Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Briton suspect in Madeleine hunt



The villa is owned by Jenny Murat and used by son Robert




Casa Liliana, sealed off by police looking for Madeleine McCann
The sealed off single-storey building is known as Casa Liliana
A British man questioned over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal is being treated as a suspect.

He is believed to be Robert Murat, who shares a villa with his mother Jenny in Praia da Luz, Algarve.

The man has been given "arguido", or suspect, status - but may have requested this for the rights it gives.

Officers have searched the villa close to where four-year-old Madeleine of Rothley, Leicestershire, was last seen and questioned three people.

Under the Portuguese legal system, people who are questioned are not arrested but treated as witnesses.

Arrests can only be made when police designate someone as an arguido.

But a person may also ask for the arguido process to be invoked as it gives them specific protection such as access to a lawyer and the right to remain silent.

Map of locations

BBC correspondent Richard Bilton said a British man in his 30s has been given arguido status.

It is understood the other people to be questioned were a German woman and a Portuguese man.

'Alibi'

The search of the property known as Casa Liliana began at 0700 local time on Monday after Sunday Mirror journalist Lori Campbell had spoken to the British Embassy and the police about Mr Murat.

He had become well known to journalists during the search for Madeleine.

Jenny and Robert Murat
The villa is owned by Jenny Murat and used by son Robert

Mr Murat, formerly of Hockering, Norfolk, describes himself as half-Portuguese and told reporters he had been helping police with translation work during the investigation.

Mr Murat's mother is a former nurse who has lived in Portugal for 40 years and brought her son and daughter up in the country.

When asked by the BBC on Monday why the villa was being searched, Mrs Murat replied: "I don't know why."

She then said she was "not allowed" to speak to reporters, before moving away.

Mrs Murat, 71, believed to be a widow, has been running a stall on the seafront in Praia da Luz, appealing for information from the public about Madeleine's disappearance.


His mother says that on the night the kid disappeared they were both in the house together all night
Ralph Eveleigh, Robert Murat's uncle

Catherine Roberts, a friend of the family in Portugal, said: "Jenny is very well known around here - she has lived here most of her life.

"And the family has a very good reputation and a very good name."

Mr Murat's uncle, Ralph Eveleigh, told the BBC his nephew had an alibi for the night Madeleine went missing.

"His mother says that on the night the kid disappeared they were both in the house together all night," he said.

Officers in white suits with facemasks were seen at the Murat's villa and in its grounds on Monday evening.

It is believed the search has included draining its swimming pool.

'Concrete evidence'

Last week searches were scaled back in the area immediately around the holiday apartment where Madeleine was last seen on 3 May.

The focus had shifted to an international child abduction inquiry, amid suggestions she may have been taken out of Portugal.

Madeleine is believed to have been abducted while her parents were eating at a tapas bar.

On Monday, her parents Kate and Gerry McCann said they would not return to the UK until Madeleine was found safe and well.

Mr McCann, who is originally from Glasgow, said the couple would continue to believe she was being cared for until they received "concrete evidence to the contrary".

He said they had drawn "tremendous strength from the warmth and the spiritual outpouring" the couple had received from around the world.

British ambassador to Portugal John Buck said there were "impressive resources" being devoted to the investigation and praised the "truly exceptional" collaboration between the Portuguese and British police.

Rewards totalling £2.5m have been offered to anyone with information leading to the safe return of Madeleine, who was four on Saturday.

A "fighting fund" to which members of the public can donate to help in the search for Madeleine is also being set up by her family's lawyers.

The international number for Crimestoppers is +44 1883 731 336. People with information about Madeleine can call anonymously.