McCanns wait to see if Madeleine letter genuine


BRITAIN:After weeks of possible sightings and leads that evaporated in a matter of days, the family of missing Madeleine McCann has grown accustomed to having its hopes dashed.

Reacting to last night's news that Portuguese police were investigating an anonymous letter and map purporting to show where the four-year-old's body is buried, Madeleine's aunt, Philomena McCann, was circumspect.

"We have heard so many things so far, so many things that just turned out to be incorrect or hoaxes but we must treat every new development seriously just in case," she told The Irish Times. "We have to wait and see if anything solid comes out of this. That's all we can do."

It is now almost six weeks since the four-year-old Leicestershire girl vanished from the holiday apartment she was sharing with her parents and two younger siblings in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz.

Since then the McCann family has been inundated with hundreds of reports of possible sightings across Europe and north Africa but most have been ruled out by detectives.

The letter claiming to show the location of Madeleine's body is being treated as one of the strongest leads yet in an investigation that has grown increasingly threadbare in recent weeks.

Robert Murat, a British expat living in Praia da Luz remains the only official suspect in the case, although police have repeatedly insisted they do not have enough evidence to make any arrest or press charges.

The letter, sent to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, identifies an area 15 kilometres from where Madeleine vanished, apparently snatched from her bed as her parents dined at a nearby restaurant. The letter is said to pinpoint a dirt track and claims Madeleine is buried "north of the road under branches and rocks, around six to seven metres off the road".

The letter is being taken seriously by Dutch and Portuguese detectives because it bears a strong resemblance to another letter sent to the same newspaper last year, accurately pinpointing the spot where two missing Belgian girls were buried.

Portuguese Chief Inspector Olegario de Sousa said detectives were doing "everything necessary" to investigate the claims. "There have been exchanges between Dutch police and us," he told reporters. "The information indicated an area 15 kilometres from the place of the disappearance of the little child. It is not far from Praia da Luz. We are checking the information like we check everything in this case for importance."

Chief Insp de Sousa added that police would start digging if "the information gives us a precise location where we can look".

Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, have continued their efforts to keep the case in the public eye. They returned to Portugal earlier this week following a series of high profile trips around Europe and north Africa to highlight Madeleine's disappearance.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the search for Madeleine focused briefly on Boyle, Co Roscommon, following claims by a British psychic that the girl could be in the area.

Gardaí in Boyle confirmed that they were contacted by Interpol and as a result a number of sheds and outhouses in the area were searched.