Portuguese law chief defends Madeleine police

Portugal’s attorney-general today appeared to pave the way for the authorities to shelve their investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance.

Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro said Portuguese police should not be ashamed if they fail to solve the mystery of what happened to the little girl in an Algarve holiday resort on May 3 last year.

Missing child cases are “extremely difficult to investigate” and only one in five are solved worldwide, he told journalists.

The attorney-general’s comments follow reports suggesting that the inquiry by the Policia Judiciaria (PJ) – Portugal’s CID – has stalled and that no charges will be brought.

The Portuguese weekly Expresso reported on Friday that the PJ were preparing to exonerate Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, who remain formal suspects in her disappearance.

Mr Pinto Monteiro told Portugal’s Jornal de Noticias today: “(If the investigation) results in failure, it is nothing which should shame the police...

“These kinds of crimes are extremely difficult to investigate. There are one million missing children per year throughout the world, and not even 20% are found.”

He insisted that the PJ had done what any other police force would do, adding: “It may be that we find out yet – let’s wait until the end (of the inquiry).”

Meanwhile, Portugal’s most senior detective said today it was “very important” that Mr and Mrs McCann should return to the Algarve to assist police if required.

Alipio Ribeiro, the PJ’s national director, was apparently referring to a proposed reconstruction of the night Madeleine went missing from the village of Praia da Luz including all the key witnesses.

The McCanns are reluctant to participate in such an exercise and Mr McCann’s brother John said yesterday he could not “really see the value of it”.

Mr Ribeiro told the Jornal de Noticias: “If operations were decided on which would justify the presence of the parents in Portugal, it would be very important for them to accept that participation within the Portuguese legal regulations.”

Mr Pinto Monteiro also hinted that the police case files could remain secret for longer than expected.

Legal sources have suggested that the official period of judicial secrecy in the investigation – which runs out on May 15 – is likely to be extended for three months until mid-August.

Mr Monteiro said: “(At that time) we will analyse the state of the case and see whether it is necessary or not to request an extension.”

He denied that the Madeleine case had become politicised, but said: “We have already spoken too much about Maddie.”

Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns’ spokesman, was not immediately available for comment.

Mr McCann used an interview today to hit out at the lack of transparency in Portugal’s legal system and speak of his fears that the authorities will use the law to keep the case secret forever.

He said: “What we want is the files to be opened and to see what is being done.”

Mr and Mrs McCann spent today – which is Mother’s Day in Portugal – with friends and their two other children, three-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.

They said they were now hoping to slip out of the public spotlight after marking the first anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance yesterday.

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