The McCann family today publicly denied sending private detectives into Portuguese territory to investigate Madeleine’s disappearance – amid claims they could be prosecuted for doing so.
Gerry and Kate McCann are said to have hired specialists to continue the search for their daughter as long as four months ago amid fears that the Portuguese police had already begun to assume she was dead.
But police pointed out today that hiring private investigators for use in criminal cases is illegal in Portugal.
A senior Policia Judicaria source told the Portuguese daily Correio da Manha: “If they came here they could the serious risk of being apprehended.”
Tonight Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns’ official spokesman, insisted there were no private detectives working for them inside Portugal itself.
But he did not deny that private eyes were in use elsewhere such as in Morocco, where there have been a number of possible sightings of girls resembling Madeleine.
“Gerry and Kate McCann wish to make it clear that no work being done on their behalf to help find Madeleine is being done other than within the law,” he insisted.
“As a matter of fact no private investigators have been commissioned to work within Portuguese jurisdiction.”
The couple are understood to have hired security firm Control Risks Group (CRG) in an advisory capacity, checking reported sightings and building up profiles of likely abductors.
While the company is understood not be operating “on the ground” it is thought other private specialists are – although not in Portugal.
Among lines of inquiry thought to be being looked at are two sightings of a girl resembling Madeleine in Marrakech six days after her disappearance from the McCanns’ holiday flat in Praia Da Luz, Portugal.
Mari Olli, a Norwegian woman who lives in Fuengirola on Spain’s Costa del Sol, believes she saw Madeleine outside a petrol station on May 9.
It emerged earlier this week that an unnamed British man said to be from Yorkshire also spotted a girl he believed was Madeleine outside an Ibis Hotel that day.
Madeleine went missing from her family’s rented holiday apartment in Praia Da Luz on the night of May 3 while her parents were eating tapas in a restaurant nearby.