By Caroline Gammell in Praia da Luz
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 30/09/2007
Portuguese police believe Madeleine McCann died after falling down a flight of steps and that her parents panicked, hiding her body because they feared being blamed, it was claimed yesterday.
It was alleged that the four-year-old smashed the back of her head on a ceramic flagstone at her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz.
Fearing they would be charged with manslaughter, Kate and Gerry McCann then got rid of the body, possibly with the help of their friends, it was alleged.
The latest theory against the couple, who are official suspects in their daughter’s disappearance, was dismissed as “ludicrous and unsubstantiated” by their spokesman.
It emerged as a source close to the McCanns said police were investigating claims that a disgruntled ex-employee from the Ocean Club, where the family was staying, may have been involved in Madeleine’s abduction.
Mrs McCann has said she would be willing to risk going to prison by speaking out about the events of May 3 in breach of Portugal’s secrecy laws. As suspects, or arguidos, the couple are prevented from speaking about the investigation, and have expressed frustration that they are not able to defend themselves against increasingly lurid allegations regarding their daughter’s fate.
Despite the ban, they are in talks with chat-show hosts in the US in an attempt to remind people Madeleine is missing.
Yesterday, the McCanns spent a quiet day in their home town of Rothley in Leicestershire, marking 150 days since their daughter disappeared.
They are adamant that she was abducted but police in Portugal were described as “100 per cent” certain that the little girl died in the family’s apartment in the Algarve.
A senior detective told Portuguese newspaper 24 Horas: “The only thing to investigate is how the body disappeared.” The newspaper claims Madeleine fell down steps at the back of the apartment. Photographs taken at the time show a children’s safety barrier above the steps.
The new theory emerged after a report from Britain said specialist sniffer dogs had detected the “smell of death” on the steps, it was claimed. In the past, Mr and Mrs McCann, both 39, have been accused of hiding their daughter’s body because she had been sedated.
But yesterday, a source close to the couple hit back at the allegations.
“Where is the proof that this happened? Madeleine was put to bed at 7pm and there was a witness. When is Madeleine supposed to have fallen?
“If the police are 100 per cent certain that Madeleine fell down some steps, that means they must be able to prove she died in that way. It’s just not possible without a body.”
The couple’s spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, added: “It is just ludicrous. All of these reports are unsourced and unsubstantiated.”
A tip-off claiming that a former Ocean Club employee was involved in Madeleine’s disappearance was sent to the Prince of Wales’s official website, and passed to police.
It alleged that a maid who used to work at the Mark Warner resort kidnapped Madeleine in revenge for being fired. Police have discovered the woman identified does exist and that the tip-off came from an email address registered in the Iberian peninsula.