a night out. As they walk, they pass a man carrying a child in his arms. The man averts his eyes from them to signal that he does not wish to speak.
Four months later, back in Ireland, the Smith family are watching TV. They see the McCanns return to the UK and observe Gerry McCann alight the aeroplane and walk across the tarmac with a sleeping Sean in his arms.
The father, Martin Smith, is shocked. He recognises the walking style and the way the child is being held against the shoulder.
It is exactly like the man he saw on the streets of Praia da Luz, four months earlier.
Analysis of McCann Media Interviews – Dr Martin Roberts
Timeline: Key events in the search for missing Madeleine McCann, 07 September 2007 (up to arguido status)
Timeline: Key events in the search for missing Madeleine McCann, Daily Mail
Last updated at 13:30 07 September 2007
Here are the key events in the search for missing Madeleine McCann:
Thursday May 3
• Kate and Gerry McCann leave their three children in bed in their holiday apartment in the Ocean Club resort in the Algarve village of Praia da Luz and head for dinner with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant.
They check on the youngsters – Madeleine, three, and twins Sean and Amelie, two – regularly as part of an arrangement with other couples on holiday with them.
At 10pm Mrs McCann goes to check on the children and finds Madeleine has disappeared.
Fellow holidaymakers, staff at the resort and police spend most of the night frantically searching for the missing girl.
Friday May 4
• Sniffer dogs are brought in, the Spanish and border police and airports are notified and volunteer teams continue combing the village, resort and beach for clues.
Fears grow that Madeleine has been taken against her will and her parents accuse the Portuguese police of not doing enough to find her.
The McCanns make an emotional plea, directly appealing to their daughter’s abductors and speaking of their “anguish and despair”.
Saturday May 5
• Madeleine’s aunt Philomena McCann criticises the Portuguese police, claiming they had played down her disappearance and were being “uncommunicative”.
Detectives say they do now believe she was abducted but is still alive and in Portugal, and say they have a sketch of a suspect.
Sunday May 6
• The McCanns attend an emotional Mother’s Day service in Praia da Luz at which prayers are said for Madeleine and her family in both Portuguese and English.
Monday May 7
• It emerges that police are investigating a claim a man was seen dragging a girl towards the marina at Lagos, a short drive from Praia da Luz.
Portuguese police hold a chaotic press conference where they say they cannot give Madeleine’s family any firm assurance that she is still alive or still in the region.
Tuesday May 8
• People in Madeleine’s home village of Rothley, Leicestershire, hold a silent vigil for the family.
Portuguese reports claim detectives are investigating British paedophiles with links to the Algarve.
Wednesday May 9
• Police examine a CCTV tape from a service station just a few miles from Praia da Luz showing a woman with a girl fitting Madeleine’s description.
An internet appeal in English, Portuguese and Spanish is launched while Crimestoppers also creates an international number for people with information.
Thursday May 10
• Mrs McCann leads villagers and holidaymakers in prayer at the local church in Praia da Luz one week after Madeleine’s disappearance.
Police say in a press conference that the search for Madeleine is being wound down.
Saturday May 12
• Madeleine’s fourth birthday.
Her parents mark the day by calling for people to redouble their efforts to find her. After spending most of the day away from Praia da Luz, the couple attend a special birthday mass in the village where Mr McCann speaks about the impact of the abduction on the family.
He also says for the first time that the couple are convinced Madeleine is alive.
The total reward being offered by business figures, celebrities and a national newspaper for information leading to Madeleine’s safe return reaches £2.5 million.
Chancellor Gordon Brown expresses his sympathy for Madeleine’s parents and says his thoughts are with them.
Sunday May 13
• It emerges London lawyers from the International Family Law Group have flown to Portugal to assist the McCanns, and are setting up a special “fighting fund” to allow members of the public to make their own financial contribution to the search.
Monday May 14
• Mr McCann says that “until there is concrete evidence to the contrary, we believe Madeleine is safe and is being looked after”. Mrs McCann says they cannot consider going home at the moment.
Police launch a search at the home of Anglo-Portuguese man Robert Murat, just 100 yards from where Madeleine was snatched. Mr Murat is taken in for questioning, but is not formally arrested.
Tuesday May 15
• Police officially class Robert Murat as an “arguido”, or suspect. He claims he is being made a “scapegoat” in the investigation. Wednesday May 16
Detectives swoop on the Praia da Luz home of Russian computer expert Sergey Malinka, who designed a website for Mr Murat, and interview him.
Madeleine’s aunt Philomena McCann travels to Westminster to lobby for support. Gordon Brown pledges to help “in any way he can”.
New video images of Madeleine are broadcast at half-time during the Uefa Cup Final between Sevilla and Espanyol in Glasgow.
Thursday May 17
• It emerges that Portuguese police are investigating telephone calls between Sergey Malinka and Robert Murat on the night Madeleine was abducted.
The official website set up to help find Madeleine, www.bringmadeleinehome.com, receives more than 25 million hits.
Posters protesting Robert Murat’s innocence appear around the Norfolk village where he used to live.
Sunday May 20
• Mr McCann flies back to the UK for meetings about the Madeleine Fund and to put personal affairs in order.
