Maddie breakthrough: British police identify 38 people of interest
A team of 37 detectives has spent the last two years trawling through thousands of documents, witness statements and pieces of evidence as part of a Government funded review of the case.
That review has now been upgraded to a full-scale investigation with those in charge admitting they have a number of fresh theories about what happened to Madeleine after she disappeared from her parents’ holiday apartment on the Algarve on 3 May 2007.
More than six years on police insist there is every chance the little girl – who would now be aged 10 – is still alive, having found no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Those in charge of the investigation have also categorically stated that Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, and the group of seven they were on holiday with, are not under suspicion.
Scotland Yard's review of the case was ordered by David Cameron and funded by the Home Office, after concerns were raised by the McCann family that a large number of leads had not been fully explored.
Detectives brought together all the information collected previously by the Portuguese and British police as well as evidence compiled by seven private detective agencies hired privately by Kate and Gerry.
So far they have examined more than 30,000 documents generating almost 4,000 fresh lines of inquiry, but still have a third of the information to examine.
Announcing the shift from review to investigation, DCI Andy Redwood, who is the Senior Investigating Office in what Scotland Yard has dubbed Operation Grange said: “The review has given us new thinking, new theories, new evidence and new witnesses.
“It is a positive step in our hunt for Madeleine that our understanding of the evidence has enabled us to shift from review to investigation.
“We have identified 38 persons of interest from a number of European countries. Twelve of those people are UK Nationals who we believe were in Portugal at the time Madeleine disappeared.”
The majority of those the police want to talk to are scattered throughout at least four countries in Europe meaning the Metropolitan Police must submit International Letters of Request to their counterparts overseas before they can act.
A team from Scotland Yard has travelled to Portugal on 16 occasions in recent months during which they have established a good working relationship with the Policia Judiciaria.
Any investigations taking place in Portugal will be led by their officers, but under the Mutual Assistance programme, British police have requested that they are also present.
Should a British suspect ever be charged in connection with Madeleine's abudction or murder they could be tried at the Old Bailey in London, but foreign suspects would face court overseas.
The development represents the most positive move in six years to finally crack the case that generated international headlines in 2007.
Spokesman for the McCanns, Clarence Mitchell, said: "Kate and Gerry warmly welcome this shift in the Metropolitan Police emphasis. They see it as a huge step forward in establishing what happened and hope that it will lead to bringing to justice whoever was responsible for Madeleine's abduction."
The McCanns had been dining with a group of friends in a Tapas restaurant close to their apartment in Praia da Luz’s Ocean Club complex when Madeleine disappeared on the evening of May 3.
Despite huge international publicity and a number of reported sightings around the world, no sign of the little girl has ever been found.
Three months after her disappearance the Policia Judiciaria declared the McCanns were arguidos – or suspects in the case, but the head of the investigation was later removed from his post and their status was later removed.
In July 2008, the Portuguese judiciary officially closed the investigation and can only reopen the case if significant new evidence is unearthed.
But DCI Redwood said his colleagues in Portugal were as determined as those in Britain to solve the case and bring some resolution to the McCann family.
He said: “We and the Portuguese authorities remain completely committed to finding out what happened to Madeleine, and everything we do is utterly focused on her best interests. We continue to believe there is a possibility that Madeleine is still alive.”
He added: “Our working relationship with the Portuguese police is positive and now that we have moved to investigation we are requesting further specific assistance through normal judicial routes.
“We remain in close contact with Kate and Gerry McCann and they are updated on our current position.”
Last year police issued a fresh image of how they believe Madeleine would look now and have urged the public to continue looking for her.