Source AP ©

Portuguese judge examines missing British girl case

A judge will reviewe the the case of missing British girl Madeleine McCann on Wednesday, ahead of a decision on what further steps are required to determine what happened to the 4-year-old.

The judge was starting work at the public prosecutor's office in Portimao, a town in southern Portugal near where the girl vanished from a hotel room more than four months ago, state broadcaster RTP and private channel S.I.C. reported, citing unidentified sources. Officials could not immediately confirm the reports.

The judge was due to say within 10 days what other action police should take to conclude the case, according to a statement from the attorney-general's office in Lisbon on Tuesday. The legal assessment of the police findings is routine procedure.

Madeleine's parents, doctors Kate and Gerry McCann, are named as suspects in her disappearance, according to their Portuguese lawyer, Carlos Pinto Abreu. They deny any involvement and insist police keep searching for their missing girl.

Forensic tests conducted at a government laboratory in Britain found evidence indicating that DNA from Madeleine was in the trunk of a car the parents used while remaining for months in Portugal's Algarve region, Justine McGuinness, a spokesperson for the family, said last week.

However, Portugal's national police chief, Alipio Ribeiro, said Monday that the forensic tests on the car were not conclusive and that he expected the investigation to continue.

Portuguese authorities, barred by law from discussing ongoing investigations, declined to say what aspects of the case police still intended to examine.

But Gerry McCann's sister, Philomena McCann, indicated police wanted access to a soft toy, nicknamed Cuddle Cat, which belonged to Madeleine and which Kate McCann has kept with her. She said handing over the toy would be "extremely distressing" for Kate McCann and complained the police had been dragging their feet in the investigation.

"Everything they have done has been too little, too late. It is a disgrace they even asked for Cuddle Cat," Philomena McCann told Britain's Press Association news agency.

Media reports in Portugal and Britain said police also want Kate McCann's diary.

Until last week, the only formal suspect in Madeleine's disappearance was Robert Murat, a British man who lived near the hotel from which she vanished May 3. He has not been charged, and he has said he is innocent.

Madeleine's parents launched an unprecedented international campaign to find their daughter, raising 1 million pounds (US$2 million; 1.5 million EUR).

The fund's board met Wednesday and decided not to pay for the parents' legal defense costs, said Director Esther McVey.

She said the board could have legally done so, but felt that would not recognize "the spirit" of the generous donations. McVey also said the McCanns had not requested such financial help.

The McCanns, who returned home last weekend, have hired a powerful legal team. It includes Michael Caplan, who represented former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet when Spain unsuccessfully tried to extradite him from Britain in 1999.

Hughes said the McCanns were prepared to return to Portugal for further police questioning, if necessary.

Asked about the parents' mood, Hughes said, "They seem fine."

The McCanns took their other small children, twins Sean and Amelie, to a park in their home town of Rothley, in central England, Wednesday.

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