Madeleine McCann top cop says Cleo Smith ‘may have KNOWN her abductor who may have stalked family for days’
MADELEINE McCann top cop Jim Gamble has said missing Cleo Smith likely would have known her abductor who may be someone who was following the family ahead of their trip.
Mr Gamble – who was the senior child protection officer in the UK investigation into the Maddie case – explained the chance of the girl being taken away silently by a total stranger in the middle of the night was low.
Australian cops are now treating the case as an abduction after the four-year-old vanished from the family tent in the Outback last Saturday.
Her mum Ellie last saw her at 1.30am when she gave her a drink of water, and then her and her partner Jake Gliddon awoke to find the tot missing – sparking a frantic search.
The police were called around three hours after she was found to be missing as the family had hoped the girl was just hiding nearby – searching the area with other campers.
Mr Gamble told The Sun Online he fears this delay could make things difficult for cops as key evidence such as footprints or tire tracks may have been accidentally destroyed or lost during the initial search.
And he explained the police will be being looking "backwards and forwards" to piece together what happened before the disappearance that may lead them to the potential abductor.
He suggested that if Cleo has been taken – it is unlikely it was by somebody who she hadn't met her before.
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The top cop also added the "pivotal point" of the case was the fact her sleeping bag was missing from the campsite.
He explained you would expect the bag to be left in the tent if little Cleo had wandered off alone.
"On a campsite you can hear a pin drop in the middle of the night," Mr Gamble told The Sun Online.
"If you drag out a child – even if they have their sleeping bag over their head – the child will begin to scream.
"To get the child out of the tent without drawing any attention is a really difficult thing to do."
He explained: "If it is someone they know – and potentially trust – a child would be much more compliant.
"If a child is shocked out of their sleep by movement by someone they don't know they are much more likely to cry out – no question."
However, he added it may also be possible Cleo may have been taken in her sleep while wrapped up in her sleeping bag almost as a "sack" to restrain her.
“You never want to remove hope, hope is what keeps everybody going.”
But being able to do this without any disturbance with her parents in the tent's other compartment would be "highly unusual".
Mr Gamble, who is now the CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding Group, told The Sun Online cops will be looking into anyone who may have taken an interest in Cleo in the weeks leading up to her disappearance.
It is possible someone may have "engaged" with the girl and plotted the abduction, potentially following the family to the remote campsite.
He said: "[Police] will be looking at unusual activity leading up to the holiday involving the child.
"They will be considering anyone who had been reportedly behaving strangely with the child and anyone who tried to engage with her.
"They will be looking at the possibility of someone who took an interest in the child which led them to follow them and potentially abduct the child."
But the top cop explained the first part of the investigation for the police will be the matter of "clearing the ground beneath their feet".
Cops will be seeking to rule out those close to the child or close to the scene before looking at potential suspects.
WA Police have already said everyone on the campground is being treated as a "person of interest".
And cops are also probing up to 20 sex offenders who are known to be in the area.
Mr Gamble added police are also likely looking into if there is a history of theft from tents in the area, which could suggest an opportunistic snatch in a "moment of panic".
However, he added the campsite is a "long way to go to steal from a tent".
Mr Gamble said key evidence could be held in holiday photos taken by the family or other people on the site – which he described as "establishing digital collateral".
"Sometimes they can inadvertently capture a clue in the background," he said.
And these could help create a "photographic timeline", verify everyone is where they said they were, and look for any suspicious individuals or vehicles.
And mobile phone data will be being scoured in the hunt as they look for anyone who may have entered the area and possibly made late night phone calls.
Cleo's abduction as her parents slept is now the leading line of inquiry for Aussie cops – and one officer yesterday chillingly said they are looking for a "body".
Mr Gamble believes it is "highly unlikely" that a four-year-old would simply roll up her sleeping bag and wander off alone.
"On the best day with a fair wind, a child of that age can probably walk around 4km (2.5 miles) – any parent or grandparent knows there comes a point where a child will not walk any further," he told The Sun Online.
"And the terrain there is pretty rugged to say the least."
Police will therefore be searching a 4km bubble around the campsite and attempting to rule out any natural threats such as animals, like snakes and dingoes.
And if you work on the assumption Cleo is simply "missing" rather than "abducted" – Mr Gamble fears the "critical" point as to how long the girl could survive in the wild alone is almost passed.
"Statistically, the likelihood of a positive result diminishes every hour – and that is not to say some children do not get lost or abducted and then turn up again," he said.
“But when you get to the sixth day, we are at a pretty critical point – surviving beyond that point becomes very difficult.
“And beyond that, if you have been abducted then it's down to the intention of the abductor if you have been harmed.
“But you never want to remove hope, hope is what keeps everybody going.”
He advised parents concerned about their very young children to potentially use devices like Apple AirTags sewn into their clothes to keep track of them.
The case has shocked Australia, being dubbed the "Aussie Maddie" due to the similarities to the famous 2007 case where the four-year-old Brit vanished while on holiday with her parents in Praia Da Luz.
And a $1million reward is now being offered for any information on the girl's whereabouts as cops fear she now could be anywhere in Australia.
Four key clues
POLICE searching for missing Cleo Smith are faced with four crucial lines of enquiry that suggest she may have been snatched.
Missing sleeping bag: Not only was there no sign of Cleo when her parents woke, but her red and black sleeping bag was also gone. Experts question whether she would have taken it with her if she had simply wandered off on her own.
Police released a photo of a similar bag, along with Cleo's distinctive pink pyjamas. They urged local residents to check their bins in case evidence had been dumped inside.
Tent zip "too high": The door flap on the family tent was had been zipped so high it would have been impossible for a four-year-old to reach, said Inspector Jon Munday.
He added: “The positioning of that zipper for the flap is one of the circumstances that has caused us to have grave concerns for Cleo’s safety. That tent has been thoroughly examined by our forensic team.”
"Screeching car tyres": Deputy Police Commissioner Darryl Gaunt confirmed cops were looking into a camper’s report of a car heard screeching about 3am – 90 minutes after Cleo's mum last saw her in the tent.
“It’s a little bit unsubstantiated but we’re not ruling it out,” he said, adding it was just one of several reports from people who noticed odd activities and noises overnight.
Usual suspects: Police said between ten and 20 sex offenders were known to be in the area around the Blowholes campsite, near Carnarvon, Western Australia. Detectives said they have spoken to them all to check their movements, and none are suspects at this stage.
They also conceded said any kidnapper could have left the area before police set up roadblocks.
Deputy police commissioner Col Blanch said: "Cleo disappeared from her family's tent, despite an extensive land, sea and air search, we have not yet located her body."
"The law enforcement chief said that if the little girl had left her tent by herself then she would have been found by now."
"That leads us to believe she was taken," Blanch added.
He later said police are keeping an open mind and would not comment further on whether it was likely the girl has been "buried in the area".
Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said police "hold great fears for her safety".
He added: "The information we have received, we have not been able to locate her, we imagine we would locate her given the amount of resources and the detailed search that is taking place, that leads us to believe that she was taken from [the campsite]."
The family's camp where Cleo was last seen is located 47 miles from Carnarvon and 544 miles from Perth.
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