McCanns fly home

SUSPECTS: Kate and Gerry McCann with their two-year-old twins. Pic. Rui Vieira.
SUSPECTS: Kate and Gerry McCann with their two-year-old twins. Pic. Rui Vieira.

NOTTINGHAM - British couple Kate and Gerry McCann, named as suspects in the disappearance of their four-year-old daughter Madeleine in Portugal, flew home yesterday to face intense media scrutiny over the case.

The couple, who have pleaded their innocence in a tragic mystery that has intrigued Europe, stressed after their four-month ordeal that they left the resort of Praia da Luz with the full agreement of the Portuguese authorities.

The McCanns, pursued to Faro airport on the Algarve coast by photographers and television crews, insisted they were not running away from the investigation, but were leaving for the sake of their two-year-old twins.

"They played no part in the disappearance of their beloved daughter," Justine McGuinness, spokesman for the McCanns, told reporters before the couple left Portugal.

Portuguese police declared the McCanns formal suspects on Friday after questioning them, but have so far filed no charges against them.

Declaring the McCanns suspects indicated police believe they might have been involved in a crime, but does not necessarily mean they would be detained.

Gerry rejected any suggestion he and his wife were responsible. "We did not kill Maddie," he said. "We're entirely innocent and we will clear our names," he said.

Britain's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said UK authorities would provide Portuguese police with any help they needed in the hunt for the little girl.

"Where we are asked to supply expertise, we will, and where we can support the family to ensure that we can find Madeleine, then we will do that too," Smith said.

The couple's lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, said he had no idea how long the case would take in a country that suffers from serious bureaucratic delays in its justice system. - Reuters