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Prosecutor to study evidence before deciding couple's future

Original Source: GUARDIAN1: 10 SEPTEMBER 2007
Giles Tremlett and Brendan de Beer in Praia da Luz
Monday September 10, 2007 The Guardian
Parents may be called back for questioning, say police
Forensic expert cautions over interpretation of DNA

Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are expected to consult local prosecutors today, and warned that they may ask her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, to return for further questioning at any time.

Portuguese police sources said that investigations were "still ongoing" and any decision on what to do next rested with the local prosecutor, Joao Cunha de Magalhaes. Further test results due from the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham may also influence how the investigation unfolds.

"Their [the McCanns'] departure obviously complicates things and can delay the investigation as we will not have as much contact with them as before," said Portuguese investigator Olegario de Sousa. But he admitted that the couple had every right to return home as they had not been charged with any wrongdoing.

"The investigation will only end when we think the case file is complete and we hand our findings to the public prosecutor, who then decides whether to drop the case or bring charges."

Chief Inspector de Sousa said the police could keep the McCanns as formal suspects, or arguidos, for a year without charging them, but under Portuguese law they would not necessarily have to attend a hearing if evidence was presented before a court. Any future attempt to impose bail conditions on the McCanns, including residency in Portugal, would have to be approved by a local magistrate.

Even if the McCanns were charged with either manslaughter or concealing Madeleine's body, they might be able to live freely in Britain until a trial started.

Nelson Lourenco, a well-known Portuguese criminal lawyer, explained that defendants were not remanded in custody if they faced jail terms of less than three years, or if their alleged crime had not been committed intentionally. "As the crime of concealing a body has a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment, while manslaughter excludes any criminal intent, the couple, even if they were to be charged with these crimes, would not need to return to Portugal in the foreseeable future," he said.

In the coming days, detectives are likely to focus on the forensic evidence that appears to have been gleaned from a car hired by the couple more than three weeks after Madeleine disappeared, and from the apartment in the Mark Warner complex where they stayed on May 3.

Portuguese police have given no indication about the strength of the forensic material which encouraged them to make the parents formal suspects. But Alan Baker, a scientist who has given expert trial evidence on the subject, said the police would have important factors to assess before being able to draw conclusions.

He told the Press Association that the type of sample - whether actually blood or just a smear - was vital in interpreting any potential match. "If they have found a hair follicle or a trace of blood at the scene then the implications could be immense, but if it is only a smear then there are all sorts of issues involved. When you get trace DNA it is incredibly difficult to interpret and that is the key point."

He said the science of matching DNA profiles was also made very difficult by the fact that members of the same family were involved. If the match was less than perfect, as some reports have suggested, then it became more likely that any DNA may belong to her siblings or parents.

He also pointed out that any cross-contamination of DNA had to be taken on board as a possible explanation if it was Madeleine's profile in the car or flat. For instance, anything the girl had touched in the days before she went missing - perhaps her toys - might have helped to transfer her DNA, he said.

Mr Baker also urged caution over how the samples were obtained. "The sample is only as good as the person that took it."

The McCanns' lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, told the Guardian claims by relatives that police had offered Mrs McCann a plea bargain if she admitted to accidentally killing her child were wrong. The claims were the result of "a misunderstanding" while she was being questioned.

Mr and Mrs McCann are receiving further legal advice from the London law firm Kingsley Napley, the family said in a statement last night. One of their advisers is Michael Caplan QC, who defended Augusto Pinochet. But the couple said they would not use money raised to help the search for Madeleine to pay their legal bills, the BBC reported.

The statements

Gerry McCann, Nottingham airport

Today, Kate, Sean, Amelie and I have returned home as we planned a while ago. We are returning to Britain after very careful thought. We want the twins as much as is reasonably possible to live an ordinary life in their home country and want to consider the events of the last few days which have been so deeply disturbing.

Whilst it is heartbreaking to return to the UK without Madeleine, it does not mean we are giving up our search for her. As parents we cannot give up on our daughter until we know what has happened. We have to keep doing everything that we can to find her.

Kate and I wish to thank once again all those who have supported us over the past days, weeks and months. But we would also like to ask for our privacy to be respected now that we have returned home.

Our return is with the full agreement of the Portuguese authorities and police. Portuguese law prohibits us from commenting further on the police investigation. Despite there being so much we wish to say we are unable to do so except to say this. We have played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter Madeleine.

Police spokesman Olegario Sousa

The investigation will only end when we think the case file is complete and we hand our findings to the public prosecutor, who then decides whether to drop the case or bring charges.


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