Madeleine 'died in her bedroom'

MADELEINE McCann was not kidnapped but died in her bedroom as a result of negligence or murder, it was claimed yesterday.

In a dramatic development, Portuguese detectives are to re-interview her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, together with six friends who dined together at a restaurant near the McCanns' holiday apartment on the night she disappeared, senior police sources were quoted as saying.

And, according to reports, the friends have all been placed under surveillance by British police, following a request from their Portuguese counterparts.

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The investigation took an unexpected turn earlier this week following the reported discovery of blood specks, suspected to be from Madeleine, on the walls of her bedroom in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz.

A UK sniffer-dog team, which it is believed picked up the scent on Monday, reportedly checked cars used by the McCanns and their friends, David and Dr Fiona Payne, Russell O'Brien and partner Jane Tanner, and Matthew and Rachel Oldfield.

Portuguese newspapers reported detectives suspect the four-year-old was not abducted, but was accidentally killed in the holiday flat on 3 May.

Last night, a statement from a Portuguese police spokesman

said: "There are some indications she had not been alive when she was taken."

But he added the theory that she was alive when she was taken could not be discounted. He said other people could be interviewed by the end of the week.

Diario De Noticias, a respected broadsheet, said Portuguese detectives had known for the past month that Madeleine had died on 3 May, and it said they had "definitively abandoned" the kidnapping theory.

The newspaper Jornal De Noticias reported that one sniffer dog detected traces of blood on a wall at the family apartment, while another dog picked up the scent of a dead body. The blood traces are being examined by DNA specialists and tested against Madeleine's genetic profile.

The Jornal De Noticias reported: "The discoveries made by the sniffer dogs strongly support the theory that [Madeleine] died in her parents' hotel room, either - as Portuguese detectives believe - the victim of an unexplained accident, or the victim of a crime. The theory that she was kidnapped seems more and more remote."

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Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, of the investigative Policia Judiciara, said it was the "official position" that the McCanns were not suspects.

The sniffer-dog team, believed to be from Leicestershire Police, is trying to establish whether the scent in the room could be tracked to any other location. It spent several hours on Monday in a sealed-off underground car park in Lagos, five miles from Praia da Luz.

Last night, Madeleine's parents reaffirmed their belief that their daughter was still alive. A spokeswoman for the McCanns, from Rothley, Leicestershire, said they found some of the articles "very hurtful".

The couple said they continued to "hope and pray" for a breakthrough in the investigation "every single day".

Asked about the reports that blood was found in the flat, Mr McCann, a cardiologist originally from Glasgow, said he could not comment on details of the police inquiry, and added:

"We would never jeopardise the investigation. It's critical for people to realise that.

"On numerous occasions Portuguese police have assured us they were looking for Madeleine alive and not Madeleine having been murdered," he said.

"I don't know of any information that's changed that."

Fresh concerns over handling of case by local police

IT IS a case that has captured the imagination of the world's media, striking fear into the heart of every parent.

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But as the 100-day marker of Madeleine McCann's disappearance approaches, reports that it took detectives 13 weeks to uncover vital forensic evidence have cast a shadow over Portuguese investigators.

The police handling of the investigation has come under renewed scrutiny, with reports that traces of blood lay undetected in the McCanns' holiday flat for more than three months.

Experts claim Portuguese police have failed Madeleine, with accusations of gross incompetence levelled at those leading the inquiry.

Mark Williams Thomas, a former British detective who worked on the Sarah Payne inquiry, said: "It is great British police have carried out a review, but you have to ask why it has taken three months to happen. It makes a mockery of the Portuguese investigation.

"The longer you leave it, the harder it is to obtain evidence."

From the outset, concerns were raised about the ability of the Portuguese authorities to deal with an inquiry of this magnitude. Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, right, of the Policia Judiciara, had to face an increasingly hostile press, who were desperate for a fresh development in the case.

Detectives have been accused of many errors, including a failure to "lock down" the resort immediately after Madeleine was reported missing.