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Private security team hired by Kate and Gerry McCann for secret investigation, 24 September 2007
Private security team hired by Kate and Gerry McCann for secret investigation The Times

David Brown in Praia da Luz and Patrick Foster
September 24, 2007

A private security firm has been secretly investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann for four months because her parents feared that Portuguese police were failing properly to search for their daughter.

Control Risks Group (CRG) is believed to have been checking reported sightings of Madeleine from around the world and building up profiles of likely abductors.

Kate and Gerry McCann turned to the company, which employs former members of the intelligence services and special forces, after becoming concerned that officers in the Algarve assumed their daughter was dead.

A source close to the couple's legal team confirmed that CRG had been working with the family since May but refused to discuss how the company was being paid.

"Control Risks are one of the groups who've offered their services to the McCanns," he said. "You can assume that they are doing some things that the Portuguese police can't do."

Friends of the couple said the decision showed that they believed Madeleine may still be alive 144 days after she was reported missing from the bedroom of her holiday apartment in Praia da Luz.

Mr McCann first contacted private investigation companies less than three weeks after his daughter was reported missing on May 3 because of concerns that the Portuguese police were not properly checking out all reported sightings. But he had publicly to deny that they were using private detectives when Portuguese police said it would be against the law.

Detectives from the PolÍcia Judiciária say that have checked out 250 reported sightings in Portugal and a further 150 from around Europe and North Africa. But the McCanns have privately expressed fears that key pieces of information may not have been acted on. A source close to the family said that they were particularly dismayed that officers had failed properly to investigate two reports that Madeleine had been spotted in Morocco six days after she disappeared.

A British tourist from Yorkshire told police that he saw a girl resembling Madeleine outside the Ibis hotel in Marrakesh. His testimony was identical to that of another tourist, Marie Pollard, 45, from Norway, who claimed that she was "100 per cent convinced" that she saw Madeleine at a police station opposite.

Both witnesses have complained that Portuguese officers were not interested in what they believed were potentially key sightings. Mr and Mrs McCann, both 39, spent two days in Morocco in June to seek assurances from the authorities that sightings would be investigated and to promote the hunt for Madeleine.

"Gerry and Kate McCann have always believed the Morocco sightings were vital," a friend said. "Kate said her instinct from the start has been that Madeleine was smuggled into North Africa."

Clarence Mitchell, the couple's spokesman, said: "We have been aware of it for months. It was made known to us when it happened. All I can say is that any possible sightings, if credible, we hope would be examined thoroughly, whether it's in Portugal, Spain or anywhere else."

Other sightings reported in Spain, Malta, Belgium and Switzerland have been ruled out after investigations by local police. The McCanns hope that CRG will help to verify such reports as well as provide information on the type of people who might have abducted Madeleine and support networks that might operate in each country.

The company has more than 600 employees, many former members of MI5, MI6, the SAS and Special Boat Service. It is the highest-earning British security firm operating in Iraq.

A former intelligence expert who has worked with CRG said: "They can offer advice on personal safety, counter safety. For example, who is watching the McCanns and even advice on hostage negotiation should that be needed. In addition . . . they will most likely offer the McCanns security advice and how to deal with bogus tips."

A CRG spokesman would only say: "Our policy is simply not to talk about our clients. We promise our clients 100 per cent confidentiality - discretion is our watchword."

Inconclusive proof

What forensic evidence has been collected?

Dozens of samples were recovered from apartments used by the McCanns and another family at the Ocean Club resort. Police have also searched the McCanns' hire car. The material has been examined by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in Birmingham

Is there enough evidence to convict Kate and Gerry McCann?

Portuguese detectives have been briefing the media since the middle of August that there was compelling evidence from hair, bodily fluids and blood. But in the past ten days the briefings have been more doubtful. A police source told 24 Horas newspaper yesterday: "There is no element which can definitively state that the body of the little girl was transported in that vehicle"

What does the FSS say about its results?

The laboratory was reported yesterday to have sent an e-mail to Portuguese police complaining that its findings had been "widely misused". The Mail on Sunday said that the FSS had criticised detectives for overplaying the results and leaking information – most of it inaccurate – to the Portuguese media

What do the British authorities say?

Leicestershire police say they are bound by the Portuguese laws of judicial secrecy and that releasing any information on the case could jeopardise their delicate working relationship with colleagues in Portugal

The rich list bankrolling the McCanns

Brian Kennedy
Made £250 million from double glazing and home improvements and now owns Latium Group plastics and Sale Sharks rugby union team. Offered Latium's in-house lawyer and is paying the McCanns' new official spokesman, Clarence Mitchell

Sir Richard Branson
Contributed to rewards totalling £2.5 million after Madeleine's disappearance. Has spoken to the McCanns several times and this month donated £100,000 to a fund for their legal costs. "I trust them implicitly," he said. Is trying to encourage other wealthy people to contribute to the legal fund

Sir Philip Green
The billionaire owner of TopShop and BHS lent the McCanns his private jet for their visit to meet the Pope. Known to have been annoyed when news of his involvement emerged and has refused to comment on his current involvement

John Geraghty
A 68-year-old businessman from Leicestershire who now lives on the outskirts of Praia da Luz. Offered to store the McCanns' hire car so that they could commission independent forensic tests

McCanns could face charges over security firm, 25 September 2007
McCanns could face charges over security firm The Times

How Would Private Investigators Help Find Maddie? 27 September 2007
How Would Private Investigators Help Find Maddie? ABC News

By CHRISTINE BROUWER
LONDON, Sept. 27, 2007

While the parents of Madeleine McCann learned Wednesday that a blond-haired girl in a tourist picture from Morocco was not their daughter, the British press reported earlier this week that the family had hired a private security firm to help look for the missing toddler.

