The focus of attention in the Madeleine McCann saga is expected to shift uncomfortably back to Portugal soon with separate visits by members of the newly-formed special team from the Metropolitan Police and Madeleine's parents.
The groundwork for the visit by the Scotland Yard team was done by Joanna Kuenssberg O'Sullivan, Chargé d'Affaires at the British Embassy in Lisbon. Following discussions with her last week, Portugal's Judicial Police (PJ) offered to co-operate with the Met. The PJ will retain overall responsibility for the investigation, which was formally shelved in July 2008. The Met team will inject their “particular expertise” but it is not clear how that will be done, especially in view of the sensitivities of the case.
Critics in Britain, including two members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, have condemned the Met's involvement as politically motivated and a waste of money. They say it will deny justice to other victims of crime and wonder why the parents of other missing children abroad have not been given similar special treatment.
The Portuguese police have been heavily criticised in the past by the McCanns and the British press for their handling of the failed investigation and will probably not take kindly to any further insulting “we know best” attitudes from foreigners.
That said, there has been plenty of Portuguese-UK co-operation on this case since Madeleine disappeared in May 2007. An Embassy spokesperson told me that “the UK and the Portuguese authorities have been in close contact from the start, and this will continue.”
It is thought that the Met team, led by Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, will want to conduct a “cold case review”, which basically means going through all the paperwork again. They will be looking for any vital evidence, anything overlooked or not fully developed during the Portuguese inquiry.
The Portuguese edition of Kate McCann's book, Madeleine, is to be published in Portugal next Monday. According to a report in The Sun newpaper, Madeleine's parents will be in Lisbon for the launch. Neither the McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, nor a senior source within the company handling the launch could confirm this today.
Speaking about the Portuguese edition, Kate McCann has been quoted as saying, "I don't feel we have had the chance to tell our side of the story in Portugal yet. I am hoping people will read the book and realise what kind of people we are - loving parents."
Her husband added: “I think there are a lot of cultural differences and sometimes people there (in Portugal) didn't understand why we did certain things and the book will hopefully address that."
There has been little recent interest in the case in Portugal. The four-year-old Madeleine mystery is well down the list of concerns in a country wracked by an economic crisis which has brought about tax increases, pay cuts, job losses, rising unemployment plus the prospect of further austerity measures and two years of recession.
A three-year €78 billion bailout plan to avert bankruptcy was approved unanimously by European finance ministers yesterday, subject to a raft of tough conditions. That and the general election two weeks after the Portuguese Madeleine book launch are currently the most pressing matters here.