PRAIA DA LUZ, Portugal (Reuters) - Kate and Gerry McCann, whose daughter’s disappearance has riveted Europe, are shocked to have been declared suspects by Portuguese police, a spokeswoman for the family said on Saturday.
After hours of questioning on Friday, police named both British parents as suspects in four-year-old Madeleine’s disappearance on May 3 but did not file charges against them, according to a lawyer for the McCanns.
“They are shocked, disappointed, tired,” spokeswoman Justine McGuinness told Reuters.
The couple had been planning to return from the Algarve to their home in Rothley, Leicestershire, on Sunday but a friend of the family said they would now remain in Portugal to try to prove their innocence and find their daughter.
“At the moment it is their intention to stay here. However, they would very much like to go home,” the friend told Reuters.
Declaring the McCanns as suspects indicates police believe they may have been involved in a crime but does not necessarily mean they will be detained.
No conditions were imposed on the McCanns, which according to the couple’s defence lawyer in Portugal means they are free to travel abroad.
“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 if they chose to do so while the investigation continues.
Relatives have urged Portuguese police to eliminate the couple from their inquiries and resume the hunt for their missing child.
“If this is what it takes to speed up the process of absolutely exonerating Gerry and Kate, let’s get on with it,” Gerry’s brother John McCann told BBC radio.
But Abreu said he had no idea how long the Madeleine case would take to be concluded in a country with serious bureaucratic problems and delays in its justice system.
Portuguese weekly Expresso on Saturday cited legal experts as saying it could take at least one year.
Police changed their line of investigation after receiving results this week of forensic tests on evidence collected by Portuguese and British experts from various sites including the holiday apartment from which Madeleine vanished.
McGuinness said Kate had told her that police found blood in a car hired by the couple but there was no confirmation that it was Madeleine’s.
Police have pursued a series of leads during the four-month investigation, including that Madeleine might have been taken by a paedophile.
The only other suspect is a Briton living in Praia da Luz, who has not been arrested. His house has been searched twice.
Hundreds of people from around the world contacted police offering help after the McCanns launched a massive publicity campaign to find their daughter who vanished a few days before she would have turned four.
Pictures of the girl have been posted across Europe at schools, airports and restaurants and the McCanns have met Pope Benedict, who blessed a picture of Madeleine.
Additional Reporting by Tim Castle in London