Sources close to the family told British media that Kate and Gerry McCann had retained the services of Control Risks Group — an international company that employs former members of the British intelligence services and the army — because they mistrust the way the Portuguese police have handled the search for Madeleine.

Madeleine disappeared from a holiday flat in the Portuguese resort Praia de Luz on May 3, six days before her fourth birthday. Despite numerous reported sightings in Europe and North Africa, the child's trail appears to have gone cold.

A spokeswoman for Control Risks Group, which has 18 offices worldwide, but is based in London, would not comment on any dealings with the McCanns, telling ABC News only, "we don't confirm or deny who we're working for."

The McCanns have not confirmed their involvement with Control Risks Group or commented on how the company might be paid.

But a source close to the family's legal team told British newspaper The Times, "Control Risks are one of the groups who've offered their services to the McCanns. You can assume they are doing some things that the Portuguese police can't do."

What those things are, no one can say for sure. The operations of firms like Control Risks Groups are shrouded in secrecy. The company, which has more than 600 employees and describes itself as an "independent, specialist risk consultancy," offers services such as "video forensics" and "crime scene reconstruction," and is one of the largest British private security firms active in Iraq.

It promises clients absolute anonymity and will not comment on its methods. Its personnel is said to range from former intelligence officers to members of the British Special Forces.

But while Control Risks would not comment on its techniques, in interviews with ABC News several industry insiders not involved in the case sketched out how such a private firm might go about finding Madeleine.

A private investigator in charge of the case would likely "start with the parents, Mr. and Mrs. McCann," said Cliff Knuckey, a former detective inspector with Scotland Yard and managing director of the private investigations firm Risc Management.

They would work outward from there, Knuckey said, "to the circle of relatives, and the circle of friends that were there in Praia de Luz. Just to help piece together a profile."

Roy Ramm, a former commander of specialist operations at New Scotland Yard and chairman of the British private security firm Commercial Security International, also said private detectives would start with those closest to the case.

"Basically what they'll do is re-interview all the witnesses, going back over it in a methodical way," Ramm told ABC News. "They'll try to get to a point where they either do a physical or virtual reconstruction of what happened and literally start again. But to do it without the kind of preconceptions that seem to have beset the Portuguese investigation."

Portuguese detectives have said they have checked out more than 400 tips across Europe and North Africa about Madeleine's disappearance. But the McCanns, who were named official suspects in the investigation earlier this month, have expressed concern that not all leads have been properly investigated.

They worried especially, according to British media reports, about two sightings on the same day by a Norwegian and a British tourist near the Moroccan city of Marrakech six days after Madeleine disappeared. Both tourists later complained the Portuguese police did not give their reports the attention they deserved.

Knuckey said that in cases of such international sightings, especially, private investigators could have the upper hand over regular police forces.

"If the Portuguese police make a request of the Moroccan police," Knuckey said, "it becomes a very long bureaucratic affair. Control Risks can cut all that out, because they're not hamstrung by diplomatic bureaucracy."

He added that private security teams are not hindered by the kinds of regulations that he said can sometimes constrict regular police forces.

"Again, the police are hamstrung with bureaucracy," Knuckey told ABC News. "When they're talking about informants, there are all sorts of guidelines and rules to abide by. It's all about dotting the I's and crossing the T's."

"The corporate sector is not required to adhere to that at all," Knuckey said.

Gerry McCann reportedly approached several private investigation companies in May, just weeks after his daughter went missing.

The McCanns have explicitly denied sending private investigators into Portugal after it became clear that it is illegal to hire private help in Portuguese criminal cases. But they have not denied reports that private investigators are looking for Madeleine elsewhere, such as Morocco and Spain, where a number of sightings have also been reported.

It is not clear how much a company like Control Risks Group would charge for its services, though one industry insider speculated to ABC News that it could cost up to $50,000 a month to keep the firm on retainer.

Financial supporters of the McCanns include billionaires Richard Branson and Sir Philip Green.

On the question of whether private eyes would have a chance at finding Madeleine nearly five months after she went missing, industry insiders couldn't agree.

"It's a long shot," said Peter Heims, the public relations officer and past president of the Association of British Investigators. "They're grasping at straws. But if you've only got straws to grasp at, well, then you gotta go that way."

Knuckey of Risc Management said private detectives would not be able to find Madeleine without a new lead in the case.

"They're never going to solve the disappearance," Knuckey said, "because to have a chance at doing that they would have to have access to all of the material that's been gathered by the Portuguese investigators. And that's not going to happen."

"But where they do stand a chance," he said, "is if there's a genuine sighting of Madeleine McCann. Then they will get people on the ground quicker than law enforcement will."

Ramm was more optimistic.

"I think it could make a difference," Ramm said of private investigators' possible involvement in the case. "Because I have real doubts that witnesses have been interviewed as thoroughly and professionally as they should have been."

"If very good, experienced homicide investigators or just good detectives get to those witnesses," Ramm said, "and go through it from the top, there is a chance that something has been missed."

With thanks to Nigel at McCann Files

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