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He helped McCanns 'and joked of being No1 suspect'

Original Source: SCOTSMAN: 15 MAY 2007
Tue 15 May 2007
POLICE last night questioned a British man and searched his villa, just 150 yards from the apartment where four-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared.

Intense police activity surrounded the house, believed to belong to the mother of Robert Murat.

He was a regular sight crossing the police tape and approaching the McCanns' apartment following Madeleine's disappearance.

Mr Murat's mother, Jenny, a former nurse, has been running a stall on the seafront in the village of Praia da Luz in Portugal, appealing for information from members of the public about Madeleine's disappearance.

He claimed he was helping the McCanns as a translator. He also acted as an interpreter for the British news media. But journalists told police earlier this week that they had suspicions about him.

The house, known as Casa Liliana, was sealed off with tape at 7am yesterday, while men in white suits and masks began a search inside.

One journalist said he had spoken on several occasions to the translator, who had claimed to have a daughter who looked like Madeleine. The child, also aged four, is reported to live with his former wife in Norfolk.

Ian Woods, of Sky News, said: "Robert Murat has been very well known to the media from day one, because I have been asking for anyone who was a good Portuguese speaker to come to the scene. He had been acting for three or four days as an interpreter and a go-between with the police."

Mr Woods added that Mr Murat, believed to be about 32, had joked about how he had become the prime suspect in Madeleine's disappearance, but had also worked in an official capacity with the police, translating witness statements.

Mr Murat was taken to the police headquarters in Portimão at about 6pm last night. Police drained the pool at the villa and searched the garden, but there was no sign of the missing girl.

Eight or nine detectives finally raced from the scene at about 9:45pm, removing boxes of property and an evidence bag from the villa.

Police confirmed that three people were being questioned. Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa emphasised that they had not been arrested.

Then at about 11:30pm, a blue car in which Mr Murat was identified as a back-seat passenger sped out of the rear of the police station.

Earlier, another Sky TV journalist, Martin Brunt, said he had spoken to Mr Murat's mother, who last night stressed her son's innocence. He said: "Tonight she is a very shaken woman. She's insisting that at the end of the night her son will be proved innocent."

Mrs Murat was asked by reporters why her villa was being searched and replied: "I don't know why."

Mr Murat's cousin, Sally Eveleigh, who runs a guesthouse near Lagos, close to Praia da Luz, expressed disbelief that he could be involved in Madeleine's disappearance.

She agreed that his daughter looked very like the missing girl, but added that "lots of children could look similar to her".

"Are we going to accuse all the fathers of all these children of that?" she said.

"He loves his daughter. His help with police and with the media was help. He's got nothing to do with the case.

"Because [the police] have nothing to go on, they are all assuming. We had dinner the other night and he was very calm and stayed late and talked with me. You don't do that if you are guilty. I've known him all his life. He loves children."

She went on to say that she found out her cousin was being questioned by police when friends with whom she was having dinner received a text message alerting them to the development.

They switched on the TV to see reporters outside his home. "It's impossible, it's just not his thing," she said.

It is understood Mr Murat had lived in Hockering, Norfolk, with his ex-wife Dawn before moving to Portugal about two years ago.

He may have worked for a time at the nearby Bernard Matthews poultry farm before he left the UK.

At the house in Hockering, where his ex-wife and daughter now live, two women, each carrying a child in a blanket, were driven away by police shortly after 10pm last night.

Mr Murat's mother moved to Portugal more than 40 years ago, where she raised her son and a daughter.

Gaynor de Jesus, a fellow translator who went to school with Mr Murat, said she was shocked at the development.

She said Mr Murat had joked with her about media rumours that he was a suspect in Madeleine's disappearance.

Ms de Jesus said: "I do know that he has been the official translator for the police. All witness accounts, everything that's been coming into them, he has had first-hand information.

"He told me that in front of GNR [Guarda Nacional Republicana] officers, who I also know. They said nothing, they laughed and joked, they nodded, they seemed to confirm what he was saying was true."

Meanwhile, Madeleine's parents said they remained positive that their daughter was safe and vowed to stay in Portugal until she is found.

"Until there is concrete evidence to the contrary, we believe that Madeleine is safe and being looked after," said Scot Gerry McCann.

"We can't even consider returning home at the moment, I absolutely can't even let it enter my head," his wife, Kate, added.

A "fighting fund" to which members of the public can donate cash to help in the search is being set up by her family's lawyers. Details will be released later this week.

Scottiah relatives wary as they watch the search develop

relatives of Madeleine’s father, Gerry McCann, were anxiously waiting for news on the latest developments in the Portuguese police investigation.

Diane McCann, the wife of John McCann, Gerry’s brother, said they were remaining cautious and trying not to speculate on events in Praia da Luz. She told The Scotsman: “There have been false alarms before so we are all a bit wary about getting excited. It’s been reported that there have been no arrests.

“My husband just got off the phone with Gerry and Kate, and their reaction is that they don’t want to comment until someone is charged. Obviously, this is all very draining for everyone.”

Madeleine’s father said earlier that the couple remained positive that their daughter was safe and vowed to stay in Portugal until she is found. “ Until there is concrete evidence to the contrary, we believe that Madeleine is safe and being looked after,” he said.

“We can’t even consider returning home at the moment, I absolutely can’t even let it enter my head,” his wife added.

Earlier in the day, John and Philomena McCann, brother and sister of Madeleine’s father, went to the Scottish Parliament to recruit the help of politicians in their search.

They met party leaders Jack McConnell, Alex Salmond, Nicol Stephen and Annabel Goldie in an attempt to keep the search for their niece in the public spotlight.

The pair will travel to Westminster for Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow and are hoping to meet Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.

“We met with the MSPs to ensure that Madeleine stays at the top of the news agenda on an international level,” said Ms McCann, 43, from Ullapool.

The pair thanked the public for their support since Madeleine was snatched from her bed in a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz.

Rewards totalling £ 2.5 million have been offered to anyone with information leading to the four-year-old’s safe return.

John McCann said: “It’s just incredible what’s been going on, and we’re trying to keep up the momentum and not stop what we are doing until Maddy is found.

“It is great that the whole country is rallying together.”


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