Madeleine McCann’s parents have joined friends and well wishers to remember their daughter on the painful 15th anniversary of her disappearance – as a prime suspect faces being charged.
Kate and Gerry McCann were warmly welcomed by their community during a poignant prayer service in their home village of Rothley, Leicestershire.
The couple, who hold on to hope that Madeleine – who would now be aged nearly 19 – is still alive, appeared overwhelmed by the support as they joined in prayers and readings to mark the occasion.
The annual outdoor event has been cancelled over the past two years because of Covid restrictions.
Kate and Gerry said tonight: ‘This year we mark fifteen years since we last saw Madeleine. It feels no harder than any other but no easier either. It’s a very long time.’
Kate and Gerry McCann have been pictured for the first time in public in four years as they were warmly welcomed by their community during a poignant prayer service in their home village of Rothley, Leicestershire
Madeleine McCann’s parents, Kate and Gerry, mark the 15th anniversary of their daughter’s disappearance from Portugal at a vigil in their home village of Rothley
In 2019 Kate turned up alone with her twins Sean and Amelie – now aged 17 – as her heart doctor husband was away in Italy at an important medical conference.
Former surgery GP turned hospital medical worker Kate, 54, had dashed from work to join Gerry at the war memorial for the welcomed event.
Kate, wearing black jeans, cornflower blue V-neck sweater and trainers, fought back tears as children lit candles for Madeleine and other lost youngsters.
Neither parent addressed the 100-strong crowd but Kate, wearing reading glasses, read a poem, saying: ‘Survival can be summed up three words: Never give up.
‘That’s the heart of it really, just keep trying.
Three-year-old Madeleine vanished from a holiday apartment in Portugal’s Praia da Luz in May 2007
‘Sometimes you have to get knocked down, lower than you have ever been, to stand up taller than you ever were.
‘Perseverance is stubbornness.’
The McCanns joined family, friends and villagers for an informal evening service after German rapist Christian Brueckner was recently made an official suspect over Madeleine’s abduction and presumed murder.
They had walked the near mile, separately, from their home.
A family source said: ‘Kate and Gerry enjoy going to the service for a time of prayer and quiet reflection. They always appreciate the support of the public.’
They met in the chilly night air at Cross Green on the milestone anniversary – where a candle for the world’s most famous missing child still burns around the clock.
During the service, local children went up to light candles to remember Madeleine, or a special person of their choice.
One little girl tripped and stumbled on the ground as she ran back to her mother, and a concerned Kate joined others calling ‘Whoops!’ then smiled as the child picked herself up unscathed.
Renowned and respected cardiologist Gerry, 53, casually dressed in navy trousers, salmon-pink T-shirt and grey-blue sweater, later individually thanked well wishers for attending the half-hour gathering.
Vicar of the local parish church, The Rev. Rob Gladstone, who led the prayers, opened the service by telling the crowd: ‘Once again after a gap of two years we’re able to come together again here at Cross Green to remember Madeleine, to show solidarity to Kate and Gerry, Sean and Amelie.
The McCanns joined family, friends and villagers for an informal evening service
The annual outdoor event has been cancelled over the past two years because of Covid restrictions
‘Lord we thank you for sustaining Gerry and Kate through these painful years.
‘Keep us their hope of finding Madeleine, of discovering the truth of her disappearance… real hope is hard won.’
During the gathering, touching messages of support were read out by children.
Iconic pictures of a young Madeleine were tied to the railing around the war memorial and a vase of fresh yellow flowers was placed on the ground.
The Madeleine candle burned brightly as Rev Gladstone said: ‘We hope the light here in Rothley dispels the darkness.’
At times Kate and Gerry appeared tearful, at other times they smiled.
Kate, who appeared to be limping, was hugged by friends and supporters.
45-year-old German national Christian Brueckner was first named as a suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance by German Police in 2020 and is known to be a convicted paedophile
Three-year-old Madeleine vanished from a holiday apartment in Portugal’s Praia da Luz in May 2007.
She was discovered missing from her bed in the seaside complex by her horrified mum shortly after 10pm. She had been left alone her younger siblings while her parents were dining in a nearby tapas restaurant with their seven pals.
Madeleine’s great uncle, retired head teacher Brian Kennedy, 83, who lives in the same village and has attended all 13 anniversary gatherings with his wife Janet, said: ‘Kate and Gerry feel heartened that something positive seems to be happening with the investigation.
‘They are being kept updated by the Met Police but they have no details to share now.
‘They have never lost hope even after all these years, and in juts over a week’s time Madeleine would be 19.
‘If you had told our family 15 years it would go on for so long without a resolution we would have thought that was very unlikely.’
He had earlier read a poem ‘The Beacon’ previously written for Kate and Gerry by former Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.
Madeleine’s parents told of their ‘need for answers’ in a public posting on the eve of the latest anniversary which they say is ‘a very long time.’
In a heartfelt posting on Monday on the Find Maddie and Official Campaign websites, the McCanns wrote: ‘Many people talk about the need for ”closure”. It’s always felt a strange term.
‘Regardless of outcome, Madeleine will always be our daughter and a truly horrific crime has been committed. These things will remain.
Three-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished from the apartment she slept in with her two younger siblings on May 3, 2007, as her parents dined at a nearby tapas restaurant
‘It is true though that uncertainty creates weakness; knowledge and certainty give strength, and for this reason our need for answers, for the truth, is essential.’
The couple praised three nations’ police forces for their continued work in trying to crack the painstaking case.
They posted: ‘We are grateful for the ongoing work and commitment of the UK, Portuguese and German authorities as it is this combined police effort which will yield results and bring us those answers.’
They added: ‘As always, we would like to thank all of our supporters for their continued good wishes and support.
‘It is a huge comfort to know that regardless of time passed, Madeleine is still in people’s hearts and minds. Thank you. Kate and Gerry.’
Their post is accompanied by a touching phrase from Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne, with a picture of Pooh bear and Piglet, saying: ‘But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.’
Caged 44-year-old sex fiend Christian Brueckner was declared an official suspect by Portuguese police two weeks ago.
Two years ago he was sensationally named by German officers as the person ‘responsible’ for Madeleine’s kidnap and feared murder.
He was quizzed for the first time last week at Oldenburg jail, where he is serving a sentence for rape, but is understood to have used his right to remain silent.
Brueckner could now be summoned to Portugal for questioning and even be charged.