It is seven years today since Madeleine McCann went missing while on holiday with her family in Portugal. On Thursday, Kate McCann, Madeleine's mother backed a revamped alert system that is triggered when missing children are kidnapped or their lives are at risk.
The Metropolitan Police also revealed recently that they are looking at five cases in which young British girls were sexually assaulted during holiday home break-ins by a lone intruder in the Algarve. One of these was in 2005 on a 10-year-old girl in Praia da Luz, where Madeleine, then three, vanished two years later.
The parents of missing Madeleine McCann thanked the public for their unwavering support today as they marked the seventh anniversary of their daughter's disappearance. Kate and Gerry McCann were joined by around 100 well-wishers, friends and relatives at a prayer service in the centre of Rothley, Leicestershire. The open-air service, conducted beside Rothley's War Memorial, saw candles lit for all the children around the world who have been taken away from their parents against their will.
During the ceremony, Mrs McCann gave a reading adapted from the words of a song. 'Here we are again, and more significantly, here you are again,' she said. 'Having your support has made a huge difference'
Speaking after his wife, Mr McCann added: 'I would just like to echo what Kate said and thank you all for coming to support us over the past seven years.' Mr McCann also expressed his family's gratitude that the Metropolitan Police team investigating Madeleine's disappearance has now moved on to a 'very active' phase in its inquiry. 'They are chipping away and obviously there is new evidence so we are going to continue to hope that we will get a happy outcome,' he said.
Tomorrow marks seven years since the disappearance of Madeleine McCann - the biggest missing person's case in history. The three-year-old is believed to have been abducted while on holiday with her parents Kate and Gerry McCann in the Portuguese resort Praia Da Luz. Despite huge coverage of the case around the world, Maddy has never been found. But as the seventh anniversary arrives, we look at seven questions about the case that still need answers:
1. Was the 'man carrying a child' really a red herring?
On the night Maddy went missing, one of the McCann's holiday companions said she saw a man carrying a child near the Ocean Club apartment block at around 9.15pm. Jane Tanner said the child was barefoot and wearing light-coloured pink pyjamas with a floral pattern and cuffs on the legs, a description that matched the pyjamas Maddy had been wearing.
But Scotland Yard said last year they believe the man Ms Tanner saw was another British holidaymaker carrying his child. Officers took photos of the man wearing similar clothes and standing in a similar posed. DCI Redwood said his officers were "almost certain" that this sighting was not related to the abduction. 2. Was there a second man carrying a child?
Irish couple Martin and Mary Smith also reported seeing a man carrying a child on the night of the disappearance. They gave a description to police and said they did not think he was a tourist. They added that the man was walking towards the beach and the child looked to be uncomfortable at being carried. A team of private detectives hired by Madeleine's Fund created an e-fit which was eventually released by Scotland Yard when they took over the investigation.
3. Exactly when was Maddy taken?
Gerry McCann went to check on Madeleine at around 9.05pm. Kate McCann had intended to go back at 9.30pm but another of their travelling companions, Matthew Oldfield, offered to do it when he checked on his own children in the apartment next door. He noticed that the door to the children's bedroom was wide open but after hearing no noise, left. He did not see whether Maddy was in her bed. When Kate went back to do her own check at 10pm - Madeleine was gone. Scotland Yard believes Maddy was taken moments before, but a much longer window of opportunity remains.
4. Was Madeleine snatched after disturbing a burglary?
DCI Redwood said this is one of his lines of inquiry. There had been a fourfold increase in burglaries in the area between January 2007 and the disappearance in May, including two incidents in the McCanns' block in the three weeks before the disappearance, during which intruders entered through apartment windows. 5. Did Maddy kidnapper die in a tractor accident?
Portuguese police reopened their own investigation into the disappearance in October last year. Junkie and ex-jailbird Euclides Monteiro was suspected of having kidnapped Maddy after being disturbed as he broke into the family's apartment. He had been sacked by the Ocean Club the year before but phone records placed him near the flats at the time Maddy vanished. Menteiro, known as Toni, died aged 40 in a tractor accident four years ago.
6. Was Maddy taken by a serial paedophile?
In March, Scotland Yard revealed they believe a serial paedophile had targeted young British girls in the Algarve in the years before Maddy went missing. After another appeal, detectives currently say they are aware of 18 break-ins from 2004. They include a serious sexual assault on a ten-year-old girl in Praia Da Luz in 2005, just two years before Maddy was snatched. Scotland Yard have made public appeals to try to trace a smelly “pot-bellied” paedophile intruder. The suspect was described as a tanned, dark-haired man who spoke English slowly, with a foreign accent and possibly slurred speech, had unkempt hair, was unshaven, and smelt of stale aftershave. So far more than 500 people have made contact with information.
