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Girl's Case 'May Solve McCann Mystery'

HOMEPAGE NEWS REPORTS INDEX SPOKESMEN PHOTOS NEWS SEPTEMBER 2007
Original Source: SKY: 14 SEPTEMBER 2007
By Alex Watts Sky News Online Reporter
Updated: 09:28, Friday September 14, 2007
 
Portuguese detectives have been urged to ditch their case against Gerry and Kate McCann and re-open the investigation into a girl who disappeared in similar circumstances to Madeleine.

Crime expert Mark Williams-Thomas believes there are far too many similarities between the two cases for it not to be a strong line of police inquiry.

Mr Williams-Thomas, a former detective who is now a child protection specialist, said: "I can't accept that Gerry and Kate as parents of the child could have been involved in her murder - even based on the fact that over 90% of murders are domestic-related.

"What I have difficulty in understanding is they would have killed her and stored her body for at least 25 days and left no evidence.

"At the very least the body would have started to decompose, especially in a hot country. And there was a huge risk of someone finding that body."

He believes the answer to the case may lie in the disappearance of an eight-year-old Portuguese girl in 2004.

Joana Cipriano vanished from a village just seven miles from Praia da Luz, where Madeleine disappeared.

Neither body has been found.

Joana's mother and uncle were jailed for her murder, but five police officers have now been accused of forcing false confessions out of them.

Mr Williams-Thomas believes that because of the huge doubts over the convictions, whoever abducted Joana is more than likely to be behind Madeleine's disappearance.

He said he could not understand why the police are pursuing their "ludicrous" investigation into the McCanns, when such a strong line of inquiry remains open.

He added: "There's not a single case in the UK where two children who are unknown to each other have been abducted or disappeared within a period of four years in a seven-mile radius.

"On that basis it has to be a serious line of inquiry to eliminate it as a huge coincidence.

"Portugal is a small country with very, very few abductions so two young girls vanishing out of thin air with their bodies never being recovered is something that needs to be investigated."

Joana vanished on September 12, 2004, after setting off from home in the village of Figueira to collect groceries. She never returned.

Like Madeleine McCann's case, the police investigation got off to a bad start. They failed to seal off the house where she was last seen.

Joana's mother Leonor and her brother Joao were jailed for 16 years for her murder.

But they claim they were set up and police have been named as suspects in their "torture".

Cipriano alleges police beat her to make her confess. A photograph of her heavily-bruised face was published in Portuguese newspapers.

She says the interrogation took place without her lawyer present and without the knowledge of the public prosecutor.

Police claimed Joana discovered Cipriano and her brother having sex when she returned with the groceries.

They said the pair were afraid Joana would tell what she saw and killed her.

Mr Williams-Thomas says because of the doubt over the safety of the convictions, the case should be re-opened.

But to compound the Madeleine investigation further, a senior detective in the hunt is one of the five officers alleged to have extracted the confessions.

Goncalo Amaral, who is number three in the Madeleine inquiry, and his officers have been accused of torture, omission of evidence and falsification of documents.

Portugal's Ministerio Publico has not revealed who has been accused of which offence.

Mr Williams-Thomas said: "This casts huge doubt in my mind about the integrity of the investigating officer.

"Even if we work on the basis that he is innocent, given this allegation against him, he shouldn't have anything to do with the Madeleine investigation."

He stressed: "There are so many similarities between the cases it has to be eliminated.

"Therefore to consider solely Kate and Gerry McCann as suspects rather than considering all the options is ludicrous."

The former detective also heavily criticised the Portuguese police inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance.

Commenting on their emergency application to seize Gerry McCann's laptop computer and reportedly even Madeleine's favourite toy Cuddle Cat, he said: "I think it's amazing that they haven't already seized them.

"This is the whole problem with the case. They are treating Kate and Gerry McCann as suspects but aren't dealing with them as suspects.

"Why didn't they do that when she went missing? They are back-tracking.

"They are trying to recover the situation, forensically and evidentally, they lost at the first opportunity."

Another crime expert believes even if the police do charge the McCanns they will struggle to convict them - because Madeleine's body is still missing and there is no evidence that has been made public to suggest she is even dead.

Desmond Thomas, a former deputy head of Hampshire CID who is now a forensic management consultant, says he does not believe anyone will be found guilty unless a body or weapon is discovered.

He said: "I think the Portuguese police are struggling. Of course, we cannot be sure about exactly what is in the dossier they have prepared.

"But from what we know this far, if I was bringing the charges, I would be nervous about it being successful.

"The only way I can see anyone being successfully charged is if the body is found and they can link it clearly to them."

This may be some solace to the McCanns, but then Portuguese courts may have a different conviction rate to UK courts.

After all, detectives managed to "solve" Joana's murder, and there was no body or weapon found.

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