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British police launch new public appeal in Madeleine McCann case

British police said Monday they will launch a public appeal via broadcast television for any information in the case of Madeleine McCann, six years after the 3-year-old disappeared from her family’s vacation apartment in Portugal in 2007.  

Police released electronic images and descriptions of a man they seek to question in the McCann case Monday morning in advance of a BBC Crimewatch episode on the case airing Monday night, calling it “the investigation’s most complex and public appeal yet” for information.

Madeleine was last seen sleeping in her family’s vacation apartment in Praia de Luz, Portugal, along with her twin siblings. Her parents were having dinner at a nearby restaurant.

British police reopened the investigation of the disappearance earlier this year, after a two-year review of the evidence gathered since the night Madeleine vanished.

NBC’s Kier Simmons was at the scene  the day after Madeleine disappeared, and said that at the time many people thought she was simply a child lost in a holiday resort and would quickly be found.

“That was part of the issue; these places have standard responses to children going missing,” Simmons said. “But that’s not a good response if a child has been snatched from an apartment, because there you’ve got an abductor.”

Portuguese authorities were criticized for their investigation of the case, and for failing to follow up potential leads. The Portuguese police closed the case in 2008.

Simmons said that in covering the case, he also noticed potential flaws in its initial investigation.

“Initially you did get the impression of an investigation that wasn’t really as good as it could have been. I didn’t see detectives do door to door, I didn’t see people knocking on doors,” he said.

“I went and watched the police on the border between Portugal and Spain, searching cars and vans, and when it started raining they just packed up and left,” he said.  

The investigation then took a turn, he said, when Kate and Gerry McCann, Madeleine’s parents, were accused of playing a role in the disappearance.

The suspicions “diverted police attention to one theory, which left them not looking at other options and other theories. It diverted the public’s attention as well,” Simmons said.

Simmons said that in Portugal, many people found it “impossible to understand” that the McCanns had left the children in the apartment without a babysitter. The restaurant was just down the street from the apartment.  

“That didn’t help with winning the support of people,” he said. “And then when claims were made against parents, the support evaporated.”

Madeleine’s parents were eventually cleared as suspects by Portuguese police. The McCanns hired a private detective to investigate the case, who may have found several leads. After the Portuguese government declined to reopen the investigation, the British government made an agreement to re-examine the evidence.

Based on that re-examination, police have managed to figure out that there was a key sighting of a man carrying a child around Madeleine’s age on the night of her disappearance, Simmons said.

Last week, officials said they were examining every cell phone number used in the area at the time of the girl’s disappearance. The Scotland Yard investigation was launched in May 2011.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, said that investigators used a method called the Electronic Facial Identification Technique (e-fit) to construct the images of the man they seek to question and that the BBC broadcast would include similar sketches of other people seen on the day of Madeleine’s disappearance.

Kate and Gerry McCann also will be featured in a live interview Monday night as part of the public appeal for new information on the case. 

“It’s the most unimaginable thing to not even know what happened at all,” Simmons said. “It’s just living torture, basically.”