UK police to dig at three sites in Portugal in hunt for Maddie
PORTUGUESE authorities have given British police permission to dig for evidence in the resort where Madeleine McCann went missing.
Detectives are believed to have flown to the Algarve to explore three sites in Praia da Luz using specialist forensic equipment.
Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of Madeleine (below), were understood to have been briefed on the operation, which has been authorised days after the seventh anniversary of their daughter's disappearance from the resort.
Scotland Yard has refused to comment on its investigation.
Sources close to the family said that the McCanns had been assured the development did not mean that police were searching for a body.
It was understood that police will dig in two areas of land near Apartment 5a at the Ocean Club, from where Madeleine went missing, and a nearby beach.
Forensic officers will use ground-penetrating radar to examine sites where the earth has been disturbed over the past 10 years, before moving in with mechanical diggers and then conducting a fingertip search of the excavations.
While Portuguese authorities will lead the physical search, British officers will for the first time be working alongside them on the ground.
The operation has not been prompted by new information but was understood to have come from intelligence gathered over the past seven years which indicated that there could be new evidence at particular locations.
On Sunday, a prayer service was held to mark the seven years since Madeleine went missing a few days before her fourth birthday.
During the service in the centre of Rothley, Leicestershire, where the family lives, Mr McCann expressed his family's gratitude that the Met Police team investigating Madeleine's disappearance was now moving on to a "very active" phase in its investigation.
Referring to the latest inquiries, he said: "They are chipping away and obviously there is new evidence so we are going to continue to hope that we will get a happy outcome."
A few months ago detectives disclosed that they were looking into a string of sexual assaults on young British girls across the Algarve between 2004 and 2006. Six victims came forward after an appeal on BBC One's 'Crimewatch'.
British detectives began a fresh investigation into Madeleine's disappearance in July last year, two years into a review of the case.
After shelving their inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance in 2008, Portuguese authorities said last October that a review had uncovered enough new information to justify reopening it.
Portugal has declined to set up an official joint investigation with the Met. (© Daily Telegraph, London)