Madeleine McCann police to question 'several suspects'

A team of police searching scrubland Police officers have been combing the bushes and long grass in a large area of scrubland

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"Several suspects" are likely to be questioned in the "very near future" by officers investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, Portuguese police have told the BBC.

It is understood UK police have already asked Portuguese authorities if they can speak to three people of interest.

But the Portuguese now say more than three suspects will be interviewed by their officers.

Madeleine was three when she went missing from Portugal in 2007.

Forensic teams have been examining a section of private scrubland in the Praia da Luz resort since Monday.

Ground-penetrating radar

Portuguese police sources told the BBC that no questioning of suspects would take place in the coming week.

They also said all interviews would be conducted by Portuguese police. British police would be allowed to sit in during the questioning, but they would not be allowed to intervene at any stage, they said.

Earlier the BBC learned that UK police had made a request to speak to three people of interest in one of three letters sent to Portugal's attorney general in 2014.

As the search continues Met Police officers have focused their attentions on two fresh areas within the 15-acre search site, where officers have cut back vegetation and used ground-penetrating radar.

They have also been examining the ground inside one marked-out area, covered with long grass.

The BBC understands that, so far, the police have not found anything relevant to the case.

Officers clearing scrubland Officers have cleared a number of areas of scrubland over the last six days
A police officer and a sniffer dog search scrubland Sniffer dogs are assisting police officers on the sixth day of their search
Officers pour water over the dogs to keep them cool during the search Officers pour water over the dogs to keep them cool during the search
An officer on horseback during the search Horses have also been involved with the search, carried out by both Met Police officers and Portuguese officers
'Encouraged'

British and Portuguese police were due to end their search on Friday but have been given permission to continue into next week.

As well as being granted a seven-day extension at the search site, officers also have permission to investigate two other areas.

The BBC understands officers are due to continue searching the first area until Sunday, when the operation will halt for two days to coincide with a Portuguese national holiday.

Officers are then expected to begin work at the two other areas of interest from Wednesday. Both sites are believed to be in the "Luz area".

On Thursday, Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, said they were "encouraged" by the progress made by police, in a statement on the Official Find Madeleine Campaign Facebook page.

Map of the scrubland search area, Praia da Luz, Portugal

"We are being kept updated on the on-going work in Portugal and are encouraged by the progress. Thank you for continuing to stand by us and supporting our efforts to get Madeleine home," they said in their first comments since the police search began on Monday.

The search comes after the Met launched a fresh investigation into Madeleine's disappearance last July, codenamed Operation Grange.

In March, they said they were seeking an intruder who sexually abused five girls in Portugal between 2004 and 2006.

Detectives said the attacks had happened in holiday villas occupied by UK families in the Algarve.

And last month Scotland Yard said a "substantial phase of operational activity" in Portugal would start soon.

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