McCann family face backlash in Portugal

The parents of missing Madeleine McCann showed signs of strain today as they faced a growing backlash in Portugal.

The lawyer of the only suspect in the case criticised their “strange” behaviour in leaving their children alone on the night the young girl vanished.

And Portuguese newspapers repeated “hurtful” claims that detectives now believe Madeleine was killed in the McCann holiday flat rather than abducted.

Kate and Gerry McCann have moved to a new apartment in the Algarve village of Praia da Luz, where their four-year-old daughter disappeared on May 3.

But this week they have been besieged by a “huge gaggle” of Portuguese media outside their new accommodation, a family spokesman said.

The couple today stopped their daily routine of taking their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie to the creche at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz.

The move followed concerns about photographers and film crews taking pictures of their children and disturbing holidaymakers using the child-minding facility.

The Ocean Club took the step of issuing a statement pleading for journalists to leave the McCanns alone.

It read: “(The McCanns) do not want to cause undue disruption to holidaymakers, or to locals living in the village, as a result of filming and photography by the media.

“They have therefore decided not to use the creche facilities at the Ocean Club while there is such a significant media presence.

“This means that they will not be coming to the Club with their children for the foreseeable future and would like to ask the media to respect their privacy and that of those on holiday in the village.”

Francisco Pagarete, lawyer of Robert Murat, the only suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance, said today he thought it “strange” that parents would leave their children alone in a foreign country.

Mr and Mrs McCann left their three children asleep in their apartment on May 3 while they ate with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant.

The couple have strongly defended their judgment that it was safe to leave their children alone, with Mrs McCann saying they were “at worst” naive.

Mr Pagarete said: “I think it’s not normal for someone to leave their kids alone.

The lawyer stressed that this was his “private opinion” and had nothing to do with his involvement in the case.

Explaining his comments, Mr Pagarete said he was simply reporting the words of local residents who were suffering financially because of the dip in tourism following Madeleine’s disappearance.

Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, of Portugal’s investigative Policia Judiciaria (PJ), stressed this week that the family were not suspects.

The family spokesman said today: “Some of the statements which have been made that the police now regard it as definitely a murder case rather than abduction, we regard as speculation because that is not what the police are saying to the McCanns.”

Family friends said they were disgusted at what they said was a smear campaign against them.

Rachael Oldfield, who ate with the McCanns on the night Madeleine disappeared, told the Evening Standard that some newspaper reports were completely inaccurate.

She said: “I think there are some leaks coming from the police because a lot of what I have read recently has been completely untrue.

“Whether a journalist has had a bit of information and made the rest up, or the police are feeding some truths or untruths, I just don’t know.”

Portugal’s strict “segredo de justica” – or secrecy of justice – laws severely restrict what can be said publicly about an ongoing investigation.

Portuguese police have repeatedly refused to confirm or deny reports and say they do not brief journalists on the progress of the hunt for Madeleine.

But a stream of stories quoting anonymous “police sources”, sometimes proving to be uncannily accurate, have appeared in Portuguese papers.

Police are waiting for the results of tests carried out on traces of blood recovered from the wall of Madeleine’s holiday apartment.

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