New sighting of Madeleine

Police are investigating fresh claims that Madeleine McCann is alive and being held captive after witnesses reported seeing her being bundled into a car in Spain.

Two witnesses told detectives they are "certain" they saw the missing four-year-old girl with a man who was acting strangely at a petrol station earlier this week.

The sighting is a glimmer of hope for desperate parents Kate and Gerry McCann, who this week revealed that they believed their daughter was alive and being held somewhere in Spain.

The two female witnesses who triggered the latest police search told officers they saw a well-built man shoving the little girl, who resembled Madeleine, into a dark green Citroen ZX hatchback.

They watched as he mistreated her at a car wash at a Shell service station on a main road out of the port city of Cartagena on the country?s south-east coast.

The witnesses said the man pushed the girl down on to a car seat when he realised that they were watching him.

One of the witnesses told officers: "The man was holding the girl by the hand, but when he saw us watching him he picked her up by her head, pushed her into the seat to hide her and sped off as fast as he could in the car."

The suspect was described as 5ft 9in tall, with chestnut-colour hair and dark brown eyes, wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt and what they described as "pirate-style" trousers, thought to be three-quarter length.

The two Spaniards reported the incident to the Civil Guard headquarters in Cartagena at 7.45pm on Tuesday, two hours later. It prompted detectives to visit the petrol station on the N332 several times to interview staff and customers and increase their presence in the area. All officers, including the rural police service, have been given a description of the possible kidnapper and the car and have stepped up patrols.

A spokesman for the Spanish government?s office in the province of Murcia said: "Two Spanish women presented themselves at the Civil Guard office in Cartagena to say they were certain they had seen Madeleine in a car at a service station."

Petrol pump attendant Francisco Cervantes told the police that he also remembered seeing the green Citroen ZX at the car wash.

He said: "I saw a green Citroen which was very dirty and headed straight for the car wash. The car was being driven by a person with curly hair."

The description of the suspect is similar to one the McCanns? friend Jade Tanner gave to police of a suspect in Praia da Luz.

Madeleine?s parents said earlier this week they believed Madeleine could easily have been smuggled into Spain. Gerry added: "The possibility that Madeleine is alive in Spain is very real. The border between the two countries is very big."