A senior British police officer initially believed Gerry McCann might have been involved in his daughter Madeleine’s disappearance, it was revealed yesterday.
Child protection expert Jim Gamble said he suspected Mr McCann and wife Kate ‘from the very outset’ – and even tried to get the father to ‘do the right thing’ and confess.
But the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said he is now convinced the couple were innocent and devastated over their daughter.
In a new documentary about the three-year-old’s disappearance during a family holiday in Portugal, the former officer described how he helped Mr McCann write an appeal to Madeleine’s abductor, urging them to let the child go and hand themselves in.
He said he hoped his words might prompt Mr McCann to act if he had been involved.
Mr Gamble said he advised Mr McCann write his appeal ‘along the lines that sometimes people make terrible mistakes in life they never intended, but ultimately it’s never too late to do the right thing’.
‘But in shaping that I was actually talking to Gerry. I think it was the only way of delivering that message or reflecting that thought – if something had happened, if it was a mistake, it’s never too late to come out and stop all of this.’
Madeleine is pictured in a still from a mobile phone video walking onto a flight at East Midlands Airport in April 2007. Five days later she disappeared and has never been found
Apartment 5A in Praia Da Luz in Portugal, where Madeline McCann went missing from in 2007
Mr Gamble said his initial suspicion of the McCanns was based on his experience as a police officer. He said: ‘Statistically it’s likely to be the parents or somebody who’s in close proximity with the child.’
But later knowledge of the case convinced him they were innocent, and he described Portuguese detectives’ decision to name them as formal suspects in September 2007 – a decision later lifted – as ‘clutching at straws’.
Mr Gamble told the new Netflix documentary: ‘Now I don’t believe that Kate or Gerry McCann had anything to do with the fact their daughter has gone missing and potentially had been abducted.’
The McCanns, from Rothley in Leicestershire, were asked to take part in the eight-part documentary but refused as they believed it ‘could potentially hinder’ the British police investigation.
The series scrutinises the Portuguese inquiry, and includes an admission from the detective who led the hunt that the police’s initial response was ‘inadequate’.
Goncalo Amaral said the failure to secure the holiday apartment in Praia de Luz after Madeleine vanished meant evidence was lost or destroyed.
The documentary also features haunting images of Madeleine in the days before she went missing, including mobile phone footage of her boarding a flight to Portugal at East Midlands Airport.
A Scotland Yard probe into Madeleine’s disappearance continues and her parents say they will never lose hope they will find her.
How the disappearance of Maddie McCann has unfolded over 11 years
May 3: Gerry and Kate McCann leave their three children, including Maddie, asleep in their hotel apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, as they eat with friends in a nearby restaurant. When they return, they find Maddie missing from her bed
May 4: A friend of the McCanns reports of seeing a man carrying a child away in the night. Meanwhile, airports and borders are put on high alert as search gets underway
May 14: Robert Mural, a property developer who lives a few yards from the hotel, is made a suspect by Portuguese police
May 30: The McCanns meet the Pope in Rome in a bid to bring worldwide attention to the search
August 11: Police in Portugal acknowledge for the first time in the investigation that Maddie might be dead.
September 7: Spanish police make the McCanns official suspects in the disappearance. Two days later the family flies back to England
July 21: Spanish police remove the McCanns and Mr Mural as official suspects as the case is shelved
May 1: A computer-generated image of what Maddie could look like two years after she disappeared is released by the McCanns
May 12: A review into the disappearance is launched by Scotland Yard, following a plea from then-Home Secretary Theresa May
April 25: After a year of reviewing the case, Scotland Yard announce they belief that Maddie could be alive and call on police in Portugal to reopen the case, but it falls on deaf ears amid 'a lack of new evidence'
Kate and Gerry McCann mark the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine with the publication of the book written by her mother in 2011
July 4: Scotland Yard opens new investigation and claim to have identified 38 'people of interest'
October 24: A review into the investigation is opened by Portuguese police and new lines of inquiry are discovered, forcing them to reopen the case
January 29: British officers arrive in Portugal as a detailed investigation takes place. During the year, several locations are searched, including an area of scrubland near the resort
October 28: British police announce that team investigating Maddie's disappearance is reduced from 29 officers to just four, as it is also revealed that the investigation has cost £10million
April 3: Operation Grange is handed an additional £95,000 by Theresa May to keep the investigation alive for another six months
March 11: Cash is once again pumped into keeping the investigation alive, with £85,000 granted to keep it running until September, when it is extended once again until April next year
March 27: The Home Office reveals it has allocated further funds to Operation Grange. The new fund is believed to be as large as £150,000
September 11: Parents fear as police hunt into daughter's disappearance could be shelved within three weeks by the new Home Secretary amid funding cuts
September 26: Fresh hope in the search for Madeleine McCann as it emerges the Home Office is considering allocating more cash for the police to find her