Last updated at 15:55 31 December 2007
Two British sisters gave a dramatic account of a pair of strangers watching the Ocean Club pool and tapas bar hours before Madeleine McCann vanished.
In an exclusive interview, Jayne Jensen and Annie Wiltshire told how they saw two blond men in their 30s, standing on the balcony of an empty apartment only a couple of doors away from the McCanns' flat in Praia da Luz.
And they provided further evidence that Robert Murat, the first official suspect in the case, lied about his whereabouts on the night Madeleine disappeared.
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Annie Wiltshire and Jayne Jensen told police they saw Murat near the apartment complex at about 10.30pm, some 30 minutes after Kate McCann raised the alarmVideo: We saw Murat outside the McCanns apartment
Mrs Jensen, a 54-year-old businesswoman, says she saw Mr Murat outside the McCann apartment half an hour after the alarm was raised.
The expatriate estate agent claims he was at home with his elderly mother all night, but it has emerged that a British barrister on holiday with his wife and children has corroborated Mrs Jensen's account.
Although the two sisters contacted Portuguese police within hours of Madeleine's disappearance, their evidence was ignored for six months.
The women met police three times within 24 hours, tried to find out who the strangers were themselves and made several follow-up phone calls to the authorities.
But it was not until six weeks ago that a formal statement was finally taken.
The two women, both divorcees from Maidstone, Kent, spent 11 hours with British police officers providing details of their evidence and later met private detectives from Metodo 3, the agency employed by the McCanns to find their daughter.
They intended to remain anonymous but when their names were leaked to a Portuguese newspaper and they found themselves wrongly accused of waiting eight months before coming forward, they decided to reveal the truth.
The sisters said they were immediately struck by the behaviour of the two men on the balcony.
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The Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz. Jayne Jensen and her sister Annie Wiltshire even went back in September to try to contact the McCannsThe pair, tanned and in Bermuda shorts, were standing outside the patio doors of a groundfloor apartment, which had been unoccupied all week, and were looking out over the resort's family swimming pool and restaurant area.
Mrs Wiltshire, 58, a mother of two, said: "It was odd because I hadn't seen them before. In May the resort wasn't busy.
Murat: Two new witnesses claim to have seen him loitering near the complex where Madeleine was abducted"There were only about 60 of us staying in the apartments and you got to recognise all the other people.
"One of the guys was walking down the steps and as I looked at him, he walked back up and started talking to the other one.
"They had a view of the whole Ocean Club and the McCanns' apartment. It just showed how easy it would be for anyone to use those balconies to watch the area. It has haunted me ever since."
That evening - May 3 - Madeleine disappeared from her bed as her parents, Gerry and Kate ate dinner with seven friends in the tapas bar.
The sisters, who helped search for the child that night, went to police the next day to report the sighting of the strangers and their concerns.
Mrs Wiltshire, who went on holiday with her sister to recover from a cancer operation, said: "The theory is that Madeleine could have been targeted. This story proves how easily it could have been done but the Portuguese police were not interested.
"It makes you wonder if there are more of us out there who have tried and not succeeded in reporting things they saw but have given up.
"They might not have been as persistent and tenacious as us but we were determined to get the information to the police somehow."
The two women had been in Praia da Luz for a week before the McCanns - Gerry, Kate, three-year-old Madeleine and two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie - arrived with a party of doctors for a short break.
Mrs Jensen and her sister were in the same daily tennis coaching group as Mr McCann. It was organised by Mark Warner, the tour operator which manages the Ocean Club complex.
"We never met Kate," Mrs Jensen said. "And we never socialised with Gerry. We just played tennis."
On the evening of May 3, the sisters ate in the same tapas restaurant as the McCann party.
Neither of them remembers the doctors being rowdy or drinking heavily that night, as other witnesses have suggested.
Mrs Jensen, a bar manager, said: "They were not noisy or dominating the restaurant. They were just a party of friends enjoying a meal."
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Christmas past: Madeleine McCann, pictured last year, went missing in MayThe sisters finished their dinner and left to walk down into the village for a nightcap.
"We were on the way to the bar when we heard the hue and cry about a missing child," added Mrs Jensen.
"The Mark Warner staff were being called on their phones and everyone thought it was a child who had wandered out of her room, looking for her parents.
"Apparently it had happened before and there was a drill they carried out. I left Annie in the bar and came back up to the apartments to see if I could help. It was only then I realised the scale of the search.
"I went straight into the creche area and checked the play area and Wendy House but found nothing."
It was then that Mrs Jensen saw 34-year-old Mr Murat for the first time. She saw a man light a cigarette as he stood on the street corner opposite the McCanns' ground-floor apartment.
She said: "I had semi-given up smoking and was thinking I could do with a cigarette when this bloke just along the pavement from me lit up. I noticed him but didn't think anything more of it."
