Irish witnesses key to Madeleine search

The toddler in 2007

By David Hennessy

Detectives searching for Madeleine McCann could travel to Ireland as part of their investigation believing an Irish couple in Portugal at the time of her disappearance could be key witnesses.

It is believed they want to meet with Martin Smith from Drogheda, who previously gave a statement to police saying he had seen a man in his 40s carrying a child in a blanket on the night of May 3, 2007, the day of Madeleine’s disappearance. Marting was holidaying on the Algarve with his wife Mary,  daughter Aoife, son Peter and other family members at the time.

Police investigating the disappearance have released two e-fit images which are believed to be the same man, whom they say is of “vital importance” to the case as he was sighted in and around Praia da Luz in the days before and on Thursday, 3 May 2007. The witnesses have described the man in the e-fit as being white, aged between 20-40 years old, with short brown hair, of medium build, medium height and clean shaven.

An age progressed image of how Madeleine may look now. Picture: Teri Blythe Image Manipulation

Martin and his wife Mary featured in Monday night’s Crimewatch appeal on BBC with featured a comprehensive reconstruction, running nearly 25 minutes in length. Martin told the BBC cameras that the man was carrying a child with “typically British” skin, blonde hair and wearing light coloured or pink pyjamas which match the description of those Madeleine was wearing. The Smiths gave descriptions to Portuguese police two days after the disappearance but no e-fits or sketches were ever produced, until now.

The McCanns also made a live appeal in the studio, supported by the senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood.

Work by detectives has given them a far greater understanding of the times when the abduction could have taken place. This in turn has made the statements from the two witnesses far more significant. Identifying the man could hold the key to Madeleine’s wheareabouts.

DCI Andy Redwood, the senior investigating officer, said: “The timeline we have now established has given new significance to sightings and movements of people in and around Praia da Luz at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.

“Our work to date has significantly changed the timeline and the accepted version of events that has been in the public domain to date. It has allowed us to work with Crimewatch to build the most detailed reconstruction as yet, and highlight very specific appeal points.

“I hope that when the public see our investigative strands drawn together within the overall context of that appeal, it will bring in new information that moves our investigation forward.

“We issued for the first time today two e-fit images of the same man seen at the same time and place. It is vital that we identify who he is.

“A new understanding of events on the evening Madeleine disappeared has resulted in a renewed focus of the investigation.

“This man was seen walking towards the beach area or the centre of town at approx 22.00hrs from the direction of the apartments when Madeleine was taken from on Thursday, 3 May 2007.

“The description of two different witnesses who saw him said he was a white man aged in his 30s with short brown hair, medium build, of medium height and clean-shaven. He was seen carrying a child aged 3-4 years old who had blonde hair and was possibly wearing pyjamas.

“There may be an entirely innocent explanation of this man but we need to establish who he is to assist with our enquiries.

“Today I am asking the public for their help. Whilst this man may or may not be the key to unlocking this investigation, tracing and speaking to him is of vital importance to us. We have witnesses placing him in the resort area around the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.

“This is far from our only line of inquiry and there will be e-fits released of other sightings as well, who we are equally keen to trace. These people were seen on the day of Madeleine’s disappearance and the days leading up to it.

Anyone with any information is asked to call the incident room on 0800 096 1011. If based outside the UK please call +4420 7158 0126, or email operation.grange@met.police.uk.

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