Monday May 21
• Mr McCann visits Rothley, where he sees thousands of tributes from villagers. He later returns to Portugal.
Thursday May 24
• Madeleine’s family releases the last photograph known to have been taken of her before she disappeared.
The happy family snap, taken seven hours before she was abducted, shows the young girl laughing in the sunshine as she dangled her feet in the swimming pool.
A fighting fund for the McCanns’ campaign reaches almost £300,000 and the number of hits on the www.findmadeleine.com website reaches 125 million.
Friday May 25
• The McCanns give their first interviews and speak of how the “guilt” of not being with Madeleine when she was abducted will never leave them.
Police finally release the description of the man seen carrying a child on the night of Madeleine’s abduction after pressure from the McCanns, their legal team and the British Government.
The man is described as white, approximately 35 to 40 years old, of medium build and 5ft 10ins tall. He was wearing a dark jacket, light beige trousers and dark shoes.
Wednesday May 30
• Kate and Gerry McCann attend an audience with the Pope at the Vatican as they travel around Europe to publicise their campaign to find Madeleine.
Thursday May 31
• Portuguese police say they are trawling through two dossiers, 8cm thick, of emails and messages from clairvoyants who say they know where Madeleine is. They say they are trying to find out if any of the messages could be from her kidnapper.
Wednesday June 6
• While in Berlin, Madeleine’s parents are forced to deny any involvement in her abduction when asked by a German journalist if they had anything to do with her disappearance.
Thursday June 7
• A mystery phone call from a man claiming to know Madeleine’s whereabouts is received.
The caller provides such detail that Kate and Gerry McCann temporarily put their European search for their daughter on hold in case they need to act. The call is later traced to a mobile phone registered in Argentina.
Wednesday June 13
• An anonymous letter sent to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf claims Madeleine’s body is buried in deserted scrubland only nine miles from where she was abducted.
Sunday June 17
• Portuguese police say Madeleine’s friends and family may have unwittingly destroyed vital evidence in the first few hours after her abduction, during their search for her.
Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa says their well-meaning actions could prove “fatal” for the investigation.
Thursday June 21
• The first of a series of reported sightings of a girl resembling Madeleine is reported in Malta. The initial reports spark a flurry of interest in the island with dozens of possible sightings reported in subsequent days and weeks.
Friday June 22
• Hundreds of balloons bearing Madeleine’s picture are released across the world as a tribute to mark the 50th day since her disappearance.
Thursday June 28
• Spanish police arrest an Italian man and a Portuguese woman suspected of trying to extort money from Madeleine’s parents by offering them information about the missing girl.
They are not believed to have anything to do with her disappearance.
Monday July 2
• The McCanns move out of the apartment in the Ocean Club resort where they have been staying since the abduction to a private property nearby.
Friday July 6
• Dutch police reveal they have arrested a man in Eindhoven suspected of attempting to defraud Gerry and Kate McCann demanding two million euro (£1.35 million) for information on her whereabouts.
Tuesday July 10
• Mr Murat returns to the police station in Portimao for further questioning. He goes there again the following day.
Saturday July 14
• On a short trip back to the UK, Kate and Gerry McCann attend the baptism of two of their godchildren in Skipton, north Yorkshire.
Monday July 16
• Harry Potter author JK Rowling announces she will use the worldwide appeal of her boy wizard to help the search for Madeleine.
Posters of Madeleine are made available to booksellers in more than 200 countries around the world ahead of the publication of the long-awaited final book in her best-selling series on July 21.
Monday July 23
• On a four-day fact-finding visit to the US, Mr McCann meets US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to discuss efforts to tackle child abduction.
Friday August 3
• Details emerge of a possible sighting of Madeleine in Belgium. A child therapist says she is “100% sure” she saw the young girl at a restaurant in the Flemish town of Tongeren, not far from the Dutch border, on July 28.
The witness said the girl was with a couple, a Dutch man and an English-speaking woman, who were acting strangely and not like “normal parents”.
Saturday August 4
• Police launch a second search of Robert Murat’s house.
Mrs McCann speaks for the first time of her regret at leaving her daughter on the night she disappeared.
She also discloses that as she tucked Madeleine into bed that night, the little girl said: “Mummy, I’ve had the best day ever. I’m having lots and lots of fun.”
Sunday August 5
• The search of Mr Murat’s home is completed, with reports suggesting that no new evidence was found.
Monday August 6
• A Portuguese newspaper reports that British sniffer dogs have found traces of blood on a wall in the apartment where Madeleine went missing.
Detectives now believe it is most likely Madeleine is dead, having been killed accidentally, the Jornal de Noticias claimed.
Wednesday August 8
• DNA tests on a milkshake bottle used by the girl seen in Tongeren prove inconclusive.
But Belgian police say the findings do not rule out that Madeleine was present and say they are still hunting the couple’s black Volvo car.
A friend of the McCanns says she is disgusted at an apparent smear campaign against them.
Rachael Oldfield, who ate with the McCanns on the night Madeleine disappeared, said: “I think there are some leaks coming from the police because a lot of what I have read recently has been completely untrue.”
