by Valentina Marcelino and Paula Carmo
Four Scotland Yard investigators were gathered yesterday with senior Polícia Judiciária (PJ) officers in the Algarve to work on the details of a further step of the investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance. The visit of the English police officers to Portugal comes following a request for judicial assistance from the British authorities to question three suspects, who at the time of the disappearance of the girl, in 2007, were referenced in burglaries in the Praia da Luz area.
A source from the PJ's Directorate confirmed to the DN [Diário de Notícias acronym] the presence of elements from the Metropolitan Police at the Judiciary Police headquarters of Faro, but did not disclose further details. At the meeting was also present Luís Mota Carmo, the head of the PJ directorate of Faro, who listened to the justifications of the English that lead to the suspicions about those three individuals. Until the closing of this edition no conclusions were yet known, namely of when and where will the suspects be heard.
In accordance to the rules of judicial cooperation agreements, a foreign police cannot investigate in the national territory. For example, in case the questioning is performed, it will always be the PJ inspectors leading it, albeit with the British watching. The questions were already sent in detail in the letter rogatory and intend to learn from the suspects the reasons of them being in that area, at that time and that day. This new investigative line, that is being attempted by the British authorities, emerged after they cross-referenced phone records made at the time of the disappearance of the child, in that area, which led to new suspects.
According to what was reported in recent days by the English newspapers, the visit of the British investigators has as goal “to make the first arrests” since Scotland Yard decided to re-analyse the case in 2011, referred to as Operation Grange. The push for this decision has been assumed by the team leader, DCI Andy Redwood, who has already expressed his belief that “Maddie” could be alive.
This time the targets are, and still according to the British press, three men, authors of several burglaries in the area of Praia da Luz. The phone traffic data shows that these suspects did “numerous phone calls to each other” in the time period in which Madeleine was reported as missing from the apartment where she was holidaying with her parents and siblings. The Metropolitan Police was “eager” to question these burglars and went to Portugal with the goal of making the first arrests, reported the Daily Mirror last Friday.
All the traffic data that was analysed thoroughly by the British police had also been scrutinized by the PJ during the investigation that was later archived in 2008. Although it was not possible to obtain, up to now, information from the PJ about whether the three suspects had already been heard in that initial investigation, as a rule of thumb, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) only gives positive response to letters rogatory when the steps requested by foreign authorities were not carried out during another investigation. In other words, the acceptance of the English request could mean that these three suspected robbers who were referenced as being close to the crime scene were never heard by the Judiciary Police.
Clarence Mitchell, the spokesman of the couple Kate and Gerry McCann told the Daily Mirror yesterday that the acceptance of the letter rogatory by the PGR represents a significant development and that “It is necessary for British police to request the Portuguese authorities allow them to operate on their turf. It means they have the intention of arresting and interviewing X, Y or Z”. The spokesman of Madeleine's parents added “Whether the Portuguese will co-operate remains to be seen. It is a very sensitive issue with differences they have had.”.
In August last year, the PJ was also mandated by the Public Ministry, to comply with another letter rogatory, with a wide set of steps that resulted from Operation Granger. At the time, the British police had announced the identification of 41 suspects, 12 of them British nationals. These were also referenced through the analysis of traffic data. Apart from Portugal, Scotland Yard submitted letters rogatory to thirty other countries, most of them European countries. All these steps have a practical purpose for the English: to scrutinize all hypotheses until exhaustion so that, in case suspicions are not confirmed, any conclusion will be fully supported.
How can a foreign police make an investigation in Portugal? They cannot. Therefore, as in this case, the authorities of the countries who want any type of investigative step to be pursued in another State must submit a request expressed in the designated letter rogatory, asking for the intended judicial assistance.
Who executes the request for judicial assistance of a foreign police? Letters rogatory are addressed to the Attorney General's Office (PGR), which analyses them and then decides on their admissibility. Once accepted, the Attorney General's Office sends them to the court in the area where the requested steps will be carried out. Then it is up to prosecutors of the Public Ministry to appoint which police authority will perform them, almost always the Judiciary Police, since most crimes subject to letters rogatory pertain to the investigative field that is the area of competence of that police force.
What if the requested investigation steps have already been carried out in other investigations made in that country? The investigative steps that are required to be accepted by the Attorney General's Office cannot have taken place under the scope of other investigations. When, for example, a search is requested for a specific place or when it is requested that a suspect is questioned which in the view of the requesting authority may have an important testimony to the resolution of a case, and those steps have to be done for the first time.
Can foreign police officers question or arrest suspects or make searches in Portugal? Not in any way. The entire execution of the investigative steps requested in letters rogatory must be the responsibility of the national criminal police force in the country of destination. In this case, in the application for judicial assistance that was sent to the PGR, where the Scotland Yard asks for three suspects to be questioned, it will be the PJ inspectors that will lead that questioning. The questions have to come previously outlined in the letter rogatory. The English police officers may attend the session but they cannot intervene.
in Diário de Notícias (paper edition), January 29, 2014
TVI, broadcast on 29 Jan. 2014
Marisa Rodrigues (Voice Over) - The images captured by a British newspaper show four Scotland Yard detectives in Faro for another meeting at the Polícia Judiciária. On the table, the next steps of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a set of steps defined jointly with the heads of the PJ Directorate of Faro and of the Criminal Investigation Department of Portimão. A meeting that takes place following a letter rogatory for a number of investigative steps requested by the English detectives. The most urgent, to question three men that worked in the Ocean Club, in Praia da Luz at the time when the girl disappeared. The British investigation classifies the men as 'people of interest' because they made a high and abnormal number of phone calls on the night of May 3, 2007. It is also requested that searches are made and bank statements analysed. The British press writes that the detectives believe that Madeleine is alive and want to make arrests, however arrest warrants weren't issued and the PJ does not give any explanations.
Marisa Rodrigues - It is not the first time that a meeting similar to this one takes place, the English authorities request them frequently and the PJ accepts them. It is not yet certain that the British detectives will come to the Algarve to accompany the investigative steps, no request was made in that regard to the National Directorate of the Judiciary Police. The image is by Marcos Soares Pereira, Marisa Rodrigues, TVI.