The £11 million investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann has been scaled back - prompting fears it will soon be shelved.
Scotland Yard announced on Wednesday that it was reducing the number of staff working on the inquiry from 29 to four.
The Metropolitan Police took over the hunt for the missing girl in 2011 after a plea to David Cameron from her parents Kate and Gerry McCann.
Task force Operation Grange trawled through thousands of documents, witness statements and pieces of evidence relating to her disappearance from a holiday apartment at the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz in May 2007.
Detectives are said to have made 67 trips to Portugal last year alone to examine the scene and interview four Portuguese suspects, as well as various witnesses.
But after spending £11 million without a single arrest, police are winding down the inquiry.
The Met insisted that the move did not signal a closure of the probe but a source close to the McCanns said it was “the beginning of the end of the investigation”.
The source said: “They know it can’t go on forever and are preparing for it to be shelved for good over the coming months.”
Police have faced criticism over the amount of resources it has used on the inquiry.
Ex-Flying Squad chief John O’Connor said recently: “You can’t keep chasing shadows, chasing sightings all over the world. Are there more recent cases that could be progressed with the right resources? It’s about priorities.”
In a statement, the McCanns said: “Whilst we do not know what happened to Madeleine, we remain hopeful that she may still be found given the ongoing lines of inquiry.
“We would like to thank all the staff from Operation Grange for the meticulous and painstaking work that they have carried out over the last four-and-a-half years. The scale and difficulty of their task has never been in doubt.”
The Government initially set aside £5 million for the Met probe, which was set up as a review before being upgraded to a full-scale investigation two years later.
The Portuguese inquiry into the abduction of Madeleine, then aged three, was marred by blunders.
Her parents were made key suspects and basic steps to secure evidence were not taken.
The apartment was not initially treated as a crime scene, meaning 20 people went in and out before it was sealed off, contaminating potential evidence.
There were no roadblocks until 10am the next day, border guards were not informed for hours and Interpol did not put out a global alert for five days.
It meant the first 24 hours - key in a missing-persons search - were largely squandered. Sightings and artists’ impressions of suspects were kept from the public for years.
In July 2008, Portuguese authorities admitted there was no evidence against the McCanns and said the unsolved case was to be closed.
On Wednesday the Met’s Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “The investigation has been painstaking and thorough and has for the first time brought together in one place what was disparate information across the world.
“This work has enabled us to better understand events in Praia da Luz the night Madeleine McCann went missing and ensure every possible measure is being taken to find out what happened to her. We still have very definite lines to pursue which is why we are keeping a dedicated team of officers working on the case. We have given this assurance to Madeleine’s parents.”
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