McCanns victims of "witch-hunt", says ex-police chief

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LONDON, Oct 22 (Reuters) The parents of missing Madeleine McCann are the victims of a ''witch-hunt'', the former boss of the Metropolitan Police said.

In an article published in the News of the World, Lord Stevens said yesterday there was no hard evidence to suggest Kate and Gerry McCann murdered their daughter.

''There's absolutely no chance that the parents of Madeleine McCann would be charged with her murder in this country,'' he said.

''It would be an outrageous miscarriage of justice if they were.

''I've been a detective at the most senior level for 30 years and have never seen such a witch-hunt, or one based on such flimsy evidence.'' Stevens -- who retired as Metropolitan Police commissioner in 2005 after five years in the post and more than 40 years in the force -- spoke of the ''sheer inadequacy of the police investigation''.

He said the McCanns should have been treated as prime suspects from the outset and that the apartment from which the four-year-old vanished should have been ''sealed off and barred to anyone but specially trained police and forensic scientists''.

During his tenure, Stevens headed inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the death of Princess Diana and alleged football bungs.

Madeleine disappeared from her bedroom in an Algarve holiday resort on May 3.

Portuguese police named her parents as formal suspects in the case on September 7.

They say they are innocent and have launched a high-profile campaign to find their daughter, who they think was abducted.

There is one other suspect in the case.

Earlier this month, Portuguese authorities appointed a more senior police officer to head the investigation, amid criticism in Britain over slow progress.

Paulo Rebelo has replaced Goncalo Amaral, who was removed after accusing the British police of being influenced by the girl's parents over which leads to follow.

Reuters RKM VP0528

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