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Millions have contacted the Madeleine McCann appeal website. Who runs it? Three teenagers from Ullapool

HOMEPAGE NEWS REPORTS INDEX WEBSITE/FUND PHOTOS NEWS SEPTEMBER 2007
Original Source: SUNDAY HERALD: 16 SEPTEMBER 2007
By John Bynorth Inside the campaign HQ
 

Rona Eddington

Calum McRae

TWO YOUNG people hurriedly stuff yellow Look For Madeleine wristbands into envelopes, surrounded by cardboard boxes containing thousands more earmarked for the campaign. Nearby, in the untidy garage store room, Madeleine badges and posters are awaiting delivery to supporters around the world who have donated 2 for the bands that symbolise the search for the missing four-year-old.

Policeman's son Calum MacRae, 18, is responsible for the campaign's website and distribution network for Madeleine's campaign from the unlikely location of the Loch Broom garage, on a windswept industrial estate on the outskirts of Ullapool, Wester Ross.

Despite Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry, both 39, now being treated by Portuguese police as suspects in her disappearance while on holiday in the Algarve, Calum claims there has been a recent surge in interest in the website and wristbands.

"There's no let-up," said Calum, whose Infohost firm hosts the family's official website, run using some of the 1 million in donations being sent to the privately run Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned. "There's been a big increase in orders since they became suspects. Somebody came back 30 times, ordering 100 bands. Sometimes people just want one or two, so we throw a couple of extra bands in. It's difficult to get rid of some of the medium-sized bands as they don't fit many people. People would still want the Madeleine bands even if she was found. Her face is a mark. It's everywhere."

Calum, who has designed websites "since he was 10" is paid out of the global donations to the fund, which won't be contributing to the McCanns' legal costs.

He refused to be drawn on how much his team of six are paid, and the Sunday Herald's repeated calls to the fund's spokeswoman, Esther McVey, were not returned. He added: "I can't tell you that, it's not much honestly. We are just covering our costs. You would need to speak to the fund about that."

Calum is convinced of the couple's innocence and says he will continue to run the website even if they are charged and tried in Portugal. He said: "I know from speaking to Gerry on the phone that he is 100% innocent. They are definitely not guilty. Gerry is very determined to find his daughter. You can tell it in his voice when he talks on the phone. He wouldn't have done all this if they were guilty. If the fund is still going, we will continue the website even if they are charged and face trial. They wouldn't want us to back off ..."

He remains convinced "someone" in Portugal knows the truth about Madeleine's whereabouts, and the family yesterday launched an 80,000 TV, newspaper and billboard campaign, which will be translated into several languages primarly aimed at Spain, Portugal and other mainland European countries, beginning in two weeks.

Madeleine's uncle, John McCann, from Glasgow, said: "The main objective of the Madeleine fund is to leave no stone unturned in the search for Madeleine."

Calum became involved after Madeleine's aunt, Philomena McCann, his former schoolteacher in Ullapool, approached him four days after the girl disappeared on May 3.

He said his staff spent between "12 and 20" hours each week on the website and wristbands. Although he claimed to have lost money on an earlier stunt for Premier League footballers to wear Madeleine t-shirts, he is pressing ahead with the distribution of T-shirts to the public in return for 10 donations.

Calum said: "We stopped every other thing we were doing that day and put the Find Madeleine site straight on. It's pretty much full-time doing the website and bands. We just invoice the fund, but it's not expensive compared with what other companies would charge. We have to account for how many hours are worked. It's not for us to decide what we are paid, but the fund insist we are."

The website's English-based server crashed when 1.5 million users tried to watch a video of Madeleine shown at the Uefa and FA Cup finals.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Herald show the Find Madeleine website attracted as many people as Missing People, the established UK charity formally known as the National Missing Persons Helpline, on September 7, the day Kate and Gerry were named as suspects in the case.

They show that 400,000 people viewed the Madeleine site, compared to only 150,000 for www.missingpeople.org.uk which is responsible for issuing appeals for thousands of people who vanish across the UK and Europe. American interest accounted for 103,000 hits on the Madeleine site, with only 15,000 from Portugal, and around 20,000 each from European countries such as Spain and Germany, which the family are hoping to target with the poster campaign.

Calum also revealed how Kate checks Gerry's blog before it is emailed to the site. However, Gerry has only posted one message since his return to Britain last week. Calum added: "It has got crazy at times, we've even got people going on in places such as Kurdistan."

Another worker on the site, Rona Eddington, 18, the daughter of a senior police inspector in Ross-shire, said: "We've had people saying in emails we killed her and taken her away' and we hate you.' We don't know if they are genuine, but they are passed to the police, who chase them all up. We've had so many like that and have to filter them. The website is about supporting the family."

Rona's father, chief inspector Paul Eddington, said he had no problems with his daughter's involvement in the website following Leicestershire Police's decision to take Kate's diary and Gerry's laptop, which he used to write his blog, for their Portuguese counterparts to examine last week.

The Portuguese magistrate examining the case is expected to announce this week whether the couple will face further questioning.

"I view what my daughter is doing as a parent, rather than a police officer. In the unlikely event that the investigation did involve the website, I would take a pragmatic view and wouldn't seek to get involved," said Eddington.

Calum is already working on new ventures after spotting a market in missing-person websites. Last week he contacted the family of missing schoolgirl Rosemary Edwards, from Hampshire, after her father made an emotional TV appeal. He said: "I don't think we should be making money out of it, but I would love to do more stuff like this. We phoned up to see if they wanted a website for that missing girl, but they haven't called back."

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