More like the police than the police - new tactics in hunt for Madeleine
IT HAD all the features of an official police press conference: a solemn appeal for sightings, delivered with detective-speak phrases such as "eliminating suspects in the investigation".
However, the man standing behind the lectern was not a senior policeman but a PR consultant hired by a family determined to find answers even if it means going it alone.
Eight months on from the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the private-investigation team sanctioned by her parents is increasingly employing the rhetoric and methodology of the police.
Yesterday, in what Kate and Gerry McCann hope will spark a breakthrough, the couple's official spokesman released, for the first time, an image of a suspect to the media and public.
The distribution of the artist's impression, created by Melissa Little, an FBI-accredited police artist hired by the McCann team, spoke volumes not only about the family's resolve, but their frustration with the official investigation.
The language of Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns' public face, was unequivocal as he addressed the media from a lectern in a London hotel. "Who is he? Where is he? What, if any, is his connection to Madeleine's disappearance?" he said. "If he is innocent, we want him to come forward for his own sake so he can be ruled out. We believe this man could be linked to Madeleine's disappearance."
One former senior officer with Strathclyde Police suggested the family's approach was designed to keep public interest in the case buoyant, but said they may still have to rely on the resources of the police.
He said: "The language and the presentation that are being used imitate the police thanks to their PR people. They know that's a good way to catch the public's eye. It's an authoritative approach and it captures people's attention. I don't think there's any real policing expertise, though.
"I'd say it's highly unlikely they have anywhere near the resources of an active policing force. The parents don't know how to conduct an investigation and they're dependent on people they are hiring, who, in some cases, may not be best suited for the job. I think, as time goes on, it's unlikely they will find any new information on their own, outside of the chance someone will respond to this kind of public appeal."
In any case, it appears Mr Mitchell's tactics yesterday were borne largely out of dissatisfaction at the apparent impotency and silence of the Portuguese police, though he was careful not to cast aspersions: "We're not going to criticise the police in any form – they have got a difficult enough job. It seems drawings of this sort are not done as a matter of course in Portugal."
Nonetheless, the private investigation now appears to be regarded by the McCanns as their best hope of tracing their daughter. Having secured the image of the suspect, their team has now drawn up an action plan for how they want the investigation to proceed.
Firstly, they want a worldwide search, co-ordinated by a central phone number manned by their private-detective agency to identify and locate the man in the sketches. All information would be passed on to the Portuguese police.
Secondly, they want a full review of all police records and witness statements, including one taken from a 12-year-old girl who reported sightings of a strange man in the Portuguese resort in May last year.
Thirdly, Mr Mitchell called for complete cooperation between the Portuguese police, Interpol and the authorities in Spain, Morocco and Britain.
With tension between the McCanns and the Portuguese police still evident, the latter demand may not be straightforward. Worse still, they appear to be getting little return on the 50,000 a month being paid out to Metodo 3, the Barcelona-based private-detective agency.
'DISTURBING' MAN IS NEW SUSPECT
THE new suspect in the case of Madeleine McCann's disappearance was spotted by a holidaymaker three times walking around the complex where the four-year-old was last seen.
The sketch was based on an interview with Gail Cooper, a grandmother from Nottinghamshire, who originally gave a statement to police in May last year.
Mrs Cooper described seeing an olive-skinned man with collar-length scraggly hair acting suspiciously on a number of occasions.
On 20 April, Mrs Cooper said, she saw the man walking by himself in heavy rain on the deserted beach at Praia da Luz. Later the same afternoon, Mrs Cooper said she received a visit from the same man, whom she described as "disturbing".
Two days later, Mrs Cooper saw the same man hanging around a children's outing to the beach organised by the Mark Warner resort.