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Five years on, is Maddie still alive?

SCOTLAND Yard insist that the hunt is far from over. But is there really hope? Paul Peachey investigates.



It is, said the detective, like a school photo that any parent or grandparent would put up at home for everyone to see. With her shoulder-length hair and gentle smile, the picture is recognisably the older version of Madeleine McCann, whose doe-eyed photo adorned millions of missing posters nearly five years ago.

Only the growing-up has been done in her absence. With no confirmed sighting since May 2007, the "age progression" picture is a product of computer manipulation.

With the fifth anniversary of her disappearance nearing, the photo was released by the UK's Metropolitan Police yesterday. The Met expressed the hope that the girl, now nearing her ninth birthday, was still alive.



abducted

That investigation was closed in 2008, 15 months after her disappearance, with the authorities saying it would only be reopened on the basis of new evidence from a "serious, pertinent and authoritative" source.

However, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, of the Met, said: "We genuinely believe there's a possibility that she's alive."

His call to reopen the inquiry was based on the findings of a team of 37 detectives and staff who for nearly a year have been working their way through the "vast" amount of material gathered by British and Portuguese police.

Madeleine was nearly four -years-old when she vanished while sleeping with her two siblings in the family's holiday apartment in the Algarve resort town of Praia da Luz.

The initial Portuguese police investigation failed to find any evidence that the young girl had been abducted or murdered. Despite hundreds of sightings, and numerous wild goose chases, there have been no confirmed sighting since that date.

Last year, Scotland Yard was asked to conduct a review of the case after complaints from the family. The review team -- based in London -- brought together the documentation from inquiries by police from both countries. The vast cache of documents are being filed on to a central computer system along with the findings of private detectives brought in by the McCanns.

The investigation has already cost around £2m (¤2.4m).

Detectives said they have worked through about one-quarter of the 100,000 documents, which had thrown up 195 "investigative opportunities". The potential leads include some sightings and have contributed to the theory that Madeleine, who would turn nine on May 12, is still alive.

Officers are "developing material which we believe represents genuinely new material", said DCI Redwood.

But the trawl has also highlighted the major gaps in the original investigation. DCI Redwood appealed for anyone who may have been at the resort at the time of the possible snatch to come forward.

Much of the focus in the early stages of the investigation was on the people who were dining with the McCanns on the night of the disappearance. DCI Redwood is working with another police review team in Porto -- away from the scene of the abduction and headed by an experienced Portuguese detective -- which also wants the case to be reopened.

The decision to restart the inquiry can only be taken by the Portuguese judiciary but the McCann family has been buoyed by a new government.

While these developments brought some hope for the McCanns, the case has taken its toll. They have put in upwards of £3m (¤3.6m) from donations, libel settlements -- when their role in her disappearance was questioned -- and the proceeds of a book by Kate McCann.

The couple last year told the Leveson Inquiry into the British media of the frenzy in the first days and months of the investigation. Coverage turned against them after the couple were named arguido -- persons of interest -- to the inquiry. They were linked with everything from selling their child to hiding her body in a freezer, they told the inquiry.

Only one other person, an Englishman who lived near the complex, was named arguido and Portuguese police ruled there was no evidence against him either.



artist

The family helped prepare the image of an older Madeleine with human identification artist Teri Blythe. "It can be quite an emotional and difficult time," Ms Blythe said. "There are certain things you can't describe. You can really see her mum in there."

Mr and Mrs McCann said they were pleased with the image and expressed hope that it would help to find her. "Kate and Gerry have always been firmly of the belief that she is alive," said their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell. "There's absolutely no evidence to the contrary."

hnews@herald.ie


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