Tuesday May 22, 2007

The father of missing Madeleine McCann has issued a direct plea for suspects in the case to be treated as innocent unless proven guilty.

Gerry McCann said Madeleine’s family wanted anyone under suspicion to be treated “the way we would hope to be treated”.

Mr McCann made the appeal as he and wife Kate prepared for a personal pilgrimage to one of the most sacred shrines in Catholicism to pray for a miracle.

His comments come after days of scrutiny into the life of Robert Murat, who lives in the Algarve village of Praia da Luz where the four-year-old was snatched from her bed 19 days ago.

Mr Murat, was seen going in and out of the cordoned-off area around the McCanns’ apartment in the days after Madeleine’s disappearance offering his services as a translator.

Asked if he knew Mr Murat personally Mr McCann refused to comment, but he said: “I would say as a family, we hope that everyone else treats all suspects the way we would hope to be treated and they are presumed innocent until someone is charged, arrested and convicted of any criminal offence.”

Mr Murat, 33, who has joint British and Portuguese nationality, is the only person so far to have been classed as an official “arguido”, or suspect, in the case. He has not been charged, or even formally arrested, but remains a suspect more than a week after he was taken in for questioning by police and his house searched.

Mr McCann, who arrived back in the Algarve on Tuesday morning after a lightning visit to the UK, also revealed that the couple would travel to the shrine of Fatima on Wednesday, the holiest site in Portugal.

The visit may well prove to be the first step in an expected European tour aimed at spreading news of Madeleine’s abduction across the continent.

Friends said Mrs McCann had considered making the four-hour trip from Praia da Luz even before Madeleine was abducted and had been set on making the journey ever since. The couple have spoken publicly of how their Catholic faith has sustained them during the recent turmoil.

Mr McCann also spoke publicly about the couple’s plans to cross Europe to appeal for news of Madeleine. “We will travel wherever is necessary to ensure people across Europe recognise Madeleine’s picture and encourage them to come forward with information,” he said.

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