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Monday September 24,2007
By David Pilditch and Martin Evans in Praia da Luz Have your say(24

Portuguese police say friends are in cover up


Portuguese police believe Gerry and Kate McCann are using friends to hide their role in killing Madeleine.

The Daily Express can reveal that their seven holiday friends may now be named as suspects as police believe they are hiding the truth about Madeleine's death.

The dramatic move comes as it was reported that former chief suspect Robert Murat is to be told he will not face charges over the four-year-olds disappearance. Ruling him out of the four-month investigation will leave Kate and Gerry McCann as the sole suspects. Last night police sources said the decision could have a devastating impact on the McCann's defence.

In an astonishing twist, British expat Murat could be used as a key prosecution witness against the McCanns.
Almost the entire police case against Murat was built on evidence from the couple's holiday friends. Investigators believe the McCanns "cooked up a story" that Madeleine had been kidnapped to throw them off the trail and enlisted members of their party to provide them with an alibi. They also believe the group tried to turn the focus of the investigation towards Murat.

Yesterday it was revealed that police are questioning new witnesses who cast doubts over the evidence of members of the holiday group.

The McCanns and their friends told how they took turns to check on their children every 30 minutes as they ate at a tapas restaurant on May 3, the night Madeleine vanished.

But one Portuguese newspaper reported that employees at the restaurant insisted that only Dr Russell O'Brien, 36, and hospital consultant Matthew Oldfield, 37, left the dinner table that evening.

Another witness has come forward to refute the testimony of a third friend Jane Tanner, 36, who told police she saw a man carrying a child rushing from the Ocean Club complex at around 9.15pm on May 3.

Yesterday it was reported in Portugal that a new witness, an unnamed Irishman, told police he was in the same spot as Miss Tanner at the same time and saw no one.

He is the second independent witness to dispute her story and police sources said they viewed Miss Tanner's evidence as 'unreliable' because of inconsistencies.

Officers are concerned that she apparently changed her version of the sighting.

She originally claimed she saw the suspect rushing towards the Baptista supermarket in Praia da Luz. She told police the child was wrapped in a blanket.

A second independent witness reported seeing a similar man with a child in a blanket near the towns church heading towards the beach. The route he took matches the alleged trail of death discovered by British sniffer dogs who detected the scent of a corpse.

But Miss Tanner has now told detectives that the man was heading in a different direction – towards Murat's home.
Police regard her account as one of a series given by the McCanns and their friends to convince them that Madeleine had been kidnapped.

Officers believe former hospital anaesthetist Kate, 39, killed her daughter by accidentally giving her an overdose of sleeping pills. They are working on the theory that consultant cardiologist Gerry, also 39, helped to dispose of Madeleine's body.

Police are awaiting results of toxicology tests carried out on bodily fluids with an 88 per cent match to Madeleine's DNA found in the boot of a hire car the couple rented 25 days after she went missing.

Dr O'Brien, along with Mr Oldfield's wife Rachael, 36, and another friend Dr Fiona Payne, 34, said they saw Murat near the McCanns apartment on May 3 and their claim appeared to shatter Murat's alibi.

Detectives interrogated the McCanns at police headquarters in Portimao 17 days ago over the discrepancies. The couple were told separately later that day they were being named as suspects or arguidos.

Last night another member of the McCanns holiday party was reported to have stepped into the mystery. The move came after it was revealed that police in Portugal were focusing their investigation on a lost seven hours on the day Madeleine disappeared.

Now Dr Paynes husband a medical researcher David, 41 has claimed he saw Madeleine being put to bed when he visited the McCann flat at 7pm.

Before his new testimony, police sources admitted they could not confirm the whereabouts of Kate and Madeleine after 1.29pm that day.

Kate's movements were said to be unaccounted for until she sat down to have dinner with Gerry and their friends at around 8.40pm. But the McCanns believe Mr Payne's testimony will be crucial in proving their innocence.

That would leave just an hour and a half in which they were supposed to have killed their daughter and disposed of her body.

But last night a source in Portugal said police were viewing alibis provided by the McCanns friends with suspicion. They are convinced that some or all of them may have known what happened to Madeleine and may have helped to cover up her death.

The source said police had not ruled out the possibility of naming them all as suspects – and they could face being charged as accessories.

The source said: It has long been considered a number of people may have been involved in this unfortunate case.
In Portugal yesterday it was revealed that detectives have seized a British police manual from the McCanns.

Officers believe the book could be used as a key piece of evidence in building a case against them.

A Portuguese police source said: "it is certainly not the sort of reading material you would expect a couple to take on a relaxing family holiday."


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