First published: 04 January 2008
(Same article later republished with new headline: 'Missing Madeleine McCann: Irish Witness 'Clears' Murat', 12:00pm UK, Monday April 07, 2008 )
An Irish tourist who saw someone carrying a child in a blanket on the night Madeleine McCann disappeared insists that the mystery man was not Robert Murat.
Martin Smith, from Drogheda in Co Louth, was on holiday in Praia Da Luz with his family when they bumped into the man just before 10pm on May 3 last year.
The Smith family's suspicions were aroused because the man made no response when they asked if the barefoot child was asleep.
"He just put his head down and averted his eyes, which is very unusual in a tourist town at such a quiet time of the year," said Mr Smith.
Initially the Smith family thought nothing more of the encounter - and even the next day when the story broke they still didn't make the connection.
"We were home two weeks when my son rang me up and asked was he dreaming or did we meet a man carrying a child the night Madeleine was taken," said Mr Smith.
"We all remembered the same recollection, and I felt we should report it to the police.
"We've all been beating ourselves up that we should have made the link sooner, if only we'd remembered the next day. But the Portuguese police said you see these things on holiday all the time."
The Smiths did contact the Portuguese police once they had returned to Ireland, but say they have had no contact with the officers investigating the case since May last year.
"I rang the Portuguese police and they took a statement from me on the phone," said Mr Smith.
They asked me to make a statement to the Gardai, which I did, and two days later Leicestershire police got on to us.
"My eldest son, Peter, my youngest daughter, Aoife, and I then flew to Luz to make a statement. They didn't seem to be the most efficient police you ever came across - and that was the last time we had any contact with the investigation.
"I don't know if this information will help the McCanns, but anything we can do to help try to solve it, we will.
"We were looking at all the commotion on Sky News and we really felt quite helpless. We had two grandchildren with us at the time and it had a terrible effect on them - they all wanted to sleep in the same room as us."
But Mr Smith is certain that the man he and his family saw that night was not Robert Murat, who is still officially an "arguido" in the Madeleine McCann investigation.
"I told police it was definitely not him because the man wasn't as big as Murat - I think I would have recognised him because I'd met him several times previously.
He was wearing beige trousers and a darker top. We all put him in his early 40s and I didn't think he was Portuguese."
Mr Smith's sighting is similar to the one reported by Jane Tanner, a friend of the McCann family.
A spokesman for the McCanns said detectives from the Spanish agency hired to investigate the case are now hoping to speak to the Smiths.
Retired Mr Smith, 58, does not wish to appear on camera in order to protect his family from media intrusion.