A Portuguese judge reportedly is deciding whether to grant an emergency request by the public prosecutor in the Madeleine McCann case seeking to seize a "mystery object" described as being vital to the investigation.
Evidence suggesting that Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of the missing girl who disappeared just short of her fourth birthday, were involved in their daughter’s death was passed to the judge late Tuesday night.
In addition to the prosecutor's request, the judge will consider whether the couple should be charged.
The judge has a number of options, including ordering the couple to return to the Algarve to be placed under house arrest, or submit to further police questioning. He also could order additional searches and wire taps. The judge has 10 days to make his ruling.
The public prosecutor's request to seize an “object” vital to the inquiry could include searching areas such as a lawyer’s office or a place of worship, which are protected under Portuguese laws.
The Daily Mail reported that sources claim the item is Kate McCann's diary.
The newspaper also reported that police want to confiscate Madeleine's toys, including her favorite Cuddle Cat, which Kate McCann has very publicly held on to since her daughter vanished.
Police reportedly also want to examine the toys for forensic evidence to see how much DNA they contain of Madeleine.
Yesterday was a day of significant developments in the case, including:
— The handing over to the public prosecutor of 10 box files containing more than a thousand pages of evidence detailing DNA results, police interviews with the couple, witness statements, intercepted e-mails and tapped phone calls;
— Police telling Portuguese newspapers that a large quantity of Madeleine’s hair was found in the trunk of the car that her parents hired 25 days after she disappeared;
— Detectives briefing local newspapers that bodily fluid with an 88 percent match to the child was also found in the car; and,
— A visit to the McCanns’ home in Rothley, Leicestershire, by a senior police official.
In a statement outside his offices in Portimão, a spokeswoman for José Cunha de Magalhães e Meneses, the prosecutor, said that he believed that the files contained sufficient evidence to change aspects of the McCanns’ status in the case. He passed the case on to the judge who rules on crimes still under investigation.
In another development, Portuguese Attorney General Fernando Jose Pinto Monterio entered the investigation, appointing a second public prosecutor to the case.
Luis Bilro Veinõ, from the Evora district in central Portugal, will work with Cunha de Magalhães e Meneses to help with the vast amount of evidence. He is one of Portugal’s most senior public prosecutors and a member of the governing body, the Conselho Superior da Magistratura Portuguesa. Monterio said that he hoped that “objectivity and serenity” would now prevail, and said that during such a complex investigation it was necessary to make “uncomfortable investigations”.
Indicating that the investigation could yet be widened away from just Britain and Portugal, the attorney general said: “The investigations did not end so we will need more interventions from the police. After that we should re-evaluate the restrictions it is possible to impose and which level of international co-operation we will need.”
Detectives are convinced that Kate McCann was in some way linked to the accidental death of her daughter, and that she and her husband then disposed of the body.
Hair and bodily fluids have been found in the trunk of the car that the McCanns hired shortly before visiting the Vatican. Police have said that the amount of hair in the Renault Scenic is too much simply to have been transferred on Madeleine’s clothing and other belongings when the couple moved to a villa in the resort.
One trace of bodily fluids has an 88 percent match with the child, rather than the 100 percent match that was previously reported, detectives said in an off-the-record briefing on Monday night. They denied that blood traces had been found.
The McCanns, both 39-year-old doctors, vehemently deny any involvement in the death. They fear that they are being framed by police and that evidence is being planted.
The latest developments came as Dr. Michael Baden, a world-reknowned forensic expert with the New York State Police, told The Times of London that a decaying body would produce a “mass of material” unless it was tightly wrapped.
Baden, who has investigated hundreds of child murders, said: “In a body which had been decaying for 25 days you would expect to find a mass of material unless the body was tightly wrapped. But if it was so tightly wrapped, how was the hair able to escape?”
Baden said that bacteria causes the body to putrefy and the decomposing tissues merge with the blood. The lining of the nose and mouth are the first to liquefy. It would still be possible to obtain a good DNA sample from such material.
Mr Baden added: “From the details that have been reported I do not think there is evidence that a corpse was in the trunk."
If the judge approves new searches they will focus on the streets around the church in Praia da Luz, the resort where Madeleine vanished shortly before her fourth birthday. Police sources told local newspapers that the child’s body could have been concealed in the area, where roadworks were being completed, in the days after her disappearance before being later moved.
The McCanns went to pray for their daughter in the village’s 18th-century church, Nossa Senhora da Luz. Within an hour of reporting the child missing they asked for the local Catholic priest, and a few days later were given keys to the church so that they could visit at any time.
Father José Manuel Pacheco, the priest, said: “I find it perfectly normal that the police will carry out new searches in Praia da Luz, and not excepting the church.” However, he said he had not been informed that the church itself would be searched.
Detective Chief Superintendent Bob Small, head of Leicestershire's special crime investigation unit, spent an hour at the McCanns’ home yesterday. The East Midlands force refused to confirm or comment on the visit. Portuguese police are still waiting for further tests to be returned from the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham.
The Times of London and Daily Mail contributed to this report.