updated 9/16/2007 3:24:28 PM ET 2007-09-16T19:24:28

Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, pledged $200,000 on Sunday to help the British couple declared suspects in the disappearance of their young daughter to clear their name, a spokeswoman said.

Branson has also contacted several other wealthy Britons to encourage them to contribute to a legal defense fund for Kate and Gerry McCann, a spokeswoman said. The McCanns, both doctors, have been accused as suspects in the disappearance of Madeleine, who was 3 when she vanished during a family vacation in Portugal on May 3.

"If he can help a little bit to take the burden off the family and extended family in this small way, then that's all to the good," the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with Virgin practice.

Branson had already contributed to a $2 million fund set up to help find Madeleine.

The family decided last week that it would not use the fund to cover legal costs for Madeleine's parents. Members of the extended family had discussed selling their homes to help the couple.

"When the McCanns made it known that under no circumstances would they touch the Find Madeleine fund, and discussed selling their house, Richard felt something had to be done," Branson's spokeswoman said.

The family announced Saturday that they planned a $160,000 advertising campaign urging people to keep looking for the girl at a time when Portuguese police appear to be treating the disappearance as a death.

Archbishop defends parents
The Archbishop of York John Sentamu defended the McCanns and said police should focus on trying to locate their daughter.

"Kate and Gerry have been treated unjustly and inhumanely, because the evidence does not stack up at all," Sentamu told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

A Portuguese investigating judge began examining the Portuguese police file on Madeleine's disappearance Wednesday and is expected to announce a decision next week on what further steps are required to determine what happened to her.

Forensic tests conducted at a government laboratory in Britain found evidence indicating that DNA from Madeleine was in the trunk of a rental car the parents used in Portugal's Algarve region after her disappearance.

However, Portugal's national police chief, Alipio Ribeiro, said on Monday that the forensic tests on the car were not conclusive and that he expected the investigation to continue.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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