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Disappointment over Maddie photo

Original Source:  NEWS AU: 27 SEPTEMBER 2011
September 27, 2007 08:37am
THE parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann are disappointed that a photo of a blonde girl taken in Morocco has turned out to be a false alert, their spokesman says.

The picture, taken by a Spanish tourist and showing a grainy image of a small girl clinging to the back of a local woman, was splashed on the front pages of British newspapers amid reports of a possible breakthrough.

But by the end of the day, journalists dispatched to investigate the sighting south of Tangiers confirmed they had found the woman and girl in the photograph, and she was not Madeleine.

Then three years old, Madeleine disappeared from a holiday apartment in the southern Portuguese resort town of Praia Da Luz on May 3 while her parents were eating nearby.

"Clearly, if these reports that the girl in the photograph isn't Madeleine are true, it is disappointing news,'' said Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann.

"This is why Gerry and Kate refused to comment on individual sightings and why I was advising caution overnight,'' said the spokesman, who had warned that the couple feared going on an "emotional rollercoaster".

"Clearly, the search for Madeleine will continue and I would appeal for everyone to refocus their efforts to achieve her safe return.''

The tourist snap, the first such image to surface, shows a light-skinned, small girl being carried on the back of an elderly Moroccan woman, and was taken just over three weeks ago in northern Morocco by a Spanish tourist.

Clara Torres of the central Spanish city of Albacete said she took the photo on the morning of August 31 in the town of Zinat on the road between Chaouen to Tetuan while on a holiday in Morocco with her family.

Ms Torres said she decided to hand the photo to police on Monday after reading of other recent possible sightings of a girl fitting Madeleine's description in Morocco since she vanished.

"The similarity (to Madeleine) raises shivers,'' she told Spanish radio station COPE.

But an AFP photographer who tracked down the girl in the picture said it was not Madeleine, but Moroccan girl Bouchra Benaissa, who had been snapped being carried by her mother Hafida near their home in the village of Zinat.

Her father Ahmed Ben Mohamed Benaissa, a farmer, produced a birth certificate and other identity documents, saying: "We already have problems providing for our children, how could we have more, let alone European ones?''

The girl, born October 24, 2004, and the youngest of four blonde sisters, was too shy to speak to AFP, her father explaining that she was traumatised by the unwanted attention.

Madeleine's parents - both 39-year-old medical doctors - have been spearheading a global campaign to find her.

Initially the case appeared to focus on an alleged abduction but then the McCanns were named as formal suspects earlier this month.

While there have been several reported sightings of Madeleine from Argentina to Belgium - which have all been discounted - this is the first time that a photograph that possibly depicts the girl has come to light.

According to the family, Portuguese police suspect Kate McCann was involved in the accidental death of her daughter and think both parents then tried to cover it up. The McCanns strongly deny any role in Madeleine's disappearance.


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