Norfolk prays for Maddie

STEPHEN PULLINGER It should have been an evening of happiness with little Madeleine McCann's family preparing to celebrate her fourth birthday today. But instead a Norfolk community was praying for her safe return.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It should have been an evening of happiness with little Madeleine McCann's family preparing to celebrate her fourth birthday today. But instead a Norfolk community was praying for her safe return.

In a moving gesture of solidarity, mothers and fathers and grandparents from Yarmouth's Portuguese community brought their children to the town's St Mary's Catholic Church for an evening service of prayer last night.

As former England football captain David Beckham broadcast a television appeal for missing Madeleine McCann and a businessman offered a £1m reward, they offered their own humble support with prayers, flowers and cards with personal messages that will be sent to her parents Gerry and Kate.

More than 100 people attended the service, mothers pensively clutching their children, and bringing with them an array of bright flowers.

In a procession to the front of the church, a peaceful haven on Regent Road, Yarmouth's bustling tourist thoroughfare, they laid their flowers at the foot of a statue of Mary and lit candles for the McCanns.

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The service, which included hymns, prayers and gospel readings in Portuguese and English was the inspiration of Portuguese mother of two Amelia Shurmur, a police community support officer in the town.

She said: “On my beat, Portuguese people have been coming up to me to speak about little Madeleine and some mothers were in tears.

“I think their main feeling was frustration. It was something very close to their hearts but happening too far away for them to do anything to help. When Madeleine's mum asked people to pray that is what we decided to do.”

Mrs Shurmur, who held her two-year-old daughter Maria as she translated at the front of the church, said she hoped the power of prayer could bring about the miracle of Madeleine's safe return.

Manuel Mendonca, chairman of the town's Portuguese community association, said: “We are here because we are fathers ourselves. When something happens in Portugal it is like it is happening to a guest in your own house, and you want to keep them safe. We will all be praying for a quick, happy ending for Madeleine.”

English families also came to show their support with one local mother, Kelly Rayson saying: “I lost my daughter in a supermarket for a few minutes and that was awful. I can't think what the McCanns are going through.”

Restaurateur Miriam Kikis, a member of Yarmouth's Greek Cypriot community, said: “I came to light a candle. It breaks your heart when you put yourself in the position of those parents.”

Church deacon Peter Glanville said the idea for the service had snowballed because it had brought together the whole community.

In his address, he said: “This is a service of hope and a service of caring for young Madeleine McCann and her mother and father and brothers and sisters. We are showing them we truly and genuinely do care.

“I know from working with many of you in baptisms the love of Portuguese people for little ones and your proud tradition of caring for the family and the children.”

He said Madeleine's abduction was the work of man, not God, and he urged people to pray for her safe return and for her captor to have a change of heart so she could be safely reunited with her family.

On the day, Yarmouth families showed their support, Madeleine's father vowed his family would leave "no stone unturned" in the search for their daughter.

On the eve of Madeleine's fourth birthday, he said he and his wife were grateful for the support they have received from around the world.

Among that flood of goodwill was a TV appeal recorded by former England football captain David Beckham and broadcast in Spain yesterday.

Speaking just a few metres from where his daughter was snatched eight days ago, Mr McCann said the Portuguese police are determined to find her.

Mr McCann said he had seen at first hand the resources being poured into the investigation.

He said: “We are doing absolutely everything to assist the police with their investigation and will leave no stone unturned in the search for our daughter Madeleine.

"We have been moved by the enormous willingness of people to do all they can to help find Madeleine. As we have said before, we remain positive and focused on the investigation.'

Eight days after Madeleine was snatched from their Portuguese holiday apartment in the Algarve village of Praia Da Luz, police said the search will soon end.

Volunteers have been told by police, who are organising the search mission, that police teams were being stood down.

However, police are reported to have two suspects and the McCanns may have been shown pictures of them during a visit to a police station in Portimao on Thursday.

The newspaper Correio da Manha also reported two people who had been staying at the Ocean Club apartments near the McCanns were questioned yesterday.

It said police sniffer dogs had picked up a trail from Madeleine's apartment to another one occupied by some Britons who left around the time of her disappearance.

Police were also reported to have been showing CCTV stills from a motorway service station to people in shops and bars at the nearby village of Burgau.

Meanwhile three British people, possibly two women and a man, are believed to have been taken in by police for questioning.

Madeleine's great uncle Brian Kennedy said: "I know Portuguese police are scaling down their search and when you hear that, it's disheartening, of course. It's got to happen some time. We know that they can't go on searching places.”

Beckham's appeal was the latest in a series made by high-profile sportsmen including Cristiano Ronaldo and John Terry.

He said: "We need to do everything possible to help police. If you have seen this little girl please go to the local authorities or the police with any genuine information. Please, please help us.'

Earlier yesterday a businessman offered a reward of £1m for information leading to the return of Madeleine.

Stephen Winyard, 57, who lives in Monaco, said he was moved to come forward by photographs of Madeleine's distraught parents.

The businessman owner of Scottish health spa Stobo Castle said: "When I saw their faces, I felt frustrated that no one else had yet come forward offering a substantial reward, and so felt compelled to do so myself.'

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