Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann say they have had an “overwhelming response” to last night’s BBC Crimewatch appeal, with close to 1000 people contacting Scotland Yard offering information.
In a statement, Kate and Gerry McCann said they are "genuinely hopefully" that one or more of the responses to the appeal would lead to a major breakthrough in the investigation.
Detectives have already received 730 calls and 212 emails since the broadcast, many providing possible names for the man seen in police e-fits of the main suspect, with Crimewatch producer Joe Mather saying one name has mentioned several times by different people.
The suspect – a white man in his 30s of medium build – is believed to have been seen walking towards the ocean carrying a young pyjama-wearing child at around 10pm on the night Madeleine disappeared.
That description came from an Irish family who were also holidaying in the Praia da Luz resort in Portugal when Madeleine went missing on 3 May 2007.
In a statement issued through their spokesman, Kate and Gerry McCann said: "We are absolutely delighted with the overwhelming public response to Crimewatch, which was broadcast last night.
"We know that the public desperately want to help the search for Madeleine.
"We are genuinely hopeful that one of more of these responses will lead to a major breakthrough in the investigation."
They added: "If anyone was in Praia da Luz around the time of Madeleine's abduction and has not spoken to the Metropolitan Police, or if they know who any of the e-fits might be, please have the courage to come forward and speak to the police in confidence."
Mr Mather hailed a “truly unprecedented response” to last night’s programme, adding that the number of people reaching out to Scotland Yard was "extremely unusual" for a Crimewatch appeal.
He went on to say: “Significantly, there were lots of calls from British people who were on holiday in Praia da Luz around the time of Madeleine’s disappearance who have never previously spoken to the Metropolitan police”.
Last night’s BBC Crimewatch appeal centred on the release of two e-fits of a man believed to be the main suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance. The images were originally created in 2008 – just a year after Madeleine went missing – but they have only now been made public.
The e-fits were released in conjunction with the BBC Crimewatch appeal and form part of a new analysis by British investigators which dramatically alters the original timeline of events pursued by Portuguese detectives.
Officers now believe Madeleine was abducted up to 45 minutes later than previously thought, which led to the wrong person being at the centre of the investigation for the last six years. Officers now consider the man seen by the Irish family at 10pm to be the main suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.
The Crimewatch appeal also stated that police wanted to trace a number of suspicious men seen in the area around the time of the disappearance – including a group they believe to have been bogus charity collectors.
Although police said the disappearance had “all the hallmarks of a pre-planned abduction involving reconnaissance”, they refuse to rule out the possibility Madeline was taken after disturbing burglars.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the new £5 million operation into Madeline’s disappearance, said a four-fold increase in burglaries in the area in the months before the attack and could not rule out that Madeleine had disturbed someone who had broken into the apartment where she was sleeping. In the 17 days before she was snatched, there was an attempted burglary and burglary in the same block where the family were staying.
The review into Madeline’s disappearance came about after the McCanns made a direct appeal to the Prime Minister in 2011.
Watch a clip from BBC Crimewatch revealing Madeleine McCann's 'fresh version of events':
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