New lead in Madeleine McCann case

Last updated 15:06 04/01/2014
Madeleine McCann
MYSTERY: Madeleine McCann disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz as her parents dined at a nearby restaurant.

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A three-man burglary gang are the new prime suspects in the abduction of Madeleine McCann.

British police have identified three men after analysis of mobile phone data suggested a burglary gang was operating very near to where she vanished in Portugal in May 2007, the Daily Mail reported.

The three men made an unusually high number of calls to each other in the hours after Madeleine was reported missing from her holiday flat in the Algarve.

Three days before that they had botched a raid in the resort of Praia da Luz, disturbing a child.

That child's parents, who had been drinking outside the property, rushed inside to find the intruders had fled.

In a glaring oversight, Portuguese police attached no significance to the break-in, which British detectives said was a "disgrace", the Mail reported.

Following the British police's phone breakthrough, informal discussions have taken place about arresting the three burglars and searching their homes and other sites.

It is believed background checks have taken place into their criminal history, their circle of friends and relatives and the vehicles they have used.

British detectives believe the burglars may have panicked after they woke Madeleine up by mistake and decided to take her away with them.

The Mail quoted an informed source as saying: "After all the far-fetched theories about what may have happened to Madeleine, there may be a far more simple explanation: that a burglary went horribly wrong. 

"It is the main line of inquiry for British police."

Efforts to arrest the men have been hampered by a failure of British and Portuguese police to cooperate on the case.

Portuguese police will not agree to a joint investigation and because none of the burglars are British, British police cannot arrest them in Portugal and need the full co-operation of local police to pursue the inquiry.

Behind the scenes, highly sensitive diplomatic discussions were taking place to resolve the issue so that British detectives can be based in Portugal, the Mail said.

According to British police, the phone records were looked at by the Portuguese police investigation but in no detail.

British police announced it was launching an investigation into Madeleine's disappearance in July - after spending two years reviewing the case under the codename Operation Grange.

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Madeleine, whose parents Gerry and Kate live in Leicestershire, England, was days away from her fourth birthday when she was abducted.

Earlier this week it emerged that the bill for the police's probe has topped £6million (NZ$12m). The total is now likely to exceed £10m (NZ$20m), with £88,000 (NZ$164,000) having gone on travel costs so far.

- Stuff

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