Dunedin Madeleine sighting ruled out but more claimed

Balclutha couple Michael Griffiths and Mary Habib, who reported a sighting in the Octagon and in...
Balclutha couple Michael Griffiths and Mary Habib, who reported a sighting in the Octagon and in Milton of a girl they believed to have been Madeleine McCann to police last August. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Further possible sightings of Madeleine McCann in Otago have surfaced, with a couple "80% confident" they saw the missing girl in August last year.

This is despite the claimed sighting, widely reported yesterday, of Madeleine at The Warehouse in South Dunedin in 2007 now confirmed by police as being of another child.

The case resulted in the international media spotlight focusing on Dunedin after the release of a grainy black and white image, which showed a child thought to be Madeleine, the 4-year-old British girl who went missing in Portugal in May 2007 while on holiday with her family.

Balclutha couple Michael Griffiths and Mary Habib said yesterday they believed they twice saw a girl resembling Madeleine on August 6, in Dunedin at 10.30am and Milton at 2pm.

The girl was with a man aged between 35 and 40.

The couple reported the sightings to Balclutha police later that night.

Mr Griffiths and the police also notified the official Madeleine McCann website, www.findmadeleine.com.

Mr Griffiths said yesterday no reply had been received from police or the website.

Madeleine, aged 3, and what she may look like as a 6-year-old.
Madeleine, aged 3, and what she may look like as a 6-year-old.
A Balclutha police spokesman yesterday confirmed police had investigated the sightings, with the information forwarded to Dunedin police.

Acting Southern District Commander Inspector Dave Campbell said Dunedin police had kept the case open despite the formal case being closed by Portuguese authorities.

Insp Campbell issued a statement last night saying the person identified as Madeleine by Taryn Dryfhout, a former checkout operator at The Warehouse in South Dunedin, was not the missing girl.

"We ask that media outlets remove the image portraying the child and family from their coverage, including websites, to protect the privacy of the family.

"New Zealand Police are mindful of the stress on the McCann family from possible sightings of their daughter worldwide," Insp Campbell said.

The family in the photograph contacted police yesterday afternoon and by 5.30pm it had been confirmed the girl in the photograph was not Madeleine.

However, police confirmed there had been several other sightings of Madeleine in the province, but declined to release that information.

The Otago Daily Times understands sightings of Madeleine in Alexandra and Queenstown have been reported to police.

Mr Griffiths and Ms Habib decided to come forward after yesterday's story in the Otago Daily Times.

The couple, who were in Dunedin on business on August 6, were having coffee at an outside table in the lower Octagon between 10.30am and 11am.

They observed a man walking with a young girl, and "I wondered why the kid wasn't at school", Mr Griffiths said.

The couple later saw the man and girl, who was described as being 6 or 7, with long "mousey hair" and wearing a neutral-coloured jacket and trousers, sitting outside the Mash Cafe and Restaurant in the Octagon.

Returning home that afternoon, the couple stopped at Da Vincis in Milton at 2pm for a takeaway pizza when they saw the same man and girl outside the restaurant.

"The girl looked very clingy... she didn't look like she wanted to move very far from him."

The man was described as being of medium height and build, wearing a lighter shirt and expensive casual jeans.

Mr Griffiths and Ms Habib ordered a pizza, but their meal was mistakenly given to the man who was with the girl.

The man, who said it was not his order, spoke with a strange accent they could not place - possibly British or European, Mr Griffiths said.

"He was suspiciously different, or differently suspicious . . . if that makes sense."

While the couple did not speak to the young girl, two middle-aged women walking by struck up a conversation with her.

On their drive home, Ms Habib said she thought the girl was strikingly similar to Madeleine.

Mr Griffiths agreed, and the pair contacted police after looking at photographs of Madeleine on the internet.

"I am 80% confident it was her," Mr Griffiths said.

"I am 80% plus," Ms Habib said.

Asked if last night's news regarding the family in the CCTV footage coming forward to police had changed their opinion, Mr Griffiths said "not in the slightest".

"Our sighting was completely different."

In hindsight, the couple said they wished they had talked to the girl or taken her photograph.

But they contacted police to report their sightings with concern and a clean conscience, they said.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

 

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