Evidence of the Smith family from Drogheda back in focus, Catherine Fegan reports
A possible sighting of Madeleine McCann by an Irish family on the night she went missing has come back into focus as the net closes in on a new prime suspect.
In May 2007, members of the Smith family from Drogheda revealed to police investigators that they saw a man carrying a young child through the streets of Praia da Luz.
The sighting happened on the night Madeleine went missing from her family's apartment on the Algarve.
The account of what they saw was allegedly dismissed by investigators at the time, who, it is claimed, focused instead on an earlier sighting that turned out to be a British tourist carrying his child from a crèche.
Martin Smith, a former Unilever executive, made a statement along with his wife Mary, daughter Aoife and son Peter soon after Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007.
Mr Smith helped compile e-fits a year later, but the images were not released at the time and were only made public in 2013.
He described the man he saw as Caucasian, around 175 to 180cm in height.
He said he appeared to be about 35 to 40 years old, of an average build, a bit on the thin side.
His statement also said that the man's hair was short, in a basic male cut, brown in colour.
Mr Smith and family members who were interviewed said they went to Kelly's Bar in Praia de Luz, after a family meal in a nearby restaurant.
They spent about 30 minutes in the bar before leaving at around 10pm.
As the group made their way back to their apartment, several noticed a man walking down the middle of the street, Rua 25 de Abril, carrying a girl, about three or four years old.
It was claimed the child's head was lying against the man's left shoulder and the arms hanging down alongside the body.
The child had blonde hair, according to detailed descriptions given, and her skin was very fair. At the time the family thought little about it, and headed for home from the holiday the following day, but images from Portugal surrounding the case triggered their memories of the chance meeting.
Their evidence has always been regarded as significant, although they couldn't definitively identify the individual concerned.
At the time, local officers were focused on another sighting of a man near Kate and Gerry McCann's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz 45 minutes earlier.
Scotland Yard detectives, who later reviewed the case, established that the suspect Portuguese police were so keen to trace - spotted by holidaymaker Jane Tanner at 9.20pm - was just an innocent British tourist returning his own child from a crèche.
The review, nicknamed Operation Grange, considered the information that was given by the Smith family as credible.
In light of what police described as "a revelation moment", altering six years of thinking about the case, investigating officers formed the view that Madeleine could have been taken up to 45 minutes later in the evening.
The Smith family gave a statement to police soon after their holiday.
The e-fits were compiled by private detectives in September 2008.
However, in 2012, Det Chief Insp Andy Redwood, from the Metropolitan Police, said that for years the sighting was seen as "wrong place, wrong time" and thus unimportant.
Now that a new prime suspect has been identified in the case, it is likely that further attention will be given to what the Smith family witnessed on the night in question.