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Experts analyse 'Madeleine' photo

By Deborah McAleese

The parents of missing Madeleine McCann are anxiously waiting to discover if a young blonde girl photographed in Morocco is their daughter.

It is understood that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) - which is headed by Ulsterman Jim Gamble - is currently analysing the image in a bid to determine if it is Madeleine.

The grainy image of a small child being carried on the back of a woman in traditional North African dress was taken four weeks ago along a dusty roadside near Tangiers. It is the fourth reported sighting of the young girl in Morocco.

The involvement of CEOP - which is a UK centre of excellence designed to protect children at risk of sex abuse and track down predators - suggests that the UK authorities still believe that Madeleine may have been abducted by a paedophile ring. Mr Gamble told the Belfast Telegraph that while CEOP facilities are made available to the Portuguese authorities on request he could not comment on the organisation's involvement in the investigation.

However, a security source admitted that CEOP is currently analysing the photograph and that the result should be known within days.

"CEOP is analysing the photograph. Yes, it bears similarities to Madeleine but we cannot be sure at this stage. It will only be a few days before we know."

Today Gerry and Kate McCann were trying not to raise their hopes until forensic analysis had strengthened or ruled out suspicions that the girl in the photograph could be their daughter.

Their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said they are aware of the picture and are "very interested in it". However, he added that the couple remain cautious as they have already endured the "bitter experience" and "emotional rollercoaster" of numerous other sightings which had come to nothing.

"Kate and Gerry know all too well, through bitter experience, that all of the sightings up to now have come to nothing, unfortunately," he said.

"So you can imagine the sort of emotional rollercoaster that causes them each time this sort of information comes in."

The photograph was taken by Spanish woman Clara Torres near the northern town of Zinat, just south of Tangiers, on August 31. Although initially suspicious when she took the photograph she thought it was impossible that it could Madeleine. However yesterday, after hearing about reported sightings of Madeleine in Morocco, she handed the image over to her local police in Albacete, near Valencia.

She then went to the British embassy where she spoke to the McCanns' legal team.

Four-year-old Madeleine went missing from her parents' holiday apartment in Praia Da Luz, Portugal, on May 3.

Despite being declared suspects in the disappearance of their own daughter, Mr and Mrs McCann have repeatedly declared their innocence and insisted that they believe Madeleine could still be alive.

Belfast Telegraph


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