The parents of Madeleine McCann, the beautiful 4-year-old girl who disappeared from her family's vacation apartment in Portugal four months ago, flew back to Britain tonight, named as official suspects in the case by Portuguese police.
Clutching their 2-year-old twins, as they made a brief statement on the tarmac in East Midlands Airport. Gerry McCann's voice cracked with emotion.
"We have played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter, Madeleine," he said. He asked the press to give them some privacy as they attempt to pick up the threads of a normal life.
On Thursday, in the holiday resort of Praya de Luz, Dr. Kate McCann was taken in for questioning, and was held by police for eleven hours. Her husband — a heart surgeon — was also questioned, separately.
Within 24 hours, police had declared both of them "arguidos," the Portuguese legal term for formal suspects. They had already named another Briton as an "arguido" — Robert Murat, who lives with his mother near the McCann's rented apartment. He is still a suspect, and also insists he is innocent.
After her interrogation, Dr. McCann was interviewed by the British tabloid, the Sunday Mirror. She said the police accused her of accidentally killing her own daughter, of hiding the body, and starting a cover-up to pretend that Madeleine had been abducted.
"The police don't want a pedophile murder here, so they are blaming us," McCann reportedly told the tabloid. "The police said, 'Just lie.' ... If I confessed Madeleine had an accident, and that I panicked and hid the body in a bag for a month, and then got rid of it in a hire car, ... I'd get two or three years suspended sentence."
The police action seems to be based on forensic tests of DNA and blood taken from the McCann's vacation apartment, and from a car they rented three weeks after Madeleine's disappearance. Since Madeleine vanished without a trace on May 3, Portuguese authorities have been under enormous pressure to find her, or to find out what happened to her.
The Sunday Mirror wasn't the only British paper to suggest that the McCanns are being framed by Portuguese police.
"Doubts Cast On McCann Forensics" was the headline in the Sunday Telegraph. "Couple Seek Government Help Amid Fears of Injustice."
"Scapegoats?" asked the Sunday Independent. "Yes, Say the McCanns. Detectives are Turning on Us."
In Praya de Luz Sunday afternoon, many people seemed glad to see the McCanns leave, and, especially, the huge international press corps which, since May, has followed and reported their every move. People feel the case has given the town a bad name.
"I just want to see an end, because it's too much," said one Portuguese man.
"Children go missing all the time," said another. "They have raised awareness of that, but they can't milk it any longer."
Another disturbing report in the McCann story came to light on Sunday. The detective leading the investigation into the case also headed up the police team that helped convict a Portuguese woman of manslaughter when her daughter disappeared 16 years ago. She is still in jail.
The woman's husband says she is innocent, and that he fears the McCanns are being framed by the same detective, just as she was.
The McCanns may have to go back to Portugal for further questioning, or, even, to face charges. As terrifying as that prospect is, they say they will continue to cooperate with Portuguese police.