Disappearance of Madeleine Mc Cann/Archive 1 - Criticism of The Police

Criticism of The Police

There has been extensive criticism of the Portuguese police in the British media. It was reported that there were delays in obtaining and analysing forensic evidence, neither border nor marine police were given descriptions of Madeleine for many hours after she vanished, and officers had not been seen making extensive door-to-door inquiries. Critics allege that the scene had not been secured as tightly as it would have been in the UK and the lack of appeals for help and information has surprised British police experts.

It has emerged that the police failed to ask for surveillance pictures of vehicles leaving Praia da Luz at the time of Madeleine's disappearance nor of the road between Lagos and Vila Real de Santo António, on the Spanish border. Mark Williams-Thomas, a former Surrey detective and now a child protection expert, on 6 August described the initial forensic tests as "inept" and criticised the three-month delay in the Portuguese acceptance of the British offer of expert help. He said that the police should have sealed the apartment immediately, on day one, and then conducted a thorough forensic examination.

The Portuguese police have, however, been working under legal restrictions. For instance, they cannot release information because they are constrained by Article 86 of the Portuguese penal code that says information must not be released, apart from in exceptional circumstances, while the criminal investigation is still taking place.

Several Portuguese news media and opinion makers have criticised the massive police and law enforcement efforts, comparing it with the efforts used to help national victims in past similar affairs. Taking part were up to 180 Portuguese police officials and civil protection helicopters together with hundreds of villagers and holidaymakers, an effort never seen in the search for other child disappearances in the country.

Parallels have been drawn with the case of disappearance of another child, Joana Cipriano, who disappeared on 12 September 2004 from her home in the village of Figueira, seven miles (11 km) from where Madeleine was last seen. Chief investigating officer Guilhermino da Encarnação was also involved in that investigation, in which no body was found, but which ended with the conviction of Leonor and João Cipriano, Joana's mother and uncle. Since then Gonçalo Amaral and four other Portuguese police officers have been charged with offences. A judge decided, in February 2008, that Amaral will stand trial accused of falsifying evidence and covering up for the other four who are accused of torture.

The height of the man being sought by the police was given on the Portuguese press release as 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) but it mistakenly appeared as 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) the English version. Madeleine took a favourite toy to bed with her on the night she disappeared, on which an abductor could have left some trace of DNA evidence, but police did not check it. Then on 1 June 2007, June Hughes, from Glasgow, who had stayed in the apartment the previous week with her husband, expressed surprise that the police had not made any contact with them. Family members, on 9 June, complained of harassment by the police when they tried to put up 'missing' posters at Lisbon Airport. There were suggestions that the Portuguese authorities wanted to prevent these posters being displayed over concerns about damage to their tourist industry.

There was criticism that, on 6 June, two of the senior police officers involved in the case, Olegário de Sousa and Gonçalo Amaral, the head of the regional Polícia Judiciária, took a leisurely lunch and an observer commented that they laughed at what seemed to be an in-joke as the McCanns appeared on a television news broadcast. Olegário de Sousa defended their actions: "It is very, very sad but a person’s free time is for lunch," he said. "The persons are in charge in the day, they are working in the day but they must eat and drink, it is normal. I drink what I want to drink when I can drink." Gonçalo Amaral, in an interview given to the Diário de Notícias in October, said "The British police have only been working on that which the McCann couple want them to and which is most convenient for them." Subsequently the PJ's national director, Alípio Ribeiro, told journalists at a conference in Lisbon on 2 October, that Amaral's "commission of service has ceased". Amaral returned to his post in the PJ branch of Faro, the seat of the district. Tavares de Almeida, the deputy head of the inquiry, asked to be put on unpaid leave shortly before it was announced that he had been indicted over the alleged torture of a suspect in an unrelated investigation.

Richard Branson stepped into the debate on 15 October 2007. Branson, who has contributed £100,000 to the McCanns' defence fund, criticised the Portuguese police and press for 'overstepping their mark' by accusing the McCanns of involvement in the disappearance.

Read more about this topic:  Disappearance Of Madeleine Mc Cann/Archive 1

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