A former RUC man believes five separate sightings of a suspicious man could hold the key to solving the mystery of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance.
Three witnesses saw an odd stranger looking at her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, before Madeleine went missing more than two years ago.
Now Dave Edgar and his colleague, former Merseyside policeman Arthur Cowley, have put these previously-unreported accounts together with two better-known sightings of a man carrying a child away from the flat on the night she vanished.
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Their theory, revealed in a new documentary to be broadcast on Channel 4 tonight, is that someone was watching the McCanns’ apartment for up to a week before the little girl disappeared.
Kate McCann also speaks in the programme of her belief that the chances of finding Madeleine are now higher.
She says: “I think we’ve achieved a lot in the last few weeks, so we’re really hoping that somebody who’s been sitting there knowing something will suddenly feel the courage and compassion to come forward.”
The two retired UK police officers have been employed by the McCanns to continue the search.They have scoured thousands of pages from the official Portuguese case files, which were made public last July, looking for clues.
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At the heart of tonight’s documentary are reconstructions of the five sightings in Praia da Luz in the days leading up to May 3, 2007, when Madeleine disappeared from her bed as her parents dined with friends nearby.
The first witness, a British tourist, was out walking with her daughter on the morning of April 29 when she saw a man acting suspiciously.
She said in her statement: “I grabbed my daughter’s hand and pulled her towards me because for some reason he unnerved me.”
The woman then saw the same man again, this time apparently watching the McCanns’ apartment at 3pm on the day before Madeleine went missing.
“I paid particular attention to him because he appeared to be focused on watching the apartment block,” she said.
The second witness was a 12-year-old girl who saw a man outside the balcony of the McCanns’ holiday flat at about 8.15am on April 30. She said: “My grandparents used to live in that apartment so I always look at it as I pass by.
“The man seemed to be looking at the balcony of the ground floor apartment.”
The girl saw the man staring at the McCanns’ flat again at lunchtime on the day before Madeleine disappeared.
The third witness identified by the detectives was a Cheshire man who was walking with his partner at about 11.30am on May 2 or 3 when he saw a man.
Mr Edgar said it was most likely that Madeleine was abducted by an individual with close links to Praia da Luz, but stressed he did not believe she was snatched at random.
“In my experience random just doesn’t happen — these things are planned,” he said.
Referring to witness accounts, he added: “There’s three of exactly the same location. I don’t know what the Portuguese authorities have done to eliminate these people from the inquiry. So, we’ve got to presume that they haven’t done it and go with that.”
Mr Edgar went on: “This offence happened in Praia da Luz. It’s a very self-contained resort and that’s where I think the answer is.”
The other two witnesses highlighted in the documentary are Jane Tanner, one of the so-called ‘Tapas Seven’, on holiday with the McCanns when Madeleine disappeared, and Irish tourist Martin Smith.
Ms Tanner saw a man carrying a child across the road behind the McCanns’ holiday flat at the approximate time when the little girl is thought to have gone missing.
She speaks in the documentary of how she continues to reproach herself for not doing something at the time.
"You’re probably the one person that could have actually stopped it, and you think, oh what if," she said.
Mr Smith, from Drogheda , was also on holiday in Praia da Luz at the time.
At about 9.50pm on May 3 he and his family were walking up a road less than half a mile from the McCanns’ apartment when he saw a man carrying a blonde girl of about four.
Mr Smith said in his police statement: “I thought they were father and daughter so I wasn’t so suspicious... The man didn’t look like a tourist. I can’t explain why — it was probably from his clothes.”
The McCanns, from Rothley, Leicestershire, used a high-profile appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in the US on Monday night to release a computer-aged picture of how Madeleine may look now if she is still alive.
The couple’s private investigators have received hundreds of phone calls since the programme was broadcast.
These include details of around 30 possible sightings of Madeleine, the bulk of them in the US and Latin America but a handful in Europe.
Having marked the second anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance on Sunday, the McCanns are now bracing themselves for her sixth birthday on Tuesday.
Cutting Edge: Madeleine Was Here,Ch4, 9pm