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McCanns are 'wasting fund cash on Madeleine hunt in Morocco'

Kate and Gerry McCann were accused today of wasting “astonishing” sums of money raised by public donations by looking for their missing daughter Madeleine in Morocco.

Private investigators, paid £50,000 a month to find the girl, have always maintained she is alive after being kidnapped to order by a paedophile gang and taken to north Africa.

Barcelona-based agency Metodo 3 has invested huge sums in teams checking out reported sightings of Madeleine in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco and in Marrakesh in the south.

One theory is that the three-year-old was abducted and brought here after vanishing from the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz while on a family holiday on 3 May.

But an Evening Standard investigation shows this suggestion is almost certainly a myth fuelled by tourists who have mistaken blonde local girls in Rif for Madeleine.

Blondes are quite common among the Berber population but rare enough for them to stand out among the darkhaired and dark-skinned majority.

Sources close to the McCanns conceded today that Metodo 3's investigations in north Africa were based purely on sightings but insisted each one had to be checked out.

Meanwhile, the Madeleine Fund, set up to find the girl, is running out of the estimated £1 million raised from donations.

Mark Williams-Thomas, a former detective and managing director of child protection consultancy WT Associates, said: “It is an astonishing amount of money that is being spent focusing on Morocco.

"There is a big difference between a sighting and information. Unless you have definite information that suggests she is in Morocco then it seems pointless.

“The likelihood of Madeleine being taken out of Portugal is very slim. I would be concentrating more on Portugal than anywhere else. To me, it holds the key.”

George Joffe, a professor at King's College London and an expert on north Africa, said: “It strikes me as wishful thinking that Madeleine is in Morocco. The fact is, blonde, blue-eyed children in northern Morocco are not uncommon. It is not an indication they are stolen.”

All through the Rif mountains and found blonde girls are to be seen.

In the town of Chefchaouen a reporter spotted Aya, who is the same age as Madeleine. Her father, a farmer, was amused when showed a photograph of the missing girl and pointed out her similarity to his daughter.

He said: “It is easy to see how a tourist might think this is Madeleine but there are plenty of blonde children here.”

In the village of Souk-el-Arba-des-Beni- Hassan men gathered round to view posters of Madeleine and an artist's impression image of a moustached man of north African appearance who had been a possible suspect.

He has since been ruled out of the case. The drawing produced almost hysterical laughter.

“There are a million men who look like this,” said Mustafa Ben Dris, who was about the only man there without a moustache.

Looking at posters of Madeleine with Arabic writing on, which we downloaded from the Find Madeleine website, Mustafa said: “We have never heard of Madeleine McCann but she is not here.

"She doesn't have an African face, she has a European face. You could not hide her here.”

Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns' spokesman, admitted the hunt for Madeleine in Morocco was difficult.

In the remote mountains, the main industry is growing marijuana, controlled by armed gangs.

“It's a needle in a haystack,” he said.

To date, all reported sightings of Madeleine in Morocco investigated by Metodo 3 have drawn a blank.

The agency's boss, Francisco Marco, said in one interview that Morocco was “the most likely place to find her [Madeleine]” and that she would be rescued within months. He has also claimed that a blonde girl in a Moroccan family was a “symbol of social status”.

Metodo 3, whose contract expires in March, has 40 investigators working on the case, here and in Portugal and Spain.

Each has a replica of Cuddle Cat, Madeleine's favourite toy, which they are encouraged to squeeze when they feel demotivated at the size of their task.

Repeated requests by reporters to witness the agency's team in Morocco at work have been turned down.

But Metodo 3 and the McCanns — desperate to cling on to any vestige of hope — will persevere in the country.

One million posters of the artist's impression were to be distributed in Morocco and in Spain and Portugal— paid for by the News of the World in exchange for its exclusive last Sunday revealing details of the man.

The response led to a series of leads being followed by Metodo 3.

But the chances of finding Madeleine here are almost nil.

As interior minister Chakib Benmoussa, who met the McCanns when they visited in June, said: “There is absolutely no evidence Madeleine is here.”

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