The parents of Madeleine McCann left Portugal this afternoon to meet Pope
Benedict XVI today to ask him to pray for the return of their daughter as it
emerged that police had issued an incorrect description of her possible
Kate and Gerry McCann said an emotional goodbye to their two-year-old twins,
Sean and Amelie, as they left the country for the first time together since
their eldest child disappeared 27 days ago.
A child psychologist will this week begin explaining to the twins why their
four-year-old sister has been away from the family for more than three weeks
and to help them prepare for the long-term consequences of her disappearance.
The twins yesterday hugged each of their parents and cried out farewells as Mr
and Mrs McCann left their Algarve
holiday apartment to attend a General Audience at the Vatican
tomorrow morning. They couple will have a few moments to talk to the Pope and
Mrs McCann will hand the Pontiff a small photograph of Madeleine and ask him to
pray for her safe return.
They believe the visit to the Vatican
will give them enormous “spiritual strength” as well as create publicity for
the campaign to find their daughter. Many of the thousands of people who will
attend the General Audience in St Peter’s Square are expected to wear the
yellow and green ribbons which have become the symbol of the international
campaign to find Madeleine.
Mr and Mrs McCann will sit in the front row, known as a prima fila, which is
normally reserved for visiting heads of state or other dignitaries. They will
be amongst just 25 people introduced to the Pope and he is expected to mention
Madeleine “prominently” in his prayers.
The couple, both 38, flew to Rome
in a private jet lent by Sir Philip Green, the billionaire owner of BHS and
Topshop, despite their concerns that the journey might be misinterpreted as
them enjoying a luxury lifestyle.
The trip is the first in a series of visits across Europe
to promote the search for Madeleine after she was abducted in Praia da Luz. The
next visit will be to Madrid on Friday
followed by Berlin and Amsterdam next week. Plans for a trip to Morocco
being drawn up.
While the couple are in Rome
their twins are being looked after by Mr McCann’s sister, Trish Campbell and
her husband, Sandy, at the Ocean Club resort from where Madeleine was
kidnapped. Mr McCann, a consultant cardiologist, wrote in his internet blog:
“We have decided that for the majority of trips it will not be practicable, or
fair, to take Sean and Amelie with us.
"They have an established routine which we do not want to disrupt and will
be looked after by very close family.”
Mr McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, has revealed how quickly his youngest
children have grown up in the 26 days since Madeleine was kidnapped. Sean and
Amelie were in the same bed as Madeleine when she was stolen but were asleep
and have not been able to provide any clues for the police investigation.
Following Madeleine’s abduction the twins have been sleeping in cots in their
parent’s bedroom because relatives were using the other bedroom of the
apartment to which the family had moved on the Ocean Club complex. They have
now moved into their own room.
“For the first time they have gone to sleep in their own single beds, rather
than cots,” Mr McCann wrote on www.findmadeleine.com.
“We were planning to turn their cots at home into beds after our one week
holiday but obviously this has been delayed with Madeleine’s abduction. We have
been in Praia da Luz for over four weeks and Sean and Amelie’s development from
toddlers to little boy and girl continues. Madeleine will really notice the
difference when she sees them.”
Portuguese police appear to have made little progress in their search for
Madeleine and it emerged today that an incorrect description of the person
believed to have abducted her is being publicised following an apparent mistake
in converting the imperial measurement of the suspect’s height.
Detectives refused to release the description for three weeks until Madeleine’s
father raised the issue with Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister in waiting. Mr
and Mrs McCann had threatened legal action against the Portuguese police for
their failure to publicise the description, which they believe is vital help
gather clues about who abducted their daughter 27 days ago.
The friend who saw a man carrying what she now believes to be Madeleine wrapped
in a blanket just minutes after she disappeared is believed to have told police
that the suspect was 5ft 7 tall. However, in an appeal by Portuguese police he
is described as 5ft 10.
The mistake has led to many people in Praia da Luz assuming that the abductor
is most likely to be a foreigner because the description is taller than the
average Portuguese man.
A family source said: “The police have made a mistake. The description given
was of a man who is 5ft 10 but they have somehow managed to get it wrong. The
description given (by the witness) was 5ft 7.
“It seems the description was lost in translation. What has happened is that
the police have given a description of quite a tall man when they should have
been talking about someone who is relatively short. It is a big mistake and it
is not good enough.”
The correct description appears in the Portuguese language appeal but most
resident and holidaymakers in Praia da Luz are English and the world’s media
have followed the description in the English translation.
Clarence Mitchell, a Foreign Office spokesman who is representing the McCanns
said: “The family were very pleased that new witness account was released last
Friday. They believe it is significant and important in the search for
Madeleine. They would hope that every detail that is released to the public
would be absolutely accurate in every respect.”
Concerns have also been raised about police treatment of Madeleine’s favourite
toy, a pink Cuddle Cat which her mother, a locum GP, has kept with her ever
since the little girl disappeared. It is feared the toy may have carried some
potentially useful DNA evidence which was not gathered in the early stages.