The hunt for Madeleine McCann was engulfed in a war of words yesterday as Portuguese police criticised her parents' spokesman.
Detectives denied Clarence Mitchell's claims that police had deliberately leaked statements from Kate and Gerry McCann and said they regretted his 'baseless intervention'. In an astonishing attack today Portuguese police union chief Carlos Anjos told respected Portuguese daily Jornal de Noticias: "Mr Mitchell wants to discredit the Policia Judiciaria and invent excuses so the McCanns do not come to Portugal to participate in the reconstruction of the night she disappeared.
"He lies with as many teeth as he has in his mouth.
"Finally we know what side truth is on.
"While the Policia Judiciaria were fulfilling their duty of investigating what happened to Madeleine, her parents' spokesman was manipulating public opinion."
"He needed to find an excuse for the McCanns not to take part in the reconstitution, saying that he doesn't trust the Policia Judiciaria."
In an extraordinary turn of events, Anjos told Jornal de Noticias his union was offering advice to officers who felt they had been identified by Mr Mitchell's leak claims and wanted to take legal action.
Yesterday, in a rare public statement - only the fifth in the 11-month investigation - the Policia Judiciaria said Mr Mitchell should not have spoken out, because the police operation had reached a 'significant' stage. But last night Mr Mitchell insisted he stands by his claims that the statements were 'shamelessly' leaked to overshadow the McCanns' high-profile visit to the European Parliament to promote a missing child alert campaign last week.
Coverage of the visit was dominated by the revelations that on the morning of May 3, just hours before she disappeared from the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz, Madeleine asked her mother: "Mummy, why didn't you come when we were crying last night?"
Mr Mitchell said: "I'm not retracting a word of what I said. The Portuguese police have yet to explain how these statements came to be leaked.
"Their criticism of me doesn't explain how that confidential material came to be made public, and with very curious timing."
He warned police last week that 'the gloves were off' following the leaking of the couple's police statements, and branded the leak 'brazen, shameless and cackhanded'.
Detectives hit back yesterday after a meeting between the head of the investigation, Paulo Rebelo, and public prosecutor Jose Cunha Magalhaes e Menezes.
In a statement posted on the force's website, a spokesman said: "The spokesman for the couple, Clarence Mitchell, publicly expressed the view to diverse media outlets, that he was certain the Policia Judiciaria was responsible for the leaks.
"The PJ want to make it clear that it is entirely false that this report included material from the inquiry, which is covered by the secrecy of justice.
"The PJ regrets the baseless intervention of the spokesman, above all at a moment when significant moves were being made in the investigation."
The police refused to reveal what was meant by 'significant moves'.
Comments (24) Kate and Gerry McCann could sue the Portuguese police for failure to find their daughter, it was claimed yesterday.
The couple could sue for an estimated £1million if the investigation is closed, it was reported.
Their spokesman Clarence Mitchell said it was something the couple's legal team might consider in the future.
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Kate and Gerry McCann could sue for an estimated £1million if the investigation is closed, it has been reported
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One of the Portuguese lawyers acting for the McCanns, Rogerio Alves, told the newspaper Diario de Noticias: "What has to be done will be done in due time."
A second member of their legal team, Carlos Pinto de Abreu said such a move was "technically possible" but would be difficult in practice.
It would rely on the McCanns being able to prove that Portuguese police had failed to act on information which could have led them to Madeleine.
One of the witnesses who claims to have seen the four-year-old in Morocco has told how police refused to investigate her sighting, saying: "It can't have been Madeleine because we believe she's dead."
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Madeleine McCann has been missing since May 3
Other witnesses have complained that Portuguese police never returned their calls or investigated their sightings.
Mr Pinto de Abreu said: "You would have to prove that it was intentional. It is very, very difficult, almost impossible to do.
"Only if you had information that someone had said they knew where the child was and the police had taken no action.
"It wouldn't be easy but it would be possible."
Asked if it was something he would consider on behalf of the McCanns, he said: "I cannot think about it."
The lawyer said it would not be possible for the couple to sue the Portuguese state for defamation over the decision to make them suspects in their daughter's disappearance.
He said: "The officials have always said that all lines of the investigation remain open.
"That is quite a cautious opinion. That's all they've said."
The couple's spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: "It is something for their lawyers to consider further on down the line.
"The only way this case will close for Kate and Gerry is when Madeleine is found safe and well."
There has been speculation that the case could be closed as early as Christmas