Detectives fly to Algarve as Madeleine probe stepped up

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BRITISH detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have flown to Portugal nearly seven years after she vanished amid claims they are planning to make arrests.

Police in both countries confirmed yesterday that a meeting had taken place in Faro after Scotland Yard sent an international letter of request linked to its own inquiry. Both Portuguese and British police are running their own investigations into what happened to Madeleine, who disappeared from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in May 2007 at the age of three.

A national newspaper said the officers from the UK were trying to trace three suspected burglars who were spotted in the area where Madeleine vanished.

The discussions yesterday are believed to have centred on getting local officials to sanction the arrests and questioning of the suspects, according to the newspaper reports. Mobile phone records reportedly revealed that the gang repeatedly called each other in the hours after Madeleine disappeared.

Scotland Yard stressed that it has not yet made any arrests and confirmed that officers have visited Portugal a number of times in the past 18 months. British detectives launched a fresh investigation into the youngster’s disappearance last July – two years into a review of the case – and made renewed appeals on television in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.

Then in October, Portuguese authorities – which had shelved their inquiry into Madeleine’s disappearance in 2008 – announced that a review had uncovered enough new information to justify reopening their investigation.

In a Christmas message, Madeleine’s mother, Kate McCann, said that both she and her husband, Gerry, were relieved and buoyed by last year’s developments, and urged people to “spare a thought and prayer” for families similar to hers.

In her message, Mrs McCann said: “This year seems to have passed particularly quickly – a sign undoubtedly of a very busy year. It would still be a comfort if we could slow time just a little.

“Thankfully, however, there have been some very positive aspects with regards to Madeleine. The Metropolitan Police review becoming an investigation and, more recently, the reopening of the case in Portugal.

“We are incredibly relieved and buoyed by these developments and continue to hope for further collaboration in the near future with the possibility of a JIT (joint investigation team) between Portugal and the UK to enhance the search for our dear daughter.”

Madeleine, from Leicestershire, went missing from the holiday apartment in Portugal where she was sleeping with her two younger siblings as her parents dined nearby with friends. In the 17 days before she disappeared, there were two incidents in the McCanns’ block, one burglary and one attempted burglary. Police have said the possibility that Madeleine had been snatched by burglars as part of a bungled break-in was a key line of inquiry.

email paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk