Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 18:17 UK

McCann alert 'could have helped'

Kate and Gerry McCann on Eurostar

The parents of missing Madeleine McCann believe there would have been a greater chance of finding her if a missing child alert system had been used.

Kate and Gerry McCann want the European Parliament to improve inter-country co-ordination for the existing system.

Madeleine, of Rothley, Leicestershire, went missing aged three on holiday in Praia da Luz, Portugal, last May.

The McCanns were also optimistic their status as "arguidos" or formal suspects in the case would be lifted soon.

They are visiting Brussels as part of the campaign to create a dedicated alert system for abducted children - which they say should be restricted to the most serious cases.

The couple said it worked well in the US where hundreds of children had been recovered, and in France where it had been used five times and all five children had been found.

'Time is the enemy'

Mrs McCann described the system as a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies and media and transport companies.

An alert is published immediately when a child is abducted.

"The concept is quite simple in that time is the enemy in the case of a missing child and the goal is to instantly galvanise the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of that child," she said.

Mr McCann added: "We have clearly stated that the alert should be used for the most dangerous cases, and there is no doubt that a very young child who has gone missing late at night, from an apartment, and particularly in a foreign country, would meet the criteria."

We have absolutely no evidence, whatsoever, that Madeleine has come to any harm
Kate McCann

While in Brussels, the McCanns held a private meeting with Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, who is a driving force behind the scheme, and made a presentation to MEPs.

Across the EU there are big differences in how reports on missing children are handled, and Mr McCann said he was "exasperated" by the lack of progress getting an Europe-wide alert system in place.

Full alerts

Countries such as the UK, France and Belgium have systems for nationwide alerts, while others do not even keep national records of those reported missing.

The EU has a missing child hotline number, but it has been widely publicised in only four countries.

France and Greece are the only EU countries to have so far introduced full alerts along the lines of the amber system.

In a written declaration, MEPs urged better training for police and a central register of all known sex offenders in Europe.

In an interview with the BBC's Richard Bilton, Mr McCann said: "The penal code in Portugal has changed and 'arguidos' should only be in force for eight months with a three-month extension if there is good circumstances.

"So we are pretty optimistic than that arguido status will be lifted soon and everyone can be clear that the focus is on Madeleine."

'Not going back'

He added: "I think it will be a very clear statement when the arguido status is lifted that there is absolutely no evidence to support our involvement in anything to do with Madeleine's disappearance."

Portuguese police have asked the couple to return to Portugal for a reconstruction of the night Madeleine disappeared. They have yet to decide whether to participate.

Asked about plans for the anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance, Mrs McCann said it was a "private matter".

Her husband said they would "certainly not be going back" to Portugal on 3 May.

Mrs McCann said she was still hopeful Madeleine would be found alive.

"There's still hope there - and we have absolutely no evidence, whatsoever, that Madeleine has come to any harm."


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