Maddie suspect declares he is scapegoat

CHRIS BISHOP A former Norfolk car salesman named a suspect over the abduction of Madeleine McCann in Portugal insisted he has been made a scapegoat tonight, saying: “I am innocent.

CHRIS BISHOP

A former Norfolk car salesman named a suspect over the abduction of Madeleine McCann in Portugal insisted he has been made a scapegoat tonight, saying: “I am innocent. I am very upset.”

Portuguese police have questioned Robert Murat, 33, and two other people as witnesses over the disappearance of the four-year-old girl who has not been seen since she was snatched 12 days ago from a holiday apartment in the Algarve coastal town of Praia da Luz.

Officers today revealed they have not enough evidence “at the moment” to formally arrest Mr Murat but investigations are continuing.

It remained unclear where Mr Murat was and whether or not he will be quizzed further.

The others interviewed were Mr Murat's German girlfriend Michaela Walczuch and another man, who was identified as her former husband Luis Antonio.

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Mr Murat had lived in Hockering, near Dereham, with his wife Dawn, four-year-old daughter and 20-year-old stepson before returning to Portugal two years ago when the marriage ended.

The quiet village of Hockering was besieged by media from as far afield as Germany and residents spoke of their support for Mr Murat, who they described as a “friendly and helpful man and doting father”.

He is reported to have phoned his mother Jenny - who owns the villa where he was living - and told her: "I am innocent. I am very upset."

And he told Sky news reporter Martin Brunt tonight: “This has ruined my life and has made things very difficult for my family here and in Britain.

“The only way I will survive this is if they catch Madeleine's abductor. I have been made a scapegoat for something I did not do.”

Forensic officers and sniffer dogs searched Mr Murat's villa, which is 150 yards from the holiday flat from where little Madeleine was taken as her parents Gerry and Kate were dining in a tapas bar at the holiday complex.

Police removed a computer and a number of videotapes from the premises, before releasing Mr Murat, who had been acting as a translator for the McCanns.

Four other properties were searched and police said material was still being analysed.

Portuguese police insisted “every effort is being made” to find little Madeleine.

As police revealed more information, the McCanns again went to a church service to pray for Madeleine's safe return and had tried to carry on life as normal as possible.

Despite the high profile events at the end of the Algarve street where they are staying, the McCanns attempted to carry on with family life.

They made no public statements and are said by friends not to have been watching television.

They emerged from their flat earlier with their twin children Sean and Amelie and walked the short distance to a nearby creche to drop them off.

Under Portuguese law, people who are questioned are not under arrest but are treated as witnesses.

Arrests can only be made when police consider someone a suspect or possible suspect and then they require a court order.

Mr Murat made himself known to journalists shortly after Madeleine's disappearance, telling one reporter that he had a daughter the same age, who lived in Norfolk, and who looked “very similar.”

He also said he was acting as a translator

Mr Murat had returned regularly to Norfolk and there were reports tonight that he had been back in Hockering as recently as last week.

He was born in Portugal in 1973 and his father, John, was a real estate agent.

Mr Murat had an accident as a child and lost vision in one eye. He was aged 13 when his father died and moved he moved to the UK shortly afterwards.

He got married to Dawn Chapman - whose mother Margaret lives in the Mile Cross area of Norwich - at Etling Green, near Dereham, about 11 years ago.

Mr Murat worked for poultry firm Bernard Matthews and then for various car dealerships - including Desira and Inchcape in Norwich.

Mrs Chapman declined to comment.

Dawn was tonight understood to be staying at a secret address, to avoid the media attention.

Elsewhere, there were reports of police activity in Warwickshire in connection with the investigation.

In a written statement, Warwickshire Police said they were “assisting Leicestershire Constabulary with an investigation'.

A spokeswoman for the Leicestershire force said: “We have been working closely with the Portuguese authorities since Madeleine went missing.

“Since that time we have undertaken a number of inquiries on their behalf, and this has included taking statements.

“This all forms part of the Portuguese investigation and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

Warwickshire Police later confirmed they had helped officers from Leicestershire with "progressing inquiries related to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal", but said there were no active inquiries or scenes of activity in Warwickshire in relation to the matter.

Mr Murat's uncle Ralph Eveleigh, who runs the Salsa Lita bed and breakfast in the village of Burgau, near Praia da Luz, said his nephew had nothing to do with Madeleine's abduction and had an alibi for the night Madeleine went missing.

“It is shocking. He is a lovely guy. Robert is so sweet and good-natured.

“I know he can never have been involved in Madeleine's abduction because he is so good-natured. He would not be involved in something like this.'”

Mr Eveleigh added: “He was just trying to help. He put himself out there because this happened and he wanted to help out, which was why he was working as a translator to help the police and the media because he spoke fluent Portuguese.

“Jenny has told me he was eating dinner with her that night and she wouldn't lie so he can't be involved. It's ridiculous to blame him.'”

Mr Murat's cousin Sally Eveleigh added: “Robert would never have done anything like this. It is making me very angry that our lives are being turned upside down.”

Norfolk police made no formal statements about Mr Murat and would not comment on speculation that he used to work for the force as an interpreter.

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