Portugese police believe three-year-old Madeleine McCann has been abducted and have a suspect in mind, a police chief said today. The toddler vanished from her bed at a holiday resort when her parents were in a restaurant only 40 yards away.
Guilhermino Encarnacao, director of the judicial police in the Faro region, said they were hopeful she is still alive and believe she is still in Portugal.
But he refused to reveal any more details for fear of endangering Madeleine’s life.
The three-year-old’s great uncle, Brian Kennedy said the family “fear the worst but we are hoping for the best.”
British Ambassador John Buck was with Madeleine’s family this afternoon. He confirmed that three family liaison officers from Leicestershire Police had now arrived and were with the family.
Kate and her husband Gerry, a consultant cardiologist, have told family and friends they suspect their daughter was snatched while her two-year-old twin brother and sister were sound asleep in cots on either side of her.
Madeleine, who was born by IVF treatment, disappeared from the family’s ground-floor holiday apartment at the ‘family friendly’ Mark Warner holiday complex in the Praia da Luz resort as her parents ate at a tapas restaurant close by.
The child’s aunt, Trish Cameron, yesterday described the frantic telephone call she received after the couple discovered their daughter was missing around ten o’clock on Thursday night.
“It was my young brother Gerry distraught on the phone, breaking his heart. He said: ‘Madeleine’s been abducted, she’s been abducted’.
“They kept going back to check the kids every half hour. The restaurant was only 40 yards away. He went back at nine o’clock to check the children. They were all sound asleep, windows shut, shutters shut.”
Kate then went over to the two-bedroom ground-floor apartment and ‘came out screaming’, said Mrs Cameron. ‘The door was lying open, the window in the bedroom and the shutters had been jemmied open.
“Nothing had been touched in the apartment, no valuables taken, no passports. They think someone must have come in the window and gone out the door with her.”
Portuguese police yesterday sealed off the three-storey block and forensic specialists fingerprinted the ground floor window of the McCanns’ apartment. All airports, ports and border posts have been alerted.
But despite a massive search throughout the night by police, sniffer dogs and dozens of holidaymakers, there has been no sign of Madeleine, wearing white pyjamas when her parents put her to bed with twins Amelie and Sean in the bougainvillea-clad apartment.
Intriguingly, a Briton who runs a company in the Algarve has told police he spotted a couple carrying a young child early yesterday.
George Burke, from Liverpool, was driving home from nearby Lagos around 6am when he caught the two people in his car headlights. “I couldn’t see them clearly because it was dark and windy. They scurried down a side road and out of sight.”
Last night, as police helicopters and launches scoured the sea, beach and village, Madeleine’s family issued a statement which read: “This is a particularly difficult time for the family and we are all comforting each other. At this time all the family’s focus is in assisting the UK and in particular the Portuguese authorities in securing Madeleine’s safe return.”
Mr McCann, a consultant cardiologist at Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital, and his wife Kate, a GP, had chosen the up-market resort because it was family-friendly.
A friend of the couple, Jill Renwick, said: “This is the first time they have done this. They are very, very anxious parents and very careful.”
She said Madeleine – known as Maddy – was ‘gorgeous, active and chatty and intelligent, not shy. She is four next week and starts school this year.’
The McCanns, who have been married eight years and recently moved into a £600,000 detached house in Rothley, a suburb of Leicester, were on holiday with a group of fellow doctors and other young children, paying around £1,600 for a week.
In the evenings, Mark Warner offers a drop-in creche service enabling customers to leave young children with staff while they enjoy a relaxing dinner.
Customers may also pay for individual baby-sitters but the McCanns, both 38, chose not to use either service, instead taking it in turns regularly to check their three young children themselves from the restaurant on the other side of a swimming pool from their apartment.
After Mrs McCann raised the alarm, Mark Warner said it immediately launched a search of all areas within the complex and the peaceful, 1,000-population fishing village.
Resort manager John Hill said: “As well as staff, we had guests helping, also the majority of the Praia da Luz village.
“Police were informed at the same time as the alarm was raised. They arrived about 10.45pm and after statements were taken from the family police decided to escalate the situation.”
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Caring big sister: Madeleine, who is four next week, puts an arm around her two-year-old brother and sister, Sean, left, and Amelie for a family photograph
Paul Moyes, 47, from Cheshire, and his wife Susan own a holiday apartment in the same black as the McCanns. He said: “There was a knock on the door at about 11.30 from a hotel guest telling us a girl was missing and asking us to help in the search.
“There were uniformed police, plain clothes and even off-duty local officers. The search went on all night, people were using torches.
“We searched the beach and the hotel grounds with scores of people. Quite a few of us own holiday homes here so it’s a close-knit community and something like this is terribly shocking.” Michael Hannar, from Pontefract, Yorkshire, owns a ground floor apartment close to the McCanns.
He said: “I don’t believe a three-year-old child would have been strong enough to open the window or shutter.
“Mine are difficult to open, especially if the window is fully closed. The shutter is also difficult to open.”
Family friend Mrs Renwick said the McCanns – who met while training at the Western Infirmary at Glasgow – felt let down by police.
“I spoke to them this morning and they said the police had done nothing overnight and they felt as if they’d been left on their own.”
Resort manager Mr Hill said: “We’re in a sleepy fishing village and manpower for the police, I agree, was low at the time. After the CID were involved more police were called.”
In Leicester, neighbours spoke of the loving, protective parents.
Tracey Horsefield, a 32-year-old nurse, said: “They never let those children out on their own. I have never seen Madeleine without her parents.”
Mr McCann’s mother Eileen, 67, from Glasgow, said the couple had been desperate to have children and eventually underwent IVF treatment.
“Madeleine made their lives complete when she came along. The three children were very close and I don’t know how they will cope – how any of them will.”
Madeleine’s uncle Michael Healy said: “There has been some negative spin put on this, with people criticising them for leaving the kids.
“But it’s nonsense, they were close by and eating within sight of where the children were and checking on them. No one was rip-roaring drunk.”