LONDON, July 21, 2008 — -- Nearly 15 months after British toddler Madeleine McCann went missing in Praia da Luz, Portugal, the Portuguese attorney general has ordered a halt to the investigation and cleared the child's parents of any involvement in her disappearance.
"The Attorney General's Office has hereby decided to 'archive' the investigation into the case of Madeleine McCann due to lack of any evidence of any crime being committed by the 'arguidos' [suspects]," Attorney General Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro said today in a statement.
Kate and Gerry McCann and Robert Murat, a property consultant based in Praia da Luz, "are no longer considered suspects in the case of the missing toddler," he added.
Madeleine McCann vanished on May 3, 2007, while her family was vacationing in Praia da Luz.
Even after the case is shelved, however, it can still be reopened if any new evidence surfaces.
In his statement, Monteiro said that the attorney general's office reserved "the right to reopen the investigation, or upon request from an interested party, should there be legitimate cause or significant new evidence emerge."
For now, there are suggestions in the UK media that the evidence that led to the McCanns' being charged was based on incorrect DNA tests.
The Daily Mail reported that the attorney general's report accuses the British Forensic Science Service of making crucial errors during its testing of samples found in the McCanns' car and their apartment in Praia da Luz.
According to the Mail, leaks from Monteiro's report say that it was the forensic service's initial insistence that DNA samples found in the McCanns' car and apartment belonged to Madeleine, which was responsible for prosecutors formulating charges against the couple.
A month later though, the forensic service officials said they could not be certain of their findings, and were unable to determine if the samples belonged to Madeleine, Kate, or Kate's younger daughter, Amelie.
In an interview with ABCNews.com, a Forensic Science Service spokesperson said that, "unfortunately, we haven't seen a copy of the attorney general's report, so we can't comment on this."
Additionally, when cadaver dogs were sent into the McCanns' Praia da Luz apartment, detectives claimed that they had smelled the "scent of death." But, according to leaks from the attorney general's report, the police did not take into account that Kate McCann, a doctor by profession, had seen six patients who had died, before going on vacation.
But one man, Goncalo Amaral, former head of the Portuguese police, continues to believe that Madeleine died inside her parents' vacation apartment, and will publish his account of what happened to her Thursday.
Amaral was removed from the investigation into her death in October, after he criticized the British police's handling of the case.
In an interview with the BBC, he said, "The evidence that we had gathered by the time that I left the case pointed to the girl being dead, and having died inside the apartment."
His book reportedly alleges that Madeleine died of an accident and that her parents disposed of her body to cover up her death. The McCanns have strenuously denied any involvement in her disappearance and continue to believe that their daughter is still alive.
Speaking to reporters today, Kate McCann said that it was "heartbreaking" to be considered a suspect in the disappearance of her own daughter and said that the family would "never give up the search for Madeleine."
The third former suspect, Robert Murat, welcomed the news today with open arms.
In an interview with ABCNews.com, he described his feelings as "vindication," particularly following his $1.2 million victory in libel charges against British tabloids last week.
"I am happy to have this finished," he told ABCNews.com, but added, "I think everyone needs to realize that there is a little girl missing that is still missing, so it's really not over -- least of all for her parents.
"There is still a certain sadness to this whole situation. I don't think I can be ecstatic about the news no matter how much I welcome it."
For their part, the McCanns have asked for their own private detectives to be given access to all police files related to the investigation.
The couple's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, confirmed that they intended to "continue the search for Madeleine," adding that, "At the end of the day, that is the most important thing, finding their daughter and keeping the search going."
The McCanns have already been granted access to some of the files kept by the Leicestershire police, after a settlement was reached at the London High Court between the couple and the Leicestershire police earlier this month.
In addition to a British agency, the couple has hired a Spanish-based detective agency, Metodo 3, to conduct their own investigation into the child's disappearance.
The two agencies will have more material to work with. According to Monteiro's statement, all case papers will be available to any interested parties shortly. The McCanns' attorney in Portugal, Rogerio Alves, has told reporters that he expects to have access to court papers by the end of this week.
Fabiola Antezana contributed to the reporting of this story.