MADELEINE: THE MISSING SEVEN HOURS

Saturday September 22, 2007

MADELEINE McCann was not seen by anyone except her parents for seven hours in the time leading up to her disappearance, it was sensationally claimed yesterday.

Baffled detectives in Portugal are focusing their inquiry on the lost hours and believe the period holds the key to the investigation. Police sources revealed that despite exhaustive inquiries they cannot confirm the whereabouts of part-time GP Kate, 39, and her daughter after 1.29pm on May 3. The source said Kate’s movements were unaccounted for until she sat down to have dinner with friends at a tapas restaurant within their holiday complex at around 8.40pm.

Police are probing a series of alleged inconsistencies in the statements of Kate and husband Gerry – who have been named as official suspects – and their holiday friends. Officers believe Kate killed her daughter by accidentally giving her an overdose of sleeping pills.

They are working on the theory that consultant cardiologist Gerry, also 39, helped to cover up the crime and dispose of Madeleine’s body. They believe the McCanns “cooked up a story” that Madeleine had been kidnapped to throw them off the scent.

The last photograph of Madeleine was said to have been taken by Kate at 2.29pm on May 3. The image showed Madeleine – wearing a sun hat and with beads in her hair – laughing as she dangled her feet in the swimming pool at the Ocean Club resort where the family were staying. But the Daily Express can reveal the timing device on the camera showed the picture had been taken at 1.29pm.

There was no time difference between Portugal and Britain and the family explained the discrepancy by insisting the settings on the camera were wrong. But one expert explained that the shadows in the photograph showed it must have been taken earlier than the family had claimed.

The mystery deepened yesterday  after the couple dismissed claims they had taken their children to a local restaurant at 5pm that day. Other members of their holiday group took their children for supper at the Paraiso Restaurant on the beach in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz.

Staff there were certain they saw the couple there along with Madeleine and their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie. Owner Miguel Matias handed over CCTV footage to police which they believed would prove the family had been there. The evidence would have helped support Kate and Gerry’s alibi that they were not involved in Madeleine’s death.

But yesterday a source close to the family said: “They weren’t there. They didn’t go to the restaurant that day. They did not go there at all until after she had vanished.”

Police yesterday confirmed they had been handed the footage but refused to reveal the content. Sources in Portugal insist the only witness to Kate’s movements that afternoon was her husband.
Yesterday it was claimed that statements given to the police by the McCanns about their movements also differed from those of their seven friends.

Portuguese newspaper 24 Hours reported that one of the McCanns’ friends had told police the party had not seen Madeleine all afternoon. Former British detective Mark Williams-Thomas, who worked on the Sarah Payne murder inquiry, said: “The last person to see Madeleine is absolutely vital to this investigation.

“If the police are saying the last picture of Madeleine is the last time she was seen, then they have to establish what went on in the hours in between and when she was reported missing.”

Police sources in Portugal claimed that originally Kate told them she was at the pool all afternoon. Gerry said he had taken part in a tennis event at the Ocean Club complex with the other men in the group – all doctors who had first met while working in Leicester. One source added: “Kate said she was at the poolside all afternoon but we are not satisfied with this. Until now we have no witnesses to confirm that. This is the main focus of our investigation at the moment.

“Where was Kate between the time she took the picture of Madeleine and the time she went to dinner with her husband in the tapas bar? We now believe Madeleine could have gone missing during this period. We are very doubtful that Madeleine disappeared when the McCanns were at dinner.”

As the focus of the inquiry shifted, a source close to the McCanns issued an apparently new version of events of what happened the afternoon Madeleine disappeared. The source insisted the couple told police Madeleine had spent time during the afternoon at the Ocean Club resort’s creche.

The source said: “Kate was never alone with Madeleine that afternoon. After the photograph was taken at the swimming pool Madeleine went to the kids club. There are records for that, written records, and witnesses.

“Madeleine was there while Kate and Gerry played tennis with the club professional and other witnesses.’’

Detectives in Portugal are said to have “serious concerns” over other crucial contradictions in the McCanns’ statements. When Madeleine disappeared, friends told how Kate was certain she had been abducted after finding the patio doors had been opened and the shutters tampered with.

But now a member of their group has revealed the couple had not locked the patio door when they left Madeleine and the twins.

The friend said that when Kate discovered Madeleine missing at 10pm she ran back to the restaurant shouting: “Madeleine’s gone, Madeleine’s gone.” It is dramatically different from the account said to have been given to Portuguese police. They were told Kate had said: “They’ve taken her, they’ve taken her.”

Detectives in Portugal viewed this as suspicious, as Kate had apparently  already ruled out the possibility that her daughter had wandered off. They are treating it as possible evidence that she was already engaged in a cover-up.

The revelations come as members of the couple’s holiday group appeared  to be once again shifting the focus on to Robert Murat, 33 – the only other official suspect in the case. One member of the group, Jane Tanner, 36, told police she saw a man carrying a child wrapped in a blanket near the Ocean Club apartment complex on the night Madeleine disappeared. Miss Tanner said she saw the suspect rushing downhill towards the Baptista supermarket.

But she has now told police the man was heading in a completely different direction – towards the home of Murat.

Murat was also placed in the frame by three other members of the McCanns’ party. Rachael Oldfield, 36, Dr Russell O’Brien, 36, and Dr Fiona Payne, 34, claim they saw Murat near the McCanns’ apartment on the night Madeleine vanished – evidence which apparently shattered Murat’s alibi that he spent the evening at home with his mother before having an early night.

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