Gerry and Kate McCann 88.
(photo credit: )
A British couple named as suspects in the disappearance of their 4-year-old daughter returned to England Sunday, days after being grilled by Portuguese police about new forensic evidence authorities believe ties them to the case.
Kate and Gerry McCann and their 2-year-old twins arrived by minivan at their large brick house in the village of Rothley, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of London, escorted by police and greeted by scores of journalists.
The disappearance of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann, and her parents' high-profile campaign to find her, has made headlines around the world. The story took a startling twist Friday, when Portuguese police formally named Madeleine's parents as suspects in the case.
Just after the plane carrying the family from southern Portugal touched down at East Midlands Airport, Gerry McCann denied being involved in the disappearance of his daughter and said the events of the past few days had been deeply disturbing.
"Whilst it is heartbreaking to return to the UK without Madeleine, it does not mean we are giving up the search for her," he said, his voice shaking with emotion.
"We have played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter Madeleine," he added.
Although Portuguese police named the McCanns as suspects in the May 3 disappearance of their daughter, they did not confiscate their passports or restrict their movements.
Gerry McCann said he and his wife had returned home "with the full agreement of the Portuguese authorities and police."
He said the couple wanted "to consider the events of the last few days, which have been so deeply disturbing."
The McCanns have said they will be available to return to Portugal for questioning if needed.
"Portuguese law prohibits us from commenting further on the police investigation," Gerry McCann said.
Portuguese police spokesman Olegario Sousa told The Associated Press the McCanns didn't need official authorization to travel because they had provided authorities with their home address so that they could be contacted.
He said if they intend to be away from home for more than five consecutive days they must tell Portuguese authorities where they will be reachable.
Sousa said the police investigation "is not over by any means."
"The investigation will only end when we think the case file is complete and we hand our findings to the Public Prosecutor," who then decides whether to drop the case or bring charges, he said.
The McCanns say Madeleine vanished from a hotel room in southern Portugal's Algarve region, where she and her siblings were sleeping, while her parents ate dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Until Friday, suspicion had centered on Robert Murat, a British man who lived near the hotel from which Madeleine disappeared and who was the only formal suspect. No charges have ever been brought against him, and he has said he is innocent.
The case took a turn in recent days, after police said new forensic tests done on evidence gathered months after the girl vanished found traces of blood in the couple's car. The traces, apparently missed in earlier forensic tests, were uncovered by sniffer dogs brought from Britain.
The McCanns had vowed not to leave Portugal until their daughter was found. But that stance seems to have changed even before police named them as suspects.
Gerry McCann said in a newspaper interview he was concerned their treatment indicated Portuguese police were under intense pressure to solve the case.
"We thought we were in our worst nightmare but now it just keeps getting worse and worse," he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Sunday newspaper The News of the World.
"We're desperate to get back for the kids' sake and emotional reasons," he was quoted as saying. "It's not that we're running away."
Gerry McCann's sister, Philomena, has said police had proposed a plea bargain, suggesting the girl might have been killed accidentally and offering the mother a limited sentence if she confessed.
The couple's ordeal has drawn attention around the world, partly because of an unprecedented international campaign they led to find their daughter.
The McCanns have toured Europe with photos of Madeleine and the child's stuffed animals and clothing, even meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Celebrities including children's author J.K. Rowling and soccer star David Beckham made public appeals that helped the family raise more than US$2 million.