By Caroline Gammell in Praia da Luz
Portuguese police have allegedly asked UK forensics experts to examine evidence to see if Madeleine McCann might have previously been drugged, as they turn their attentions on the apartment next door to the one from which she vanished, it has been claimed.
The latest speculation on the police investigation into the missing four-year-old emerged as detectives in the case admitted they may never find her body.
There is speculation her corpse may have been weighed down with rocks and dumped in the sea or even destroyed in an incinerator.
The new claims, in the Evening Standard, centre on the apartment neighbouring the McCanns’ and police are said to believe it may hold the key to the whereabouts of any body in the hours after she was reported missing.
They also follow reports in the newspaper France Soir that Madeleine allegedly died from an overdose of sleeping pills.
Further claims in the Evening Standard take the theory one step further suggesting that the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham has been asked to look for evidence that she had been given drugs on the night she went missing and on earlier occasions.
The McCanns have always emphatically denied that they ever sedated any of their children.
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry have been formally named as suspects, but police have admitted that they do not have enough evidence to charge them.
Mrs McCann, 39, is expected to be recalled to Portugal in the next few days to face further questioning as police work on the theory that she may have accidentally killed her daughter while her husband helped cover up the crime.
The couple have vehemently denied these claims.
But the couple, who spent Friday in London consulting lawyers about their arguido status, have been told the case against them is weak if a body is not found.
A senior Portuguese police source said there was very little for detectives to pin on the McCanns.
“We have nothing concrete,” he told Portuguese newspaper 24 Horas. “There are a lot of indications but without more information it is impossible to determine what happened in those four vital hours in the case between 6pm and 10pm.
“Even if the blood and traces gathered in the car or in the apartment were confirmed to correspond to 100 per cent of the little girl’s DNA, that wouldn’t prove anything.”
Madeleine disappeared from the family’s holiday apartment 5A in the Mark Warner Ocean Club resort on May 3.
For several weeks forensic scientists in Birmingham have been examining bodily fluids and hair found in the back of the couple’s Renault Scenic hired 25 days after their daughter went missing.
As the investigation continued, Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias said police had admitted Madeleine’s body “may no longer exist”.
A source told the paper: “One theory is that the body may have been thrown in a bag filled with stones into the high sea from a yacht in Lagos marina.”
Mr Murat, a 33-year-old property developer, is the only other named suspect, or arguido in the case.
Family friends of the McCanns have demanded to know why he is not facing the same amount of scrutiny as Madeleine’s parents.
They insist he was involved in the preliminary search for the little girl while he maintains he was at home with his mother in their villa 150 yards from the McCanns’ apartment.
The Portuguese authorities are still trying to track down Mrs McCann’s personal diary to gain an insight into her psychological state before and after Madeleine disappeared. It is understood they have photocopies of extracts and are now trying to get the papers formally accepted as evidence.
The investigating judge Pedro Miguel dos Anjos Frias, has until next Thursday to authorise any further police activity in the case against the McCanns after being handed a 4,000 page file by the public prosecutor last Tuesday.
Police are on standby to carry out searches along the coast to the west of Praia da Luz and attention has also focused on the area surrounding the town’s church.
In the UK, Mr McCann’s sister Philomena said the couple and extended family would be prepared to sell their homes to help foot the legal bill to clear their names.
Mr and Mrs McCann have appointed lawyers in Portugal and the UK after being named official suspects in their daughter’s disappearance.
The couple’s £640,000 home in Rothley, Leicestershire, has been besieged by the world’s media since the McCanns flew home last Sunday.
Their battle to shift suspicion has been hampered by the fact that they are not allowed to hire their own private investigator.
Under Portuguese law, no independent inquiry can be carried out while a criminal investigation is underway.
It is only when a person has been charged with a crime that they are entitled to appoint their own experts – such as forensic specialists – which have to be approved by the court.