St Helens StarPM ready to help speed Maddie probe (From St Helens Star)

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PM ready to help speed Maddie probe

St Helens Star: Madeleine McCann vanished from a holiday apartment in Portugal in 2007 Madeleine McCann vanished from a holiday apartment in Portugal in 2007

The Prime Minister has said he is willing to step in if the British investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is held up by delays in the Portuguese legal system.

David Cameron's official spokesman confirmed that the premier would be prepared to "make further representations" to the government there if it would help Scotland Yard's inquiry.

He said: "The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary and others have always been clear that they very much support the work that the British police authorities are doing in this and are always prepared to consider whether there is more that can be done and, as part of that, always stand by to make further representations to the Portuguese government for example if that would be helpful.

"Investigations are rightly for police authorities but If there is more that the Government can do to help facilitate, we would certainly consider that and look to do as much as we could to help."

Yesterday Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt expressed frustration at the speed of the legal system through which British police have to ask for Portuguese assistance with their inquiry.

He said: "That's causing us frustration because we know what we want to do and we are ready to go with that. But the process is the process."

Scotland Yard has so far written three international letters of request to the Portuguese, covering 41 priority areas and including 287 separate requests.

Yesterday Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood revealed that the force are looking for a lone intruder who sexually abused five British girls during a series of break-ins in the Algarve, Portugal.

The tanned, dark-haired man is suspected of breaking in to 12 properties where British families were staying in the Algarve, Portugal, between 2004 and 2010.

In four of the incidents, a total of five girls aged between seven and 10 were sexually assaulted. These attacks happened between 2004 and 2006, before Madeleine vanished in 2007.

Mr Redwood said: ''I'm sure the public will understand that the significant features of this offending - a man with a vile interest in young, white, female children, who he is attacking in their beds while they are on holiday with their families - has got a very close resonance to some of the features of Madeleine's disappearance.

''We really need to identify the offender, to bring to a close the trauma and the tragedy that these families have suffered, and then seek to establish whether this is connected to Madeleine's disappearance.''

Another appeal for information was made last night on BBC's Crimewatch, that sparked more than 250 calls and emails.

Madeleine, who was then nearly four, disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in the Algarve on May 3 2007 as her parents dined at a nearby restaurant with friends.

British detectives launched a fresh investigation into the youngster's disappearance in July last year - two years into a review of the case - and made renewed appeals on television in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.

After shelving their inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance in 2008, Portuguese authorities said last October that a review had uncovered enough new information to justify reopening it.

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