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Madeleine's parents leave Portugal to meet the Pope

Original Source: TIMES: 29 MAY 2007
From Times Online May 29, 2007
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 abductor.

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 “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.


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