Over by Christmas

4 November 2007
Sunday Mirror
Susie Boniface And Grant Hodgson
Police will wind up case after their incompetence destroys all DNA evidence

PORTUGUESE detectives investigating Madeleine McCann's disappearance plan to close the case by CHRISTMAS. Police have admitted that "unless a new piece of evidence falls out of the sky" the hunt will be wrapped up in a matter of weeks. A source inside Portuguese police told the Sunday Mirror how they believe the four-year-old will never be found - and are satisfied for the shadow of suspicion to hang over the McCanns.

We can also reveal that DNA evidence police hoped to use against the McCanns in court is flawed - and does NOT put Gerry and Kate in the frame. The source said: "There is quite simply no evidence strong enough to use against the McCanns. "Unless a new piece of evidence falls out of the sky - some good forensics which will tie everything together - the case will be closed in a few weeks without conclusion." The revelations come as the McCanns attended a tearful service for the six-month anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance.

The Sunday Mirror can also reveal how:

A BUNGLING forensic officer continued vital checks on Gerry and Kate's Renault Scenic hire car despite his latex glove splitting half way through.

A FOOTPRINT found on the car - initially regarded as important new evidence - has now been discovered to belong to a Portuguese cop.

A SECOND person has come forward to report seeing a blonde child with the distinctive "mark of Madeleine" in Morocco.

DETECTIVES have received 100 calls and there have been 10 new sightings in just 10 days in Morocco. A friend of the McCanns said that the winding down of the hunt for Madeleine would be the worst-case scenario for the family. He said: "We want to see the police do everything in their power to find Maddie. The worst thing that could happen is for the case to close and Gerry and Kate to remain official suspects." The couple have vowed never to give up the hunt for Madeleine, believing she was snatched to order from their holiday apartment by a paedophile, then smuggled into North Africa.

They have employed private detective agency Metodo 3 to follow up numerous sightings of Madeleine in Morocco. But the Portuguese police remain convinced Gerry and Kate are involved. They believe Kate gave an accidental overdose of sedatives to Madeleine while the couple ate tapas at a nearby restaurant with seven friends, and the nine conspired to cover up the death. Officers believe that the McCanns kept their daughter's body in their holiday apartment for over three weeks before moving it in a hire car and disposing of it.

Hundreds of samples of DNA taken from inside the McCanns' apartment and from the hire car are being examined by the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham. Although the results have not yet been announced, the Sunday Mirror has been told they are heavily contaminated and do not back up the Portuguese police case.

A source close to the private detectives employed by the McCanns told how tests on their hire car 25 days after Madeleine vanished on May 3, were shambolic. Plastic gloves a forensic officer was wearing when he examined the car split - but he still carried on searching the vehicle, almost certainly contaminating it with his own DNA. And a bloodied footprint found on the rear bumper of the car, which was initially regarded as important new evidence, turned out to belong to a policeman's shoe.

The sample was sent to the Birmingham lab after investigators found it matched a print inside the McCanns' apartment - renewing suspicion against the parents. But results have shown it was a match to footwear worn by an officer involved in the case. The source added: "It beggars belief how incompetently this investigation has been run. If it wasn't so serious it would be funny. It's no wonder that it has taken so long for the results of the forensic tests in the UK to come back."

The police investigation has been seriously flawed from the moment it was discovered Madeleine was missing from her bed in a Portuguese holiday apartment at 10pm on May 3. As her father and friends frantically searched the family resort of Praia da Luz, the first police at the scene told an onlooker "a little girl has wandered off, but we think she will come back". Detectives dropped cigarette ash on the apartment carpets, potentially contaminating vital forensic evidence, and did not tell border police to close the frontier with Spain for 24 hours. Amazingly a Portuguese police officer has criticised Britain's record in tracing lost children - and said had Madeleine gone missing at home she would not have been found.

Carlos Anjos, an inspector in the Policia Judiciaria which is leading the hunt for Madeleine on the Algarve, said it was "pure fantasy" to imagine UK cops would have done any better than his force in finding out what happened to the child.

This week a second person came forward to say they had seen a blonde child with the distinctive "mark of Madeleine" in Morocco. A little girl with the same iris defect as Madeleine was reportedly seen in the impoverished North African country in late September by a doctor, Naoual Malhi, who saw her getting into a taxi with an older woman. Now a second sighting in the same area is being investigated by the private detectives employed by Kate and Gerry.

It comes from a stallholder who works in the illegal market trading in contraband in the small coastal town of Fnideq. Dr Malhi, who has travelled to Morocco with staff from detective agency Metodo 3, helped track down the new sighting with a leafleting campaign. She said: "He said he had seen the girl with the woman when she came to buy cheese and milk from his stall. He said he gave the girl a lollipop and noticed her distinctive right eye. "We had hundreds of calls. About 200 said they had seen a woman around 40 wearing a chilaba headscarf. Sometimes they also said there had been a girl aged between 14 and 16 with them. The sightings were all over the north of Morocco, mostly in the area of the Rif mountains." Metodo 3 have received over 400 calls, including 10 new sightings of Madeleine in 10 days. Detectives are planning to return soon to a remote mountain village, Karia ba Mohamed, just 126 miles away, near the town of Fez. A local schools inspector contacted the Metodo 3 hotline about a "strange new girl" who had appeared in the area recently an was living with an older woman and a teenage girl.

Antonio Jimenez, the Spanish detective leading the hunt in Morocco, asked Dr Malhi to speak to the schools inspector as he did not speak Arabic. She said he was sitting with 15 neighbours, all of whom were certain the new girl was the same as the one on the leaflet which had been circulated. He told Dr Malhi she was living on the outskirts of the village with a native Berber woman aged around 40 and a girl aged about 15. Detectives are expected to visit the remote settlement soon to see if the sighting can be proved.

The news will bring fresh hope to Madeleine's parents, who last night spent the six-month anniversary of their daughter's disappearance at an emotional church service in their home town of Rothley, Leics. Over 200 friends and neighbours packed into the McCanns' local church of St Mary and St John to hear Reverend Rob Gladstone's appeal for the safe return of missing children everywhere. Wearing green and yellow ribbons in her hair, Kate gently sobbed throughout the service as Gerry tried to comfort her with a consoling arm around her waist. Another service was held in Liverpool with Maddy's grandparents, and one in the resort of Praia da Luz where she vanished.

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