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McCann's anxious wait for appeal response

The parents of Madeleine McCann hope today will bring a significant response to the release of an image of how the little girl may look now if still alive.

Private detectives and telephone hotline staff are this morning primed to receive fresh leads from the age progression picture, which was unveiled yesterday by US chat show host Oprah Winfrey.

Gerry and Kate McCann employed a forensic imaging artist to produce a photographic impression of how the missing youngster would have aged in the two years since she vanished from the family's holiday apartment in Portugal.

It features on posters being distributed globally and the couple believe it could prove "crucial" in finding out what happened to her.

In a statement issued last night ahead of Sunday, the second anniversary of their daughter's apparent abduction, the McCanns said: "It is two long years since Madeleine was taken. It is two years since we were a happy family of five.

"The pain and anxiety does not lessen, but our determination to find our beautiful daughter remains steadfast.

"We are no longer looking for a four-year-old little girl - but a six-year-old one. This is crucial.

"We are hoping that the new, age-progressed image of Madeleine aged six, produced by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, will help people to see what Madeleine may look like today."

The Madeleine of those now familiar family photos was just three-years-old when she went missing in Praia da Luz on May 3 2007.

If still alive - and the McCanns believe there is a "very real likelihood" she is - she would now be five, nearly six, years old.

Unveiled ahead of an interview to be broadcast next week with Oprah Winfrey, the image depicts the child at six years of age.

With Madeleine's birthday falling in less than two weeks' time, the McCanns were keen that the picture's presentation does not quickly become out-of-date.

The expert used photographs of Mr and Mrs McCann at around the same age to produce the age progression image.

The striking picture shows a smiling Madeleine, wearing a pink head-band in her fair, shoulder-length hair.

The couple, from Rothley in Leicestershire, believe it is the most realistic depiction possible of how she might look today, said their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell.

It is published on the posters alongside an old photograph of Madeleine, for comparison, under the headings Have You Seen This Little Girl? and Don't Give Up On Me.

The distinctive mark in her right eye is evident in both pictures - but the age difference is compelling.

The posters urge anyone who has seen Madeleine to contact their local police force immediately or alternatively, call +44 (0)845 838 4699 or visit www.findmadeleine.com .

All information will be dealt with confidentially and can be given anonymously.