The Portuguese detective leading the Madeleine McCann case has been demoted and removed from the case, sources in Portugal suggested last night.
Chief Inspector Goncalo Amaral, a controversial figure who is already being investigated over an alleged physical attack on the mother of a different missing girl, is understood to have been relieved of his duties as head of the regional Policia Judiciaria (PJ) and will leave the 30-strong Madeleine inquiry team with immediate effect.
The move, of which Kate and Gerry McCann are said to be aware, is understood to be the result of an extraordinary attack on the child's parents in the Portuguese press earlier yesterday in which he accused the couple of manipulating British police. Sources in the Algarve town of Portimao, from where Mr Amaral has been leading the investigation, suggested his outburst contributed to a sense the inquiry is chaotic and dysfunctional.
Mr Amaral is believed to have been desperately frustrated by his force's inability to interview Kate and Gerry McCann further either in Portugal or Britain, but the cause of his outburst was bizarre. He was evidently incensed by a story that an anonymous email sent to the Prince of Wales's website was being investigated by British police. The message suggested that a disgruntled employee working at the Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz might have kidnapped Madeleine.
Mr Amaral, who when approached around the coffee houses of Portimao in recent weeks has refused to comment on the case, told the Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias that all current and former employees at the resort had been investigated. Of the email lead, he said: "This situation has no credibility whatsoever for Portuguese police." He went on to say the McCanns had identified lines of inquiry for Leicestershire officers and the East Midlands force had restricted its investigations to those suggested by the couple, overlooking the fact the couple remain suspects
He said: "The British police have only worked on what the McCanns want them to work on and what suits them, forgetting the couple are suspected of causing the death of their daughter. This story about kidnapping for revenge is another fact worked on by the McCanns."
It seemed no coincidence that the head of Portugal's police federation, Carlos Anjos, also made a public attack on Mr McCann yesterday, dismissing his suggestions that Madeleine's abductor may have been hiding in her room as "a ridiculous episode".
Mr Anjos said: "If he was suspicious that there was a man in the apartment, and then he calmly went to dinner, then words cannot describe how negligent he is as a father." He also criticised what he claimed was a steady stream of information from the McCann camp. The officers' comments seem to reflect the fact that the Portuguese inquiry into the McCanns and their daughter has been heading nowhere for weeks.
Mr Amaral has been a controversial figure during the search for Madeleine. He is currently an arguido (witness) in the case of an alleged attack on the mother of another missing nine-year-old Joana Cipriano, Leonor.
Several men are accused of "scenes of aggression" against Ms Cipriano, whose daughter vanished in September 2004 and who eventually confessed to murder and was jailed. Mr Amaral is suspected of concealing the alleged beating. The detective was also forced to defend taking a two-hour lunch break with police spokesman Olegario Sousa in Portimao while the McCanns were flying to Berlin to publicise the case.