Last updated at 16:01 23 October 2007
Kate and Gerry McCann's strict holiday routine and fondness for the same restaurant made their three children easy prey for a potential abductor, a key eyewitness has revealed.
The couple and their friends all left their children in their apartments at exactly the same time for the last four nights of their holiday, according to the new witness.
Their children were left alone for up to three hours a night while the nine-strong group enjoyed their meals - typically washed down with eight to ten bottles of wine a night.
The waiter, who has asked not to be identified, said the nightly routine was "set in stone", making it easy for a potential abductor to "choose the right moment to take the child".
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Kate and Gerry McCann: Reported to have left Madeleine alone for four nights in a row
Read more...He said the group made a "special arrangement" to book the same table at 8pm every night so they could sit outside, 50 metres from where their children lay sleeping.
He told how the arrangement was widely known about by workers at the restaurant, who thought it was strange that other holiday-makers had to queue for reservations at the popular tapas bar.
But he said he only realised after Madeleine's disappearance that the routine could have made all eight of the group's children vulnerable to a potential abductor.
He then added "The apartments are all quite close to the pool, but there are trees in between so you can't see them from the restaurant.
Four of the Tapas Nine: Clockwise from top left, Fiona Payne, Jane Tanner, Russell O' Brien, Rachael Oldfield
Madeleine McCann: left alone with her twin siblings the night she disappeared on May 3rd"Even though they were checking their children every 20 minutes or so there was still a lot of time they were left alone when someone could have gone in and taken them.
"When you think back now, because the routine was so set in stone every night, if somebody had been watching the group they would definitely have been able to work out what was going on and choose the right moment to take the child."
His eyewitness account of the group's behaviour is the first time anyone from inside the tapas bar has spoken publicly about the events of May 3.
He has been interviewed by police for a total of four hours during two interviews about that night, and other evenings when the so-called 'Tapas Nine' dined at the restaurant.
And his wife has also been quizzed about the first two nights of the group's holiday, when she worked at the Ocean Club's other restaurant, the Millennium.
He said: "Right from the start it was obvious the police were taking the situation very seriously and believed Madeleine had been abducted. I told them what I knew and said I wondered why they hadn't paid a babysitter.
"Once I realised what had happened it struck me that the arrangement had been pretty strange.
"They were obviously wealthy people, why didn't they just put all the children to bed in one apartment and pay the 15 euros per hour for a shared babysitter?"
The McCanns have admitted they left their children alone for the last few nights of their holiday in Praia da Luz, but have not spoken in detail about their arrangements.
The couple said they did not want to use a babysitter because they did not want to disrupt their children's normal routines, or to leave them with a stranger.
And they have spoken of their bitter regret that they chose to leave Madeleine and their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie alone.
The staff member, told of the dramatic moments after Mrs McCann found that Madeleine was missing.
He said the McCanns dined with their friends, David and Fiona Payne, Mrs Payne's mother Dianne Webster, Matthew and Rachael Oldfield and Russell O'Brien and his partner Jane Tanner as usual, and drank their normal eight to ten bottles of wine.
He also said: "The night of May 3 had been just a normal night. Then it all became madness.
"We were beginning to wind down at the restaurant and I had been clearing some tables. I went into the kitchen for a few minutes and when I came out I saw that the McCanns' table was totally empty except for the older woman. I think she was a mother of one of the friends. She looked scared.
"Then I heard all the shouting and screaming coming from the apartments, and my colleague told me a child had gone missing.
"After that it was chaos. People were running around the resort shouting for Madeleine, and we all started to help looking for her. I've never seen anything like it."
He said the only time he remembered Mrs McCann going to check on the children was when she raised the alarm, and said it was usually only the men of the group who had carried out the checks.
His testimony contradicts some aspects of what the McCanns have said about the night.
They said the whole group took it in turns to check on the children, and told how they only had four bottles of wine, although another two bottles were brought to their table and remained unopened because of what had happened.
He said the group got unlimited free wine with their dinner as part of their holiday package, but said they were 'very sensible' about their drinking.
"It's been reported that they had 14 bottles of wine a night but I was serving them and I know it was usually between eight and ten," he said.
He said the group ate at the resort's other restaurant on the first two nights of their holiday, a buffet restaurant called Millennium, and took all their children with them.
But they complained that the meal was too late for the youngsters and asked the Mark Warner manager to have the biggest table at the tapas bar, so they could leave their children in their nearby apartments while they ate.
The staff member's wife, who served the group at the Millennium, said the fractious children started crying towards the end of first two nights.
She said: "The children were generally very well-behaved, and I definitely remember Madeleine. She was like a little angel, very quiet and good as gold. Just a lovely little blonde girl.
"The second time they came in the McCanns were looking for the baby high chairs for their twins and Madeleine went over to the corner of the restaurant and started trying to drag them over.
"She obviously remembered where they were kept and wanted to help her parents, it was quite sweet really.
"Other than that she was just like any other little girl. She played with her food a little bit but didn't cause any trouble apart from that."
The latest eyewitness detail about the night of Madeleine's disappearance came as a team of Portuguese detectives prepared to fly to England to reinterview some of the Tapas Nine.
Portuguese police and an official from the public prosecutor's office want to sit in while British detectives interrogate the group of friends.
The head of the Portuguese police force Alipio Ribeiro said formal letters asking British authorities to agree to such a deal would be sent 'within days', but the Policia Judiciaria refused to reveal when the team would travel to Britain.
Friends of the McCanns said police in Portugal had not contacted the couple to say if they would be questioned again.
A family friend said: "Kate and Gerry have not been told anything about Portuguese police. It may well be that they will not be told in advance. As far as I'm aware their legal team have not been informed either."
The couple's spokesman Clarence Mitchell said they welcomed anything which would help the investigation.
He said: "Anything that helps to eliminate Kate and Gerry from the inquiry is good.
"We view this as a positive development. Kate and Gerry and their friends have always said they will do anything to find Madeleine or at least find out what has happened to her.
"So obviously they will cooperate fully with any further questioning the PJ might want to carry out."
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-489143/Kate-Gerry-left-Madeleine-hours-nights-row.html#ixzz13pHDqwEr