The parents of Madeleine McCann have contacted the lawyers of a man charged with
murder who successfully challenged sniffer dog evidence. His lawyers claimed it
was unreliable and persuaded a judge in the US to throw out prosecution claims
that the dogs had detected the smell of a corpse.
Kate and Gerry McCann hope that the case could help them to prove their own
Two British sniffer dogs, one capable of detecting blood and human remains, were
taken to Portugal in early August to help in the investigation. The dog picked
up a “scent of death” on numerous items, including Mrs McCann’s clothes and her
daughter’s favourite soft toy.
During police interviews the McCanns, both 39, were repeatedly shown a video of
the animal “going crazy” when it approached their hired Renault Scenic car.
Mrs McCann could not explain it, but the scent of bodies remains detectable to
the springer spaniel “cadaver dogs” for years and her legal team concluded that
the scent could have come from her contact with corpses during her work as a
Portuguese police believe that the couple may have killed their child
accidentally and then disposed of the body using a car they hired 25 days later.
Although the McCanns do not know the full details of the Portuguese prosecutor’s
case against them, they are concerned that it may rest on the dog’s reaction.
Now their lawyers have requested the case files from the ongoing murder trial of
Eugene Zapata in Madison, Wisconsin. His estranged wife, Jeanette, a 37-year-old
flight instructor, vanished in October 1976 after taking her children to school.
Her body has never been found.
Detectives suspected that Mr Zapata killed her but did not have enough evidence
to go to court. Mr Zapata, 68, was charged with murder last year after sniffer
dogs were brought in. They allegedly detected the scent of human remains in a
basement at the former family home. But Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler ruled
that the evidence was inadmissible, saying that the dogs were unreliable. He
quoted analysis of the three dogs’ performance record which showed that they
were, respectively, incorrect 78 per cent, 71 per cent and 62 per cent of the
The judge told the court: “The state has failed to convince me that it’s any
more reliable than the flip of a coin.” The jury is considering its verdict.
A source close to the McCanns’ legal team said: “The court papers, giving the
legal submissions, are on their way to the McCann team for consideration. At the
moment there are no formal charges and therefore there is no formal allegation
against which the McCann team can work. We are having to work a little bit in
“But given that we understand the central plank of what the police are alleging
involves sniffer dogs – albeit British ones, which are said to be particularly
good – this is important and relevant, and will be raised with the police and
brought to the judge’s attention.”
British millionaires are being sought to fund the McCanns’ legal battle with the
Portuguese authorities to clear their names. Sir Richard Branson has donated
£100,000 to a fighting fund. A spokesman for the multi-billionaire said: “When
the McCanns said under no circumstances would they touch the Find Madeleine Fund
and mentioned they would sell their house, Richard felt he had to do something.
He is a father and there is a missing child out there.”
Father Haynes Hubbard, the Anglican priest who became close friends with the
McCanns when they stayed on in Praia da Luz, said yesterday: “That’s absolutely
wonderful. If I had £100,000 I would give it to Kate and Gerry, too.”
Clarence Mitchell will be employed by one of the McCanns’ wealthy supporters to
act as the couple’s spokesman. He will resign as head of the media monitoring
unit of the Cabinet Office today and take up his new post tomorrow. A friend
said he had kept in touch with the couple after handling the case while still
working for the Government.
What could happen next
What action will the police take this week?
Portuguese detectives are due to arrive in Leicester to work with a British
police team investigating Madeleine’s disappearance. It has been reported that
Kate McCann could be interviewed again this week. A Portuguese judge must decide
by Thursday whether to approve requests by Portuguese police to secure more
Who’s advising British police on the case?
Tony Connell, a member of the Crown Prosecution Service’s special casework unit,
has been advising the “Gold Group” of senior detectives at Leicestershire
Police, which is investigating the Madeleine case. Mr Connell led the review
which led to the conviction of Damilola Taylor’s killers.
Could the McCanns be prosecuted in Britain?
It is possible to prosecute a British citizen for a murder or manslaughter
abroad under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This was last done in
2005 when Christopher Newman was convicted at the Inner London Crown Court of
murdering Georgina Eager in Dublin.
Can the public support Kate and Gerry McCann’s legal battle?
A fighting fund to help to pay their legal costs is expected to be announced
within the next few days. A source close to the family told The Times: “It will
be getting set up and formalised as a proper fund. It has to be meticulously