Madeleine McCann search causes concerns in Praia da Luz

Madeleine McCann Image copyright AP
Image caption Some locals voiced frustration that new searches for Madeleine McCann had begun at the start of summer

For the McCann family, the latest search for evidence about their daughter's disappearance couldn't come soon enough. But some in the resort of Praia da Luz are frustrated by the timing.

It is the start of the summer season on the Algarve - its busiest period of the year by far.

Families and retired couples are heading from the UK to the resort of Praia da Luz - making the short journey from Faro Airport further along the coast.

Here, the population increases four-fold in the summer months, remaining popular for the same reasons it attracted the McCanns - it is compact, family-friendly and has activities to keep all ages occupied.

Children can be seen paddling in the waves and building sandcastles on the beach, all under the blazing sun.

But just up the hill a large area of scrubland has become a hive of activity with police officers inside a cordon and journalists outside.

The land is owned by a company belonging to one of Portugal's richest men and is a short distance from the centre of the village.

Many residents walking past it don't want to comment at all.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police have been marking out sections of the scrubland
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Portuguese police have been joined by British officers for the search
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The scrubland is being searched after a request from the Metropolitan Police

Those who do speak tend not to give their names - but express their fears about the effect the renewed attention on the search for missing Madeleine McCann will have on this tiny village that comes into its own in the summer months.

A woman from Essex, one of many British people with a holiday home here, says: "We're all fed up with this. It's a nuisance at this time of year.

"All this attention had an effect before and now it will again. It's totally disruptive."

Another holidaymaker, from Newry, County Down, is here with her family, including her grandchildren, and has walked down to the search ground to show them what is happening.

She says: "My sympathies are with the McCann family - I met them in 2007.

"But I don't know what the police hope to achieve. It disturbs the village."

She also points out that in the hot weather, the ground will be very hard, making any searches potentially difficult.


One woman known as Nana, who has lived in the area for 15 years, feels so strongly that she walks up to the site on Rua 25 da Abril with a handmade placard bearing the words: "Dig up lies, not Luz".

"I'm very angry, frustrated, furious," she says.

"It has such a detrimental effect on Luz locally, for tourism.

"People live off tourism. Luz is suffering and that's why I'm angry."

The police activity is happening now because Portuguese authorities recently accepted a Metropolitan Police request to search the area of scrubland near where Madeleine, then three years old, went missing in 2007.

Gerry McCann, Madeleine's father, has expressed his family's gratitude that the Metropolitan Police team had moved on to a "very active" phase in its investigation.

But local mayor Victor Mata wants to know why the search is happening at precisely the wrong time for the tourism industry.

Sitting in his office, almost within sight of the cordoned off area, he says through a translator: "The next three months are when the entire village earns its keep.

"The timing couldn't be worse. Summer essentially starts today.

"The people of Luz are not against the searches for Madeleine but seeing as it's been seven years, they would have appreciated it if they could have started in a few months' time."

He says he personally has heard of several British families cancelling their trips in recent days, having seen the media reports about the searches.

"They've decided to go somewhere else because of this," he says.

"Luz is losing out."

Image caption The area which has been sealed off is roughly the size of three football pitches
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some people say the search is happening at the wrong time of year as the area is getting busy with tourists
Image caption Police have not said how long the search will last

As well as being put off by the police activity, holidaymakers may also be staying away because of the number of press congregating here, with one hotel saying a booking had been cancelled for that very reason.

Despite the resort's desire to move on from the tragedy of missing Madeleine, it seems a hard task.

At the beach, a family buying ice creams comment on having seen a television film crew and discuss the search amongst themselves.

And at the Ocean Club, two women in beachwear slow down as they approach apartment 5a, where the McCanns were staying when Madeleine vanished.

In the church that overlooks the bustling beach, a sanctuary away from the heat and noise outside its doors, a middle-aged woman lights a candle inside.

It joins four other flames burning, each a silent act of remembrance.

It is here that Kate McCann says she still seeks solace on her visits back to the resort, drawn to the area she last saw her daughter.

This next stage of the investigation is focused on trying to provide the answers she still needs.

And closure is also what the people of Praia da Luz want - disruptive as this latest development must be.

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