By David Harrison and Caroline Gammell in Praia da Luz and Andrew Alderson
Last Updated: 1:47AM BST 10 Sep 2007
The parents of missing Madeleine McCann will return to Britain from Portugal on Sunday.
Kate and Gerry McCann fear they could be charged over their daughter’s death after they were named as “arguidos”, or official suspects in her disappearance.
They wanted to fly back to the UK as soon as possible, but were worried that it might appear they are “running scared”, according to Mr McCann’s sister Philomena.
No conditions were imposed on the McCanns, which means they are free to travel abroad, their lawyer said. “They can travel whenever and wherever they like,” lawyer Carlos Pinto de Abreu told Reuters, adding that the McCanns could remain at their home in England as the police investigation continues.
The McCanns plan to approach David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, asking him to intervene in the case of their missing daughter Madeleine amid growing fears that they might become the victims of a “shocking injustice”.
The couple are “angry and horrified” that the search for the missing four-year-old has been halted as, they believe, police seek to blame them for killing her and disposing of her body.
Some forensic scientists have begun to question some of the evidence against the couple – supposedly samples of Madeline’s blood found in the boot of the car they hired 25 days after the disappearance, and the “death smell” allegedly found on Mrs McCann’s belongings by a police sniffer dog.
There is suspicion that tiny DNA samples obtained from the McCanns’ apartment – and compared with the blood found in the car boot – could have been contaminated.
One of Britain’s leading forensic scientists, who asked not be named, said: “If they are spots of blood, it could not be from a car used by the McCanns 25 days later. That doesn’t make sense.
“The blood would have dried and it would not transfer as spots unless the child is alive. It would be fragments [of dried blood].
“But that is not what the police are saying they have. This is the prevailing view among other forensic scientists I have spoken to.”
John Barrett, a former Scotland Yard dog handler, also indicated that the trained dogs used in an attempt to detect a “death smell” on Mrs McCann’s Bible and clothes were brought in too long after Madeleine vanished.
The crucial scent lasts for no longer than a month, he said.
The McCanns are expected to appear before the public prosecutor in Portimao, Portugal, this week. They could face restrictions on their movements and, possibly, charges.
The McCanns, both 39-year-old doctors, are said to be “deeply alarmed” by the turn of events after they were interrogated separately by Portuguese police for a total of 24 hours on Thursday and Friday.
They are furious at the manner of the questioning and may decide to stay in Portugal to clear their names and revive the search for their girl, who vanished four months ago while her parents were at a nearby tapas bar in the resort of Praia da Luz.
Portuguese sources said police were using a “war of nerves” in an effort to make Mrs McCann “crack” and confess to killing her daughter.
Her two interrogations last week – the second lasting 11 hours – were described as “aggressive”, with officers said to be “exploring her weaknesses”.
Media reports said the couple used their right to remain silent and refused to answer “more than 40 questions”. Friends insisted they answered all questions put to them.
The couple, who spoke with Mr Miliband last month, will urge him this week to step in “with any help he can,” said a friend of the couple.
“There is a danger of a shocking injustice here,” the friend said. “Kate and Gerry are appalled that anybody could think Kate would harm any of her children.”
Mrs McCann’s mother, Susan Healy, defended her, saying: “She fought her corner in her interview with the police and I felt quite proud that she was able to do that knowing how distraught she was by Madeleine’s disappearance.”
Philomena McCann, Mr McCann’s sister, said of her brother: “He is a bit distressed and very tired. But he is adamant that he has done nothing wrong.”
She said the couple were worried it would appear as if they were “running scared” if they returned to Britain.
Plans to return to their home in Rothley, Leicestershire, today have now been shelved.
Portuguese police believe that Mrs McCann killed Madeleine accidentally with a sedative overdose, and then hid the body. They think Mr McCann helped cover up her crime.
The McCanns insist they have never used sedatives on their children and deny any involvement in Madeleine’s death. They believe that she was abducted and is still alive.
Police have indicated their case is based on DNA evidence, analysed by British forensic scientists.
It is said to be blood from Madeleine found in the hired car. Investigators say further analysis is needed before any “definitive” conclusions.
The couple spent yesterday at a rented villa in Praia da Luz with their two-year-old twins, Amelie and Sean.
The Foreign Office was last night described as “firing on all cylinders” in its efforts to help the McCanns.
Asked about the case yesterday, Mr Miliband said: “A little girl is missing. This is an independent judicial process we fully respect. Consular services are being provided. Above all, this is about a little girl.”