Page last updated at 20:30 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 21:30 UK

Parents had drinks spiked - claim

The family are now thought to be on their way home from Portugal

A couple who allegedly passed out drunk while their children were taken into care in Portugal may have had their drinks spiked, a councillor claims.

Hotel staff in Vilamoura called police over concerns Eamon and Antoinette McGuckin's children, aged one, two and six, would not stop crying.

The family are thought to be on their way home, the Foreign Office said.

A councillor who knows the couple from their County Londonderry home town insists Mrs McGuckin was merely unwell.

SDLP Magherafelt Councillor Kate Lagan said she believes something was added to their drinks in a bar which made them pass out.

She said she could not understand why Portuguese authorities took the action they did against the couple, who are from Upperlands.

Eamon McGuckin enters the family's apartment
The McGuckins arrived in Portugal on Friday afternoon

"How could you possibly go from escorting three children from a bar to being completely comatose in a hotel as suddenly as that?" she said.

The family had been expected to appear before a family court on Tuesday afternoon, but the Foreign Office said it believed they had returned home.

"There were no legal restrictions on them having to stay, and there was no obligation for them to be in court," a spokesperson said.

Judge's secretary Maria Simoes said the powers of Portuguese courts only lasted as long as the children were in the country.

"To end the judicial process, the British social services will be informed of the procedures which have been undertaken, in order to evaluate the need of promoting and protecting the rights of the three children," she said.

Not arguidos

Antonio Cabrita, head of the lawyers' association in the Algarve, said as the couple were not arguidos (official suspects) and had not been charged with any crime, they were free to travel wherever they wanted.

He said that from what he had heard about the case, it was very difficult to classify what the parents had done as a crime.

Eamon McGuckin, 34, and his 32-year-old wife Antoinette were rushed to a health centre in nearby Loule after arriving at the Aparthotel Mourabel for a week-long holiday on Friday afternoon.

The manager of the hotel said the couple and their three children went out for dinner nearby at about 2000 local time on Friday.

It is alleged that, upon their arrival back at the hotel about two hours later, Mr McGuckin passed out on a sofa in reception while Mrs McGuckin fell asleep in the bar.

A spokesman for the local police said they were contacted by hotel staff at 2200 local time because "the children were crying and they could not revive the parents, who were both out cold".

The parents were taken to hospital while social services dealt with the children, he added.

The children were later returned to their parents.

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