Madeleine case shelved - parents no longer suspects

Fourteen months after the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann, the Portuguese attorney general shelved the case on Monday, clearing the girl's parents and fellow Briton Robert Murat of involvement by lifting their status as official suspects.

No evidence had been found that Gerry and Kate McCann or Murat had committed "any crime," the office of attorney general Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro said in a press release.

The three were therefore no longer subjected to any bail measures, the communique said.

If new significant evidence emerged, however, the case could be reopened at the initiative of the attorney general, or at the request of any authorized person.

In Britain, the parents of Madeleine, who disappeared in the southern Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, expressed relief at being cleared of any involvement in the case.

Her parents were dining with friends nearby when the girl went msising just days before her fourth birthday.

"There is a degree of relief but no air of celebration whatsoever," said their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell.

"They are a wronged couple. They should never have been arguidos (suspects)," he added.

Since being named suspects by Portuguese police last September, Kate and Gerry McCann had to bear "this agony as well as the pain of losing their daughter."

The McCann's have said they will hand over the case documents to a team of private detectives in a renewed effort to find Madeleine.

"The main thing now is to get everything back to finding Madeleine. All of this has damaged their good reputations and they will have to assess where they go from here."

"The only thing they care about is finding Madeleine. We hope that the Portuguese authorities will continue to cooperate with their private investigation," the parents' spokesman said.

The McCann's said they hoped the search for Madeleine would now be given fresh impetus by people coming forward with information.

But the Portuguese report stressed that there is a "strong belief by British and Portuguese police that Madeleine is dead," London's Evening Standard newspaper said Monday.

The lengthy and complex investigations in Portugal were marked by mutual recriminations, with British media accusing the Portuguese police of incompetence, and newspapers in Portugal suggesting that the McCann's were responsible for the disappearance of Madeleine.

According to the Evening Standard, the attorney general's report contains a "strong condemnation" of Portuguese police for "paying to much attention to the media" while the massive search for Madeleine was going on in the summer of 2007.

But the officer leading the investigations at the time, again insisted Monday that Madeleine died inside the apartment.

"The evidence that we had gathered by the time that I left the case, pointed to the girl being dead - and having died inside the apartment. I don't know what happened next," Goncalo Amaral, who was sacked from the inquiry last October, told the BBC Monday.

Meanwhile in Britain, a former detective criticised the Portuguese authorities' decision to shelve the Madeleine case as "appalling" and "unacceptable."

"I don't believe 14 months into an investigation you can put it on the shelf. I think this is appalling," said child protection expert Mark Williams-Thomas.

While he agreed that the arguido status on Madeleine's parents and Murat should have been lifted, it was now questionable how much time the police would devote to searching for Madeleine.

"They have got to keep looking for Madeleine because if they aren't looking for her, who is?" said Williams-Thomas, dpa reported.

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