/ 13 September 2007

Family members rally around McCann parents

As the pressure grows on the parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann, support from their extended family, who have angrily denounced the police probe, has become stronger.

The McCanns — named as formal suspects by Portuguese police last week — come from close Roman Catholic working-class families, and their relatives have offered both emotional and practical back-up since Madeleine vanished in Portugal on May 3.

Gerry McCann’s brother John McCann has compared the family’s role to a football match in which relatives take it in turns to ”play in goal”.

”We have always used sport analogies. We all take turns at having a good game when other people are not,” he said from the couple’s home in Rothley, Leicestershire, central England. ”It’s like most families — we rally round while someone’s in a state. We’re trying to take a load off … it’s a hellish situation for them without compounding it by making them go through other trials.”

Gerry grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, as one of five children while Kate’s family is originally from Liverpool, north-west England.

Until very recently, the couple, both 39-year-old doctors, appeared on television and in newspapers almost daily, keeping the hunt for their daughter in the headlines in the hope of garnering leads about what happened to her.

Family members assisted: Gerry McCann’s sister Philomena lobbied Prime Minister Gordon Brown, while Kate McCann’s uncle, Brian Kennedy, who lives in the same village as the couple, chairs the fund to help find Madeleine. Other relatives also spoke to the media.

But since the parents were named as formal suspects on Friday and barred from talking in detail about the case, they have kept a lower profile, while several relations issued furious criticisms of the Portuguese police.

Philomena McCann, a teacher in Ullapool, northern Scotland, told Sky News television last week: ”I’m sorry, but I don’t have much faith in the Portuguese police. Many times I have questioned since the start what on earth they were doing, but now — oh, it’s just a complete disgrace.”

And Brian Healy, Kate McCann’s father, told the Times newspaper on Friday: ”When people have turned to badmouthing the Portuguese police, I have always shied away from it, but I don’t care now. This is just a waste of time, a farce.”

Gerry McCann made a statement after touching down on home soil at Britain’s East Midlands airport on Sunday and has written on his blog, but has steered clear of commenting on the investigation.

John McCann said that working on the Find Madeleine campaign plus trying to help other families whose children have gone missing had in certain respects become more important to him since Gerry and Kate McCann were named suspects.

The pharmaceutical sales representative from Glasgow said this work ”doesn’t take your mind off it” (the girl going missing), adding: ”It focuses your attention on the disappearance all the time, which is quite good in some ways. It matters very much to us in some ways, particularly at the moment in the light of the misguided investigation.”

It is not only close relatives who have helped the campaign to find Madeleine.

A second cousin of Gerry McCann circulated 50 000 cards at the Uefa Cup final in May telling spectators about the girl, while the husband of one of Kate McCann’s cousins asked businesses for help in distributing information.

Family spokesperson David Hughes said that many members of the family who were worried about Madeleine liked to offer help in areas where they felt they could.

”I think what happened was that when Madeleine was first abducted, they all rallied round to help and it just carried on from there, really,” Hughes said. ”I think they’re all trying to contribute to the campaign in various ways.”

Portuguese newspapers on Thursday quoted what they said were extracts from the personal diary of Kate McCann seized by police, portraying her as a woman worn out by her three children, including Madeleine.

According to Philomena McCann, police suspect her of accidentally killing Madeleine and then hiding her body. — Sapa-AFP