Maddie suspect: Ex-wife speaks out

IAN CLARKE The Norfolk ex-wife of the man named as a suspect in the hunt for Madeleine McCann tonight spoke out for the first time and described the “very difficult time” for her family.

IAN CLARKE

The Norfolk ex-wife of the man named as a suspect in the hunt for Madeleine McCann tonight spoke out for the first time and described the “very difficult time” for her family.

Robert Murat, 33, was questioned by police investigating the disappearance of the four-year-old girl in the Algarve coastal town of Praia da Luz and his villa has been thoroughly searched.

He lived in Hockering, near Dereham, until about two years ago when his marriage to Dawn Murat finished and he returned to Portugal.

Mrs Murat and their four-year-old daughter and her son were taken to a secret location by police on Monday night after news broke that Mr Murat was being quizzed.

Tonight she released a brief statement through Norfolk Police.

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Mrs Murat said: “This is a very difficult time for my family.

“I am aware of the significant levels of press interest being generated by the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and I am assisting the police in any way I can.

“At this time I have no comment to make about the inquiry or my previous relationship with my estranged husband.

“I have been very saddened by the disappearance of young Madeleine and like everyone else, sincerely hope the search for her ends with a positive outcome.”

Police said nothing would be added to the statement and no more information would be given out about Mr Murat, who has claimed he is innocent and is a “scapegoat.”

His friend Tuck Price said: “Under Portuguese law he's not allowed to say anything. He wants to get his story out.

“He wants to get the focus back on to Madeleine and away from him.

“His daughter is now in hiding in the UK. The one thing, the compassionate thing, that made him get involved in the case, has put his daughter in this very horrible position.”

It is understood officials from the British Embassy in Lisbon have been in contact with Mr Murat, and will offer him consular support if he is charged.

Mrs Murat's home at The Street, Hockering, is still being guarded by police and cones have been put on roads in the nearby area.

This morning Mrs Murat's mother Margaret Chapman, who lives in Mile Cross, Norwich, visited the house briefly along with her son Andy but walked past reporters without commenting.

Europe-wide media interest in the village has continued as journalists have tried to find more background out about Mr Murat.

A film crew from a Portuguese TV company was among those in Hockering today.

Meanwhile, the family of Madeleine has received the backing of the British Government today, with pledges of help coming from across the political spectrum.

Relatives of the four-year-old travelled from Glasgow to London to meet Chancellor Gordon Brown and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

In Leicester, former England rugby captain Martin Johnston helped launch a fund to help find the little girl.

Madeleine's aunt Philomena McCann said the family was so buoyed by all the

support that despair had turned to “a tidal wave of hope.”

It is 13 days since Madeleine went missing, snatched from her bedroom in the Portuguese holiday resort of Praia da Luz, only yards from where her parents Kate and Gerry were enjoying a meal.

The McCanns have made repeated televised appeals for information about Madeleine but let family and friends keep the situation in the media spotlight today.

Ms McCann said she spoke to her brother Gerry for 45 minutes last night and he was overwhelmed by the support.

“Instead of a tidal wave of despair, he is facing a tidal wave of hope,' she said.

“Initially, he was completely floored by what had happened and found it very difficult to cope.

“That was turned around by the support of the nation of Portugal, the support of Glasgow, the whole of Scotland and England.”

Ms McCann said finding Madeleine was the “number one priority.”

“There is nothing else as important as that to our entire family and people all over the country.

“Madeleine is a beautiful, caring little girl. I can totally understand why someone might take her - but give her back, she is not yours.'”

As Ms McCann spoke, she was surrounded by a group of MPs wearing yellow ribbons in support.

Earlier, relatives met Mr Brown, whom Ms McCann said was deeply affected by the abduction.

“He was very distressed about our situation. I felt he was a genuine and caring person, I was touched by his sensitivity.”

She said she had been given some useful advice and offers of help.

“I am heartened by the support I have received today in Parliament.

“There have been lots of suggestions from the top to some of the lesser, but as much appreciated, individuals in the Parliament.'

Several hundred miles away, Madeleine's uncle John McCann unveiled Madeleine's Fund at Leicester's Walkers Stadium in support of the family and to “bring her abductors to justice'.

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