By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD, Associated Press
LONDON — British police on Wednesday asked Portugal to reopen the case of missing girl Madeleine McCann, saying that as the fifth anniversary of her disappearance approaches there is a possibility she is still alive.
Police also released a new image of what McCann would likely look like today, expressing hope that she would be found even years after the then-3-year-old vanished on May 3 while on a trip to Portugal with her family.
The case sparked global interest because of heartbreaking images of the girl beamed around the world and, in part, because her parents were briefly considered suspects before they were cleared.
In a rare press conference on the case, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said he is leading a team of 37 police officers reviewing some 40,000 pieces of evidence gathered so far. The team has identified some 195 possible leads to be followed up on, he said.
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.
"We would like the case to be reopened; our case is clear," Redwood told reporters Wednesday. "I should stress quite clearly that the decision is in Portugal."
He acknowledged that police have to consider that McCann may be dead despite hopes that she is alive.
"Our drive on both scenarios is of equal measure," he said, choosing his words carefully.
There has been no reliable indication of what might have happened to the girl despite numerous reported sightings from around the world.
Redwood said he has made seven visits to Portugal and is working closely with Portuguese police officers. He has had regular contact with the missing girl's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, who have pressed to keep the case in the public eye, publishing a book and appearing on the "Oprah Winfrey Show."
Police said the investigation has cost about 2 million pounds ($3.2 million) so far.