PRAIA DA LUZ, Portugal (Reuters) - Portuguese police named the parents of missing British four-year-old Madeleine McCann as suspects in their investigation on Friday, their lawyer said after they were questioned for hours by police.
A spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, who had gained widespread sympathy in Europe for their plight, said they were innocent and that, in naming them as suspects, police were not focusing on finding Madeleine.
“Today, Kate and Gerry McCann have both been declared ‘arguidos’,” their lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, told reporters using the Portuguese word for suspect.
“No charges were brought against them,” he said, adding that there were no conditions established by the police on them as suspects. “The investigation continues.”
Gerry McCann left the police station around midnight, having arrived for questioning just after his wife left in the afternoon. Kate was also questioned for about 11 hours on Thursday.
“They are very frustrated, most of all that all of these events are distracting from the original investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance,” said David Hughes, a spokesman for the McCanns.
Police could not be reached to comment on the naming of Gerry as a suspect but said earlier they had identified a new suspect in their investigation, which friends said was Kate.
“Kate knows it’s possible that she could get arrested,” Justine McGuinness, a spokeswoman for the McCanns, said before the police announcement.
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 blood. The car had been hired 25 days after the toddler disappeared.
Police received results this week of forensic tests on evidence from various sites including the holiday apartment from which Madeleine vanished on May 3.
A British man emerged as the first formal suspect soon after Madeleine’s disappearance from the Praia da Luz resort in the Algarve region.
Police had pursued a series of leads, including that Madeleine might have been taken by a pedophile.
Under Portuguese law, declaring the McCanns as suspects indicates police believe they may have been involved in the crime but does not necessarily mean that they will be detained. They would have more legal protection than as witnesses, including the right not to answer questions.
Hundreds of people throughout Europe contacted police offering help after the McCanns launched a massive publicity campaign to find their daughter who vanished a few days before her fourth birthday.
Pictures of the child have been posted across Europe at schools, airports and restaurants and the McCanns met Pope Benedict, who blessed a picture of Madeleine.
Gerry rejected any suggestion of his wife’s involvement on his blog (www.findmadeleine.com).
“The suggestion that Kate is involved in Madeleine’s disappearance is ludicrous,” he wrote. “Anyone who knows anything about the 3rd May knows that Kate is completely innocent. We will fight this all the way and we will not stop looking for Madeleine.”
Madeleine vanished from a hotel room in the Praia da Luz resort while her parents dined with friends a short distance away.
Kate and Gerry decided to stay in Praia da Luz until the case was resolved, and have been attending a local church almost daily to pray for their daughter’s safe return.
The only other suspect is a Briton living in Praia da Luz, who has not been arrested. His house has been searched twice.
British business tycoons and celebrities ranging from “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling to soccer stars have contributed to a reward for Madeleine’s return.
Additional reporting by Anna Valderrama, Avril Ormsby, Henrique Almeida and Ruben Bicho
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