Madeleine mother Kate McCann fears killing charge

Mother made formal suspect but no charges filed as friend says police suggest girl's blood was found in car hired 25 days after her disappearance.

The mother of missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann was today named as a formal suspect in the disappearance of her daughter.

The development came as family friends of Kate McCann claimed the 39-year-old feared she was likely to be charged with Madeleine's death.

Clarence Mitchell, a family friend, told the Associated Press police had said to him that Gerry McCann would also later be named as a suspect.

His comments followed a claim that Mrs McCann had been asked by detectives to confess to accidentally killing her daughter.

In an interview with ITV News, Madeleine's aunt, Philomena McCann said: "They tried to get her to confess to having accidentally killed Madeleine by offering her a deal through her lawyer - 'if you say you killed Madeleine by accident and then hid her and disposed of the body, then we can guarantee you a two-year jail sentence or even less'."

Claims of a "deal" could not be confirmed with either Portuguese police or the McCanns' representatives tonight.

Mrs McCann spent almost five further hours at Portimao police station today before leaving at 3.55pm, with no charges immediately forthcoming.

This evening, Portuguese police formally announced they had identified a second suspect in the case. Under the country's law, they are not permitted to name their suspect, but it is understood to be Mrs McCann.

Detectives suggested to her during questioning yesterday that traces of her daughter's blood were found in a car the family first leased 25 days after the four-year-old had gone missing from their holiday apartment, Justine McGuinness, a family friend, said.

Mrs McCann told detectives there was "no way" Madeleine's blood could have been found inside the car and continued to protest her innocence, Ms McGuinness said.

Mr McCann, who arrived at the police station shortly before 3.40pm today to be questioned by detectives, earlier wrote in his blog that it was "ludicrous" to suggest his wife was involved in Madeleine's disappearance.

"Anyone who knows anything about the May 3 knows that Kate is completely innocent," he wrote. "We will fight this all the way, and we will not stop looking for Madeleine."

Mrs McCann had arrived at the police station shortly after 11am, just over 10 hours after she emerged following a marathon interview with detectives last night. She walked straight from her car to the police building without talking to reporters gathered outside.

While she was at the police station, Mrs McCann was declared an arguida - someone who has not been arrested or charged but is being treated by police as more than a witness.

"They [the police] believe they have evidence to show that in some way she [Mrs McCann] was involved in the death of her daughter," Ms McGuinness told the BBC.

"They have suggested that because blood has been found in a hire car that was hired 25 days after Madeleine was taken. They made a series of ridiculous allegations and she was absolutely horrified. Kate is a loving mother to her children and would never hurt them.

"There is a fear that she may be arrested for a crime that we have no idea was actually committed by anybody and that certainly she did not commit."

Ms McGuinness said Mrs McCann was asked a lot of detailed questions yesterday, but none were about the events of May 3, the day that Madeleine disappeared.

Philomena McCann, Mr McCann's sister, said the police claims were "ludicrous". "They are suggesting that Kate was somehow responsible for accidentally killing Madeleine and kept the body and then got rid of it. I have never heard anything so absolutely ludicrous in my life," she told Sky News.

Lita Gale, a Portuguese lawyer, said charges were more likely once a witness was declared an arguido - arguida in the case of a woman - but warned against speculation over the nature of any possible charges.

She said the tone of police questioning would change once someone was treated as an arguido, with sterner questions typically posed and more detailed answers expected.

Ms Gale said investigators would normally declare someone an arguido if they believed they had evidence to suggest that person had committed a crime.

She said that, under Portuguese law, it was very hard to secure a conviction relating to the death of a person when the person's body had not been found.

It is believed the change of status will allow police to ask Mrs McCann 22 specific questions about the disappearance of her daughter from the family's holiday apartment in the seaside town of Praia da Luz.

A family spokesman could not confirm what these questions were, or whether her husband would be made an arguido when he reported to the police station later today.

Yesterday's police interview was the first formal one for Mrs McCann since the day after Madeleine's disappearance.

She was accompanied by her lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, who told reporters that she was interviewed as a witness.

The decision to reinterview the couple appeared to be a direct consequence of test results sent from the Forensic Science Service, in Birmingham, late on Wednesday.

Portuguese police, who have remained tight-lipped during the investigation, said yesterday they had new evidence to work on.

"Part of the tests have arrived," a source close to the investigation told the Portuguese Lusa news agency.

Evidence analysed by the Birmingham laboratory reportedly included blood samples and other evidence gathered from the Ocean Club holiday apartment where the McCanns were staying when Madeleine disappeared.

The evidence was gathered when British officers helped their Portuguese counterparts carry out a review of the case three months after the disappearance.

The Portuguese press speculated yesterday that the scientific evidence strengthened theories that Madeleine may have died in the apartment on the night she disappeared.

However, there was no confirmation of that, and the respected Publico newspaper, while quoting unnamed police sources who were prepared to back the speculation, warned that previous leads had come to nothing.

In a statement yesterday, Mrs McCann said she still believed her daughter was alive. "I miss Madeleine so much," she said. "Gerry and I want to appeal again to the person or people who took her ... to do the right thing. It is not too late - please let her go or call the police."

Mrs McCann is the second official suspect in the case, along with the British expat Robert Murat, who lives close to where Madeleine vanished.


James Sturcke and James Orr

The GuardianTramp

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