Holidaymakers and police were desperately searching today for a young British girl who went missing while on holiday in Portugal.
Three-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished from her parents’ rented apartment in the Algarve last night as they dined nearby.
Tourists joined resort staff in a “frantic” all-night search for the little girl, who was described by a neighbour as “happy-go-lucky” and idolised by her “protective” parents, Gerry and Kate.
Today the manager at the Ocean Club – a holiday resort run by British travel firm Mark Warner in the south west seaside village of Praia Da Luz – said the couple, both doctors from Leicester, were “distraught”.
John Hill said: “It was a very emotional and very frantic night and everyone did a fantastic job of getting involved and trying to search the area.
“As you can imagine, Madeleine’s parents are distraught and not doing very well at all.”
Around 60 staff and guests at the purpose-built complex searched until 4.30am while police notified border police, Spanish police and airports.
Sniffer dogs were brought in by Portuguese detectives to comb the area but as the hours went by, hopes that Madeleine merely wandered off were fading.
A spokesman for the Policia Judiciaria – the Portuguese CID – said they would not comment on the investigation.
British consul in Portugal Bill Henderson was with the couple and their twins, a boy and a girl, and Mark Warner said it was flying out counsellors to help them through the ordeal.
Mr Hill said that despite the report by a family friend that the shutters to the couple’s apartment were broken, there was no sign that anyone had forced their way in while the McCanns ate at the tapas restaurant 200 yards away.
He said: “We are hoping that Madeleine is found as soon as possible and safe and well. Everybody here is just wishing that she is found as soon as possible.”
But family friend Jill Renwick told GMTV the McCanns were certain that Madeleine has been abducted.
“They were just watching the hotel room and going back every half-hour and the shutters had been broken open and they had gone into the room and taken Madeleine,” she said.
“They went out about eight, went back in at nine, they were fine, went back in at 10 and she was gone.”
She described the missing girl as a “very pretty, very blonde three-year-old”.
Ms Renwick said of the holiday: “This is the first time they have done this. They are very, very anxious parents and very careful and they chose Mark Warner because it is a family-friendly resort.”
A Mark Warner spokesman said looking after the McCanns was their “first priority”, along with finding their daughter, and added that if necessary it would fly other family members out to the Ocean Club, which it has run for two years.
He said: “Our staff are looking after them at the moment in whatever way they can but we can only imagine how awful it is for them.
“We are all hoping that she is asleep under a bush somewhere and we will find her soon.”
He said the apartment the family were staying in was surrounded by other apartments, all of which have “quite sophisticated” locks on the doors.
Guests are being asked if they saw anyone acting suspiciously in the area, he said, adding that Mark Warner has never had cases of missing or abducted children before.
“We are hoping it’s not that, though,” he said. “It’s the last thing we want but we have to investigate all avenues.”
He said Mark Warner offers families a baby-sitting service where they can drop off their children for the night.
“Those facilities were available but, for whatever reason, they were not being used,” he said.
Today neighbours near the family home in Rothley, Leicestershire, to which they are thought to have moved from Queniborough last summer, said they were “devastated” by the news.
Neighbour Penny Noble said she believed Madeleine was due to start at school in September.
She said: “They are a really nice family and good neighbours.
“They are delightful. We see them take their bikes up and down and going for walks.
“Madeleine is a very happy-go-lucky little girl.”
Neighbour Tracey Horsfield, a nurse, said: “They seem a really lovely family, protective of their children.
“I see them going up and down the crescent. They are a protective family who idolise their kids.
“I am hoping and praying that she has not been abducted and that she has wandered off. They would not let her out of their sight.”
And colleagues of Dr McCann, who is a consultant cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, said they were still hoping for the best.
Doug Skehan, also a consultant cardiologist at the hospital, said: “Gerry is a popular, hardworking colleague for whom we have great affection.
“The mood in the hospital is one of great concern and we hope that Kate and Gerry will have their daughter back very soon.”
The girl’s grandfather, Brian Healy, said the family were “worried sick”.
Speaking at the door of the family home in Mossley Hill, Liverpool, he said: “We’re worried sick, as you can imagine. It’s a very distressing time.”
A family friend added that they would be travelling to Portugal on the next available flight.
Speaking to the BBC later, Ms Renwick said the McCanns, holidaying with three other British families, had felt let down by police in Portugal.
“I spoke to them this morning and they said the police had done nothing overnight and they felt as if they’d been left on their own.
“They just don’t know where to turn.”
But resort manager Mr Hill said this was not true, and that police had been searching with dogs overnight and continued to search today.
He said: “The police have their dogs in and have been conducting sweeps of the beach and rocky areas very close to the village.
“There is a criminal investigator here in charge of the situation and around 20 officers but unfortunately there is still no information.
“If I was in the McCanns’ situation, I would be frustrated as hell if there were 100 police here – I would still be frustrated and want more.
“I can’t put myself in their position but the police were here with their dogs through the night.”
He said detectives had not found a forced entry into the apartment but said the shutters had been slid up and the bedroom window opened since the McCanns left.
As to whether the police were now looking at an abduction, he said: “We just can’t speculate at this stage. I hope not.”
He said the couple and their twins, who are two years old, were being comforted by friends.
“The mood is not as frantic as it was last night but there is a big police presence and we just have to keep searching,” he said.
Mr Healy and his wife, Susan, were driven away from the house in Liverpool shortly after 12.30pm.
Bags were packed in the car and a relative said they were heading to Portugal.
Mr Healy’s sister, who gave her name as Nora, said earlier: “They don’t feel they are getting much help from the Portuguese authorities. It’s a terrible time.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) in the UK was liaising with Leicestershire Police and other constabularies while a Foreign Office Soca liaison was also in contact with the Portuguese chief of police.
He added that two officials from the British Consulate in Portimao were with the family, assisting them as they deal with the Portuguese police.
Copyright Press Association 2007
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