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Madeleine McCann's parents hope to be cleared

By Caroline Gammell and Fiona Govan
Last Updated: 5:10pm GMT 28/11/2007

Kate and Gerry McCann believe they will be effectively cleared of any connection with their daughter’s disappearance after tomorrow's crunch meeting between British and Portuguese forensic scientists, a close friend has said.

More on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann
The couple, who are official suspects in the case, are convinced that the DNA evidence gathered in connection with Madeleine will show they had nothing to do with what happened.

Telegraph TV: Portuguese experts have flown to Britain over the McCanns' DNA samples
Five Portuguese investigators flew to the UK today for the face-to-face conference with scientists from the Birmingham-based Forensic Science Service and Leicestershire Police.

They will discuss scientific evidence collected from the Ocean Club apartment in Oraia da Luz where she vanished on May 3 and from the Renault Scenic car hired 25 days later by her parents.

It has been claimed that Madeleine’s hair, bodily fluid and even blood were present in the car, but forensic specialists hired by her parents - who carried out their own investigations - have already concluded that no such traces were found.

The friend said: "We think the Portuguese police are going to have to come away from this and assess very hard where they are.

"They are not going to say they have got it wrong, but they will probably look for a long term exit strategy. We want them to accept that there is no way that the McCanns were in any way involved.

"They should now refocus on the abduction. What we hope is that something positive will come from this meeting."

The four-strong team from Portugal - thought to include Policia Judiciaria officer Ricardo Praia, two police forensic experts and Francisco Corte Real, the vice president of the National Pathology Institute - touched down at East Midlands airport at midday today.

Paulo Rebelo, the 45-year-old detective leading the investigation, was not among those on the three-day trip. The group will meet five members of the FSS and Detective Superintendent Stuart Prior from Leicestershire Police at an unidentified location on Thursday.

It is the first time all three agencies have met in Britain, more than 200 days after Madeleine disappeared from Praia da Luz in May.

A spokeswoman from Leicestershire Constabulary said: "There is a meeting taking place but it is not due to any specific development.

"There has been excellent dialogue between the British and the Portuguese authorities but they found it was time to have a face-to-face meeting.

"They are not going to be speaking to anyone else while they are in the UK, they are just here for the meeting."

Kate and Gerry McCann were informed of the trip but the couple will not be involved in the visit.

A source close to the Portuguese inquiry said investigators wanted to find out more about the results and analysis obtained by the FSS.

Local newspaper 24 Horas quoted an insider who said: "The team going to the UK is going to examine everything microscopically. Portuguese police have already indicated they expect the DNA tests to be "indicative" rather than "conclusive" but are said to be frustrated at the delay.

"We cannot understand how the tests which could have been carried out in Portugal in six or seven days have taken almost four months to be concluded," a source told the paper.

"We are all for international cooperation but there are reasonable deadlines for the conclusions of the tests and in the Madeleine case these have been greatly surpassed."

In the past, the FSS have defended the time the tests have taken, saying some of the samples were of very poor quality as they were collected so long after Madeleine’s abduction. British scientists travelled to the Algarve in July.

UK sources said the Portuguese group would not visit the laboratories where the DNA work has been carried out.

The McCann’s spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: "We have been informed by Leicestershire Police that a meeting between forensic scientists from Portugal and the Forensic Science Service (FSS) will be taking place in Leicestershire in the near future.

"We understand there is no intention for the McCanns to be interviewed, or indeed anyone else.

"Such a meeting should not be seen as surprising. We do not see it as a significant development."

The value of the DNA evidence in Madeleine’s case has been confusing, with sources offering differing opinions on its importance.

One theory is that Madeleine was killed in the family apartment and then disposed of in another location.

Portuguese detectives are said to be keen to re-interview the McCanns and the seven friends who dined with them on the night Madeleine vanished, but public prosecutor Jose Magalhaes e Menezes has refused to sanction further moves against the couple.

It has been reported that he is waiting for the full forensic results before deciding whether to pursue a case against them.

Meanwhile, questions were raised over how long they could continue to hunt for their daughter after it emerged that donations to the Find Madeleine campaign had all but dried up.

Almost £1.1m has been raised since Madeleine went missing but more than £300,000 will be spent on the huge contract awarded to Metodo 3, the Spanish detective agency, hired by the McCanns in September.

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