Queenstown police this morning said the reported sighting of Madeleine McCann on New Year's Eve was not the missing British girl.
Detective Sergeant Brian Cameron said police identified the young girl spotted in Queenstown and were ''absolutely satisfied'' she was not Madeleine.
He declined to release any details of the identified child, stating only that this was not the first occasion that someone had contacted police remarking on the similarity between the two girls.
Detectives and police started investigating on New Year's Eve after a report of a possible sighting by a retailer who became suspicious of a man and a young fair-headed girl who bore a striking resemblance to Madeleine.
Senior Sergeant John Fookes, of Queenstown, confirmed police were alerted to the possible sighting late in the afternoon on New Year's Eve.
The 70 police officers patrolling the resort on New Year's Eve were told to keep an eye out for the man and little girl but they were not found, Mr Fookes said.
Detective Sergeant Cameron said there was contact between the Metropolitan police in Britain and Queenstown police.
The Southland Times was alerted to the sighting and investigation on New Year's Eve but delayed publishing the story until police had the opportunity to follow up on the lead in case publicity scuppered the investigation.
Three-year-old Madeleine went missing from the Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007 while on holiday with her parents Kate and Gerry, and siblings Sean and Amelie.
The woman who reported the sighting told The Southland Times she immediately thought of Madeleine when the young blond-haired girl came into her store with a man on New Year's Eve.
"She had the same eye defect as Madeleine. Only a very small percentage of the population have that and I was just staring at it the whole time to the point I forgot what they had purchased.
"As soon as they left, I looked up an image online to see which eye
it was and it was the same eye," she said.
Madeleine has a blemish on her right eye called a coloboma of the iris. Figures suggest it occurs in about 0.007 per cent of the population.
The woman said neither the girl nor the dark-haired man she was with spoke while being served.
After the pair left her store, the woman alerted a passing police patrol.
"My only reason for alerting anybody is because if my little girl was missing and if someone on the other side of the world was seen who bore any considerable resemblance, I would want it ruled out."
The woman also called the 24-hour Find Madeleine hotline but was unable to reach anyone to report the possible sighting until New Year's Day.
"They thanked me and said they would be in touch if they needed anything else."
As a result of the call to the hotline, British police have also been in contact with the woman.
Police have been given clear CCTV footage taken from several angles inside the store.
It is not the first time a possible sighting of Madeleine has been reported in New Zealand. In December 2007, a CCTV video taken from The Warehouse in South Dunedin showed a girl who looked like the missing child being led into the store by a man. More than two years later, Dunedin police identified the girl and confirmed she was not Madeleine.
Last week, Kate McCann posted an update on the findmadeleine. com website thanking everyone who still held her daughter in their hearts and encouraged the public to continue to be vigilant.
"As Madeleine's parents, we won't be able to rest until we know that all that can be feasibly done to find her, and the person who took her, has been done."
"We are very aware that without public help it will be virtually impossible to find Madeleine."
In April, Scotland Yard released a photograph of her as she might look today as a 9-year-old.
At the time, the force also urged the Portuguese judiciary to reopen the case into Madeleine's disappearance.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who led a Metropolitan police review into the case, said he wanted the case reopened to establish what happened and ultimately to bring closure by solving the case.
"We genuinely believe there is a possibility she is alive," Mr Redwood said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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