Police have admitted they don’t know whether Madeleine McCann is alive or dead, a decade after the toddler disappeared in Portugal.
She was nearly four when she vanished in May 3, 2007 from her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz as her parents dined with friends at a tapas bar nearby.
The disappearance triggered a huge search by British and Portuguese police for any sign of what happened to Madeleine, who was nearly four at the time.
Speaking as the tenth anniversary approached, Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley confirmed a team of four British detectives continued to work closely with Portuguese authorities on the case.
But he admitted: “We don’t have evidence telling us if Madeleine is alive or dead.
“It is a missing person’s inquiry but as a team we are realistic about what we might be dealing with - especially as months turn to years.”
The McCanns have often spoken of their bitter regret about leaving her and then two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie alone.
Their daughter would now be a teenager and the family have never given up the search and remain hopeful she is alive.
A British re-investigation into case was launched in 2011 after the initial one by the Portuguese authorities was deemed insufficient.
The Home Office said in June that the investigation had cost £10 million, with another £2 million budgeted for the year ahead.
Rowley said the case review amounted to over 40,000 documents, out of which thousands of enquiries were generated. The case has also seen four BBC Crimewatch appeals since April 2012, which included an age progression image resulting in hundreds of calls about alleged sightings of Madeleine.
He praised the “fantastic” response and support from the public, including the voluntary donation of 3,000 holiday photos from an earlier appeal.
He added: “The team has looked at in excess of 600 individuals who were identified as being potentially significant to the disappearance. In 2013 the team identified four individuals they declared to be suspects in the case.
“This led to interviews at a police station in Faro facilitated by the local Policia Judiciária and the search of a large area of wasteland which is close to Madeleine’s apartment in Praia Da Luz.
“The enquiries did not find any evidence to further implicate the individuals in the disappearance and so they are no longer subject of further investigation.”
Rowley repeated the Met’s official line of a refusal to give a “running commentary” on the case, but he added: “Of course we always want information and we can’t rule out making new appeals if that is required.
“However, right now, new appeals or prompts to the public are not in the interest of what we are trying to achieve.
“As detectives, we will always be extremely disappointed when we are unable to provide an explanation of what happened.
“However the work carried out by Portuguese and Met officers in reviewing material and reopening the investigation has been successful in taking a number of lines of interest to their conclusion. That work has provided important answers.
“Right now we are committed to taking the current inquiry as far as we possibly can and we are confident that will happen. Ultimately this, and the previous work, gives all of us the very best chance of getting the answers – although we must, of course, remember that no investigation can guarantee to provide a definitive conclusion.”
In December it was reported that Portuguese and British detectives are probing fresh tips that Madeleine was spirited away by traffickers and the current investigation is reportedly on human traffickers who may have snatched her and sold her “to order.”
Private investigators hired by the McCanns in 2007 reported the presence of men watching children at the beach with binoculars and taking pictures of them.
The McCanns believe images of their daughter may have been shared with traffickers who then selected her. This week ex-Scotland Yard detective Colin Sutton appeared to give credence to the theory, and even suggested the little girl may have been snatched “to order” and then sold to a rich family, possibly via known trafficking networks working in Africa.
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry have endured a series of attacks for leaving their children that night and have even been accused of being involved in their daughter’s disappearance. Recently a nanny on duty at the holiday resort where Madeleine went missing insisted there was “not a chance” the couple were involved – a view backed by former Detective Inspector Dave Edgar, who has privately investigated the case.
Edgar is certain the little girl was taken by a lone kidnapper or gang, that the motive was sexual and that it was a meticulously planned abduction.
As the 10 anniversary of the abduction approaches, Edgar is pushing for a Europe-wide appeal, believing whoever is responsible will have shared their secret.
He said: “They can’t keep it to themselves and research has shown they always confide in someone else.”