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McCanns fly home after police grilling

Original Source:  TIMES: 09 SEPTEMBER 2007
From The Sunday Times September 9, 2007

McCanns fly home after police grilling

Steve Swinford in Praia da Luz, Mark Macaskill and Jon Ungoed-Thomas
KATE and Gerry McCann are flying home today after deciding to quit Portugal following hours of police questioning and being named as suspects over the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine.

Friends said they have been told they are under no travel restrictions and the couple have given assurances they will return for further questioning if asked.

Their decision late yesterday to return to their Leicestershire home came after Portuguese police tried to pressure Kate McCann into admitting killing Madeleine by repeatedly showing her video footage of sniffer dogs allegedly finding the scent of a body in the family’s hire car. They will fly into East Midlands airport this lunchtime.

“They are leaving with the full agreement of the Portuguese authorities and police,” said a family spokesman.

During 16 hours of interrogation Kate was shown the footage of the dogs clambering over the Renault Scénic car in the hope that she would break down and confess. She was yesterday said to be distraught and exhausted by the ordeal.

The dogs’ reaction was a key reason why the police suspect her of killing Madeleine. Officers told Kate they had found her daughter’s DNA in the car even though it was hired three weeks after her disappearance.

Kate and her husband are said to be mortified that the investigation team — with whom they have co-operated throughout — have apparently turned against them. “We are being absolutely stitched up,” Gerry told a friend. “We are completely f*****. We should have seen this coming weeks ago and gone back to Britain.”

Police hoped to force a confession from Kate after she was formally declared a suspect on Friday and subjected to further questioning. Jon Corner, a friend of the family, said: “They kept coming back to the hire car and kept showing Kate the video of sniffer dogs. They also told her that Madeleine’s DNA was found in the car.”

Another friend said: “The suggestion being put to Kate was that if she had somehow killed Madeleine in an accident, then used a hire car to dispose of the body three weeks later, she should confess and the judge would look at it in a lenient light and offer three to four years in jail. It’s absolute nonsense.”

As it emerged that the family are considering approaching David Miliband, the foreign secretary, Portuguese detectives last night faced questions about the value of the evidence they hoped would force Kate to break down. The family claim it is ambiguous and flawed.

They were supported by British forensic scientists who have been surprised by aspects of the investigation.

The family point out Kate has carried Cuddle Cat, Madeleine’s soft toy, since her disappearance, which could explain the presence of her DNA in the rental car. Initial reports that the DNA source was blood have not been confirmed.

Sources from the Forensic Science Service Laboratory in Birmingham, which analysed swabs taken from the hire car, are reported to have dismissed as “simply wrong” speculation that blood was found.

They added that the DNA samples were so degraded only an incomplete match with Madeleine’s DNA could be made.

Portuguese investigators will face severe criticism from the McCanns if their case depends solely on forensic work. “The crime scene was completely desecrated after Madeleine’s disappearance,” said Philomena McCann, Gerry’s sister. “Literally hundreds of people were in that apartment after Madeleine was abducted.”

Police are however, unlikely to change their focus. Local newspapers yesterday reported Kate was suspected of homicide, negligence and “preventing the corpse from being found”.

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According to the reports, one police theory is that Kate accidentally gave Madeleine a fatal dose of sedatives. It has been denied by the McCanns that they gave any of their children sedatives.

There was also speculation that Kate could face charges within a few days. Despite the threat of an impending prosecution, the McCanns are now anxious to return home, but a court could put restrictions on their movements.

“In a system that you don’t know and don’t really trust it’s incredibly frightening,” Gerry McCann says in a newspaper today. “We thought we were in our worst nightmare but now it just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Our lawyer said the weight of it is that, under the Portuguese legal system, they’ve got enough to move forward against us. We never had to say it until now . . . but we did not kill our daughter,” he told the News of the World.

The couple are considering bringing lawyers from the UK to assist their Portuguese adviser, though they are frustrated that they will not be allowed to use any of the £800,000 in the Madeleine Fund to pay their legal bills.

“It seems like a disaster that we’ve got this huge donated fund and now we’re not allowed to use it for legal costs because we’re under suspicion,” he said.

The McCanns have been liaising with the Foreign Office in the hope that Miliband would be able to obtain more information on the state of the police inquiry.

Miliband said yesterday: “Firstly we must remember above all else that this is about a missing girl. Secondly, obviously we have been and will continue to give extensive consular support to the family. And thirdly, in respect of the independent judicial process, we must let that take its course.”

Hugh White, a Home Office pathologist, said he could not understand why the car was held by the police for just two days. “In this country the car would have been stripped down into tiny pieces and the forensics team would be crawling all over it,” he said. Keith Borer, a retired forensic scientist, said: “What they seem to have found makes good questions for a police interview, but evidentially it seems pretty weak.”


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