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Madeleine website gets 5 million hits on first day online

Original Source: TIMES: 18 MAY 2007
From The Times May 18, 2007
David Brown and Steve Bird in Praia da Luz

The website set up in the campaign to find missing Madeleine McCann, 4, recorded 25 million hits yesterday as concerned users checked out the latest on the search.

One part of the site — the “messages of support” section — had to be closed down during the afternoon as its IT technicians struggled to cope with the level of interest. The site has had more than 40 million hits since it went live on May 9.

Calum Macrae, Director of Infohost, said: “In all my years in this business, I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s unbelievable. As the media hype spreads further and further across the globe, more and more people are visiting and posting messages.

“To have 25 million hits in just one day is extraordinary.”

In Praia da Luz it emerged yesterday that Robert Murat, the official suspect in the abduction of Madeleine McCann, hired a Hyundai Getz car despite owning his own vehicle. He was taken in for questioning on Monday after using the car for two days.

Detectives are awaiting the results of tests for DNA and fibres found at the villa that Mr Murat shares with his mother, 100 metres from the Algarve holiday apartment where Madeleine went missing 15 days ago. Search teams returned to Mr Murat’s ¤700,000 (£400,000) villayesterday to seize more belongings as they considered arresting him for abduction.

The timings of telephone calls allegedly made between Mr Murat, 33, and a Russian computer expert on the night that Madeline was abducted are being studied by detectives.

Officers yesterday started to reinterview many of those who joined the search for Madeleine on the night she went missing, for evidence that Mr Murat was present. His mother, Jennifer, 71, was asked to confirm his alibi that she was having dinner with her son that night.

Mr Murat became a leading member of the search and acted as a police translator for witnesses, including her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann. It has emerged that Mr Murat was reported to police after he became “impatient” as he insisted that he needed to hire a vehicle on Saturday.

Maria Rocio, an agent at Auto Rent III Car Hire, said that Mr Murat was in a hurry when he visited the shop. “There was something about his voice,” she said. “He was saying, ‘I need to have it quickly’. His voice was impatient.”

She said that Mr Murat telephoned her shortly after midday on Saturday, saying that he needed a car because his was being used to promote posters asking for help in finding Madeleine. On the lease agreements, Mr Murat gave his wife’s address in Norfolk, his date of birth, and his British driving licence details.

When Mrs Rocio realised that Mr Murat had been interviewed by police, she contacted them with her concerns.

Police were last night still examining property taken from the home of Serguei Malinka, 22, a website designer who worked for Mr Murat. Officers removed two desktop computers and a laptop from the home that Mr Malinka shares with his parents.

Mr Malinka, who lives 500 yards from the McCanns’ holiday apartment, insisted that he was “completely” innocent. He said: “I’ve invested seven years of my life in this country trying to succeed, and suddenly in one hour it’s all fallen apart.”

It is believed that detectives asked Mr Malinka about a tour company he was involved with at Lagos Marina, 5 miles (8km) from Praia da Luz, which organised boat trips to the Mediterranean and North Africa. Detectives have searched the records of yachts that visited Lagos after receiving reports of a girl resembling Madeleine being dragged to the marina.

Mr and Mrs McCann from Rothley, Leicestershire, have been co-ordinating the Find Madeleine campaign to organise an international hunt. Its website received five million hits in the first 24 hours after its launch on Wednesday.

Michael Wright, a relative of the McCanns, said: “Their ability to remain positive and focus on what we can do rather than go to the dark places — that they have perhaps visited in the early days — is where our focus is and it drives us all on.”


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