Parents of Missing Madeleine Named Suspects, Return to U.K.

Both the mother and father of missing British girl Madeleine McCann have been declared suspects in a surprising twist to a case that has pulled on the heartstrings of people worldwide.

Less than a day after Kate McCann was named a suspect Friday morning, her husband Gerry was also declared a suspect, lawyer Carlos Pinto Abreu told reporters.

"They have not been charged, and the investigation continues," he said, according to The Associated Press.

In response, the McCanns have strenuously professed their innocence and relatives of the British couple have also insisted that the pair is innocent, challenging police on Saturday to reveal what evidence they have against them.

"I'm led to believe that no hard evidence has been shown to them," Gerry's brother, John McCann, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"If this is what it takes to speed up the process of absolutely exonerating Gerry and Kate, let's get on with it," he added. "I hope the police can move quickly, bring whatever evidence they have got and discuss with Gerry and Kate why they think what they think."

Madeleine's aunt, Philomena McCann, told Sky News television that police were "on a fishing expedition to get closure on this very high-profile case."

It has been more than four months since four-year-old Madeleine disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, a resort town in the southern Algarve region of Portugal, while her parents were dining at a nearby restaurant.

Since their daughter's disappearance, the McCanns have launched an international campaign to find her, enlisting the aid of celebrities such as soccer star David Beckham and J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter fantasy books. They have also traveled to various countries where they have met press and distributed posters of Madeleine with the hope that someone may have spotted her.

The McCanns, who are both Roman Catholics, even met with Pope Benedict XVI, who put his hand on their arms during an emotional meeting and blessed them.

After months without significant breakthroughs, police said last month that the investigation into the British girl's abduction was reaching a very critical stage and wanted the McCanns to remain close by. They specifically told the couple not to leave Portugal after it was revealed that the McCanns were planning to return to England due to financial pressure and concern for their two-year-old twin children.

Although the police were quick to emphasize that their request for the couple to stay had absolutely no implications that they were suspects, the latest developments may suggest otherwise.

The police also said last month that it was "active now in assuming that Madeleine is dead" and assured that the investigation would be over soon.

Until Friday, the only formal suspect has been Robert Murat, who lives with his mother near the hotel from which the girl disappeared. Police spokesman Olegario Sousa said Murat's status as a suspect had not changed.

The latest developments came after sniffer dogs brought from Britain found traces of blood in the McCanns' rental car.

Philomena McCann, Gerry's sister, said police suggested that her niece might have been killed accidentally rather than kidnapped.

"They tried to get her (Kate McCann) to confess to having accidentally killed Madeleine by offering her a deal through her lawyer — 'If you say you killed Madeleine by accident and then hid her and disposed of the body, then we can guarantee you a two-year jail sentence or even less,'" she told ITV news.

Gerry McCann called the allegations against his wife "ludicrous."

"We will fight this all the way, and we will not stop looking for Madeleine," he wrote on the couple's Web site on Friday.

On Thursday, Mrs. McCann was questioned for 11 hours, and later on Friday for more than four hours.

Mr. McCann followed his wife on Friday into the police station in the southern Portuguese town of Portimao for a separate round of questioning.

Clarence Mitchell, a family friend and former spokesman for the McCanns, said Friday after speaking with Mrs. McCann that she found the police questioning "grueling."

"It's very intense, but she's remaining strong and determined to prove that they had nothing to do with their daughter's disappearance and they are innocent victims of the crime," he told AP.

Another family friend, John Corner, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the listing of Mrs. McCann as a suspect gave him "an uncomfortable feeling that the police are not looking outward" for Madeleine's abductor.

On Sunday, Madeleine's parents returned to England, flying from Faro in southern Portugal with their two-year-old twin children. Mr. McCann said the couple wanted "to consider the events of the last few days, which have been so deeply disturbing."

"While it is heartbreaking to return to the U.K. without Madeleine, it does not mean we are giving up the search for her," he said on the airport tarmac in central England, according to AP.

In an interview with the Sunday newspaper The News of the World, Mr. McCann was quoted as saying: "We thought we were in our worst nightmare but now it just keeps getting worse and worse."

He also said trip back home was not an act of "running away" but "for the kids' sake and emotional reasons" – sentiments reiterated Sunday by the McCann's family spokeswoman, Justine McGuinness, who read out a brief statement as the couple took off from Faro.

"Their heartfelt plea is that the search for Madeleine should continue and that people should continue to remain vigilant," McGuinness said, adding that the couple wished they could say more, but were barred under Portuguese law.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said authorities are still working to locate the missing girl.

"This is a difficult situation, it's an ongoing investigation, but I'm confident that we share the objective of finding Madeleine and that's the most important thing," Smith said, according to CBS News.