McCann police get almost 1,000 calls after TV appeal – some naming same man in e-fit
Several people name same individual who they believe matches description of man whose e-fit was released
Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from a Portuguese holiday resort in 2007 have received almost 1,000 phone calls and e-mails from the public after their fresh appeal on Crimewatch for information.
A number of people have provided police with the same name of an individual who they believe matches the description of a man seen carrying a young child away from the resort in Praia da Luz towards the beach area at what detectives now believe is a crucial time the night Madeleine vanished.
More than 700 people called the appeal numbers and more than 20 people e-mailed information after police released new e-fit images of possible suspects, Scotland Yard said, in what the senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said was an “overwhelming response”.
Detectives on the Metropolitan police inquiry believe the disappearance of Madeleine bears all the hallmarks of a “pre-planned abduction”. In a significant development the Met police team has ruled out a sighting of a man carrying a child who was treated for six years as the prime suspect in the case. They now believe that individual was an innocent British tourist, carrying his child from the night creche on the resort back to his apartment.
The elimination of that suspect has focused attention on to another sighting later in the evening of a dark-haired man carrying a child with blond hair, possibly wearing pyjamas, towards the beach in the town. The shift in emphasis has raised the possibility that Madeleine’s mother, Kate McCann, could have missed her abductor by minutes when she went to check on the child and her siblings in the family’s apartment in a holiday resort in Praia da Luz at 10pm on the night she was taken.
At around the same time an Irish family saw a man aged between 20 and 40 with brown hair carrying a young child with blond hair dressed in pyjamas towards the beach in the town. They produced an e-fit of the individual in 2008 for private detectives hired by the McCanns but the image was only made public this week by the Met police who are leading the new investigation into the child’s abduction in a £5m (HK$62m) inquiry being paid for by the Home Office.
The publication of e-fits of the man has led to a huge response from the public, with a number of people providing the same name for the individual, it is understood. Police say among those who have contacted them are tourists who were at the resort at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance, but have never spoken to investigators before.
Redwood said he was “extremely pleased” with the response to the programme. “We will now take the time to follow up these lines of inquiry.”
Madeleine was nearly four when she went missing on May 3, 2007 from the ground-floor holiday apartment in the Ocean Complex while her parents dined with friends at a nearby restaurant. Redwood believes the child may have been abducted in an organised, planned operation by a group of individuals who might have checked out the layout of the resort in the days before. Redwood said one reading of the evidence was that it was a kidnapping which had “all the hallmarks of a pre-planned abduction that would have undoubtedly involved reconnaissance”.
Police are also pursuing links to a sharp rise in burglaries in the area, and bogus charity workers approaching individuals on the resort. E-fits of a fair-haired man said to have been seen “lurking around” the apartment have also been issued. The man could be Dutch or German.
Appeals are to be made in the coming days in Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.
The Crimewatch editor, Joe Mather, said those calling the programme included many British people who were in Praia da Luz at the time of the child’s disappearance. Some had given police new names, and the same name had been mentioned several times. “It’s been a truly unprecedented response,” he said. “We were genuinely pleased with the response and the police were too.”
Mather said he could not reveal new lines of inquiry but it was “always significant” if people called in with the same name of an individual.
New leads could be hampered by the fact that there are no plans to show the fresh appeal for information in Portugal, according to the criminologist Mark Williams-Thomas, a former police officer and child protection expert.
British officers needed to resolve their differences with Portuguese police in order for the investigation to make a breakthrough, Williams-Thomas told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday. “We need to get [the Portuguese police] to show the appeal, set aside their political differences, set aside their pride and get to the position where [the forces] are both focused, working together.”
Redwood said: “Our appeal continues and later today I will be travelling to Holland, and tomorrow Germany, to continue the appeal for information.
“Madeleine remains at the heart of everything we do and I will continue to update the McCann family as more information is received by the incident room.”
During the programme Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, urged people to rack their brains and come forward with information. Her father said he was hopeful and optimistic at the progress of the new investigation: “These cases can get solved. That is what the public need to think about tonight.”
Kate McCann said: “It doesn’t matter how much heartache we put ourselves through so long as we get the result that we need.”
On Crimewatch, viewers were shown two images of a man with dark hair, based on descriptions from two witnesses who were staying in Praia da Luz at the time. Witnesses described the man as white, aged 20-40, with short brown hair, of medium build, medium height and clean-shaven.
Investigators have also released e-fits of two fair-haired men seen near the McCanns’s apartment at the time. One was seen twice by the same witness nearby. He was 30-35, thin, with short hair, shaving spots on his face and was wearing a black leather jacket. Another witness saw a similar-looking man in the resort.
Police are also investigating a spate of break-ins in the area, one of which happened in the same week a year before Madeleine went missing involving a man who entered a flat where young children were sleeping.
Redwood said: “[H]e appears to have come through the patio door, had a look around inside and definitely had a look into one of the cots and then left without taking anything. Then one of the children raised the alarm.
“We’re particularly interested in that event as to whether it has any resonance to the disappearance of Madeleine. The man was described as being a white man with dark hair.”
Police are also looking into bogus charity collectors who were operating in the area at the time. On the day that Madeleine disappeared, properties were targeted four times, say detectives.
Police have released two e-fits of Portuguese men. One, aged 40-45, knocked on the door of the apartment where the McCanns were to stay on April 25 or 26 between 2.30pm and 3pm, saying he was a charity collector. The other, aged 25-30, approached a property on the Rua do Ramalhete, near the Ocean Club, at around 4pm on May 3.
There is a £20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance.