Missing Girl's Parents Leave Portugal
Filed at 5:53 a.m. ET
FARO, Portugal (AP) -- A British couple named as suspects in the disappearance of their 4-year-old daughter left Portugal on Sunday, days after being grilled by Portuguese police about new forensic evidence authorities believe ties them to the case.
Kate and Gerry McCann left aboard an easyJet flight from Faro airport, en route to an airport in central England near their home.
Reporters on the plane said the first two rows had been reserved for the McCanns and their 2-year-old twins. They were expected to arrive in England just after noon, following a three-hour flight.
As the plane took off, a family spokeswoman, Justine McGuinness, read out a brief statement, saying the McCanns were ''returning to Britain after careful thought'' and in order to give their twins a more normal life.
''They played no part in the disappearance of their beloved daughter,'' she said.
McGuinness said the McCanns were contemplating ''their response to and future actions in relation to the events of the last few days which have been so deeply disturbing to them,'' a reference to the police questioning.
''Their heartfelt plea is that the search for Madeleine should continue and that people should continue to remain vigilant,'' McGuinness said, adding that the couple wished they could say more, but were barred from doing so under Portuguese law.
Earlier, police pushed back hundreds of journalists camped outside the McCanns' vacation home, allowing the couple and their twins to leave for the airport. Less than an hour later, the car pulled into the airport's VIP entrance.
The McCanns have said they would be available to return to Portugal for questioning if needed.
Despite being classified as suspects in the May 3 disappearance of their daughter, there are no charges against the McCanns. Nonetheless, police could have asked a court to block their exit from the country.
The McCanns say Madeleine vanished from a hotel room in southern Portugal's Algarve region, where she and her siblings were sleeping, while they ate dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Until Friday, suspicion had centered on Robert Murat, a British man who lived near the hotel from which Madeleine disappeared, and who was the only formal suspect. No charges have ever been brought against him, and he has said he is innocent.
The case took a turn in recent days after police said new forensic tests done on evidence gathered months after the girl vanished found traces of blood in the couple's car. The traces of blood, apparently missed in earlier forensic tests, were uncovered by sniffer dogs brought from Britain.
The McCanns had vowed never to leave Portugal until their daughter was found. But that stance seems to have changed even before police named them as suspects, with several spokespeople saying they were contemplating a return in the coming days.
Gerry McCann said in a newspaper interview he was concerned their treatment indicates Portuguese police are under intense pressure to solve the case.
''We thought we were in our worst nightmare but now it just keeps getting worse and worse,'' he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Sunday newspaper The News of the World.
''We're desperate to get back for the kids' sake and emotional reasons,'' he was quoted as saying. ''It's not that we're running away.''
Gerry McCann's sister, Philomena, has said police had proposed a plea bargain, suggesting the girl might have been killed accidentally and offering the mother a limited sentence if she confessed.
A family friend, Clarence Mitchell, said Saturday that the McCanns, both doctors from central England, were considering hiring lawyers in Britain, where they would also have support from family and friends.
Kate McCann is not believed to have gone home since Madeleine disappeared, though her husband has returned as part of the campaign to raise awareness for his daughter.
''They are determined to prove this is a travesty ... and clear their names,'' Mitchell said of the police allegations.
The couple's ordeal has drawn attention around the world.
The McCanns have toured Europe with photos of Madeleine and the child's stuffed animals and clothing, even meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Celebrities including children's author J.K. Rowling and soccer star David Beckham made public appeals that helped the family raise more than $2 million.
Associated Press Writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.