True Crime

Investigation Into Madeleine McCann Disappearance Reopened in Portugal

Portuguese police are reopening the six-year-old investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, citing new leads after British police circulated images of a potential suspect. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports.

10.24.13 5:20 PM ET

With all the talk lately of stolen babies and blonde children popping up in gypsy camps, it should be no great surprise that the Madeleine McCann cold case has sprung back to life.

Earlier this month, McCann’s parents Kate and Gerry launched a new appeal to find their daughter, who disappeared from their holiday villa in the Algarve, Portugal in 2007 just shy of her fourth birthday.  With the help of BBC’s popular Crimewatch program, they presented some of the latest evidence in the case, including e-fit drawings of the primary suspect, who they say may be directly involved in the girl’s abduction. The McCann tip hotline received more than 2,400 calls after the program. Now, prosecutors in Portugal have ordered police to repoen the investigation into the six-year-old kidnapping thanks to potential new leads.

The family’s hopes had been reignited earlier this year when Scotland Yard opened its own formal investigation into the mysterious disappearance, backing their long-time theory that their child was stolen by a hooded man. Several people at the resort had seen a man carrying a small bundled child on the night Madeleine disappeared.  The McCanns are “very pleased” with the Portuguese decision, according to their spokesperson.   The new investigation “will give the answers we so desperately need.”

But what a new Portuguese investigation really means is still rather murky.  The Portuguese only ever had two suspects in the disappearance: Kate and Gerry McCann.  They closed the case in 2008 after reluctantly clearing the McCann’s of any wrongdoing.  Giancalo Amaral, the Portuguese detective who led the investigation, went on to write a book, called The Truth in the Lie, accusing the McCanns of involvement in the disappearance. The McCann family is battling Amaral for damages in an ongoing libel case in Portugal.

The McCann’s spokesman says the Portuguese police likely had a change of heart after the Crimewatch show and the discovery of mysterious Maria, the blonde child found in a Roma camp in Greece last week.  But Pedro do Carmo, a deputy with the police who will be in charge of the new investigation, told The Daily Beast that he was not ready to comment on the direction of the new investigation, though he confirmed that the Portuguese had also been conducting an independent review of the case over the last two years.

Earlier this year, Scotland Yard came up with 41 new “persons of interest” and nearly 200 leads the Portuguese apparently missed during their initial review, called Operation Grange, which began in 2011.

It is believed that the British police desperately need the help of the Portuguese police to make any arrests n Portugal and to further their investigation into primary suspects who were working or living in the Algarve at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.  But to cooperate fully with the British team, the Portuguese will have to admit certain mistakes and potentially admit they let the real kidnappers go while they focused on the McCanns as their prime suspects. There are hints that a behind-the-scenes strategy to soften the blame put on the Portuguese is already underway. The British police have been openly forgiving in recent days, even defending the Portuguese for earlier mistakes in sharp contrast to years of harsh criticism.  Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, told a British radio station yesterday that he understood how difficult things can be in the early days of a complex investigation.  “You don’t know exactly if the child has just wandered off. It can be very difficult to know if you’ve got a very serious crime. Anybody can go back after two, three, five, six years and say ‘why didn’t you do that’? That’s easy in hindsight. We don’t like it when it happens to the Met, and I’m certainly not going to do it to the Portuguese.”

By reopening the investigation in Portugal, the police there will also have greater power to investigate their own Roma nomadic camps under the auspices of the search for Madeleine McCann. And perhaps more importantly, if anyone is going to eventually find the child in Portugal, the Portuguese police want to be seen to be leading the way.