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Police urge press not to ‘crowd out and hound down’ Madeleine McCann investigation

By William Turvill

British journalists have been urged not to "crowd out and hound down" officers investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann ahead of a "substantial upcoming phase of work in Portugal".

At an Operation Grange media briefing this morning at New Scotland Yard, attended by Press Gazette, assistant commissioner Mark Rowley also asked journalists to avoid "hyperbole" and to not publish "any information ahead of our actions".

Rowley told journalists they had been “very helpful to date”, before adding: “I think there’s a tendency sometimes on this case, because it has such interest, for hyperbole in some of the reporting and it’s not helpful if everything we do is reported as a breakthrough, significant development, or both… I think I want to keep expectations down.”

He added: “In terms of your reporting, it would be I think really helpful if whatever reporting you do over the next few weeks as the activity takes place, if you try and put it in that context.”

He said that the McCanns' statement earlier this month, in which they said they were "dismayed" by "media interference" in the police's work, “reflects our view”.

Rowley told journalists that the “media scrum” surrounding developments earlier this month were “disruptive” and created a “chaotic and dysfunctional” atmosphere.

Rowley's request that journalists should not publish information ahead of Operation Grange actions was described as a “big ask” by Guardian crime reporter Sandra Laville.

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Talking about the McCann case she told Rowley: “Looking at what was said in Leveson and what Leicestershire Police didn’t guide on re[garding] whether the family were suspects, a bit of guidance there would have saved the family an awful lot of stress actually.

“And I think if we get information ahead of something, I would come to you and seek guidance.

“And I would have thought in a grown-up relationship that would still be possible, shouldn’t it? Because otherwise you lose complete control of it. And you get rumours flying from Portugal and from the British media.”

Rowley told Laville that he was not against giving guidance, but said he would be concerned about journalists coming for guidance based on “vague tips”.

Following the briefing, the Met released the following statement from Rowley:

DCI Andy Redwood, the senior investigating officer, and his team will be in Portugal carrying out various lines of enquiry.

"Thorough serious crime investigations work systematically through all credible possibilities and therefore it should not be assumed that this substantial upcoming phase of work in Portugal will immediately lead us to the answers that will explain what has happened.

"What you will see is normal police activity you would expect in any such major investigation.

"Similarly, this should not be seen as a sign that the investigation is nearing a conclusion. I fully expect that there will be much more work to do when this particular phase of activity comes to an end. It is helpful that any reporting of activity in Portugal is set in this context.

"We will be updating Mr and Mrs McCann throughout the activity as we have been throughout the investigation.

"We will not be giving information on when this activity is to occur.

"The very fact that we are in the position of moving towards substantial activity in Portugal shows that the relationship between the MPS and Portuguese colleagues is working…

"We have made it clear to colleagues in Portugal that we will not be giving operational updates. I appreciate this will be frustrating to you (the media) especially given the help you have provided to us with public appeals so far which has added significant evidence into our files. However, if this was an investigation in London I would not be making public details of operational investigative activity that we were planning or how it might link in to the investigation.

"Of course complications are added when an investigation is taken abroad.

"My letter last month did map out where we stood in terms of how we could manage the media demand in this investigation. If media interfere with police work, that work will stop. I suspect that the boundaries around what that is will be apparent and I asked you to cooperate with the requests of the Portuguese authorities as the most important thing is to make this inquiry go as smoothly as possible.

"On a recent visit to Portugal DCI Redwood was surrounded by a large media group asking for comments from him.

"I appreciate that media group may not solely be UK agencies, and other media may state they are unaware of our repeated requests.

"DCI Redwood and his team will not be giving comment.

"Please allow them the room to manoeuvre and work on what is a live investigation into the disappearance of a young girl. If you get any information ahead of our actions do not publish anything that may give suspects advance notice.

"The family have also made their wishes clear about allowing us and the Portuguese the room to carry on with our work and this was reinforced this publicly by Kate McCann when Andy and his team were last in Portugal.

"In my initial letter I asked editors to think twice – that advice stands. We all want the same outcome – to do everything possible to try to find answers for the McCann family.

"It is only fair on you I am upfront with you about what you can get and how the media might impact on the investigation.

"I am well aware that updates may help control this investigation and I am committed to doing this in a transparent way but mindful that nothing we do will damage the integrity of the investigation or the best possible chances of bringing it to a conclusion."

Gerry and Kate McCann pictured in 2012 with an age-progressed photo of their missing daughter (credit: Reuters).

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