Madeleine police examine computers linked to suspect

Police in Portugal are probing computer links to the key suspect in the Madeleine McCann abduction case today.

Police in Portugal are probing computer links to the key suspect in the Madeleine McCann abduction case today.

Last night they swooped on the home of IT expert Sergey Malinka, who designed a website for Anglo-Portuguese man Robert Murat in the village of Praia Da Luz.

Mr Murat, whose home just yards from the spot where Madeline was abducted two weeks ago has been the centre of intense police activity, was named this week as the first “arguido”, or suspect, in the case.

Last night, after spending two hours inside Mr Malinka’s home, the plain clothes officers emerged carrying two hard drives, a laptop and a black bin bag full of items.

Mr Malinka, a Russian who lived in the town for around seven years, was brought out by the detectives and driven off.

He was driven to the headquarters of Portugal’s Policia Judiciaria (PJ) for questioning as a witness.

The search followed the announcement on Tuesday by the PJ that they now had a suspect.

They indicated then that they would continue to probe links to their suspect.

Mr Murat, who strenuously denies any involvement in Madeleine’s abduction, was taken in for questioning by the PJ two nights ago before being released.

While he was being questioned, police were searching his mother’s house just a short distance from where Madeleine was snatched.

Among items said to have been removed was a computer and other communications equipment.

Although police say they do not have enough evidence to charge or even formally arrest Mr Murat, he is the first person they have formally classed as a suspect.

Last night’s search happened just yards from the village church in Praia da Luz where the McCann family was holding a private prayer service.

The family is said to be concentrating on driving forward the campaign to find Madeleine and continuing with everyday life despite the recent police activity in the village and developments in the case.

Tonight it will be two weeks since Madeleine, four, was snatched from her bed in her parents’ holiday apartment.

Despite a series of developments in the investigation, there is still no news of her whereabouts although her parents remain convinced she is still alive and are set to remain in Portugal for the foreseeable future.

The latest twist in the case came on the day that relatives of the McCanns launched a fighting fund to pay for international efforts aimed at bringing Madeleine home safely.

Neighbours said that Mr Malinka worked from home where he lived with his parents.

His questioning follows reports in Portuguese media that police were interested in a Russian man.

Mr Malinka denies any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance.

One neighbour confirmed that she understood he had done some work for Mr Murat.

“I just know Sergey set up his computer because he does it for a lot of people,” she said.

“He’s a nice guy as far as I know.”

Raymond Kirby, barman of The Cave pub, which is below the flat, said: “I always found him to be a nice man, Sergey has always been a good customer, he has never done anything wrong.”

Last night Mr Murat told the BBC: “I am totally, totally innocent.”

The corporation interviewed his cousin Sally Eveleigh on his behalf, saying that Mr Murat was unable to give direct quotes due to legal restrictions.

She said he felt “awful” and his whole life had been overturned.

She said he was trying to help people “as he always does” and “vehemently” protested his innocence.

Giving his message, she said: “What he would love is for all this attention to be taken away from him and refocus on Madeleine, which is what he was trying to do at the time.”

His friend Tuck Price added: “Under Portuguese law he’s not allowed to say anything. He wants to get his story out.

“He wants to get the focus back on to Madeleine and away from him.

“His daughter is now in hiding in the UK. The one thing, the compassionate thing, that made him get involved in the case, has put his daughter in this very horrible position.”

Meanwhile Madeleine’s family received the backing of the British Government in their desperate search to find her.

As they launched a fund and website to help step up the search, the family received pledges of help from across the political spectrum.

Relatives travelled from Glasgow to London to meet Chancellor Gordon Brown and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

In Leicester, former England rugby captain Martin Johnston helped launch a fund to help find Madeleine.

Madeleine’s aunt Philomena McCann said the family was so buoyed by all the support that despair had turned to “a tidal wave of hope”.

Ms McCann said she spoke to her brother Gerry for 45 minutes last night and he was overwhelmed by the support.

In a reference to a powerful personal address at the church in Praia Da Luz on Madeleine’s birthday in which Gerry McCann told of the “tidal wave” of devastation wrought by the disappearance, the aunt said: “Instead of a tidal wave of despair, he is facing a tidal wave of hope.”

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