Madeleine's Parents 'Can't Consider' Return To Britain

Madeleine's Parents 'Can't Consider' Return To Britain
14 May 2007
Press Association National Newswire
John Bingham, PA, in Praia da Luz

The family of Madeleine McCann said today they 'can't even consider'' leaving Portugal as they lead an international effort to recover their abducted daughter.

Eleven days after their child was snatched from her bed in an apartment complex in the village of Praia da Luz, Gerry and Kate McCann said they continued to believe that the four-year-old is 'safe and being looked after''.

The couple are co-ordinating a new drive, backed by a growing fighting fund, from an apartment in the complex on the Algarve, metres away from where the abductor struck.

Speaking about their plans for the first time, the couple thanked friends, family and members of the public for their efforts to get their daughter - who turned four on Saturday - back.

'As far as we are concerned, until there is concrete evidence to the contrary, we believe that Madeleine is safe and being looked after and that's how we can continue in our efforts,'' Mr McCann said.

Indicating plans to stay in Portugal for the foreseeable future, Mrs McCann said: 'I can't even consider going home at the moment, absolutely can't even let it enter my head.''

The couple have hired lawyers with expertise in child abduction to help them assess options to take the hunt further.

Looking more relaxed than in recent days, they also thanked the media and those promoting the campaign at home and abroad for giving the case international exposure.

'We have taken tremendous strength from the warmth and the spiritual outpouring that we have received here and from all around the world,'' Mr McCann said.

'That has given us great encouragement and hope that we will bring back Madeleine safely.''

He said there had been 'multiple offers'' of help, including many financial pledges for their efforts.

He said the couple welcomed the offers but they had created a problem in knowing where best to channel the resources.

The arrival of lawyers from the International Family Law Group, who flew out to Portugal at the weekend, had helped to relieve some of the pressure on the couple.

After enduring a week of torment followed by the pain of celebrating their missing daughter's birthday, the couple stood, hand in hand, to address reporters, even taking a few questions.

'Since the lawyers have come here we have visibly felt a burden being lifted from our shoulders because it is one less thing that we now have to immediately think about and how should we co-ordinate it,'' he said.

'This has allowed us to concentrate more on our own physical and mental well-being.

'We do need to spend more time at this point considering ourselves, our family, for Sean and Amelie, and contemplating about the situation that we are in.''

He also praised travel trauma consultants who had helped them work through their ordeal and, in the face of criticism of the Portuguese police investigation, said they were 'fully supporting'' it.

But he said that while the main thrust of the search for Madeleine was the police investigation, the lawyers had been brought in to advise the family on what else could be done.

He did not go into whether this would mean hiring private investigators to work in Spain or elsewhere, but more details are expected later in the week.

'You have seen that the family and close friends back home, in contact with us, are doing everything in our power to keep the publicity high and that has been the thrust and main action at the moment.

He said only that he did not know what other directions the campaign may go in.

'We will have to consider that with the expert advice, and take in advice from all the different agencies that are involved, and that's why we can't do that on our own,'' he said.

Praising the many efforts to publicise Madeleine's disappearance by friends, family and members of the public, he added: 'I think, I hope... that they have really taken on what we have said, that we must look forward and turn thought into action,'' he said.

Behind closed doors, the police have formally interviewed around 100 people but spoken to hundreds more informally.

They appear to have ruled out lines of inquiry focusing on various CCTV images featuring a blonde woman and a couple staying in the next village.

The Policia Judiciaria (PJ) - Portugal's criminal investigations police - have also now ruled out lines of inquiry over a man with a white van reportedly seen acting suspiciously near the McCanns' flat.

'We have left that line of inquiry, we have checked it and it led to nothing new,'' a source told reporters.

Police are now looking at two or three main theories but have not spoken publicly about what they are.

Friends of the McCanns who had been on holiday with them are still expected to give evidence before a judge in a private court hearing about what they know before they return to the UK.

Under a process known as 'memory for the future'', they are likely to give evidence in private.

It would be recorded on video, sealed and used in any future trial, should Madeleine's abductor or abductors be caught.

Today, at the main court in the town of Portimao - capital of the Algarve region - staff were aware of the case but had not received the relevant documents by mid-afternoon.

Members of the party were seen back in the resort of Praia da Luz earlier today.

Police were tonight searching a villa just 150 yards from the apartment where Madeleine was abducted.

The house, known as Casa Liliana, was sealed off with tape by police while men in white suits and masks began a search inside.

Police guards were on the doors outside.

John Buck, the British ambassador to Portugal, said tonight that 'impressive resources'' had been allocated to finding Madeleine.

He also praised Mr and Mrs McCann's 'remarkable resilience and dignity in very distressing circumstances''.

Today he spoke to the national chief of police in Lisbon and to the chief investigating officer in the Algarve.

Speaking on a visit to Praia da Luz, Mr Buck said: 'There are clearly impressive resources being devoted to this investigation.

'Those resources are, rightly, primarily Portuguese, but we also have a number of British police officers working with their Portuguese colleagues closely here in the Algarve.''

He added that the chief investigating officer had told him the collaboration between British and Portuguese police was 'truly exceptional''.

Mr Buck also thanked journalists for respecting Mr and Mrs McCann's privacy.

He said: 'They appreciate that the media have an important role to play in helping to find Madeleine.

'They and I are very grateful for the constructive, responsible and considerate way in which the media have approached this.''

In the UK, a text message urging mothers to pray for Madeleine's safe return to her family has spread from mobile phone to mobile phone.

The message, which has also been posted on internet forums, reads: 'Mums of the world unite. Light a candle and say a prayer for little Madeleine tonight.

'Hope she will be found safe and well and returned to her family.

'From one mum to another, let's all pray for her. Pass this to all the mums you know.''

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