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Sighting No2 but cops did nothing

Original Source:
By Lori Campbell Lori.Campbell@Sundaymirror.Co.Uk 23/09/2007
EXCLUSIVE THE SEARCH FOR MADELEINE DAY 143  They failed to act on second vital sighting at garage

Portuguese police FAILED to follow up a key sighting of Madeleine McCann in Morocco which her parents believe is vital to solving the case.

It was revealed last night that a British tourist contacted police to say he saw a "lost-looking" youngster at a petrol station in Marrakech.

His testimony was identical to that of another tourist, Norwegian Marie Pollard, 45, who claimed she was "100 per cent convinced" she saw Madeleine at the same spot.

She said last night: "I still haven't been interviewed by Portuguese police and we're four-and-a-half months on. If this man saw Madeleine as well it adds weight to what I saw and proves I'm not going mad."

Both accounts were given to the police independently and without knowledge of the other. Yet incredibly police failed to follow either up at the time they were reported. When they did finally check out the leads, they found the garage's CCTV tape had been erased and didn't bother interviewing staff.

Both witnesses describe a little blonde girl standing near a man and asking him in English: "When can I see my mummy?"

The McCann family are livid at the blunder - always believing she could have been abducted and taken to Morocco. A family friend said yesterday: "Kate and Gerry believe the Morocco sightings were vital. They are furious they weren't followed up properly by police. They should have been fully investigated and publicised.

"Kate said her instinct from the start has been that Madeleine was smuggled into North Africa.

"The couple believe the information from the two witnesses is crucial and should have been released to the media immediately."

Like Mrs Pollard and her British husband Raymond, the unidentified witness was staying at the Ibis Hotel next to the petrol station.

It was only when he returned home to Yorkshire that he realised the significance of what he had seen and called police. He was unaware of Mrs Pollard's account of what happened on May 9, which she reported after she went home to Spain. The details of their statements matched.

Mrs Pollard, who lives in Fuengirola, said: "I didn't know about Maddie's disappearance then. I went in the shop to buy some water. My attention was drawn straight to her. She was a sweet, blonde-haired girl with a very cute face. She was wearing blue pyjamas with a little pink-and-white pattern, maybe flowers, on her top.

"She was standing alone with a man. She looked sad and a little lost. The man didn't look like her father. He was between 35 and 40, with dark brown hair, not very tall.

"She looked at me and then spoke to him, something like, 'Can I see Mummy soon?'. I don't think he responded."

Mrs Pollard said she called Portuguese police the day after she thought she saw Madeleine.

But it was another 10 days before they called her back to ask for any details.

It was only when she announced the sighting in the Press that they contacted her. "I contacted the police but no one has come to see me to take a statement," she said.

"An Interpol officer rang me and asked for details and this is all I have heard.

"The British embassy said my sighting was being taken seriously but the police in Morocco have not contacted me."

Meantime a family friend revealed last night that police are working on the bizarre theory that Kate and Gerry McCann buried Madeleine's body near a holy shrine.

The McCanns - who made a pilgrimage to the Fatima 20 days after their daughter vanished - are stunned by the extraordinary claim. Police believe they used the trip to look for a suitable spot to dispose of Madeleine's body before returning in their hire car at a later date to bury her.

But a close family friend told the Sunday Mirror: "This allegation is not only ridiculous, it proves the Portuguese police are clutching at every last straw."

The McCanns' official spokesman Clarence Mitchell was with them on their journey to Fatima on May 23 but he has never been questioned by police.

Police plan to examine a pasture called the Cova da Iria, near the village of Aljustrel a mile from Fatima, which the McCanns would have passed on their car journey. A source close to the family said: "Police believe they used that trip as a reccie (reconnaissance mission). But they barely even glanced out of the window during the four-hour drive. They were both using laptops so they could work on the campaign to find Madeleine."

During the journey Gerry took a 45-minute phone call from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who expressed his sympathy for their plight saying: "I've lost a little girl of my own. I know it's in different circumstances, but I can empathise with the pain you're going through."

Our source said: "It's ridiculous to think that while they were on the phone, Gerry was looking out for places to later bury his daughter's body." In the following week, the couple travelled to the Vatican to meet the Pope, and flew to Amsterdam and Berlin to publicise the hunt for Madeleine.

"It's madness to suggest they had the time to make a 500-mile return trip to Fatima to bury Madeleine's body," said our source, who also revealed how on September 3 they were called by a detective who asked them not to leave the country because they would be made "arguidos" later that week.

"He insisted the new status simply enabled police to give them more information on the inquiry," said the source. "But Gerry sensed the tables were turning against them and pleaded with Kate to flee Portugal. He told her, 'I don't believe them. We're being stitched up. We should get out of here'."

Kate convinced him to stay because she didn't want it to look like they were running away. But two days later, the couple were dramatically accused of playing a part in Madeleine's death.

During a break in her first grilling, Kate called Gerry to say police were telling her to confess to killing Madeleine in exchange for a lenient sentence. Soon afterwards a relative back in Leicester appeared on live TV talking about the development.

Our source said: "It was being shown in the interview room. The cops went mad and were swearing at the screen and they turned aggressive towards Kate."

The McCanns later learned it was Det Insp Luis Nevas who ordered the heavy grilling which left the couple feeling betrayed as he had previously befriended them.


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