Throughout the torturous official investigation into the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann in Portugal on May 3, 2007, her parents, Kate and Gerry, have learned of their status in the ordeal from anonymous leaks rather than through official channels. That precedent held again Monday night: unconfirmed reports from Portuguese media claim that police are closing the case and abandoning any plans to charge the McCanns with Madeleine's disappearance.
Unnamed sources within Portugal's judicial police told the Portuguese tabloid Correio da Manha that they "do not have sufficient evidence to allow formal charges to be brought against the McCanns in the disappearance of their daughter." The Jornal de Noticias newspaper put it more plainly: "The police have not found the guilty [party]."
However, the decision to discontinue the investigation ultimately lies with the lead prosecutor, not with police. On Tuesday afternoon, Portugal's attorney general, Fernando Pinto Monteiro, said in a statement that the case continues to be assessed. The final report from the police has been delivered to the public prosecutors and "will be the object of careful analysis and consideration" before a final ruling is made. He said the case would remain covered by judicial secrecy laws until mid-August.
Madeleine was three years old when she disappeared from the family's vacation apartment in the resort town of Praia da Luz. The McCanns proved adept at keeping her disappearance in the public eye; not since the death of Princess Diana has a story fostered such a media circus. Celebrities like David Beckham appealed to the public for information regarding Madeleine's whereabouts, and the McCanns secured an audience with the Pope.
Clarence Mitchell, the family's spokesman, said that the close of the investigation could provide a degree of vindication for the McCanns, who last September were officially named "arguidos" Portuguese legal jargon for "suspects."
"If [the reports] are true, it's to be welcomed that Kate and Gerry are not to face charges," Mitchell told the BBC. "They are innocent of any involvement in Madeline's disappearance. They have suffered enough in this process."
In March, the McCanns won a $1.1 million libel suit against Express Newspapers, whose British tabloid titles include the Daily Star and the Daily Express, after the newspapers ran outlandish articles with headlines such as "Find the Body or McCanns Will Escape" and "Syringe that 'Knocked Out Maddie' Found."
But the end of the investigation may prove a doubled-edged sword: authorities have not yet announced whether they will continue the search or release relevant evidence.
"What we don't want is that information to lie on a shelf somewhere gathering dust," Mitchell said. "Surely it's only humane and decent that information that could help find Madeleine comes to the investigators who will keep looking for her even if the police feel they can't." The McCanns will appear in a British High Court on July 7 to request that police files be released.
The McCanns remain silent as they await official confirmation from Portuguese authorities, but their blog activity in recent weeks hints at their resolve to keep the search alive. In an entry entitled Day 407, Gerry McCann appealed for people to download Madeleine posters from the Find Madeleine website to take with them on their travels this summer. And in an entry written the day before Madeleine's fifth birthday on May 12, he wrote, "We will do everything to try and ensure Madeleine does not spend another birthday separated from her family." In this ongoing saga of rumors, heartache and loss, that's one report that doesn't need confirmation.