U.K. police say Madeleine McCann may still be alive
Police release age progression photo as missing girl's 9th birthday nears
Police in the U.K. have released a new age progression image of Madeleine McCann, saying it's possible the girl who vanished while on a family vacation in Portugal's southern Algarve coast in 2007 may still be alive.
Investigators have not been able to determine what happened to Madeleine, who disappeared a few days before her fourth birthday from a holiday apartment at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007.
The Metropolitan Police Service has been conducting an investigative review into the disappearance of the young girl, which involves looking at material gathered over the years by police in both the U.K. and Portugal, as well as material gathered by private investigators.
"From the outset we have approached this review with a completely open mind, placing Madeleine McCann at the heart of everything we do," said Det. Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the review.
Redwood said the review was working off two possible situations — that Madeleine is still alive or dead.
"Based on the former, we are releasing the age progression image today with a specific appeal," Redwood said in a statement that accompanied the image, which was released ahead of the fifth anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance.
Police said the image, which was made public ahead of her ninth birthday on May 12, was created in "close collaboration" with the family and shows "how we believe Madeleine would look today."
In a rare press conference on the case, Redwood said he is leading a team of 37 police officers reviewing some 40,000 pieces of evidence gathered so far, which equates to about 100,000 pages of material.
The team has identified some 195 possible leads to be followed up on, and police are also developing what investigators believe to be "genuninely new material," police said.
U.K. police want case reopened
Redwood said forensic evidence of the sequence of events around her disappearance shows there are moments when she could have been snatched by criminals. He said he had an "open mind" on who could have abducted her, but asked for the help of Portuguese authorities, who closed the case in 2008.
"The objective of the review team is to work with the Portuguese authorities with a view to having the case, which has remained closed since 2008, re-opened in due course," the police statement said.
The detective urged anyone with information on Madeleine's disappearance to contact police.
Redwood, who has been in contact with Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann of Rothley, central England, noted that police do have to consider that Madeleine may be dead.
There has been no reliable indication of what might have happened to the girl despite numerous reported sightings from around the world. Her disappearance has drawn global media attention, partly because her parents were at one point questioned as suspects by the Portuguese police. They were cleared of any part in the disappearance.
Kate and Gerry McCann have since headed a campaign to keep the case in the public eye, publishing a book and appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show to tell their story.
U.K. police said the investigation has cost $3.2 million US so far.
With files from The Associated Press