Page last updated at 20:09 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 21:09 UK

McCanns 'confident' on alert plan

Gerry and Kate McCann
Gerry and Kate McCann say they still have much to do to raise awareness

The parents of missing Madeleine McCann say they are "confident" of gaining the support they need for an EU-wide alert system for abducted children.

The couple have been lobbying MEPs - they need 393 of them to back the plan by 24 July for it to be published.

But they are still 167 short, and say some are "surprisingly" unaware of their proposal.

Meanwhile, Portuguese authorities have said the family will soon be allowed access to the police files in the case.

Madeleine, of Leicestershire, vanished aged three in Portugal in May 2007.

Amber Alert

Kate and Gerry McCann believe that a European version of the US Amber Alert system would have helped the search for their daughter in the crucial hours after her disappearance.

Whilst we remain confident... we have also learnt that we still have much to do to increase awareness
Kate McCann

The US system enables an early warning to be given via the media across the country when police confirm a child has been abducted.

The couple launched their campaign in April and by Tuesday evening had collected the names of 226 MEPs.

But they need another 167 signatures before the 24 July deadline if the declaration is to be sent to the EU president and published.

Although publication of the proposal would carry no legal weight in the European Union, the McCanns believe it would help them win the moral argument over whether such a cross-border system is needed.

'Declaration fatigue'

In a series of meetings in Strasbourg on Tuesday unsigned members vowed to add their names, and persuade colleagues to join them.

Addressing a press conference with a statement Mrs McCann said their visit to the plenary session had been "extremely useful and very encouraging".

"Whilst we remain confident that the declaration will have been signed by a majority of MEPs by the deadline, we have also learnt that we still have much to do to increase awareness of the declaration amongst MEPs before then."

"We were, however, also surprised to learn that some MEPs remain unaware of the declaration and its aim of improving child welfare - despite the international publicity that has surrounded it." Declaration sponsor and European Parliament Vice-President Edward McMillan-Scott said the McCanns were up against a European Parliament suffering "declaration fatigue".

Last year, only 12 out of 116 written declarations received the required number, he said.

After a vote in the European Parliament on Tuesday, several MEPs approached the McCanns to express their support for the scheme.

French member Alain Lamassoure, of the European People's Party, said he would sign it because it was "a very painful issue" that required far better co-operation between the judiciary and police of member states.

The reason we have got a problem is that we have the EU
Nigel Farage MEP
Ukip leader

Irish Fianna Fail member Liam Aylward said: "It's a heart-rending case and it captured the imagination of people around the world.

"If we can influence anybody, we will do."

However, the UK Independence Party's policy of not signing written declarations could cost the McCanns nine British signatures.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who met the couple, said he agreed in principle with an alert system.

But he dismissed written declarations as just "'mother and apple pie' statements so MEPs can show what wonderful people they are".

He added that "the reason we have got a problem [with abducted children being carried across borders] is that we have the EU".

Official secrecy

Meanwhile, Portugal's attorney-general has said Mr and Mrs McCann will soon be allowed access to the police files relating to the search for their daughter.

Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro told a Portuguese newspaper the period of official secrecy in the case would end next month.

But Portugal's summer judicial holiday would mean the couple would not be able to gain access to the papers until August, 24 Horas reported.

The McCanns were officially named suspects, known in Portugal as being given "arguido" status, in September last year.

Clarence Mitchell, the couple's spokesman, said they had not yet heard anything about the release of the papers but would welcome such a move.

"In the meantime, their legal teams in Britain and Portugal will continue to push for full access to the information from the police files and the lifting of their wrongly-imposed arguido status."




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