Seven hours after this, Madeleine was gone

Seven hours after this, Madeleine was gone
John Bingham
25 May 2007
Birmingham Post

Laughing in the sunshine, dangling her feet in the swimming pool, this is carefree Madeleine McCann posing for a happy family snap hours before she was abducted.

Seven hours after this photograph was taken by her mother Kate - exactly three weeks ago yesterday - Madeleine had been snatched from her bed in the holiday resort of Praia da Luz in Portugal.

Yesterday the McCann family gave a glimpse of those precious final hours, releasing the last photograph known to have been taken of Madeleine before she was snatched.

Her father Gerry, who has spoken of his daughter's abduction as causing a "tidal wave" of destruction, sits proudly with his two young daughters by his side.

Next to him in an orange top is his two-year-old daughter Amelie whose twin brother Sean is off playing.

Beside Amelie is smiling sister Madeleine, who was looking forward to her fourth birthday at the end of the holiday.

Madeleine, wearing a pink smock top, white shorts and a sun hat, cools her feet in the swimming pool.

A small braid of her hair is tied up with a white hair tie as she sits by the Ocean Club pool, just behind the apartment where the family had been staying, at exactly 2.29pm on May 3.

Seven hours later, as Mr and Mrs McCann, both 38, were having a quiet dinner with friends in a tapas bar by the pool, Madeleine, Sean and Amelie were asleep in the apartment.

The couple were making regular checks on the children, but some time between 9.10pm and 10pm someone entered the McCann's apartment and carried her away.

It is thought she was still asleep.

Her disappearance has been publicised worldwide, but despite an extraordinary campaign to make her image known across Europe there has been no news of her whereabouts.

Mr and Mrs McCann, backed by an army of friends and family, remain convinced that Madeleine is alive and are praying, along with people around the world, for her safe return.

A fighting fund for their campaign has reached almost £300,000 and 125 million people have clicked on their website.

The couple are drawing up plans to travel Europe giving interviews to boost Madeleine's profile.

Launching his own "blog" on the campaign website yesterday, Mr McCann spoke about the plans.

"We need to start finalising our plans for interviews in areas of Europe where the coverage of Madeleine's disappearance has been limited," he said.

But there have been some signs of frustration at the pace of progress. A source close to the McCann family said while Madeleine's parents were happy with the "overall thrust" of the police investigation, they felt frustrated questions and concerns they had were not being addressed quickly enough.

Mr and Mrs McCann were said to feel they were not getting responses to their questions from the Portuguese authorities and that the system was slow.

Portugal's unusual "secret of justice" laws prevent the police releasing information about the investigation publicly and also curtail what they can say even to the family concerned.

A spokesman for the couple in Portugal said: "Naturally when it appears that things are moving slowly it can be frustrating - the only thing that would really make them happy is Madeleine's safe return and every parent will understand that."

Mr and Mrs McCann held an informal discussion over tea yesterday with the British Ambassador to Portugal John Buck, consular officials and British police.

It is understood their plans to travel were up for discussion.

Among fresh offers of help yesterday was one from the Catholic bishop of the Algarve, Manuel Neto Quintas, who said in a Portuguese radio discussion he could become a go-between with any kidnapper.

It also emerged that police had been told of an attempted abduction five months ago of a girl similar to Madeleine about half an hour from Praia da Luz.

Three-year-old Carolina Santos was led away by a man thought to be Moroccan on Christmas Day last year from the family cafe near the town of Silves in the Algarve.

Three days ago her parents Abel, 40, and Lina, 28, contacted police again after a Moroccan man threatened to take their daughter during a row at the cafe.

Police are investigating these incidents, but are not linking them to Madeleine's disappearance.

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