Madeleine McCann left alone as ‘last minute decision’

By Nick Britten and Caroline Gammell
Last Updated: 6:59PM BST 30/04/2008

The parents of Madeleine McCann have told how it was only a last-minute change of plan that led them to leave their children alone on the night their daughter disappeared.

Kate and Gerry McCann said that they had planned to take the family to The Millennium, a restaurant half a mile away. But because Madeleine and their twins, Sean and Amelie, were tired they decided to put them to bed and eat at the tapas restaurant near their apartment.

They sat down at 9pm and within an hour Madeleine had vanished.

The couple speak about their change of heart during a two-hour documentary, Madeleine, One Year On, Campaign for Change to be televised tonight.

Mrs McCann’s mother, Susan Healy, 62, from Liverpool, said she wanted to “shake” them both for leaving her granddaughter alone.

“I could shake all of them, every single one of them,” she said. “You find yourself over and over again in your head thinking: ‘Why did they think it would be all right?’”

The documentary, filmed over four months, focuses on how the McCanns have coped and their campaign for the introduction of a Europe-wide Amber Alert early warning system for missing children used successfully in the US.

They talk frankly about their feelings, with Mrs McCann regularly breaking down.

On Madeleine’s disappearance

Mr McCann said that, as the search of the Mark Warner holiday complex in Praia da Luz began, he was gripped by “absolute devastation and total, just total emotion”.

He said: “Everyone knows the fear, fear for your daughter, fear for yourself, fear for your family, fear for everything and that horrible kind of adrenalin: fight, flight.”

Mrs McCann stayed in a bedroom praying. She said: “It was really cold. I knew what pyjamas she had on and I just thought she’s going to be freezing. And it was just dark and dark and every minute seemed like an hour.

“Obviously, we were up all night and just waited for the first bit of light at six o’clock.”

Mr McCann added: “And then we went out searching, the two of us. We were saying over and over again just let her be found, let her be found.”

With no sign of Madeleine, police suspicions soon turned on the couple and the theory they had killed Madeleine by accident and hid her body. In August, they were declared arguidos or persons of interest to the inquiry.

On being made suspects

Mrs McCann said the initial reaction was fury that the focus had been taken away from the hunt for Madeleine.

She said: “As soon as I realised the theory that Madeleine was dead and that we’d been involved, it just hit home: they haven’t been looking for Madeleine. I just felt yet again my daughter has had such a disservice.

“I started thinking ‘if they’re saying about us being involved with Madeleine, you know it’s not too long before they say what about Sean and Amelie?’”

She said she thought of herself as a “lioness and her cubs”, saying: “I’d do whatever it took to protect them.”

It emerged yesterday that their status as arguidos will remain in place for a further three months.

On hate mail

The McCanns have boxes marked “nutty” and “nasty” in which to file hate mail. One was a Christmas card which read in part: “Gerry and Kate, how can you use the money given by poor people in good faith to pay your mortgage on your mansion. You ******* thieving bastards. Your brat is dead because of your drunken arrogance. Shame on you. I curse you and your family to suffer forever. You are scum.”

On the Amber Alert system

Mr McCann said they felt a “moral obligation” to improve the “haphazard and disorganised” response to missing children in Europe.

He said: “If you find yourself in that horrible situation we did, you want to know a photograph’s gone out, a description, borders are being alerted and there is the best possible chance of finding that child quickly.”

On the future

Mrs McCann said they will be forever driven in their search for Madeleine until they had proof she was dead.

She said: “We’re never going to get to a day where you think OK we’ve tried everything now, (that) we’re exhausted and need to start living. I can’t imagine ever getting to that day.

“I just think we need to know because the thought of living like this for another 40 years isn’t exactly a happy prospect.”

Madeleine, One Year On, Campaign for Change is on ITV1 on Wednesday, April 30 at 8pm.

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