Two witnesses are interviewed again over missing girl

By Ian Herbert

Published: 24 May 2007

Police searching for Madeleine McCann re-interviewed two witnesses closely connected with their main suspect yesterday as the child's parents prayed at Portugal's holiest site for her safe return.

The witnesses were Michaela Walczuch, the German lover of the British suspect Robert Murat, and her estranged husband Luis Antonio, a pool cleaner who has worked at the Ocean Club where Madeleine disappeared three weeks ago today.

Though the decision to reinterview the two was described as "routine" by Inspector Oligario Sousa, spokesman for the inquiry, it hints at detectives' enduring interest in Mr Murat - despite the lack of activity at his home, Casa Liliana, since it was first searched 10 days ago. Ms Walczuch is Mr Murat's business partner in a property sales business Romigen, the website of which was designed by another man who has been interviewed at length - Sergey Malinka.

As the two were questioned, Kate McCann left the resort of Praia da Luz for the first time since Madeleine's disappearance to make the four-hour drive north with her husband, Gerry, to the Marian shrine of Fatima, north of Lisbon. As they arrived, Mrs McCann clutched a yellow rose and Madeleine's favourite cuddly toy while her husband held a small Bible.

They were showered with kisses and hugs by pilgrims as they slipped into a Mass, on the site where followers believe there was a series of visions of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children, including two young girls, in 1917.

After the couple prayed for almost an hour in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, close to the shrine, hundreds of pilgrims broke into spontaneous applause as others ran up clutching gifts and messages.

The McCanns then stood together before a jumble of giant candles, pausing to reflect and pray. In the small Chapel of Apparitions, Mr McCann passed a chain of rosary beads through his fingers, as Monsignor Luciano Guerra, leading prayers, described those who removed children as "vultures" and prayed for Madeleine's return.

Reports in the Portuguese press yesterday suggested forensic tests on evidence taken from the McCanns' apartment and Mr Murat's home had provided no new clues. The head of the Forensic Medicine Institute of Portugal, Duarte Nuno Vieira, told Correio da Manha that tests on the samples had proved inconclusive. But he insisted the investigation would take time to conclude and was not "like a television programme".

Results from the search for DNA from sweat samples and hair and for clothes fibres at the crime scene are not expected from Lisbon until Saturday at the earliest, it was reported.

Many British detectives believe Portuguese police continue to ignore other lines of inquiry. They are astonished by the fact Mr Murat's villa was searched last week by officers who emptied a shredder during the search, attempted to piece together the paper but abandoned the task and left the shredder behind.

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