The friends who were dining with the McCanns when Madeleine vanished, strongly denied yesterday that there was a 'pact of silence' to protect the couple.
They said in a statement they had not spoken publicly about the night of May 3 because police had ordered them not to. They are also barred from talking because of Portugal's strict secrecy laws.
The statement added: "It is incredibly frustrating for us that the fact we have done as we were asked to by the police is still being looked upon as suspicious."
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Friends: Fiona Payne, Jane Tanner, Russell O' Brien, Rachael Oldfield deny a 'pact of silence'
Read more...The denial followed a claim by John Stalker, former Greater Manchester deputy chief constable of Police, that "some big secret is probably being covered up" by the group, dubbed the "Tapas Nine".
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The seven friends were dining with the couple at a tapas restaurant in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz when Madeleine went missing on May 3.
They party included the McCanns, Russell O'Brien and his partner Jane Tanner, Rachael and Matthew Oldfield, Fiona and David Payne, and Mrs Payne's mother Dianne Webster.
The friends insist that it was only at detectives' request that they had avoided speaking about the case publicly.
In a statement issued through the couple's spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, the friends said: "We wish to state that there is categorically no 'pact of silence' or indeed anything secretive between us - just the desire to assist the search for Madeleine."
The McCanns' friends said they took the step of issuing a group statement to clear up "some fundamental misunderstandings".
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Gerry and Kate McCann: Friends dining with them on the night Madeleine vanished say they have only ever acted to protect the couple
Madeleine: Pictured on May 3, the day she disappearedAttention has focused on the McCanns' fellow holidaymakers since Portuguese police formally named the couple as suspects in the case on September 7.
The friends said: "From day one, the police in Portugal told us not to discuss our statements.
"We have always tried to honour this request as well as respecting Portugal's judicial secrecy laws, despite the very large number of inaccurate, speculative and often unpleasant articles that have been published.
"Everything we have done, and continue to do, has been to help with the search for Madeleine and to end this nightmare for Gerry and Kate."
The seven are expected to face further interrogations by police.
Last week the Portuguese newspaper 24 Horas claimed that a team of three detectives were travelling to Britain to hand over a formal request for the interviews - and that they had "hundreds" of questions to put to the "Tapas Nine".
It will be six months on Saturday since Madeleine vanished from her bed in the family's holiday apartment.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-490554/Tapas-9-deny-pact-silence.html#ixzz13pJXioTj