The expected arrests in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann that British media are calling imminent are being "overplayed," according to a former police detective with extensive experience of high-profile investigations.
"This isn't a major breakthrough. This is a significant piece of information about three individuals who need to be eliminated (from police investigations)," Mark Williams Thomas, who has won awards for his investigative reporting, said Tuesday.
"Burglars don't abduct children," Mr Thomas said. "Child abusers abduct, paedophiles abduct, but if you are in an area burglarising a house looking for items you are not looking to take a child. In terms of who these individuals are, they are likely to be questioned about what they may have seen as witnesses," he said. "I doubt very much they will be viewed as suspects," Mr Thomas said. "To call them 'suspects' at this point is overplaying it by far."
Two of the burglaries took place in April 2007 in the apartment block where the McCann family was staying, ABC reported from London. In both of the April burglaries, entry was gained via a window. One theory is that Madeleine was also abducted after access to the family's vacation rental was gained through a window. However, Mr Thomas, who as a police officer specialised in child protection cases, said Tuesday, "These individuals may have information but as far as a breakthrough? No." More importantly, he said, they need to be ruled out. "What happens now is very much down to what the authorities in Portugal decide to do next," he said.
Reports late last year indicated that the PJ Police, perhaps as a result of headway made following a Crimewatch programme on the BBC, felt they had enough new evidence to initiate an official line of enquiry that could include the questioning of persons of interest and possible suspects. It is believed the PJ team in Oporto uncovered shortcomings in the initial investigation conducted by their counterparts in the Algarve and were now actively pursuing the theory that Madeleine McCann was abducted from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz.
Helena Monteiro and her four-man team of detectives, who were handed the case due to their expertise and neutrality, having never worked on it before, are also reported to be keen on speaking to a number of people who were never questioned during the first investigation led by inspectors in the Algarve. At the time, sources close to the case in Portugal told The Portugal News that they support the Portuguese review in that they hope it will conclude “an investigation which was ended while still in its infancy.”
While Oporto detectives have been working on a review of existing evidence, six detectives from the PJ’s branch in Faro have been assisting their colleagues from Scotland Yard in the ambit of an international co-operation request based on the issuing of rogatory letters. PJ police in Lisbon stressed in comments to The Portugal News that at this stage of the review, the PJ branches in Oporto and Faro are “working independently.”
Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has also in recent times admitted it would have been “very difficult” for officers in Praia da Luz to know whether they were dealing with a serious crime immediately after the little girl vanished. Speaking on LBC 97.3 radio, he said: “I think sometimes these things at the beginning can be very difficult to deal with, you don’t know exactly if the child has just wandered off. It can be very difficult to know if you’ve got a very serious crime. I’m sure for them that must have been a challenge. Anybody can go back after two, three, five, six years and say ‘why didn’t you do that’? That’s easy in hindsight. We don’t like it when it happens to the Met, and I’m certainly not going to do it to the Portuguese. What I’m determined to do is to work together to make sure we’ve got the best chance to now try to get to the bottom of this terrible tragedy. “There is a poor family there who’ve got the torture of not knowing whether their daughter is alive or not.”
The Portuguese Attorney General has confirmed to ITV News that an International Letter of Request has now been received from detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Joana Marques Vidal said the letter from officers at the Metropolitan Police has now been passed to a Portuguese court for consideration.
Two weeks ago officers involved in Operation Grange, the code-name for the British investigation, confirmed they had asked colleagues in the Algarve for assistance. It is thought they want to speak to a number of men about a large number phone calls they made in the area on the night the child vanished.
It was reported the three were known burglars. Under Portuguese law British officers have to go through local police in order to gain information for their investigation if those involved are based in Portugal. Jose Magalhaes e Menezes, the public prosecutor in charge of the original investigation, is overseeing the reopened inquiry. He was damning of the original probe pointing the finger at Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry and claimed officers under disgraced former police chief Goncalo Amaral achieved "very little" during their 15 month investigation.
British police have travelled to Portugal to liaise with local officers investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. A Scotland Yard team travelled to the Algarve days after a letter was sent to Portuguese police requesting help with tracking down and interviewing three burglars who were in the area when Madeleine vanished.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the investigation for the Met Police, was pictured arriving in Faro with three colleagues.
They held meetings with senior members of Portugal's Policia Judiciaria and are believed to have discussed leads recently identified by the Operation Grange investigation team in the UK. Anxious Kate and Gerry were being kept “fully informed” of events after learning of the dramatic breakthrough in the bid to solve the six-year riddle of their missing daughter.
A source close to the couple said: “Clearly the fact that the police are out there is significant. Kate and Gerry will now be on tenterhooks as they wait for any potential developments. “The Met are being very pro-active and this is good news in the search for Madeleine and her abductor.”
Madeleine vanished from her family's holiday apartment in 2007
The source revealed that Kate and Gerry, both 45, of Rothley, Leics, were cautiously hopeful about the latest move. He said: “It is necessary for British police to request the Portuguese authorities allow them to operate on their turf. It means they have the intention of arresting and interviewing X, Y or Z.
A team from Scotland Yard has travelled to the Algarve after a letter was sent to Portuguese police asking for help to trace three suspected burglars spotted in the area where Madeleine vanished almost seven years ago, the Daily Mirror reported.
British detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have flown to Portugal and spoken to local officers, Scotland Yard has said. Portuguese police said the detectives were in Faro on Tuesday. Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, senior investigating officer in the case, is understood to be one of those who travelled to Portugal.
British detectives are holding discussions with local officers
In the 17 days before she disappeared, there were two incidents in the McCanns' block, one burglary and one attempted burglary. Police have said the possibility that Madeleine had been snatched by burglars as part of a bungled break-in was a key line of inquiry. Between January and May 2007, when Madeleine went missing, there was a four-fold increase in the number of burglaries in the area.
The BBC's Nick Beake: ''There are reports that the British police are particularly keen to talk to three burglars who were in the area''
Scotland Yard launched a new investigation into Madeleine's disappearance last July, two years into a review of the case, and made renewed appeals for information. The detectives met their Portuguese counterparts at the Faro Judiciary. Scotland Yard confirmed a team of officers had been in Faro as one of a number of regular trips they have made in connection with the inquiry.