2:10am UK, Tuesday May 15, 2007

Police have been searching the home of a British man in connection with the disappearance of four-year-old Madeleine McCann, who was abducted in Portugal on May 3.

The man, Robert Murat (pictured), was taken to a police station.

180 robert murat madeleine mccann NEW PIC

Robert Murat

A man answering his description was later driven from the police station in a blue car but it was not immediately clear where to.

His mother has told Sky News that he has not been arrested. She said no trace of Madeleine had been found at the villa. She also insisted that her son had been with her in the house on the night that Madeleine was kidnapped.

Portuguese police said that several people were being questioned but that no one had been formally arrested.

The property is just 150 yards from the apartment where Madeleine's family were staying, in the southern Portuguese resort of Praia Da Luz.

The house, known as Casa Liliana, was sealed off with tape by police while men in white suits and masks began a search inside. They are believed to have drained the villa's swimming pool.

Police guards were on the doors outside.

Sky News Correspondent Ian Woods said the property being searched belonged to British woman Jennifer Murat and her son Robert Murat.

Mr Murat has been assisting journalists in their coverage of the disappearance of the four-year-old British girl.

He was pictured on Sky News during the search for Madeleine wearing a light-coloured shirt and dark glasses. Sunday Mirror journalist Lori Campbell alerted police over her suspicions about him.

Woods said: "Robert Murat has been very well known to the media from day one. He had been acting for three or four days as an interpreter and a go-between with the police."

Woods added that Mr Murat had joked about how he had become the prime suspect in Madeleine's disappearance.

Ms Campbell told Sky: "It was just very reminiscent of the Soham murders, that was my first thought. He was hanging around, asking us questions and maybe trying to find out what we knew."

She said that when she alerted Portuguese police that a man had raised her suspicions, they said "we know who you are talking about" before she had mentioned his name.

Mr Murat is believed to have a good relationship with local police and has been seen laughing and joking with them. He told journalists that he was interested in the case of the missing girl because he has a four-year-old daughter of his own who looks similar to Madeleine.

He is believed to be separated from his wife, who is thought to live in Norfolk with their daughter. He has just returned to Portugal after visiting them over the weekend.

Sky News Crime Correspondent Martin Brunt described how he had spoken to Mr Murat's mother about the search..

Brunt said: "She's obviously very shaken. She says her son hasn't been arrested but has been taken to the main police station."

She said that no trace of Madeleine had been found and that she expected police to make a statement confirming this.

Gaynor De Jesus, who has been working as a translator for Sky News, went to school with Mr Murat and played with him as a child, but had not seen him for years until last week.

She said: "I do know that he has been the official translator for the police. All witness accounts, everything that's been coming into them, he has had first-hand information."

Madeleine was taken from the apartment where her family had been staying while on holiday, sparking a massive police investigation and a worldwide media appeal.