Saturday May 26, 2007

Geoff Marsh for express.co.uk

MADELEINE McCann’s parents fought back tears as they told how they felt guilt that they weren’t there when she was abducted.

In their first interview Kate and Gerry McCann spoke about the “darkness” they felt in the first hours and days after their daughter’s abduction.

The couple told how they had made arrangements with other families to regularly check on their children on the night of May 3 while dining a short distance away.

Gerry McCann compared eating in the tapas bar at the Ocean Club Resort in Praia da Luz as like “having dinner in your garden”.

But he said: “I think it’s fair to say that the guilt that we feel having not been there at that moment, irrespective of whether we had been in the next bedroom or not, will never leave us.”

His wife Kate said: “Certainly the first few days I think the guilt was very difficult but I think as time goes on you feel stronger and you feel very supported.”

Mrs McCann insisted the couple were not irresponsible parents but said they had perhaps been naive.
She said: “I think we were naive, we are very responsible parents, we love our children very much. I don’t think any parent could imagine or consider anything like this happening.”

Mr McCann said the experience of his daughter’s abduction was “worse than your worst nightmare” but said that they had drawn strength from thousands of messages of support from around the world.

They also described how they have been dealing with Madeleine’s abduction in the presence of their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.

Mr McCann said: “We have said she’s gone on a little trip just now and Amelie came out with one really cutting line that went right to the core, she said ’Madeleine’s on trip, back soon’.

“We certainly pray for that every day.”

Sitting side by side in an apartment in the complex close to where Madeleine was abducted Mr McCann smiled as he described Madeleine’s personality saying that she was a “ringleader” and had enjoyed her holiday tiring her parents out with a game in which she would shout “Be a monster, be a monster”.

Mrs McCann said, smiling: “She likes talking, she really likes role play.”

Mr McCann joined in saying: “She’s very good at that actually for someone so young, she really can talk…considering that she was not even four.

“She likes activity and sport, she’s very active, even at home when we are going for a jog she says ’Can I come jogging with you mummy’?”

The couple looked relaxed as they spoke about Madeleine’s love of swimming, going swimming on Saturdays and of her favourite television programme – Dr Who as well as films such as Shrek and Finding Nemo.

Last picture: Maddy with her dad and sister just hours before she vanished

But the couple said the three children were very different, describing Sean as “a thinker”, very methodical, fond of arranging things in order, while his twin sister Amelie is an extrovert.

But the family have been thrust into an extraordinary situation over the past three weeks since Madeleine’s abduction, living in a holiday apartment with an army of journalists and cameramen camped outside.

Each morning as the couple take the twins to the local kids club they pass an array of photographers.
Mrs McCann said: “I think initially they (the twins) didn’t really notice, Sean in particular; Amelie has caught on, she quite likes them.”

Everywhere they go there are pictures of Madeleine appealing for information.

Mrs McCann said: “They just point and say ’Madeleine’ and if they see us on television they say ’mummy, daddy’, they don’t really go on from there.”

Mr McCann added: “They know she’s not here a lot of the time but we haven’t avoided it, the last thing we would want is for them to forget their big sister and certainly we don’t want that, we’re doing what we feel is natural with them.

“A child psychologist is coming out to see us, probably next week, so that we can discuss this in detail, at the moment they are very happy, normal and developing.

“They are turning from toddlers into a little boy and girl.”

But Mr McCann insisted that he did not feel that the twins’ development had been affected by the extraordinary ordeal of the past few weeks.

The couple spoke briefly about their arrangements on the night that Madeleine was abducted but said that they could not go into too much detail because the issue is relevant to the police investigation.

Mr McCann said: “All the families were checking on the children at very regular intervals and often in very close proximity.”

He added: “It is what we had done during the week.

“There are one or two issues there… there is a creche for example: we use a routine at home and it works very, very well for us and the key is that the kids are asleep by 7.30 every night.

“As we had arranged to dine so close we felt that it would have really disturbed the kids dropping them off at a creche at a time they were sound asleep and then bringing them back.

“That was the reason why we didn’t use that.

“In other Mark Warner resorts there is a baby resting facility and this is the first time we have been in a Mark Warner facility.

“For us it was like dining in your garden. Admittedly at the bottom of your garden, but you could see the flat and we were checking so regularly.

“Not for one minute would anyone have thought that someone would abduct your child, we were really going back to make sure they weren’t crying.”

Asked about their emotions at the moment that Mrs McCann went back to check on the children and discovered Madeleine had been abducted she remained silent.

But Mr McCann said: “There was the darkest, deepest despair and it was absolutely terrifying and when you go back to it it still is.

“And we have had to put those dark hours completely out of our minds. We channel any negative emotions into the positive emotion of someone walking in the door with her or having the telephone call to tell us that they have found her and she is well.

“Until we know for certain that that isn’t the case we believe that she is out there and what we have got to do is be in control of anything that may help find her.”

Asked how they picture that moment there was a long pause and Mrs McCann remained silent.

Her husband eventually said: “You just can’t put into words what that would mean to us.”

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