Letter claims McCann child is dead


The family of missing Madeleine McCann was hoping for a breakthrough last night as Portuguese police confirmed they are investigating an anonymous letter and map claiming to show where the four-year-old's body is buried.

The letter, sent to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, identifies an area 15km (nine miles) from Praia da Luz, the Algarve resort where Madeleine disappeared almost six weeks ago. According to the paper, the letter refers to a dirt track northeast of the resort town and claims Madeleine is buried "north of the road under branches and rocks, around 6m to 7m off the road".

The letter has piqued the interest of Dutch and Portuguese detectives because it strongly resembles another letter sent to the same newspaper last year, accurately pinpointing the spot where two missing Belgian girls were buried.

Stepsisters Stacey Lemmens (7) and Nathalie Mahy (10) were murdered in June 2006 after they vanished from Liege. Police found their bodies at the location indicated on a map from a letter sent to De Telegraaf. A convicted paedophile is awaiting trial for murder.

Portuguese chief inspector Olegario de Sousa said detectives were doing "everything necessary" to investigate the claims.

Asked if police efforts involved digging, he said: "If the information gives us a precise location where we can look, we will do it."

Madeleine's aunt, Philomena McCann, told The Irish Times the family was taking the development seriously. "We have to wait and see if anything solid comes out of it," she added.

The McCanns have travelled across Europe to highlight their daughter's disappearance.