May 14, 2007 08:30am
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has pledged a major contribution to $2.5m reward for the safe return of missing Madeleine McCann.
British tabloid The News of the World said J.K. Rowling had offered the single largest contribution to a reward fund started by the tabloid newspaper. It called Rowling’s pledge “staggering,” but said the author asked the amount be kept secret.
Madeleine McCann, 4, disappeared May 2 after her parents left her, and her brother and sister, both aged 2, alone while they went to a nearby restaurant within their hotel complex at Praia da Luz, a vacation resort in Portugal’s Algarve region. Portuguese police continue to search for her.
Tycoon Sir Richard Branson offered $240,000 and American Idol judge Simon Cowell promised to give $120,000.
J.K. Rowling, 41, is one of Britain’s richest people, with an estimated fortune of $1.2 billion, thanks to the best-selling novels and films about her boy wizard.
The newspaper said its editor will decide who receives the reward after consulting with Portuguese authorities.
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, together with his fiancee Coleen McLoughlin, offered $60,000.
Among the others pledging money to the fund were retailer Sir Philip Green ($600,000) and Everton chairman Bill Kenwright (amount not disclosed).
Mr Kenwright told the News of the World, which announced the reward: “If it helps towards the reunion it will be the best cheque I’ve ever written.”
The group offer is in addition to rewards of STG1 million already made by a Scottish businessman and STG100,000 from a colleague of Kate McCann.
Tidal wave of emotion
Meanwhile, Madeleine’s father has described a “tidal wave” of devastation wreaked by her abduction.
At a special Mass held in Portugal yesterday – Madeleine’s fourth birthday – Gerry McCann told villagers that he and his wife Kate had drawn “strength, hope and courage” from the support they had received in Praia da Luz, across Europe and around the world.
Speaking with emotion but determination, he told the packed church: “We are looking forward to the day when Madeleine returns to us as a joyous one.”
It is the first time he has spoken at length about the tortuous days he and his wife have suffered as they wait for news.
He told the congregation at the tiny 16th century church of Nossa Senhora da Luz: “Today we should be celebrating the fourth birthday of our daughter Madeleine.
“Instead we have had to remember what a normal, beautiful, vivacious, funny, courageous and loving little girl that we are missing today.
“I like to think about the effects of Madeleine’s abduction from us nine days ago like a tidal wave.
“The devastation – which was tremendous – was greatest for Kate and I.”
The couple were showered with kisses, hugs and flowers as members of the congregation queued to greet them at the end of the service.
His wife, who in recent days has appeared increasingly drawn, smiled as scores of villagers lined up to kiss her on each cheek.
Among the presents which had been left at the front of the church before the service were a yellow fluffy duck, a multicoloured striped handbag and a fluffy pink flower with a yellow smiling face.
The McCanns had spent much of the anniversary in private and away from the ill-fated Algarve complex from where their daughter vanished nine days ago.
No firm leads
But despite the massive rewards being offered for information which results in Madeleine’s safe return, there remains no evidence of firm leads.
Portuguese police are operating under an official news blackout but have been actively continuing the investigation, with senior detectives working late into the night at headquarters in the town of Portimao.
Nine people, all thought to be British, have been questioned, including the McCanns, who were re-interviewed late into Thursday night and the early hours of Friday morning.
Sniffer dogs have been back in action around the apartment where Madeleine was snatched and, according to local Portuguese reports, may have picked up a scent from the McCanns’ apartment as far as another flat in the complex.
Among things the McCanns and others are likely to have been shown is a series of CCTV images which centre upon a blonde woman.
Following reports of sightings of a blonde woman and two men linked to suspicious incidents reported to police, shopkeepers in the nearby village of Burgau confirmed today that officers had been round on a number of occasions.
Madeleine’s parents were having dinner in a restaurant only a stone’s throw from the apartment where they had been staying when they returned to find their daughter was missing 10 days ago.
Her two-year-old twin brother and sister Sean and Amelie were also sleeping in the apartment but were unharmed.
Messages of support
Messages of support for the McCanns back in the UK included comments from Chancellor Gordon Brown.
Expressing his sympathy, he said: “My thoughts, like the thoughts of all parents, are with Maddy’s parents.”
In the Algarve, ex-pat Britons gathered with their children in Praia Da Luz to tie yellow ribbons and express their hope that she will return safely.
Back in the UK, friends and relatives showed their support by releasing pink balloons with messages and prayers tied beneath.
In Liverpool, Madeleine’s grandmother Susan Healy told Sky News, with tears in her eyes: “Madeleine is such a beautiful child and this is her birthday.
“She was a precious gift from God and Kate and Gerry will be remembering that today and hope to have her back as soon as possible.”
Madeleine’s aunt Diane McCann will join today’s Glasgow 10k race wearing a T-shirt bearing the youngster’s picture on the back and the words “I’m running for Madeleine McCann”.
Hundreds of the T-shirts will be handed out to runners taking part in the race which starts at 10am at Bellahouston Park.