Portugal closes case of missing British girl - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Portugal closes case of missing British girl

LISBON, Portugal (AP) - Portugal's attorney general ordered police Monday to halt their investigation into the disappearance of British girl Madeleine McCann because detectives uncovered no evidence of a crime during their 14-month probe.

The case will remain closed unless new evidence emerges, Attorney-General Fernando Pinto Monteiro's office said in a statement. Detectives found no reason to charge any of the three people named as suspects: Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry and local man Robert Murat, the statement said. All three denied involvement.

A spokesman for the parents said they were somewhat relieved but not celebrating the decision.

"In an order issued today, ... the investigation into the disappearance of the minor Madeleine McCann has been halted because no evidence was discovered of any crime committed by the suspects," the statement said. It added the investigation could be reopened "if new evidence emerges from any serious, pertinent and authoritative" source.

The disappearance of the blond-haired girl in May 2007 immediately attracted intense global media attention which continued unabated as her parents were named as suspects and few clues turned up to explain how she mysteriously vanished from a hotel room during a family vacation in Portugal's southern Algarve region.

She went missing a few days before her fourth birthday and there has been no reliable indication of what might have happened to her despite numerous reported sightings from around the world.

The McCanns have waged a far-reaching international campaign to find their daughter. Through regular statements to the media and via a Web page, they kept the search for Madeleine in the public eye.

Pope Benedict XVI blessed the McCanns, who are Catholics, and a photo of their daughter during his weekly general audience at the Vatican a few weeks after her disappearance. Celebrities, including "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and soccer star David Beckham, made public appeals that helped raise money for a Find Madeleine fund.

The McCanns also traveled to Brussels, Morocco and Spain in their effort to raise public awareness of their daughter's disappearance. And they campaigned for the introduction of a Europe-wide child abduction alert similar to the Amber Alert system in the United States.

The ruling ends months of anguish for the three suspects who denied their involvement from the start and eases pressure on Portuguese police whose failure to make progress under intense public scrutiny at home and abroad.

"There is a degree of relief but no air of celebration whatsoever, Clarence Mitchell, the McCann's spokesman, said in England. "They should never have been (suspects.) The fact that they have emerged from this without being charged proves that," he added.

"They are a wronged couple. For the past nine to 10 months, they have had this agony as well as the pain of losing their daughter," Mitchell said. "The only thing they care about is finding Madeleine. We hope that the Portuguese authorities will continue to cooperate with their private investigation."

Rogerio Alves, one of the McCanns' Portuguese lawyers, told state broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa the decision was "an undoubted victory." He said the couple's legal team intended to examine the police file to see whether there were any leads which private investigators they have hired could follow up.

Lawyers for the McCanns may now ask a judge to grant them access to the police file. Officials have said it runs to 10 volumes. Access to the case file is permitted, at a judge's discretion, to "interested parties."

Madeleine's parents said she vanished from their hotel room while they were eating dinner with friends at a resort's poolside restaurant in the sleepy vacation town of Praia da Luz, about 120 miles south of Lisbon. They had left her and her twin siblings, a year younger, alone in the room while they ate at the restaurant about 50 yards away.

Police previously said DNA evidence, though inconclusive, led them to doubt the McCann's version of events.

The Portuguese police faced criticism from the family and others at home and abroad for their failure to find out what happened to Madeline. The McCanns' family and friends complained that the police were slow to react to the disappearance and apparently struggled to build a case. The lack of sophisticated equipment led Portuguese authorities to ask British police for help with forensic tests.

Defending their investigation, Portuguese officials said thousands of children go missing worldwide each year and are never found.

The McCanns returned home to central England with Madeleine's twin sister and brother in September, a few days after they were named as suspects. They hired a legal team and media advisers.

The media further amplified the grim story by using leaks and speculation to stoke public interest. Portugal's secrecy laws covering ongoing investigations placed official information off-limits.

Murat last week won an apology and $1.2 million in libel damages from nearly a dozen British newspapers that claimed he was involved in Madeleine's abduction.

In March, the McCanns won front-page apologies and a large libel payout from several newspapers that had made claims about their role in their daughter's disappearance.

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