Thursday August 9
• The McCanns end their daily routine of taking their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie to the creche at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz.
The move follows concerns about photographers taking pictures of their children and disturbing holidaymakers using the child-minding facility.
Mr Murat’s lawyer criticises the McCanns’ “strange” behaviour in leaving Madeleine alone on the night she vanished.
Francisco Pagarete also claims people in Praia da Luz want “these bloody McCanns” to return home.
The McCanns insist they will not be “bullied” into leaving Portugal by the growing backlash against them.
Friday August 10
• The McCanns launch a new section of the internet video-sharing website YouTube. Called Don’t You Forget About Me, it will be devoted to helping to find missing youngsters such as Madeleine.
Mr McCann says the police investigation could now be “starting with a new slate”. He tells the BBC: “There has been a shift in the investigation and the way it was proceeding previously.
“Now if that means we’re starting with a new slate, we’ve always said all scenarios are possible, and we have always done everything to co-operate.”
Jornal de Noticias reports that Portuguese police want to question a British man who was on holiday in Praia da Luz at the same time as the McCanns and helped in the search for Madeleine. The man arrived in Portugal on April 28, the same day as the McCanns, and left on May 6, the day they should have flown home, the newspaper says.
Saturday August 11
• 100 days since Madeleine disappeared.
The McCanns attend a poignant service of prayers for Madeleine at a church in Praia da Luz.
Portuguese police acknowledge for the first time that Madeleine could be dead. Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa tells the BBC new evidence had given “intensity” to the possibility she was killed. He says the parents are not being considered as suspects.
A McCann family friend says it is “extraordinary” the police had “not had the decency” to tell the couple they now believed Madeleine could be dead before stating it in an on-the-record interview.
Sunday August 12
• Mrs McCann tells Woman’s Own magazine that she would rather know her daughter was dead than live in limbo forever.
She says: “Gerry and I have spoken about this and in our heart of hearts we’d both rather know – even if knowing means we have to face the terrible truth that Madeleine might be dead. We both need to know.”
Monday August 13
• A British family caught up in the investigation say detectives have cleared them of any link to the case. Solicitor James Gorrod, from Exeter, and his family happened to be in the resort at the same time, but never met the McCanns.
Wednesday August 15
• Blood traces found in the bedroom where Madeleine was sleeping the night the was snatched were not hers, The Times reports. Forensic results show the blood came from a man, it adds.
Thursday August 16
• One of the most senior police officers in Portugal says it is a “strong theory” that Madeleine is dead.
Alipio Ribeiro, national director of the Portuguese judicial police, tells El Mundo that forensic test results on blood traces from the holiday flat are due “imminently”. But the quality of the traces found was “not very good” and it was possible they would be inconclusive.
Monday August 20
• Reports suggest the police inquiry has entered a “decisive phase” with detectives poised to carry out a series of new searches. They are also looking again at claims a pensioner disturbed an intruder in her apartment directly above the McCanns’ holiday flat just two weeks before Madeleine vanished.
Tuesday August 21
• A friend of the McCanns hits back at smears about him printed in Portuguese newspapers.
Dr Russell O’Brien, 36, was among the group the couple were dining with on the night Madeleine went missing. Portuguese newspapers have printed allegations about him.
In a statement, Dr O’Brien and his wife Jane Tanner said: “These reports in the Portuguese press are completely untrue and extremely hurtful.
“We have spoken to the police today, and have been assured that our status as witnesses has not changed.”
Wednesday August 22
• Madeleine may be alive and in Spain, her parents say. The McCanns give interviews to Spain’s three top-selling newspapers in which they insist there is a “very real possibility” their daughter has not been killed.
Thursday August 23
• It emerges that police in Spain are investigating a reported sighting of Madeleine. Two women have reported seeing a youngster matching her description with a man at a petrol station near Cartagena, in the south east of the country.
Friday August 24
• Mr McCann attacks a series of police leaks which have fuelled “preposterous” speculation about what happened to his daughter. He says he is disappointed so much information has made its way into the public domain despite Portugal’s strict “secrecy of justice” laws.
Saturday August 25
• Mr McCann signals a new scaled-down media campaign to find his missing four-year-old. He says he will be returning to work but insists his daughter may still be alive.
Wednesday August 29
• Mr McCann urges Madeleine’s abductor to end the family’s 118-day nightmare – if only to assuage “torment” in his or her own soul.
Thursday August 30
• Madeleine’s would-be classmates say a poignant prayer for the missing girl on what should have been her first day at school. The four-year-old was due to start at Bishop Ellis Catholic Primary School in Thurmaston, Leicestershire.
Friday August 31
• It emerges that the McCanns are to launch a libel action against a Portuguese newspaper which said police believe they killed their daughter. The action will be against the Tal & Qual paper, based in Oporto.
Thursday September 6
• Mrs McCann arrives at a Portuguese police station to undergo further questioning by detectives.
Mr McCann will be re-interviewed separately by police the next day. They are being interviewed as witnesses. A family friend says the McCanns fear Portuguese detectives are about to name them as suspects in their daughter’s disappearance.