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Madeleine McCann Update: Former detective believes new sketches of suspect could be breakthrough in case

Madeleine McCann murder mystery: Police release sketches in hope of new clues
British police are launching a new appeal on television by releasing two composite sketches of a man who was seen the night of Madeleine McCann's disappearance six years ago. CBS News

(CBS) - Last week, a British television program broadcast two police-artist renderings of a possible suspect in the Madeleine McCann case. The four-year-old disappeared from a resort in southern Portugal on May 3, 2007. Although Madeleine has never been found, Portuguese authorities closed the case in 2008.

However, Madeleine's parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, have continued to search for their missing daughter. And last year, police in England began to re-investigate the case by examining reports from Portuguese police, private investigators hired by the McCanns, and leads developed by the Metropolitan Police in London.

The renewed investigation is now publicly-focused on the two artist-renderings of a suspect. They were made in 2008 after McCann private investigators interviewed Martin and Mary Smith of Ireland, according to Ian Horrocks, a former Metropolitan Police detective. The Smiths were vacationing in Praia da Luz, Portugal the same week the McCanns and their three children were on holiday in the seaside town.

Man wanted for questioning in the disapperance of Madeleine McCann.
Man wanted for questioning in the disapperance of Madeleine McCann. Metropolitan Police

The Smiths said they saw a man carrying a blond child in his arms - the man was between 5'5" and 5'9" with light colored hair; the child had very white skin. The sighting was about 9:55 p.m. and 400 yards southwest of the McCanns' vacation apartment.

"48 Hours Mystery": Where's Maddy? [Feb. 11, 2009]

Though the police-artist renderings were made in 2008, and Portuguese police took statements from the Smiths, The Express, in England, reported today that British police did not learn about the drawings of a suspect until two years ago.

After Madeleine disappeared, Portuguese police considered the McCanns suspects in their daughter's disappearance for the next 14 months. And until very recently, Portuguese police did not allow their counterparts in the UK access to the case files in Portugal. Why not? Portuguese authorities said they considered the case closed. The McCanns are currently pursuing a defamation lawsuit against the former lead Portuguese detective on their daughter's case.

Another sketch of the man wanted for questioning in the Madeleine McCann case.
Another sketch of the man wanted for questioning in the Madeleine McCann case. Metropolitan Police

Ian Horrocks, a former detective in Britain, believes the world-wide broadcast of the artist renderings of a new suspect could be an important breakthrough, but he also advises caution. Horrocks points out that one of the main problems with the artist renderings is the fact that there are two different faces. "There's no way of knowing," says Horrocks, "which one is right." 

Horrocks told Crimesider that the location of the Smiths' sighting - 400 yards from where the McCanns were staying - is also troubling. Horrocks estimates, "It could take 5 to 10 minutes for a person to walk that distance, carrying a child who has just been abducted." That, according to Horrocks is "too long a time, someone could raise an alarm," suggesting the abductor probably would have been more careful.

He speculates that if the Smiths' sighting is of Madeleine's kidnapper, then the chances are the suspect lived near the area where the they saw the person carrying the child.

Complete coverage of Madeleine McCann on Crimesider

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