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Britons join search for lost toddler

Original Source: TIMES: SUNDAY 6 MAY 2007
From The Sunday Times May 6, 2007 John Follain, Praia da Luz and Jon Ungoed-Thomas

Police profile abduction suspect as hunt for missing toddler widens

She should have returned home safely this weekend. Instead, on the boulevards and whitewashed apartments of the Algarve yesterday, pictures of Madeleine McCann's three-year-old face were fluttering in the warm coastal breeze.

Along with her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, who are both doctors, and her close-knit extended family, it seemed that everyone in the resort of Praia da Luz was keeping a vigil for her safe return. They were praying that she would be home to blow out the candles on her birthday cake next Saturday.

'Everyone knows what it's like when a child goes missing for a short while and you worry like mad,' said Brian Kennedy, Kate McCann's uncle. 'As the days go by it gets harder because you start by hoping for the best and then begin to start fearing the worst.

'Friends are planning a party for her birthday on Saturday and baking her a cake on the Dr Who theme because it's one of her favourite programmes. I've told them to continue with those plans. We've got to remain optimistic.'


Guilhermino Encarnacao,

Guilhermino Encarnacao, head of the judicial police in Faro, said that Madeleine had been abducted from the Ocean Club complex on Thursday evening. She is believed to have been taken as she slept alongside twins Sean and Amelie, her two-year-old brother and sister, in their apartment in the Mark Warner complex. Her parents had been dining with friends at a tapas bar nearby, checking on the children every half hour.

An image of a suspect was being drawn up by police. Encarnacao believed the three-year-old was still alive. Searches were going on including at two campsites a few miles away.

In a televised statement broadcast across Portugal yesterday, Gerry McCann, a hospital cardiologist from Leicestershire, appealed for the safe return of his daughter.

'Words cannot describe the anguish and despair that we are feeling,' he said. 'Please, if you have Madeleine, let her come home to her mummy, daddy, brother and sister.'

McCann and his wife, both 39, yesterday walked hand in hand through the apartment complex. They had lunch with the twins at the same tapas bar as the evening before. McCann returned alone to the apartment, emerging with a suitcase and a bucket and spade for the twins.

A friend at the resort, who did not wish to be named, said: 'It's a nightmare. Every time the parents see Madeleine's face on television they fall apart. We all do. We haven't slept for 24 hours. Please God they find her. The longer it goes on, the worse it is. All we can do is pray.'

Police were conducting checks at airports and more than 150 officers were searching the area. Hundreds of tourists, British ex-pats and local Portuguese were also helping with the search.

Madeleine's relatives and crime experts now suspect that she was targeted by someone who had been watching the family during their holiday. Roy Ramm, a former Scotland Yard commander, said: 'This is somebody who has planned this abduction quite carefully. He has probably looked and observed this child during the day.'

McCann, a consultant at Leicester's Glenfield hospital, and his wife, a part-time GP, were on a week-long holiday with three other couples and five other children when Madeleine was abducted shortly before 10pm on Thursday.

The children could have been left in a free cr'he in the complex. A babysitting service was also available for between '12 ('8) and '15 an hour.

But the McCanns were eating only about 150ft from their apartment. It is thought they felt they were close enough to watch over their children.

Hotel sources said the apartment's french doors ' which faced the restaurant where the McCanns were eating ' were unlocked by the couple. Their line of view was, however, obscured by bougainvillea and palm trees.

At 9.30pm Gerry McCann checked his children and they were sound asleep, with Madeleine lying with her comfort blanket. Thirty minutes later his wife returned and found Madeleine gone and the shutter of the rear window open.

Trish Cameron, McCann's sister, said: 'Kate came screaming back to the group crying, 'They've taken her, they've taken her'. Gerry was crying and roaring like a bull.'

John Hill, the Ocean Club manager, said the alarm was raised by the family between 10pm and 10.15pm: 'The staff, many guests and the best part of the village started looking right away, a total of 40 to 65 people. The police were called and started taking details from the family and then took the decision to escalate the search.'

Silvia Batisa, head of administration at the complex, helped to comfort the family and interpret their interviews with the police: 'The parents were devastated, in a panic. They wanted more police and dogs immediately. Kate said all the time, 'Please find my daughter' and 'Madeleine is beautiful'.'

She recalled that the twins were still asleep in their two cots and there was the small, bright pink wool blanket that Madeleine likes to hold when she sleeps. 'We walked out quickly so as not to wake up the twins. The parents immediately said, 'She's been kidnapped',' said Batisa.

Paul Moyes, 58, from Middlewich, Cheshire, was among those who helped to look for the missing child: 'At 11.30pm there was a knock on the door and there was a distressed gentleman saying that a child had been abducted and could we help with the search. Everybody got involved.'

It is not known how the abductor entered the flat. Staff believe it was likely that entry would have been through the french doors because the shutters would have been damaged if they had been prised open.

From the outset, the McCanns were convinced their daughter had been abducted. There have been complaints from relatives that the police were slow to respond to the situation.

Speaking from her home in Glasgow, Philomena McCann, Madeleine's aunt, said: 'The local policeman was doing very little. The area was not cordoned off for hours and hours. Kate and Gerry [were] frustrated at the lack of activity. [The police] tried to downplay the enormity of it and said Madeleine had perhaps wandered off. That is the most ridiculous suggestion.'

Nigel Ragg, head of marketing at Mark Warner Holidays, defended the police operation. 'It was felt by our staff that the police reacted quickly. The search was escalated throughout the evening,' he said.

The McCanns, who are both Roman Catholics, met as medical students at Glasgow University and were married nine years ago. They spent a period working in Holland and moved to their home in Rothley, Leicestershire, about two years ago.

Father Keith Tomlinson, the priest who baptised the twins a year ago at the Sacred Heart church in Rothley, the family's church, said: 'They are a lovely family. This is a terrible time and our hearts here are with them. We will be praying for them.

'They came here most weeks and brought Madeleine. She is a nice bouncy happy little girl. They are friendly and open and obviously love one another and you sense that this is a husband and wife who are united in love and who adore their children.'

Julio Barroros, the local mayor, said: 'We all hope that Maddy will come home for her family and that England can breathe when she appears.'

Additional reporting: Will Iredale

Child watch

British law does not set out the minimum age when parents can leave children alone, but it does stipulate that it is an offence if doing so might put them at risk, writes Jonathan Leake.

Experts are divided on just what this means in practice. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children believes that babies and toddlers should never be left alone, whether asleep or awake, even for a few minutes.

Madeleine McCann, the three-year-old apparently snatched from her bed, was in an apartment in a Portuguese holiday complex while her parents dined and checked on her at least every half hour.

'It doesn't take long for unsupervised young children or babies to injure themselves,' said Chris Cloke, head of child protection awareness at the charity. 'Put simply, it is too risky to leave them alone at all at such a young age.'

Other experts take a more flexible view. 'It's the context that is important,' said Professor Carolyn Hamilton, who runs the Children's Legal Centre, a charity concerned with law and policy. 'This couple had . . . clearly made a responsible assessment of the risks and decided that they were minimal. They could not have predicted the possibility of abduction.'

Accidents are the biggest cause of death for children over the age of one. In 2005 about 250 children aged under 15 died in Britain and more than 2m were taken to hospital, with about half of accidents happening in the home.

However, many accidents happen while children are under supervision and are caused by, for instance, lack of stair gates.

Ben Needham, who vanished on the Greek island of Kos in 1991 aged 21 months, was being supervised by his grandparents who lost sight of him for only a few minutes. He has never been found.

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