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A friend of Madeleine's parents saw girl being carried away

Original Source: TIMES: SUNDAY 27 MAY 2007
David Brown in Praia da Luz for The Times

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  A family friend of Gerry and Kate McCann has told police she saw a blonde-haired girl being carried away from an Algarve holiday apartment wrapped in a blanket at the time Madeleine is believed to have been snatched from her room.

The key witness, who is wracked with guilt, was on her way to dinner with Gerry and Kate McCann when she saw the man close to the open window of the bedroom where four-year-old Madeleine had been sleeping. The girl he was carrying was wearing pink pyjamas, the same as Madeleine's.

Her statement, which is the clearest evidence to date about what happened to Madeleine on the night she disappeared 25 days ago, comes as it was revealed that Mr and Mrs McCann are hoping to meet the Pope to discuss the plight of their daughter.

The parents, both strong Catholics, are expected to attend a general audience in Rome on Wednesday. It will be the start of a series of visits the couple are planning to make around Europe to keep Madeleines case in the public eye in the hope that she may still be found.

Madeleine McCann: the key questions

Why are the "Tapas 9" key to solving the Madeleine mystery?

Clarence Mitchell, the Foreign Office liaison officer for the family, is helping the McCanns plan the trip. ?I can confirm that approaches have been made to Cardinal

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

Cormac Murphy-O?Connor and to the British ambassador to the Holy See and we are certainly exploring the possibility of Gerry and Kate McCann visiting Rome to meet the Pope in the near future,? he said.

The family friend said she had see the man at 9.30pm as she arrived late for dinner with Madeleines parents and other friends at a tapas restaurant on the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz where they were all staying.

She did not realise the significance until Kate McCann went to check on her children, Madeleine and two-year-old twin brother and sister, Sean and Amelie, 30 minutes later and discovered her elder daughter was missing. Madeleine had been wearing pink and white pyjamas with Eeyore on them.

The friend immediately reported the sighting to police but detectives only released the description after Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister in waiting, intervened with the Portuguese authorities last week.

Despite the three week delay hundreds of people have called police with information since the description was released on Friday night. The man is white, approximately 35 to 40 years old, of medium build and 5ft 10ins tall. He had short hair and was wearing a dark jacket, light beige trousers and dark shoes.

At least one witness has reported seeing a person carrying a child close to the church in Praia da Luz, about 700 metres from the Ocean Club. Mrs McCann and her husband, Gerry, yesterday made one of their regular visits to the Catholic service at the Our Lady of Light church where prayers were said for the safe return of their daughter.

A police source said that the friend who believes she saw Madeleine being carried away was in the group of three British couples and a single woman who had travelled with the McCanns to Portugal. She thought the mans behaviour was unusual but assumed it was a father taking his sleeping daughter home had no reason at the time to think it was suspicious.

?She thought it was odd, but thought it was the mans own child. He was walking urgently, neither running or walking but something in between,? said the source.

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?It was only when Kate said that Madeleine had gone that she made the connection. She had seen enough to make her believe it was Madeleine and she had described the pyjamas, which were distinguishable.?

?She feels guilty that she was the last person to see Madeleine and didn't do anything, but there is no sense of hostility (from the McCanns),? said the police source. ?They dont blame the woman, they feel sorry for her. But she feels guilty that she was the last person to see Madeleine.?

Mrs McCann and her husband, Gerry, are convinced this was the abductor and were angry at the delay in publicising the description.

?In the view of the parents this sighting was Madeleine was being taken,? said the police source. ?They have has put a timeline together which they have presented to police and believe this was Madeline. That is why they have never believed she had wandered off.?  

Madeleine McCann: the key questions

Mrs McCann discovered her daughter was missing when she entered her ground-floor bedroom at 10pm. It is believed that Madeleine was taken between 9.10pm and 9.15pm.

The rear patio doors to the apartment had been left unlocked to allow easy access for regular checks by the parents in the group. The other parents made entered the apartment after 9.10pm to check that the children were asleep but had not actually gone in to the bedroom to avoid waking them.

Mrs McCann, a locum GP from Rothley in Leicestershire, realised something was wrong when she entered the apartment as an internal door blew shut. She found the window in the bedroom had been opened and its shutter raised. The pink soft toy cat which Madeleine carried with her everywhere was still in the room.

Mr and Mrs McCann, both 38, had grown increasingly frustrated about the failure of the Portuguese police to make a public appeal for sightings of the abductor. When their friend returned home she repeated the statement to Leicester police, which is coordinating the inquiry in Britain and regards her as the ?principal witness?.

The police source admitted: ?The officers who were first given the description just did not seem interested and they just seemed to have filed it away.?

Mr McCann, a consultant cardiologist, last week had several telephone conversations with Mr Brown after the Chancellor promised to help the couple. The pair have formed a close bond because Mr Browns elder son, John, is slightly younger than Madeleine and they both come from Scotland.

British Government officials put pressure on their counterparts in Lisbon for the suspects description to be released despite the appeal breaching strict Portuguese laws covering the secrecy of police investigations.

Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa of the Policia Judiciaria said: ?The parents of Madeleine had already asked us to reveal the details that could help with the investigation. The release of the detail was authorised by the public prosecutor?.

Mr Sousa said that since the appeal was made the calls from the public ?are almost exclusively about the description we have released.?

Portuguese police still have only one official suspect, Ralph Murat. His house is less than 100 metres from where Madeleine was snatched and he worked as an official police translator in the investigation into her abduction.

The police source said that detectives had studied computers taken from the villa that Mr Murat, 33, shares with his mother had found evidence of links to websites featuring paedophile pornography and bestiality. However, there was no material linking him to Madeleines abduction and detectives have been unable to gather enough evidence to arrest him. The source said that Mr Murat has ?a very interesting and relevant sexual history.?

Mr Murat, an estate agent, insisted yesterday: ?It isn't me. But the description is so vague that it won't put me out of the picture. I hope that I will soon be in a position to clear my name.?

?It has been almost two weeks since my life was turned upside down by these allegations and I am on tenterhooks about what will happen now they have released this.?

Mr McCann has said anyone suspected in the case should be assumed innocent until convicted by a court.

Mr Murats estranged wife, Dawn, said she had been twice visited by police at her home in Hockering, Norfolk.

Mrs Murat said that officers asked about Mr Murat's state of mind. "They wanted to know if he was under any stress and did I have any fears about him.

?I've had to explain to my little girl why her Daddy is on the TV in our sitting room all day. I'm convinced Robert is innocent. He would never hurt a child."

She said her husband had called her 15 hours after Madeline disappeared and asked to speak to their daughter. After they spoke Dawn said: ?Rob told me how much better he felt now that he had heard her voice. He said he knew she was safe.?

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