The Portuguese Polícia Judiciária, often denigrated in the UK for their handling of the Madeleine McCann case, have made in clear they are in charge of the latest phase of the investigation and that the Metropolitan Police Service and the British media had better toe the line.
Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner of the Met, says he has discussed with his PJ counterpart the high level of interest in the forthcoming ground search activity, some of which is likely to take place in public.
In an open letter to the British media, Rowley warned that “if we provide any briefings or information on the work they are undertaking on our behalf, or if reporters cause any disruption to their work in Portugal, activity will cease.”
The Met appealed for “media restraint” when it upped its two-year review to a fully-fledged investigation in July last year, but since then there has been an almost non-stop torrent of media reports - mostly highly speculative and many plainly absurd - about ‘new leads’ and ‘prime suspects.’
The Mirror broke the latest news about the ground searches by quoting - not the Met police - but a source close to Madeleine’s parents.
“Kate and Gerry have been told police will be conducting the searches in and around Praia da Luz as soon as they get the green light from Portuguese authorities,” said the source.
Scotland Yard refused to comment, but the Mirror felt able to inform its readers, “There will be earth diggers everywhere and it will look very dramatic and it will be a heartbreaking and hugely emotional time for Madeleine’s poor parents.”
The paper’s unnamed source went on to make the assertion that “police have assured Kate and Gerry that it does not mean they are specifically searching for her body. They are doing searches as much as to rule scenarios out as much as rule them in.”
If the intention is not to search specifically for a body, “how many holes do you have to dig to rule out the existence of a body?” wondered an unnamed Portuguese police source quoted by the Portugal News.
“Why does the Metropolitan Police Service want to dig up holes if they believe Madeleine is still alive? How do you prove that somebody is alive by digging up holes?” the Portuguese police source added.
In questioning the usefulness of serious excavations in the village, a Praia da Luz resident told the Algarve Resident newspaper: “We’ve had so many people suspected of abducting the child, but none of them were thought to have been in the possession of heavy-duty, earth-digging equipment when they did so.”
The fact is, apart from the beach, the terrain in most of the neighbourhood consists of limestone bedrock. Even in the patches of shallow hard soil, how could an abductor have buried a body, or any other material evidence, unobserved and without tools?
In a wry observation, the Portugal News source said about the British detectives: “Sincerely, it is not easy to understand them. But I’m sure they know what they are doing.”
A Portuguese judge apparently did not entirely agree and turned down as unwarranted a British police request to do house searches on ‘people of interest’ who worked at the complex where the McCanns were staying.
Meanwhile, the hope in the tranquil resort of Praia da Luz, and in the rest of Portugal, is that detectives from the PJ and the Met can work quietly and harmoniously as an efficient team and come up with some hard evidence that leads to justice for Madeleine.
© Len Port 2014
This article is from Portugal Newswatch, a blog with reflections on current affairs in Portugal by international journalist and author Len Port.