THE search for Madeleine McCann has gone all around the globe and is now returning to where to all began.
Scotland Yard detectives have been granted permission by Portuguese authorities to begin excavating three key sites in the Algarve holiday resort where she vanished in 2007.
The searches will begin within weeks.
But a former senior detective, based in Spain, who doesn’t want to be named, told the Olive Press that he believes the operation has been planned for a very long time.
“Military helicopters are not just hired by the hour on the spur of the moment, like catamarans on the beach,” he said.
“The whole thing has been approved at a very high level. By which I mean government.”
The former career detective, now based in Andalucia, continued: “This isn’t just any other search. Someone must have spelled out exactly what they want to look for, exactly where they want to look, and exactly why.
“And this must have been agreed as a viable and useful thing to do by the entire chain of command.”
The operation comes just days after the seventh anniversary of Maddie’s disappearance, on May 3.
Gerry and Kate McCann, both 45, are fully informed about the developments in the hunt for their daughter, but will not be travelling to the resort while the work is carried out.
One of the key areas to be searched is a patch of wasteland, about the size of three football pitches, across the road from where the McCanns were staying – at the Ocean Club.
Another area is the tapas bar where they were dining when three-year-old Maddie disappeared.
The overgrown area, beside a school, was an open expanse at the time but is now fenced off.
Aerial photographs are set to be taken of the area, to assess the land, while officers on the ground will look for disturbances of rocks, excess soil and moved vegetation.
The searches will be conducted by Portuguese police, with British detectives on site alongside them.
While there has long been speculation that Maddie could have been taken across the border into Spain, the case has now decisively returned to Portugal.
The Olive Press was the first newspaper on the scene following her disappearance.
Editor Jon Clarke was asked to cover the story by The Daily Mail, Sun and Mirror, while they scrambled to send their own reporters out.
Some of the paper’s key findings was the level of slackness surrounding the initial search.
Numerous people, including neighbour and former suspect Robert Murat, were able to traipse around the crime scene unimpeded, while sniffer dogs did not even arrive until around 4pm the following day.
Incredibly on the morning after her disappearance, workmen were even allowed to continue digging up a trench in the road right outside her rental home.
It soon emerged that none of the cameras on the motorway to Spain, where it was believed Maddie could have been taken, were working.
“The whole operation was a complete shambles from the beginning,” explains Clarke. “To say the police were half asleep would be an under-statement.”
In an open letter to the media, Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “This case has for some time been moving towards increased action in Portugal.
“Whilst the process is more bureaucratic and slower than we would wish, I now believe that activity will occur in forthcoming weeks.
“The most important task for me is to build momentum and protect our investigation in order that we can do everything possible to solve the case.”