Wednesday May 23, 2007

By David Piditch and Matt Drake in Praia da Luz

THE campaign to find Madeleine McCann was gathering new momentum yesterday with a host of celebrities wearing her symbolic yellow ribbon.

Heading the star cast was footballer David Beckham, as he posed for pictures with leading actress Helen Mirren at the Greatest Britons 2007 awards in London.

In Portugal, where Madeleine disappeared, yellow symbolises hope and the ribbon was also worn with pride by James Bond star Daniel Craig at the Cannes Film Festival.

The toddler’s parents are hoping the high profile support will help keep their daughter’s plight in the public consciousness.

The couple said yesterday they refused to give up hope that their four-year-old daughter will return to them. But police in Portugal admitted their chances of finding Madeleine alive were fading.

Nearly three weeks after Madeleine disappeared, they have failed to reveal a single confirmed sighting of the youngster. The search in Portugal has now been scaled down and just 30 officers are still involved in the investigation.

But Madeleine’s parents overcame their despair and vowed to step up the fight to find her. They said they would “travel wherever is necessary” to promote their campaign. They were “nowhere near ready” to return to their home in Rothley, Leicestershire.

Mr McCann urged holidaymakers to respond to the unprecedented appeal in the UK to send photographs to a special website. Police have asked visitors to Praia da Luz to send any pictures that include strangers in the background and which may help identify a suspect.

Mr McCann was reunited with his GP wife yesterday after a brief visit home. Clutching Kate’s hand, he spoke of the heartbreaking journey. Standing only yards from the apartment where Madeleine was snatched, he said: “It was extremely difficult to leave here without Kate. When I went into Rothley I knew we should have been coming home as a family of five.”

Mrs McCann said: “It was moving for me to see Gerry in Rothley. It emphasised how much support we have got there and everywhere. It really helps.

“Gerry told me about the overwhelming support he received during his visit home. The love and messages he received are very moving.

“Both of us are very grateful for all the support. It gives us strength and keeps us focused on the positive.”

The couple said they wanted the search for Madeleine to extend “far and wide” as it is now believed their daughter may have been smuggled out of Portugal.

Gerry said: “We will travel wherever is necessary to ensure people across Europe recognise Madeleine’s picture and encourage them to come forward with information.”

The McCanns’ first journey will take place today. Gerry said: “Both of us have taken a great deal of strength from our faiths. We want to visit the shrine in Fatima to pray for Madeleine’s return to us.”

Mr McCann also gave details of how money from the fund will be spent. He said: “There will be significant legal expenses as a legal team has come in to advise us.

“That has lifted a great burden from our shoulders. And we will fund the website which is a great vehicle for information regarding Madeleine’s disappearance.”

Gerry said the family had taken advice and had decided not to hire a private detective.

He added: “The thrust of the investigation will be that being run by the Portuguese with the assistance of the British police.

“Our family strongly believe that somebody in the public holds a piece of information. That is why we have campaigned so vigorously to make sure her disappearance is publicised as much as possible.”

Gerry went on: “We don’t know if Madeleine is in Portugal. We have to consider the possibility she has crossed borders. We are spreading the net far and wide.

“We are hopeful that the latest appeal will lead to key information, whether it comes from Portugal, or the UK or further afield. We are concentrating on Continental Europe.”

Mr McCann refused to say whether he had met Robert Murat, 33, the Briton questioned by police as a suspect.

He said: “I hope everyone treats suspects the way we would hope to be treated. That is presumed innocent until charged, arrested or convicted.”

Mr McCann revealed he visited the Leicester-based police incident room during his trip home.

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