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Hope for McCanns as law on secrecy is eased

Original Source: TELEGRAPH: 16 SEPTEMBER 2007
By David Harrison in Praia da Luz and Adam Lusher
Last Updated: 1:29am BST 16/09/2007
Gerry and Kate McCann may be on the edge of a breakthrough in clearing their names after a shake-up in Portuguese secrecy laws.

The country's legal system is being overhauled, lifting the veil on documents concerning their daughter Madeleine's disappearance.

The move could see an end to the swirling of rumour and speculation that has surrounded the inquiry and may also make it harder for the Portuguese police to obtain authorisation to tap the telephones of the McCanns and their confidants.

Friends of Dr Matthew Oldfield, an endocrinologist at Kingston Hospital in south-west London who was dining with the McCanns when Madeleine went missing on May 3, have told The Sunday Telegraph he is sure his mobile phone is being bugged.

Gerry McCann is reported to have told friends: "The police are listening to every word we say."

The eavesdropping has proved particularly distressing to the McCanns, with one Portuguese newspaper claiming secretly recorded evidence has convinced detectives that the couple believe their daughter is dead.

It has also emerged that police are planning more searches in areas used by the McCanns and their friends in Praia da Luz, including wasteland behind the Milenio restaurant and the route they took to the beach.

The searches will be based on records of mobile phone calls used to pinpoint the whereabouts of the couple and their friends when the calls were made.

Officers also hope to stage a reconstruction of events on the day Madeleine disappeared.

The couple have renewed their attack on the rumours as they announced an 80,000 advertising campaign to help find Madeleine.

The campaign, due to start within the next fortnight, will be interpreted as a reassertion of the McCanns' insistence that they are innocent and that Madeleine may still be alive.

The McCanns' move came amid a welter of further developments, including Portuguese newspaper reports that Kate McCann will be interviewed about Madeleine's disappearance by British detectives on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Kate and Gerry McCann at the wedding of a friend

Another report claimed a senior detective had suggested Madeleine's body was dumped at sea in a bag weighted with stones. Police were even said to be considering whether the McCanns hired an accomplice to help smuggle the body.

The 24 Horas newspaper, however, claimed that a "high ranking" officer in the Policia Judiciaria, Portugal's criminal investigation department, had admitted there might not be enough information to charge the McCanns.

"We have nothing concrete," the official was quoted as saying. "There are a lot of indications, but even if the traces in the car or apartment were confirmed to correspond 100 per cent to the girl's DNA, that wouldn't prove anything."

The changes to Portuguese law follow complaints that investigating officers have been "hiding" behind the secrecy rules to conceal basic errors made since Madeleine vanished from apartment 5a of the Mark Warner Ocean Club Resort in Praia da Luz.

Previously, all information in police investigation files had to remain secret, and Mark Williams-Thomas, a former Surrey child protection detective now in Praia da Luz, told The Sunday Telegraph that officers had used this as "an excuse for not doing proper detective work".

He said: "They said they could not do a televised appeal because of secrecy laws but that was not about secrecy, because secrecy refers to details of the investigation."

Carlos Pinto de Abreu, the McCanns' family lawyer and a prime mover behind the new legislation, hailed the legal changes as "an important step towards a more open system that will benefit all parties".

Many blame the official "information vacuum" under the old secrecy rules for encouraging leaks which last week included claims about forensic evidence in the McCanns' hire car, rumours that police thought Madeleine was killed by a sleeping tablet overdose, and suggestions that Kate McCann's diary shows frustration with her three "hysterical" children.

The leaks drew vehement responses from the McCanns' supporters.

Alex Cayless, their former neighbour in Queniborough, Leicestershire - where they lived until summer 2006 - told this newspaper: "I never heard Kate or Gerry raise their voices to their children or anyone else. They went through the emotional hell of IVF to have Madeleine. They adored her."

Meanwhile John McCann, toured television studios to protest his brother's innocence, and two of Kate McCann's closest friends travelled to London to issue public statements of support.

The Portuguese law was officially changed yesterday but will not come into force until tomorrow, the first working day after the weekend.

It could allow the McCanns access to investigators' files, running to 4,000 pages, within days.

The new law means that all suspects and third parties, including the media, will have access to police documents in any investigation - unless the public prosecutor decides that secrecy will benefit the inquiry or protect the rights of the accused. The prosecutor's decision has to be ratified by a judge within 72 hours.

The Sunday Telegraph understands, however, that the police have already anticipated the rule change and have prepared an appeal to the public prosecutor to keep the Madeleine file secret.

In the McCann's home village of Rothley, Leicestershire, the family announced that 80,000 from the Madeleine Fund, established to search for the four-year-old, will be spent on newspaper, television and billboard adverts in Spain, Portugal and other parts of Europe.

The announcement comes after the family said it would not spend fund money on the McCanns' legal costs.


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