A British couple named as suspects in the disappearance of their 4-year-old daughter returned to England Sunday, days after being grilled by Portuguese police about new forensic evidence authorities believe ties them to the case.
Kate and Gerry McCann, who have strongly denied any involvement in the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine, flew from Faro in southern Portugal with their 2-year-old twins. The father said the couple wanted “to consider the events of the last few days, which have been so deeply disturbing.”
“While it is heartbreaking to return to the U.K. without Madeleine, it does not mean we are giving up the search for her,” Gerry McCann said on the airport tarmac in central England.
On Friday, Portuguese police named the McCanns as suspects in Madeleine’s May 3 disappearance, but did not confiscate their passports or restrict their movements.
Gerry McCann said he and his wife returned home “with the full agreement of the Portuguese authorities and police.”
“We have played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter Madeleine,” he added before the family left for their home in the village of Rothley, about 100 miles north of London.
The McCanns, who have not been charged, have said they would be available to return to Portugal for questioning if needed.
Portuguese police spokesman Olegario Sousa told The Associated Press the McCanns did not need official authorization to travel because they had provided authorities with their home address so that they could be contacted.
“The investigation will only end when we think the case file is complete and we hand our findings to the Public Prosecutor,” who then decides whether to drop the case or bring charges,” he said.
The McCanns say Madeleine vanished from a hotel room in southern Portugal’s Algarve region, where she and her siblings were sleeping, while her parents ate dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Only one formal suspect until now
Until Friday, suspicion had centered on Robert Murat, a British man who lived near the hotel from which Madeleine disappeared, and who was the only formal suspect. No charges have ever been brought against him, and he has said he is innocent.
The case took a turn in recent days, after police said new forensic tests done on evidence gathered months after the girl vanished found traces of blood in the couple’s car. The traces of blood, apparently missed in earlier forensic tests, were uncovered by sniffer dogs brought from Britain.
The McCanns had vowed not to leave Portugal until their daughter was found. But that stance seems to have changed even before police named them as suspects.
Gerry McCann said in a newspaper interview he was concerned their treatment indicates Portuguese police are under intense pressure to solve the case.
“We thought we were in our worst nightmare but now it just keeps getting worse and worse,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Sunday newspaper The News of the World.
“We’re desperate to get back for the kids’ sake and emotional reasons,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s not that we’re running away.”
Plea deal offered, family says
Gerry McCann’s sister, Philomena, has said police had proposed a plea bargain, suggesting the girl might have been killed accidentally and offering the mother a limited sentence if she confessed.
The couple’s ordeal has drawn attention around the world, partly because of an unprecedented international campaign they led to find their daughter.
The McCanns have toured Europe with photos of Madeleine and the child’s stuffed animals and clothing, even meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Celebrities including children’s author J.K. Rowling and soccer star David Beckham made public appeals that helped the family raise more than $2 million.