Police have ended the latest search effort in the 16-year-old hunt for missing Madeleine McCann after collecting unspecified samples by a reservoir in Portugal.
Portuguese police on Thursday said the three-day operation requested by Germany was now over and that the collected material would be handed over to German authorities after “safeguarding the interests of the investigation still ongoing in Portugal”.
Police would not say whether any useful clues were found during the search that involved sniffer dogs, use of a tractor-based tree-cutter and investigators raking the cleared ground in a few small areas. But a source close to the investigation told Reuters there was nothing likely to crack the case to report.
German authorities, who have named Christian Brueckner as a suspect in the case, have been helping Portuguese crews comb the remote area inland from the Algarve coastal resort where Madeleine - then aged three - went missing during a family holiday in 2007.
Prosecutor Christian Wolters said as the search came to a close: “Of course there is a certain expectation, but it is not high. It was important to show that authorities were investigating the case.”
He added that the investigators were looking for the body, but also for anything that could help the investigation, such as clothing: “A lot is conceivable.”
The prosector indicated he did not expect the results of the studies of the collected samples to be announced any time soon.
Brueckner, 45, a convicted child abuser and drug dealer, is behind bars in Germany for raping a 72-year-old woman in the same part of the Algarve. He has denied any involvement in the disappearance.
British police, who assisted their Portuguese and German counterparts at the Arade reservoir, had left by early Thursday afternoon followed by German investigators who packed up their tents at a camp on a hill.
Heavy machinery, which had been used to cut through the vast undergrowth, was removed.
A large section of the Barragem do Arade has been cordoned off since Tuesday morning, around 30 miles from where Madeleine went missing in 2007.
Officers used shovels to excavate their area of focus, and sniffer dogs and pickaxes have also been deployed over the course of the searches.
German authorities have not revealed what triggered the latest search operation, but Mr Wolters previously said they were acting on the basis of “certain tips”.
He told German public broadcaster NDR the new information had not come from the suspect and they did not have a confession or “any indication from the suspect of where it would make sense to search”.
The Sun reported that investigators previously found photos and video of Brueckner at the reservoir. He has reportedly denied any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance.
Madeleine was three years old when she vanished while on holiday with her parents in Praia da Luz, after they left her and her younger twin siblings asleep in their apartment while they went out to dinner with friends.
Portuguese lawyer Marcos Aragao Correia previously claimed that criminal contacts had told him that Madeleine’s body was in the reservoir, and in 2008 he raised funds for unsuccessful private searches of the water.
British officers from the Metropolitan Police are also present while the work is carried out so they can inform Madeleine’s parents of any developments.
On Tuesday, search teams were seen scouring the banks – hammering away at the ground with pickaxes and combing through small rocks with rakes and spades.
Portuguese daily Expresso said that that police had collected some objects including fabrics and garments early in the search.
Madeleine’s disappearance has attracted enormous media attention since she vanished, and reporters are being kept at arm’s length around a mile away from where search activity is taking place.
A no-fly zone was imposed over the reservoir.
The new searches came as the Home Office granted an extra £110,000 in funding this financial year for the Metropolitan Police to assist with finding Madeleine, down from just over £300,000 last year.
The total funding given to Operation Grange has been just under £13.1 million since 2011.