ROTHLEY (Reuters) - British couple Kate and Gerry McCann, named as suspects in the disappearance of their four-year-old daughter Madeleine in Portugal, flew home on Sunday insisting they were innocent.
“We played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter Madeleine,” said Gerry McCann, his voice cracking with emotion on arrival at Britain’s East Midlands Airport.
Portuguese police said the McCanns’ decision to return to Britain will complicate and possibly delay the investigation.
The couple, centre of a tragic mystery that has intrigued millions around the world, stressed they left the resort of Praia da Luz after their four-month ordeal with the full agreement of the Portuguese authorities.
“Portugese law prohibits us from commenting further on the investigation,” McCann said in a brief statement on the airport tarmac as the couple clutched their two-year-old twins.
“Whilst it is heartbreaking to return to the UK without Madeleine, it does not mean we are giving up our search,” he added.
Portuguese police spokesman Olegario de Sousa said the McCanns may be called back to Portugal at any time.
”Their departure obviously complicates things and can delay the investigation as we will not have as much contact with them (McCanns) as before.
He said the McCanns had every legal right to return home as they have not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Gerry McCann pleaded for privacy but the couple were greeted by a phalanx of photographers and TV crews on return to their home in the picturesque central England village of Rothley.
The McCanns, followed to Faro airport on the Algarve coast by a media horde, insisted they were not running away from the investigation but were leaving for the twins’ sake.
Portuguese police declared the McCanns formal suspects on Friday but have filed no charges against them. Declaring them suspects indicates they believe the couple may have been involved in a crime, but does not necessarily mean they would be detained.
Britain’s Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Jacqui Smith said UK authorities would continue to provide Portuguese police with any help they needed in the hunt for the little girl.
The McCanns’ lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, said he had no idea how long the case would take to be concluded in a country that suffers from serious bureaucratic delays in its justice system.
Police changed their line of investigation this week after receiving results of forensic tests on evidence collected by Portuguese and British experts from various sites including the holiday apartment from which Madeleine vanished on May 3.
Pictures of Madeleine have been posted across Europe at schools, airports and restaurants.
The McCanns, who assiduously courted the media for help but are now being hounded by them, have met Pope Benedict, who blessed a picture of the child. Supporters pleading for help have included soccer star David Beckham and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
Additional reporting by Henrique Almeida in Portugal and Tim Castle in London