Police haunted by Madeleine case

By Alison Roberts BBC News, Praia da Luz

Saturday marks the first anniversary of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance from an apartment in the Algarve. A year on the consequences are still being felt in Portugal.

The Madeleine McCann saga has had a big impact in Portugal, on tourism locally, and in particular on the Polícia Judiciária (PJ), the criminal investigation force that is still handling this case.

Officials at the PJ and the Ministry of Justice, which oversees the force, were this week adamant Saturday would be marked by no special event or indeed any comment on the investigation, which is covered by judicial secrecy until mid-May, with a possible extension to August.

But the PJ’s national director, Alípio Ribeiro, felt obliged to react to figures that emerged this week on his force’s performance, and which some observers saw as pointing to a lack of resources and strategy, or even a crisis in confidence.

They showed sharp drops in the number of detentions by PJ inspectors and in charges resulting from their investigations in the past year.

While nationwide, the number of detentions dropped by 50%, in the Faro region where the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance is being handled, the drop was 37%, while the number of investigations that led to charges fell 58%.

Brain drain

That is likely to reinforce a widespread public perception here that police time and resources were disproportionately allocated to one high-profile case.

In Oporto, where police are investigating a string of nightlife murders, the number of detentions fell by 60% and investigations leading to charges by 10%.

Mr Ribeiro – who made headlines in February when he said detectives had been “hasty” in declaring Kate and Gerry McCann official suspects five months earlier – played down the figures.

In comments to the Lusa news agency, he said the number of detentions was no indicator of effectiveness, given a changing legal framework.

But Carlos Anjos, president of detectives’ union ASFIC, said there had been a brain drain and sagging morale in the two years since Mr Ribeiro came in.

He told TSF radio: “It’s logical that operational capacity has diminished. We’ve lost more than 20% of personnel, that can only give the result we’re now seeing.”

Justice Minister Alberto Costa is expected to face questions on the issue in a parliamentary debate next Wednesday on the security forces.

‘Clarify the truth’

Meanwhile, the former coordinator of the PJ’s criminal investigation department in Portimão, who oversaw the Madeleine McCann case until he was removed from his post by Mr Ribeiro in October after reportedly criticising his British counterparts, is preparing to sue unnamed British media outlets.

Though as department head he had no hands-on involvement in the case, he bore the brunt of British media criticism of the PJ – criticism that António Paulo Santos, the Lisbon lawyer retained to prepare the libel action, says Mr Amaral feels tipped over into personal insults.

Having put in for retirement, the former PJ coordinator also plans to publish a book about his work, to be entitled “Verdade da Mentira” – “The Truth about the Lie”.

“It wouldn’t be written if he hadn’t been the victim of personal insults – even his children suffered at school,” said his lawyer. “It’s not for financial gain.”

The book would not, he added, violate judicial secrecy or aim to incriminate anyone, but to tell Mr Amaral’s side of things and lay out the evidence so readers can draw their own conclusions.

“Its one mission is to clarify the truth,” Mr Santos said.

No date has been set for publication but it would be after Mr. Amaral’s retirement, which is set to take some months.

Several books about the case have been published in Portugal, but this would be the first by anyone involved and is likely to find a ready market.

Resentment in Portugal of the critical tone of British media coverage, as expressed in letter, emails and phone calls to newspapers and broadcasters, and on internet forums, is widespread and often fierce.

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