Tuesday May 22, 2007

Julia White for express.co.uk

THE parents of missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann vowed today to “travel wherever is necessary” in their quest to get their daughter back.

Gerry McCann, who returned to his wife, Kate, in Portugal today after a series of meetings in Britain, said they were prepared to cross Europe in their search for their daughter.

Mr McCann said that as Madeleine may no longer be in Portugal the family would extend the search for her “far and wide”.

And he said the couple were nowhere near ready to leave Portugal and return home.

Gerry and Kate McCann say they will search far and wide for Maddy

He said: “We will travel wherever is necessary to ensure people across Europe recognise Madeleine’s picture and we will encourage them to come forward with any information which might lead to Madeleine’s safe return.”

Mr McCann praised efforts being made to track down Madeleine’s abductor, including a mass trawl of holiday snaps initiated by police to search for clues.

He appealed for anyone who was on holiday in the area in the two weeks before Madeleine was snatched on May 3 to send in their photographs in case a clue is hidden in the background.

Police will scour the photographs, looking at apparent bystanders and strangers before running the faces through a biometric facial recognition programme to compare them against a database of known paedophiles and other criminals.

They will also be on the look-out for anyone who crops up repeatedly in the background.

A special website – http://www.madeleine.ceopupload.com – has been launched to receive digital photographs.

4-year-old Maddy has been missing for nearly three weeks

Among places Mr McCann visited on his short trip to the UK yesterday was the family’s home village of Rothley in Leicestershire.

Last night he stopped at the war memorial in the village which has been decked in thousands of yellow ribbons, cards, flowers and cuddly toys as a focus for people’s prayers for Madeleine.

Speaking from the heart about his trip to Britain Mr McCann said: “It was extremely difficult to leave here without Kate and when I went to Rothley I knew we should have been coming home as a family of five, there’s no doubt about that.”

Standing by his side, Kate McCann said: “It was quite moving for me to see Gerry in Rothley again. It has just emphasised to us how much support we have got there and everywhere really, and that really help

In a direct intervention following days of scrutiny surrounding the life of local man Robert Murat, Mr McCann urged everyone to consider any suspects innocent until proven guilty.

Asked if he knew Mr Murat, who 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, Mr McCann refused to comment.

But he said: “I would say as a family, we hope that everyone else treats any 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.

Mr Murat, who is said to have collapsed under the strain in front of his family last night, strenuously denies any involvement in Madeleine’s abduction.

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 also revealed that he and his wife intend to travel to the shrine of Fatima in Portugal tomorrow.

The couple have spoken publicly of how their Catholic faith has sustained them during the turmoil of Madeleine’s abduction.

Mr McCann in particular is said by friends to have found renewed faith in recent days while his wife’s religious belief is long-standing.

Ten days ago, around 300,000 pilgrims flocked to Fatima to mark the 90th anniversary of a vision of the Virgin Mary at the site.

The pilgrimage coincided with Madeleine’s fourth birthday, which received coverage across Portugal and around the world.

Among those gathered at Fatima – with a representative of the Pope – were many holding up pictures of Madeleine and praying for her safe return.

Mr McCann said today: “Both of us have taken a great deal of strength from our faith.

“Tomorrow we want to visit the shrine at Fatima to pray for Madeleine’s return to us.”

There have been numerous apparent sightings of Madeleine across Europe and even North Africa which have been and are being investigated by police.

Portuguese police said today that officers have not travelled to Marrakech, Morocco, to investigate a claim by a Norwegian woman that she saw a girl matching Madeleine’s description asking “When can I see mummy?”.

The police said the matter is still being investigated and officers have spoken to the woman by telephone, although they have not yet taken a full statement.

Mr McCann said such sightings would be investigated in their respective countries by local police under the direction of Interpol .

He added that if it was felt that those investigations were not satisfactory, they would “consider sending somebody out”.

But asked specifically if his campaign would include hiring private investigators to scour Europe for clues, paid for from the Madeleine fund, he said: “We have taken advice about the level and extent of resources both in this country and the UK which are being directed to Madeleine’s search.

“At this stage we don’t see a role for private investigators.”

Mrs McCann also spoke briefly about her husband’s visit home and the warmth he received in Rothley, in Leicestershire, in particular.

She said: “Gerry has told me about the overwhelming support we received yesterday back home.

“The love and messages he received are very moving. Both of us are really grateful for all the support we have had. It gives us strength and keeps us focused.

“We are also overwhelmed by the response to the fund and the number of people using the website is unbelievable.”

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