Madeleine McCann's parents look to US sniffer dog case

By Caroline Gammell in Praia da Luz
Last Updated: 3:02AM BST 17 Sep 2007

[Picture: Gerry and Kate McCann on their way to Sunday Mass for the first time since returning from Portugal]

Kate and Gerry McCann's legal team has contacted American lawyers over a case where key sniffer dog evidence was thrown out of court in the hope that it may help them fight any charges that they were involved in the killing of their daughter.

The couple fear that Portuguese police will rely on the behaviour of cadaver dogs who allegedly detected "the smell of death" on Mrs McCann's clothes.

Detectives in the Algarve are understood to be working on the theory that Mrs McCann accidentally killed four-year-old Madeleine and her husband helped her get rid of the body. The couple have dismissed this as "ludicrous".

The "smell of death" was not only allegedly detected on Mrs McCann's clothes but in the family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz and the Renault Scenic car hired 25 days after Madeleine disappeared, Portuguese sources claimed. A source close to the McCanns' solicitors said the smell on Mrs McCann could be explained by being in contact with corpses while working as a GP.

The couple, from Rothley, Leics, are already preparing their defence in case they are charged with their daughter's death.

Their UK lawyers consulted the legal team of Eugene Zapata, 68, who is accused of murdering his estranged wife Jeanette in 1976.

He was charged with murder last year after dogs indicated that they sniffed human remains in the basement of the former family home in Madison, Wisconsin.

But a judge ruled last month that the evidence was no more reliable than "the flip of a coin" and could not be put before a jury.

"The court papers, giving the legal submissions, are on their way to the McCann team for consideration," said the source close to the McCanns' solicitors.

"At the moment there is no formal allegation against which the McCann team can work.

"But given that we understand the central plank of what the police are alleging involves sniffer dogs, this is important and relevant, and will be raised with the police and brought to the judge's attention."

Senior Portuguese police sources admitted at the weekend that there was "nothing concrete" with which to charge the couple.

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