The public prosecutor considering the Madeleine McCann case decided within hours of receiving details of the police investigation yesterday to pass it to a judge.
The 10-volume report on the Judicial Police's investigation was delivered through the back door of the public prosecutor's office in Portimao, near Praia da Luz, and it was thought that prosecutor Jose Cunha de Magalhaes e Meneses might spend several days examining it.
But by 5.15pm, it was disclosed that Mr Meneses had reached a quick decision that there is enough evidence to pass the file to a judge and this may mean the McCanns being asked to return to Portugal. The prosecutor may have passed the report – said to contain more than 1,000 pages – on to the judge in an attempt to secure powers that allow phone bugging, or to authorise more searches in the area.
The announcement was unexpected, coming on the day that the director of Portugal's Judicial Police, Alipio Ribeiro, denied that a 99 per cent accurate DNA match for Madeleine had been found in a hire car used by her parents, as was reported on Monday night.
It had been suggested that a precise DNA match, from "bodily fluids" rather than blood, was found in the carpeted area usually reserved for the spare tyre in the Renault Scenic hired by the McCanns 25 days after Madeleine's disappearance. But Mr Ribeiro rejected the claims. "It's not true that we can say explicitly that a 100 per cent match has been achieved in respect of the little girl's DNA," he said. "None of the results we've received gives that mathematical precision. The results have to be analysed rigorously and with care. We've received results from some of our examinations, but others are still awaited."
Mr Ribeiro's rebuttal – echoed by police spokesman Olegario Sousa who declared the "99 per cent match" information was "not from our source" – was a clear indication that the latest DNA results do not add as decisively to the police's theory that Madeleine's body was transported to the car boot as had first been imagined. However, there were more claims from police sources yesterday that so much of Madeleine's hair had been found in the boot of the car that it could not have been transferred from a blanket or clothes and must have come directly from her body. The identities of other users of the hire-car prior to the McCanns remain unclear.
Gerry McCann reiterated the couple's total denial of involvement in their daughter's disappearance. "Kate and I are totally 100 per cent confident in each other's innocence," he wrote in his blog. "We have absolute confidence that, when all of the facts are presented together, we will be able to demonstrate that we played absolutely no part in Madeleine's abduction."
Mr and Mrs McCann were visited at home yesterday by Leicestershire Police's detective chief superintendent Bob Small, who spent around an hour with the family at their house in The Crescent, Rothley, before leaving in an unmarked car. The East Midlands force refused to comment on the visit.
Despite the claims and counter-claims emerging from Portugal, the key to the police investigation seems to be the Renault Scenic. But it is uncertain whether police have tracked down and interviewed the individuals who hired the car in the period between Madeleine's disappearance and the McCanns hiring it.
Despite its apparent significance to police, the lease firm, Budget, said yesterday that it had expected to receive it back from the McCanns and was surprised when the couple left Portugal without handing over the keys. "The police have not asked for it back," a spokesman said. "The McCanns didn't tell us they were leaving the country or hand in the keys to us before they left. We now have an idea of where the car is and when it will be handed back."
The car is reportedly stored at Faro airport, where the McCanns may commission their own forensic examination of it.
There were more reports in the Portuguese press yesterday of an escalation in the number of searches for Madeleine's body in Praia da Luz. Search areas were to include the village church attended many times by the McCanns. Publico newspaper alleged that police were convinced that Madeleine's body had been buried there, and later moved using the hire car. But there were no searches at the church yesterday.