7. Do Portuguese police hold the key to solving the case?
British detectives fear local Portuguese police could unwittingly be sitting on vital forensic evidence key to the case. Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said last month: "The fact we’ve now got an assault that is in the heart of Praia da Luz means we are even more interested in this as part of the inquiry. This offence takes us into the resort so it is very significant." However, despite five of the new incidents being reported to local police at the time, these details were not passed on to the current UK investigation. Mr Redwood expressed “major concerns” that local Portuguese police could hold the key to the mystery of Maddie’s disappearance but have failed to inform their national counterparts, the Policia Judiciaria. He said: “If there is a breakdown in communication between local cops and the Policia Judiciaria there could be forensic material sitting in exhibit stores somewhere that we and the PJ are unaware of.”
Scotland Yard detectives are preparing to go to Portugal to launch extensive digs in and around the holiday area where the youngster vanished seven years ago at the age of three. The tormented couple have been briefed by officers about their plans to search three sites near the Praia da Luz resort they were staying at.
It is understood a team of highly-skilled forensic officers will use radar equipment to look underground in the grim hunt for clues. A source close to the McCann’s said: “Kate and Gerry have been told police will be conducting the searches in and around Praia da Luz as soon as they get the green light from Portuguese authorities.
“There will be earth diggers everywhere and it will look very dramatic and it will be a heartbreaking and hugely emotional time for Madeleine’s poor parents. They don’t believe police are acting on any new tip off. They just need to carry out their own digs, looking for any possible clues that Portuguese authorities may have missed on their previous searches. It will not be a mere fingertip search of certain areas, it will be full ground searches, using radar and other equipment. It is such a sensitive part of their investigation but it has to be done.
“Police have assured Kate and Gerry that it does not mean they are specifically searching for her body. They are doing searches as much as to rule scenarios out as much as rule them in. They will be concentrating on several different places at different phases. Certain areas should have been searched properly way back by the Portuguese authorities but were not.” Kate and Gerry will not be going to Portugal but will be kept updated throughout.
Police investigating Madeleine McCann's disappearance say "activity" is expected to begin in Portugal soon. The disclosure comes amid reports Portuguese authorities have given permission for sites in Praia da Luz, where the toddler went missing, to be searched. Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said he would be unable to provide details of the activity. But he said he believed it would occur "in the coming weeks".
Scotland Yard detectives have identified three significant sites they want searched near the Algarve resort where the youngster vanished seven years ago. They will search scrubland yards from the family’s holiday flat in Praia da Luz, a nearby road and a beach. They have been given the green light by Portuguese authorities to start digging – as tormented parents Kate and Gerry prepare to face their worst nightmare of the search for clues turning into a hunt for her body.
Sources have revealed another area of interest is a cobbled road outside the town’s 16th century Catholic church, where Madeleine’s parents sought solace after she disappeared. At the time the road, which passes 100 yards from the family’s holiday apartment, was being excavated to lay the foundations for renovation work on the building. Police are believed to be considering the possibility her body could have been dumped in one of the ditches, later filled in and paved over. Or she may have wandered off and fallen in. A third search area is believed to be the nearby beach.
A source said last night: “The feeling is that these sites were not properly investigated at the time Madeleine went missing and there could be others that were not even considered that could be of interest.” Former Met officer, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Kirkham, said police could be looking for either a body, clothing, a weapon or any other items that would give them clues as to what happened to Madeleine. She vanished on May 3, 2007 while her parents ate at a tapas bar on the holiday complex.
Scotland Yard officers will reportedly not be given access to the homes of three suspected burglars, amid a row over media leaks.
British police investigating Madeleine McCann's disappearance have reportedly been refused permission to search the homes of three burglary suspects. According to local media in Praia da Luz, where the three-year-old went missing in 2007, Portuguese authorities declined requests from Metropolitan Police. It comes after it was reported that they had approved plans for officers from Scotland Yard to dig for evidence at several locations in the resort.
Crime Correspondent Martin Brunt, in Praia da Luz, said: "One of the local newspapers, the News Journal, is reporting that one of the things that is being rejected by Portuguese authorities is a Scotland Yard plea to search the homes of three men who used to work here at the Ocean Complex at the time Madeleine vanished and are suspected of a number of break-ins in the days, weeks leading up to her disappearance.
"So that's a blow for Scotland Yard. They had identified three ex-workers who they wanted to talk to, potential suspects not necessarily around Madeleine's disappearance, but had been involved in break-ins, according to information Scotland Yard had." He said disagreements over leaks to the media may delay British police in their efforts to scour areas they will be given access to. "I'm not sure that those searches are going to begin quite so quickly," he said.
"Last night we saw what appears to be a developing row between the British authorities and the Portuguese authorities about essentially Scotland Yard giving out information to journalists about what is going to happen. The Portuguese are making it very clear that they were not happy with journalists being briefed. It's not something that happens in this country and in fact, the Portuguese authorities, according to the Scotland Yard message last night, had threatened to stop any of the work once it begins if they hear that Scotland Yard are talking to reporters, or indeed if reporters are in any way disrupting the work. I get a sense that because of this developing row, that may put off what is going to happen soon, but maybe not in the next couple of days as we anticipated."