McCann plea for missing child alert system

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The Independent Online

Kate and Gerry McCann today pleaded for Europe-wide backing for a cross-border missing child alert system.

The parents of Madeleine, missing for nearly a year after disappearing from a holiday resort in Portugal, urged MEPs to put their names to a declaration demanding swift agreement on a US-style "amber alert" system to track abducted youngsters across the continent if necessary.

Mrs McCann told a meeting at the European Parliament in Brussels: "We employ you to support our declaration. Please do not wait for another child and family to suffer as we have".

Mr McCann said: "This is a very simple child alert system with almost no cost implications - who would not support such a system?"

But the couple heard from MEPs today that efforts two years ago to introduce the same missing child plan failed to get sufficient support to succeed.

Today hopes were high that their high-profile loss of Madeleine will help galvanise full backing in the European Parliament and from EU governments.

The McCann's discussed the American system during a visit to Washington last month and are convinced EU countries can cooperate in setting up a similar rapid response network.

Mr McCann told MEPs about the high success rate of "Amber Alert", under which nearly 400 abducted children have been successfully recovered in America since 2003 - 80 per cent of them rescued in the crucial first 72 hours after being snatched.

By contrast Europe can only claim limited success in cross-border cooperation, with only a patchwork of partial national monitoring systems. European data-sharing on child abduction cases is limited, and so far only France and Belgium have introduced comprehensive national child alert systems.

They enable national authorities to flash up electronic missing child information on motorway signboards within 30 minutes of a confirmed case of abduction, as well as triggering bulletins and radio and television stations, interrupting existing programming in the first hours after a case is notified.

Mr McCann said it was now up to European authorities to cooperate in spreading the same system across all EU countries. He said statistics from America showed that a speedy response was critical in such cases and the system should only be reserved for the most serious abductions, where the authorities believe a child's life is at risk and where detailed information on the child and, hopefully, the abductor can be spread as swiftly as possible.

Then he read out the declaration that the McCann's hope European Parliament will approve.

It calls on all EU governments to introduce a missing child alert system, "the activation of which shall require the immediate supply to relevant news media, order authorities, customs and law enforcement agencies of details of the missing child and the suspected abductors".

Mr McCann said child abduction is one of the most inhumane of crimes. It was on the increase in Europe, often involving taking victims across national borders.

Today's declaration has been drafted by a group of MEPs including European Parliament Vice President Edward McMillan-Scott, who said: "This is not about legislation but about political will. Some 130,000 children go missing in Europe every year and the police have to sit through the reports and sort out which are the abduction cases. They need as much cooperation as possible".