A middle-aged barrister, a nearneighbour of Mrs Jensen in the holiday complex, has told police that he spoke to her at the time and also saw Mr Murat.
The next day, said Mrs Jensen, Mr Murat introduced himself to her and her sister.
"It was hideous when we realised that the little girl had not been found. It really began to hit home that something horrible had happened.
"I thought maybe she had fallen down a manhole, or hit her head. I didn't think she had been taken at that point and we helped search bins and scrubland."
As they and the other holidaymakers combed the area, Mrs Jensen met another member of her tennis coaching group, TV producer Jez Wilkins.
"Jez told me it was Gerry's daughter we were looking for. I hadn't realised before that moment.
"Jez said that he knew Gerry had checked the children because he had met him coming back from the apartment."
As the hours passed without any sighting of Madeleine, Mrs Wiltshire became increasingly concerned about the strangers she had seen the day before.
She said: "I didn't know if it was significant or not but I needed to tell the police in case it helped.
"I got a member of Mark Warner's staff to get a policeman to come and see me and told two officers about the men I had seen.
"I told them they were blond and one had curly hair. One was stockier than the other and they had obviously just opened the gate and walked up to the balcony.
"I showed the policemen the balcony and as I was explaining the circumstances, Robert Murat appeared and started translating for me."
Mr Murat was acting as an unofficial interpreter for the police and Mrs Wiltshire assumed he was part of the police force.
Later that day, she and her sister bumped into him again and he asked them if they needed any more help with the police and whether they had remembered anything else.
Mrs Jensen said: "He said he was helping the police because he lived locally and he was very helpful."
That evening, the two sisters joined the barrister and his wife for a glass of wine on the balcony of their apartment.
They were discussing Madeleine's disappearance and the apparent failure of the police to set up a crime scene when Mr Murat walked past, saw them and joined them uninvited.
Mrs Jensen said: "He was wearing a blue T-shirt and jeans and he said he needed to go home and change because it had been a long day, which was odd, because he had already changed out of the clothes he had been wearing earlier."
After Mr Murat left, the barrister told the sisters he found him "odd".
His wife was distraught about Madeleine's disappearance and the couple were desperate to leave the resort. Their names have not been revealed.
Mrs Jensen insists she is not conducting "a witch hunt" against Mr Murat.
"It was only after he was made an arguido (official suspect) that I realised any of this information could be important."
Other witnesses who have placed Mr Murat near the McCann apartment that night include Mark Warner nanny Charlotte Pennington, two tourists who contacted Metodo 3 independently and three of the McCanns' friends, Fiona Payne, Rachael Oldfield and Russell O'Brien.
But friends and family of Mr Murat insisted he was not there. His mother Jennifer, 71, said: "People who say he was outside Madeleine's apartment that night are telling lies.
"I challenge them to tell Portuguese police what they're telling the McCanns' investigators."
When Mrs Jensen got home, she made a number of calls to police and Crimestoppers. She gave them an outline of the sightings and was told someone would call her back but nobody did.
In September, the two women went back to Praia da Luz to try to make direct contact with the McCanns but as they arrived, Kate and Gerry were made official suspects and left to return to Britain.
The sisters admit they might have let things go at that point but the constant mention of Madeleine in the press kept nagging at them.
In desperation they finally e-mailed the McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell and told him what they knew.
Within days, they were contacted by Leicestershire police who apologised for the delay and sent an officer round to interview them.
"They were there for 11 hours, finishing at midnight and we finally got to sign a statement," added Mrs Jensen.
"All we wanted was to get the information to the right people. It is just ridiculous that no one would help us."
A spokesman for the McCanns said: "We remain extremely grateful to Annie and Jayne for making the efforts they have to get their information to us.
"They have been trying since day one and have only wanted to help Kate and Gerry find Madeleine.
"They are utterly credible witnesses and we are very grateful to them."
• Kate McCann hopes to return to Portugal once she has been cleared as a suspect in her daughter's disappearance, friends said yesterday.
Mrs McCann and her husband Gerry expect to be re-interviewed by police early in the New Year, and hope it will bring them a step closer to being eliminated as arguidos - official suspects.
The couple, both 39, would then be free to continue their campaign work and believe Portugal could still hold the key to finding Madeleine.
Once the lead story on every Portuguese television bulletin and newspaper, the case is now attracting less attention and an appeal by the McCanns would give the coverage fresh impetus.
But the couple cannot speak freely about the case while they remain arguidos as they are bound by the country's strict secrecy laws, which ban witnesses or suspects from talking about the case.
A friend said: "If they were to go to Portugal now it would seem like they were trying to put pressure on the police, and they don't want that.
"But if they were cleared as arguidos then it would change everything.
"They would be cleared in the eyes of the judicial system and technically in the eyes of the world, although they realise that there will always be some people who view them with suspicion."
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-504950/British-witnesses-We-saw-blond-men-balcony-Madeleine-apartment.html#ixzz13pPWrOjd