Exclusive: McCanns 'Going to Fight the World'

One year after Madeleine McCann vanished, her parents discuss a possible clue.

May 2, 2008 — -- On the anniversary of daughter Madeleine's disappearance, Kate and Gerry McCann spoke exclusively about the night the 3-year-old vanished without a trace while on a family vacation in Portugal.

Since January, the McCanns, who remain official suspects, have granted a British documentary crew unprecedented access inside their home and their lives. The filmmakers uncovered new details about what happened that night, as well as how the family is coping today.

The sensational story has been international front page news since the very first day Madeleine was discovered missing by her mother, Kate.

Sightings of the toddler have been reported from Australia to Chile. Gerry and Kate continue to investigate what they believe is her kidnapping by working with police and private investigators and launching an international media campaign to keep Madeleine's face recognizable around the world.

'Someone's Taken Madeleine'

The McCanns and a few family friends were vacationing at an upscale resort called the Ocean Club, in Praia da Luz , Portugal.

At the end of each fun-filled day, the adults would tuck their children into bed and spend their evenings with each other at the resort's tapas bar, located about 50 yards from the apartments where their children were sleeping. They took turns checking on the children every 30 minutes.

"It was the fifth night," Kate said. "It was on the third check, which was my check, that I went [to the apartment] and discovered Madeleine had been taken. I rushed around the apartment really quickly just looking in cupboards and things, and then just went flying down [to] the tapas restaurant, shouting 'Someone's taken Madeleine!'"

The decision to leave their children unattended continues to haunt Gerry and Kate.

"I don't think there had ever been one second when anybody had said, 'do you think it's going to be OK?'" Kate said. "There was absolutely no way if I'd have had the slightest inkling that there was a risk involved there, that I'd have done it."

Gerry feels remorse, as well. "People will say that they've never done that, and who am I to argue? We have to live with the fact that we weren't directly there, and if we were, then possibly, probably, it wouldn't have happened."

Portuguese authorities were called within 10 minutes, and within 30 minutes, an investigation team was on the scene.

Kate recounted, "I can remember our friends shouting, 'You need to close the borders' and they were shouting 'Morocco, Algiers!' You know I can remember all this going on. 'And roadblock, we need roadblocks!'"

But there were no roadblocks, and no borders closed. According to news reports, from the beginning, police bungled the investigation: They thought the child had simply wandered off so they didn't seal off the area or interview neighbors, and their reportedly sloppy work left the scene contaminated.

Furthermore, on the night Madeleine disappeared, the police left the parents to search on their own.

But what of the criticism that the McCanns showed no emotion in the days just after Madeleine's disappearance? Gerry explained, "A numbness sort of kicked in, you can't have that raw emotion 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you just can't physically, you can't do it."

Kate was especially ridiculed by the media for being "poker face[d]," but she was instructed to do so. "We had like behavioral specialists. Profilers who were telling us not to show emotion in case the abductor gets a kick out of it."

'Felt Like I Was Going to Fight the World'

With no real leads and news reports of a botched investigation, the McCanns received another devastating blow. Five months after Madeleine went missing, the McCanns were shocked when Portuguese police named them "arguidos," or persons of interest, and brought them in for questioning. In an instant, the international media turned on the McCanns, changing them from victims to villains.

Kate remembered how she felt after being labeled an arguido. "I felt angry, I felt strong. I wasn't scared. I felt like I was going to fight the world, to be honest. My daughter was worth more than that and I would do whatever it took to fight for justice and truth."

Gerry's concerns were that if the Portuguese police have labeled the McCann couple as arguidos, "then ultimately who's looking for Madeleine? … It felt like you were in the middle of a horror movie really, a nightmare."

After being declared suspects, the McCanns felt it was no longer safe to remain in Portugal, so they returned home to England with their twin toddlers. It was hard to come home without their daughter.

Kate explained, "Being in our family home without Madeleine was incredibly hard and yet at the same time there was some comfort in it."

There were a lot of adjustments they had to make as they tried to return to daily life and accept their new reality.

Kate described her routine: "When we first came back, I didn't cook a meal, just couldn't do it. … There were times in the early days with things like that I found I resented things like that because it was taking me away from M, you know. How can I handle the washing when my daughter's not here?"

But they had to go on for their other two children. Kate said they will never give up their quest for Madeleine. "I'll never get to a day where you think OK, we've tried everything now, we're exhausted and we need to start living. I can't imagine ever getting to that day you know so I just think, well we need to know because the thought of living like this for another 40 years isn't exactly you know a happy prospect."

For months questions arose about the strength of the reported evidence against the McCanns. Then, in February, Portugal's chief of police, Alipio Ribeiro, admitted that they may have been overzealous in targeting the McCanns.

In an interview with Portugal's Radio Renascenca he said there was a "certain hastiness" in making the McCanns suspects.

Pushing for a Child Notification Program

Searching for their daughter remains Gerry and Kate's main focus, but there is also another goal on their agenda: to push for legislation in Europe to create something similar to the Amber Alert System in the United States.

The McCanns argued for a new system all around Europe, urging every country in the European Union to adopt the U.S.-style missing child notification system.

"It's not right that families could be destroyed with something like this and action had to be taken," Gerry said.

Their quest for change even led them to Washington, D.C., to get advice from someone who understands the depth of their pain and despair: Ed Smart.

Six years ago, his daughter Elizabeth Smart made headlines and gripped the hearts of people across the country. She too was taken from her bed in the middle of the night. Nine months later Elizabeth was found, alive.

Ed shared his wisdom from the experience with the McCanns.

"The most important things you can do is keep her face out there … but you can never give up hope because you know she could be out there and the things that you're doing today could bring her home."

Most recently, while the McCanns made a plea for a child alert system to be established in Europe, sealed statements the couple made to Portuguese police just after Madeleine disappeared were leaked to the press.

According to the leaked statements, on the morning of their last day together, Madeleine asked Kate, "Mummy, why didn't you come when we were crying last night?"

The McCanns say the leak is no accident and is meant to make them look negligent. Portuguese police deny any responsibility for the leak but the McCanns feel the damage has been done -- once again, doubts are cast about their behavior.

Kate believes Madeleine's question was a potential clue.

"It was sort of fairly early in the morning, she just very casually really said, 'Where were you last night when me and Sean cried?' and we immediately looked and said, you know, 'When was this Madeleine? Was this when you were going to sleep?' … and she didn't answer and I said, 'When was this Madeleine?' and then she just carried on playing whatever she was doing totally undistressed."

Kate said, "It doesn't feel like a year since I saw Madeleine. I see Madeleine's best friend from time to time and you can't help but wonder what Madeleine would be like, would she be that much taller, is her hair as long as that, would she be writing her name too? She's there waiting for us, and she deserves us to keep going."

For more information on Madeleine McCann: http://www.findmadeleine.com/