Madeleine McCann Libel Case Resumes in Portugal

As Madeleine McCann’ s aunt testifies in Portugal against the lead investigator of the crime, U.K. police are combing through thousands of cellphone records and say they are edging closer to a breakthrough. By Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Rafael Marchante/Reuters

It has been another difficult month for the family of Madeleine McCann, the young British girl who was just shy of her fourth birthday when she disappeared from her parent’s holiday suite in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007. After a delay in mid-September, hearings resumed in a libel trial against Goncalo Amaral, the former Portuguese police chief who led the investigation into the child’s disappearance and who has been outspoken about his belief that McCann’s parents, Gerry and Kate, killed their daughter. Amaral was relieved of his duties in October 2007 after allegedly showing bias against the McCanns and criticizing the British police, who were aiding the investigation. The McCanns are suing the former detective for approximately $1.6 million in damages for the anguish the former detective caused, which they said drastically worsened their pain over their missing daughter.

Gerry McCann traveled to Portugal in hopes of giving testimony, but he was not called to the stand this week. The judge has until October 16 to call him to testify before ruling on the civil case. Instead, Gerry’s sister Trish Cameron testified, telling the court how Amaral’s book on Maddy’s disappearance, The Truth of the Lie, “vilified and demonized” the McCanns. “My brother and sister-in-law live in purgatory because they have no end and they are looking for the truth,” Cameron testified. “They were vilified in this book so their distress was multiplied 100 times.”

Earlier witnesses included British psychologist Alan Pike, who treated Kate McCann around the time the book came out and who told the court that the book had pushed Kate MCann to the edge of suicide, so that she “thought about not being around anymore.” The libel trial has been adjourned until October 8.

In the meantime, British investigators, who reopened the case in July, have increased their initial list of 38 potential suspects to 41 after combing through thousands of cellphone records of calls made between 9 and 10 p.m. on May 3, when the child disappeared. They have indicated that they intend to call several of the numbers as part of their investigation, searching for both suspects and potential witnesses. Some numbers from pay-as-you-go cellphones are not traceable to the original owners, and text messages can no longer be restored, but investigators believe they have enough new information to make substantial progress in the investigation. Specifically, they are trying to trace suspect calls to known criminals or people who were speaking with known criminals in the area of Praia da Luz at the time Madeleine disappeared. Among their updated list of 41 persons of interest are 15 British citizens. Almost all of the information they have gathered was in the extensive criminal dossier furnished by the Portuguese police, but few leads were followed up. The new investigation has painted a picture of the type of tourist holidaying in the Algarve in May 2007. Most of the visitors were from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands.

British investigators have also sent letters of inquiry to police forces from 31 nations, either to request rap sheets or to check backgrounds of potential suspects. There are 35 British officers dedicated to the new investigation, which grew out of a review of the case called Operation Grange. Six Portuguese investigators have also been assigned to assist the British police in their investigation.

The McCanns will appear in the October 14 broadcast of the BBC’s Crimewatch to shed new light on the investigation. Investigators also have urged anyone who was in Praia da Luz in May 2007 to come forward to tell police what they saw. The investigation, led by Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, said in a statement that they were “trying to establish precisely who was nearby when Madeleine disappeared.” That, they say, is the only way to determine exactly who took her.