Madeleine: The missing six hours that baffle police
Where was Kate between last photo and arrival at tapas bar?Last updated at 12:11pm on 21st September 2007
Police in the McCann investigation are focusing on a six-hour period before Madeleine disappeared which they believe holds the key to the case.
According to the Daily Mail's sister paper, the Evening Standard, senior Portuguese police source says they cannot confirm the whereabouts of Kate McCann and her daughter between 2.29pm - when the last photograph of the girl was taken - and 8.30pm when her mother arrived at a tapas bar for dinner.
The only witness to Mrs McCann's whereabouts is her husband, police sources said. A senior Policia Judiciaria source said Mrs McCann's afternoon is at the centre of their inquiry. Madeleine and the two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie, were dropped off that morning at the creche in the Ocean Club apartment complex as they were every day of the week-long holiday. They were picked up at midday and it is understood the McCanns, both named by Portuguese-police as suspects in their daughter's disappearance, then took Madeleine and the twins for a picnic lunch. They spent time at the beach before returning to their hotel.
Detectives say that the last picture of Madeleine was taken by her mother at 2.29pm that day as she played by the pool in the apartment complex. According to the Policia Judiciaria source, Mrs McCann has told officers she was at the pool all afternoon while her husband took part in a tennis event inside the complex with friends.
The source told the Standard: "Kate said she was at the pool side all afternoon but we are not satisfied with this.
"Until now we have no witnesses to confirm that. This is the main focus of our investigation at the moment. Where was Kate between the time she took the picture of Madeleine and the time she went to dinner with her husband in the tapas bar?
"This is a crucial six hours that as yet has no explanation. We now believe she could have gone missing during this period."
The McCanns and their friends - Matthew and Rachael Oldfield, David and Fiona Payne and her mother Dianne Webster, and Russell O'Brien and his partner Jane Tanner - dined at the tapas bar in the apartment complex each evening during the holiday.
On 3 May the McCanns were first at the table, arriving at 8.40pm. They were joined by the Oldfields at 8.45pm with the rest of the party following. Mr McCann made his first check on his children at 9.05pm and Mr Oldfield volunteered to go on behalf of the McCanns at 9.30pm. He entered the apartment through the unlocked patio doors but rather than entering the children's bedroom listened for any noise at the door.
Mrs McCann's was the next to check on the children at 10pm. It was then that she raised the alarm.
According to the Portuguese police source, none of the friends remember seeing Madeleine since midday that day and none could confirm that Mrs McCann was at the pool for most of the afternoon either.
A man carrying a child was spotted by Ms Tanner at about 9.15pm walking away from the apartment and in the direction of the villa where Robert Murat, the only other named suspect in the case, lives with his mother.
The McCanns are said to be convinced that Ms Tanner saw Madeleine because she described the pyjamas the girl was wearing before being told the description of those worn by Madeleine and they matched.
But the police source said he was unsure of the reliability of the statement. He said: "These are people who spent a lot of time with their friends yet no one saw Madeleine or Kate for much of that day.
"We are very doubtful that Madeleine disappeared when the McCanns were at dinner. It is highly likely she was gone at some point during those six hours we know nothing about. As far as we are concerned Gerry and Kate are suspects in this investigation."
Previous reports have suggested that the McCanns and their children were with the rest of the party at the Paradiso restaurant at 6pm close to the beach at Praia da Luz. But friends say the family had not joined them that day.
Mark Williams-Thomas, a former British detective who worked on the Sarah Payne murder inquiry, said: "The last person to see Madeleine is absolutely vital to this investigation.
"If the police are saying the last picture of Madeleine is the last time she was seen, then they have to establish what went on in the hours in between this and when she was reported missing. This could definitely be the focus of the inquiry."
He said that if Madeleine was abducted, he believes she would have been snatched after wandering out of the apartment. "I firmly believe she was not taken from the apartment," said Mr Williams-Thomas. "If this is an abduction, she must have woken up, wandered off looking for her parents and was kidnapped by someone who was presented with an easy opportunity to snatch a child."