Madeleine's parents critical of newspaper tip-off

 

The parents of Madeleine McCann criticised a Dutch newspaper for revealing details of a letter claiming their daughter had been buried near where she was kidnapped.

Portuguese detectives spent the day trying to verify an anonymous letter which said the four-year-old was hidden in scrubland only nine miles from Praia da Luz where she was snatched 42 days ago.

Kate and Gerry McCann carried on as normal, taking care of two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie and collecting a friend from Faro airport.

It is understood they do not believe the claim to be significant. But the couple from Leicestershire were furious that Dutch newspaper De Telegraafprinted the claim before Portuguese police had a chance to investigate.

Mr McCann (39) said the Policia Judiciara (PJ) had no time to examine its credibility or consider searching the area before the revelations were made public.

Describing the move as "insensitive and cruel", Mr McCann said he and his wife Kate were deeply upset by what had happened.

Speculation surrounding the case reached fever pitch today after rocky ground north of the village of Odiaxere was highlighted as a possible crime scene.

Television crews, photographers and journalists poured into the area but there was no sign of a formal search.

PJ spokesman Olegario Sousa said police were taking the claim seriously but insisted it was one of a number of leads they were looking at. He said they could only start searching an area if they had a precise location.

Mr McCann said they were told about the claim when they met police yesterday to be updated on the investigation.

Writing his blog on the Find Madeleine website, he said: "Although all information will be taken seriously, we were very upset that the credibility of this letter had not been examined and, more importantly, published before the Portuguese police had an opportunity to investigate the claim, and search the area if appropriate without massive media attention.

"We feel strongly that this was an irresponsible piece of journalism."

The newspaper made no formal response to Mr McCann's criticisms. It claimed one of its reporters found a beach towel near where Madeleine's body was supposed to be lying.

A suspect wanted in connection with the case was seen carrying a girl wrapped in either a towel or a blanket, making the find potentially significant.

Dutch police said the anonymous tip-off was being taken seriously because it was similar to information sent to the same newspaper last year, giving details of the rough location of the bodies of two missing Belgian girls.

Stacy Lemmens (7) and her step-sister, Nathalie Mahy (10) disappeared while playing outside in Liege on June 10 last year. Their bodies were found near a railway line on June 28th, the same day as De Telegraafreceived a letter from an unknown source.

Police spokesman Rob Van der Veen said: "With the tip about the Belgian disappearance in the back of our minds, this letter grabbed our attention. "The writer of that letter had closely pinpointed the area where the girls' bodies were eventually found.

"That particular letter was posted in Rotterdam the day before the bodies were found. "We are therefore not ruling out the fact that this letter regarding Madeleine could be very important."