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It was a moment of quiet satisfaction for Chief Inspector
Since making his sudden, dramatic announcement exactly one
week ago, that he was no longer prepared to act as the
official Portuguese police spokesman in the Madeleine McCann
investigation, he had pretty much maintained his silence.
To a tight trio of trusted colleagues he had confided that
he was ''unhappy" about the inquiry and ''exasperated" with
the constant leaks from junior officers who, in exchange for
extravagant meals, were willing to either reveal snippets of
confidential information, or to embroider vague facts if
they felt that was what their moles in the Portuguese media
In public he has said nothing.
But this weekend Mr Sousa, for four months the public face
of the Portuguese inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance,
has come clean.
He has made it clear to friends that he feels his
resignation has been vindicated and why.
He has acknowledged that the leaks were intended to push
Kate and Gerry McCann into confessing they had killed their
More crucially, he believes that the concerted fightback by
the McCanns will reveal that, for all the police posturing
when they named the couple as suspects, their evidence was
at best flimsy, at worst supposition. ''He has told me he
always worried that the evidence against the McCanns was
weak," says one former policeman. ''He was worried it would
not bear scrutiny."
It has not been Mr Sousa's only concern over the
He also feels that he has been dragged into a war of words.
"He told me he felt caught in the middle of a propaganda war
between his police colleagues and the McCanns," another
investigator who has spoken to Mr Sousa confirmed.
He has complained that while fellow officers were leaking
information illegally Portugal has strict secrecy laws
the same officers would instruct him to deny the stories
when printed. The problem for Sousa was that the denials
rarely got into the media.
The result has been endless column inches slandering the
McCanns. ''Some Portuguese journalists were fairly convinced
the so-called evidence passed on to them by police was
nowhere near as concrete as their sources suggested," says
Jose Lugios, a freelance reporter based in the Algarve.
"The way it works here is that we can't get official police
comments so we have to rely on tip-offs from them. We know
they use us at times?
?as they did when they drip-fed us
snippets that might exert enough pressure on the McCanns to
But that's the strange way it works. It's the only way we
can get crime stories."
Such lax practice has shocked even the country's
politicians. ''The leaks to the press of some details that
are supposed to be classified have been used as an easy way
to manipulate and shape public opinion," says Francisco
Louça, leader of a Portuguese opposition party.
McCann: police chief breaks silence
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''It is clear the leaks have been used in a battle to turn public opinion
against the McCanns and convince people they are guilty when there is no
concrete evidence to support this," said another politician, who asked to remain
For months the McCanns have been angered by snide suggestions that their PR
machine, dubbed Team McCann a term they hate is too slick.
The truth is that it has not been, until now. In Praia da Luz it was little more
than a borrowed fax, two mobile telephones and Gerry McCann's Apple laptop. And
while friends and family in the UK did what they could, in Portugal the McCanns
had only one official spokesman, provided and paid for initially by the Foreign
Last week that became a six-strong team, top-heavy on legal experts and media
That transformation was borne of necessity. Not least because Mr Sousa's
observation is nearer to the truth than he may know. What began as a tale of
heartbreaking loss has become a fierce propaganda battle, punctuated by smears
and in-fighting. For an increasingly embittered Portuguese police force, to lose
such a battle would mean world-wide ridicule, allegations that they have
attempted to "fit up" an innocent mother and accusations from a £2.8 billion
tourism industry that they were ruining the Algarve's reputation. Yesterday
there was additional embarrassment when it emerged unofficially that Robert
Murat, the only other suspect in the case, is unlikely to face charges.
But the greater tragedy is that Madeleine's fate to her parents' anguish
appears to have been forgotten. Instead the propaganda war has led to lurid
headlines such as "The DNA found in the McCanns' rented Renault Scenic, is 100
per cent positively that of Madeleine" and "McCanns killed Maddie with an
accidental overdose of sedative".
Kate has been attacked as an unfit mother, who could not cope with her three
toddlers and resented bearing the bulk of the child care; she had "lost control"
in police interviews proof, Portuguese officers concluded, that she was
capable of having harmed her child; the sniffer dogs "reacted wildly to the
scent of death" in the McCanns' car.
Then, on Friday, came the allegation that there were six hours of Madeleine's
life unaccounted for on the afternoon of her disappearance. It was an accusation
swiftly denied by Kate McCann's friends, who have consistently substantiated the
family's version of events.
"The Portimao police were definitely furious that they were depicted as bumbling
and ineffectual," confirms a Portuguese officer from another force. "They were
especially furious about stories of their long, drunken lunches and their
alleged willingness to force a confession to cover their ineffectual
The know they made mistakes a whole catalogue from failing to secure the
crime scene, to leaving the border with Spain open for a further twelve hours
after Madeleine vanished, to returning the hire car to the McCanns despite
having allegedly found incriminating evidence inside.
But their own press would never write critically of them they need to keep the
relationship sweet. It was a slap in the face and a shock when the British press
not only branded them inept but heaped ridicule upon them, too."
Chief Inspector Sousa could only look on in despair. He knew that these leaks
were long on exaggeration.
Then came the McCann retaliation which, Mr Sousa must have known, would be
brisk, logical and based on sound facts.
Possibly unnerved by a recent British newspaper poll which revealed that only 20
per cent of the public considered them utterly innocent, and that almost half
thought they could have been involved in their daughter's death, the couple's
response was swift.
Within hours of an announcement by the Portuguese attorney general that local
police had not gathered enough evidence yet to press charges against them, the
McCanns had re-hired Clarence Mitchell, a former BBC reporter who had originally
been assigned to them by the Foreign Office.
McCann: police chief breaks silence
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Mitchell, canny, erudite and well versed in media hardball whose salary, it is
believed, is being covered by Brian Kennedy, the millionaire owner of Sale
Sharks rugby club turned the couple from victims to combatants. He succinctly
rebuffed the flimsy evidence against them, telling the Portuguese authorities to
"put up or shut up".
Perhaps more significantly, the couple also swiftly assembled a world-class team
Privately they admitted to relatives that they had been against seeking legal
counsel: now they had no option. "Was it naivety or just total belief in their
own innocence that they didn't think they needed a lawyer?" asks Gerry's brother
John. "They were so convinced that because of their close collaboration with the
police they didn't need one." Now, of course, they are all too aware that this
"close collaboration" was a smokescreen: they did not realise was that the
Portuguese police's efforts to find Madeleine had been lacklustre for some time.
Unbeknown to the McCanns, investigators had quickly decided Madeleine died the
night she vanished.
All involved with the fightback are convinced of the McCanns' innocence.
But they acknowledge that the couple's public support has been battered by weeks
of lurid allegations originating from the Portuguese police.
This weekend Kate and Gerry McCann are staying out of the media limelight.
"Let's call it regrouping, re-energising," says a friend. "But make no mistake:
while their primary, vital, aim is to keep the hunt for their daughter alive,
they are aware that if they are not to risk ending up doing so from behind
prison bars they must clear their names.
For they know, and we know, that the McCanns did not kill their daughter."