According to the latest information from the Judicial Police (PJ), Sara Sofia, aged three, was abducted by her mother, Paula Lopes, supposedly accompanied by two individuals of German nationality.
The group includes another woman and three more children.
At least three people of the group, aged 38 to 62, were previously made arguidos in a breach of trust and falsification case for an estimated amount of 57,600 euros. The three adults were to present themselves regularly at the GNR of Lagoa.
Sara Sofia had left Faro’s Refúgio Aboim Ascensão on 19th December, after the Court in Portimão had given exclusive custody to her father, Manuel Santos, who, on 1st January, entrusted the child to her mother with whom she was to spend the day. After 48 hours without news, Manuel Santos lodged a complaint with the Judicial Police and remains desperate, as, according to him, the child would be in danger in company of the group.
On her escape, the mother of Sara also took her three other children with her: two nine year old twins and a 13 year old girl.
Despite the fact that the Sara Sofia Lopes dos Santos case is a case of parental abduction, it is handled by the Judicial Police (PJ) with the same seriousness as for any other disappearance and the Spanish authorities have been informed.
According to the information from the PJ’s Criminal Investigation Department (DIC) in Portimão, since the couple split in 2007, Sara’s parents have been in conflict concerning the exercise of parental rights over the child, who had been officially entrusted to her father in December last year.
Manuel Santos accuses the mother of having abandoned the child. Sara’s mother and her relatives tell a different version, accusing the father of abusing the child, a fact that was never proven.
Although Sara’s abduction took place on the 1st January 2009, it was not until now that the information was placed on the Judicial Police’s internet site (www.policiajudiciaria.pt), where a recent photograph of the child can be seen.
According to information that has now been publicised by the PJ’s CID in Portimão – the same that was responsible for the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann – the last time that Sara Sofia was seen, she was wearing a pink Nike track suit and pink sneakers.
The little girl, of Portuguese nationality, has brown eyes and brown hair, and a red mark on her back as a distinguishing feature.
According to a PJ source in Portimão, there is no connection whatsoever between the disappearance of Sara Sofia and the Madeleine McCann case, yet the investigators fear that their work may be harmed by the intervention of English media, as the fact that both children are of the same age and disappeared from the same relatively close geographical area “will certainly be used to re-launch the media focus on the Maddie case and to concentrate attention on the Algarve, thus diverting suspicions from the McCann couple”.
To be continued