Hunt for Madeleine scaled down

Police in Portugal prepare to call off search for three-year-old Madeleine

Portuguese police are preparing to call off their search in the area where three-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished eight days ago.

Investigators last night admitted that they had reached a dead end in the search of the area around Praia da Luz, the Algarve resort where the family were staying. ‘All the places have been checked. The results are zero,’ said Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa, who is leading the investigation.

Police are instead turning their attention to CCTV images of a blonde woman and two men seen with a girl matching Madeleine’s description at a petrol station on a road leading to the Spanish border. The car they were travelling in had British number plates. One of the male suspects has been positively identified as a man reported taking photographs of young blonde girls on the beach a week earlier – on the same day the McCann family were there.

Three British holidaymakers were today being interviewed by detectives and are believed to be helping to identify known sex offenders in the area. Two other Britons staying at the same complex as the McCann family have also been questioned after sniffer dogs allegedly traced a scent to their apartment.

On the eve of Madeleine’s fourth birthday tomorrow, father Gerry McCann told reporters today that he and wife Kate remained ‘positive and focused’ about the investigation – which has previously been criticised amid a perceived lack of communication. He said his family had been ‘very grateful’ and ‘moved’ by public support.

It will be of some comfort to the couple that Stephen Winyard, owner of Stobo Castle spa in Scotland, has offered a £1m reward for the safe return of the girl. ‘When I saw their faces, I felt frustrated that no one else had yet come forward offering a substantial reward,’ said the 57-year-old father-of-three, who lives in Monaco. ‘So [I] felt compelled to do so myself.’

David Beckham made a television appeal today for the safe return of Madeleine.

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