/ 7 September 2007

Mother of missing UK girl to be declared a suspect

The mother of missing British girl Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal four months ago, will be formally declared a suspect on Friday, a spokesperson for the family said.

The sudden shift in the investigation came after authorities received forensic evidence from the holiday apartment in the Algarve, where four-year-old Madeleine vanished on May 3.

Since her disappearance, Madeleine’s parents have campaigned relentlessly to draw attention to the case and won overwhelming sympathy around Europe. Their efforts led to a meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome who blessed a picture of their daughter.

”She will be formally declared a suspect,” said Justine McGuinness, a spokesperson for the McCanns. Both Kate and her husband Gerry are expected to be interviewed separately by police on Friday.

Portuguese police could not be reached for comment.

Kate McCann was questioned for about 11 hours at a police station in the Algarve on Thursday.

Under Portuguese law, declaring her a suspect would indicate that police think she may have been involved in the crime but it would not necessarily mean that she would be detained.

It could mean that she would be barred from leaving Portugal but she would also have more legal protection than as a witness, including the right not to answer questions. She would be more closely monitored by police.

The only other suspect in the crime, a Briton living in Praia da Luz, has not been arrested even though he was declared a suspect soon after Madeleine disappeared. His house has been searched twice.

A friend of the McCanns who spoke to Kate in the early hours of Friday said she was stunned at being declared a suspect.

”I did speak to Kate in the early hours of this morning and clearly she is stunned and disappointed. Disappointed, not only to be at this stage a suspect, but I think [at] the realisation that they are not actually looking for Madeleine,” the family friend told the BBC.

”She sounded disappointed, calm, disappointed, tired.”

British business tycoons and celebrities ranging from Harry Potter author JK Rowling to soccer stars have contributed to a reward for her return. — Reuters