To the myriad emotions Britons Kate and Gerry McCann have experienced since the disappearance 14 months ago of their daughter Madeleine, add a tinge of relief: not at any breakthrough in the mystery over what happened to the toddler who vanished nine days before her fourth birthday while vacationing with her parents in Portugal but to news, instead, that they're no longer suspected of involvement in her disappearance.
Just weeks after Portuguese police delivered their final report on the case to prosecutors, Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro, the country's Attorney General, announced Monday that the investigation would be shelved, owing, a statement from his office said, to a "lack of evidence that any crime was committed by the persons placed under formal investigation." Comfort, then, for the McCanns named by Portuguese police as official suspects in the case last fall as well as for Robert Murat, the Portuguese-based Briton named as a suspect almost immediately after Madeleine's disappearance in May 2007. The three, who strenuously denied any involvement, are now cleared of suspicion. "We welcome the news today," Kate McCann said Monday in a brief statement to reporters near the couple's central England home, "although it is no cause for celebration."
The decision to halt the case it can be reopened if compelling new evidence emerges marks only the latest twist in a frenetic and far-flung search for Madeleine that has at times had much of the world transfixed. Soon after she vanished from the family's vacation apartment in the southern Portuguese resort town of Praia da Luz parents Kate and Gerry were eating at a tapas bar in the resort complex at the time a high-profile push to find Madeleine was launched. Soccer star David Beckham appealed for information. Kate and Gerry McCann even secured a brief audience with the Pope. And while reported sightings came to nothing, millions of dollars poured into a fund to help track down the couple's daughter.
Not all the attention was welcome. In March, the McCanns named as suspects amid reports that Portuguese police had found Madeleine's DNA in the trunk of a car rented almost a month after her disappearance won an apology and $1.1 million from Britain's Express Newspapers, after its tabloids falsely suggested the parents were responsible for Madeleine's death. Murat, for his part, received $1.2 million in damages from a string of British newspapers earlier this month over stories claiming, again incorrectly, he was involved in the child's disappearance.
Much more painful for the McCanns, though, is the fact that months of police investigation have left them no nearer to finding their daughter. Kate McCann on Monday lamented the "detrimental effect" suspicions of the parents' involvement may have had on the hunt. The release later this week of a book on the case by Goncalo Amaral, the police officer who led the investigation into Madeleine's disappearance until he was removed from the position in October, won't help; Amaral claims there's evidence that Madeleine died in the family's apartment. Meanwhile, any further investigation of the case from this point on will be left to the couple's own private detectives. As a result of the Attorney General's announcement, the McCanns' lawyers should get access to the Portuguese police files later this week, with the hope that those detectives can tease out fresh leads. For the McCanns, who are still confident that Madeleine is alive, the relief and pain are combined with a steely determination. Kate promised to "leave no stone unturned" in the search for their daughter. "We will never give up on Madeleine," she pledged today.