A senior British police officer initially believed Gerry McCann might have been involved in his daughter Madeleine’s disappearance, it was revealed earlier this week.
Child protection expert Jim Gamble said he suspected Mr McCann and wife Kate ‘from the very outset’ – and even tried to get the father to ‘do the right thing’ and confess.
But the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said he is now convinced the couple were innocent and devastated over their daughter.
In a new documentary about the three-year-old’s disappearance during a family holiday in Portugal, the former officer described how he helped Mr McCann write an appeal to Madeleine’s abductor, urging them to let the child go and hand themselves in.
He said he hoped his words might prompt Mr McCann to act if he had been involved.
Mr Gamble said he advised Mr McCann write his appeal ‘along the lines that sometimes people make terrible mistakes in life they never intended, but ultimately it’s never too late to do the right thing.
‘But in shaping that I was actually talking to Gerry. I think it was the only way of delivering that message or reflecting that thought – if something had happened, if it was a mistake, it’s never too late to come out and stop all of this.’
The appeal was published on the McCanns’ website in August 2007, three months after Madeleine vanished in May.
Mr Gamble said his initial suspicion of the McCanns was based on his experience as a police officer. He said: ‘Statistically it’s likely to be the parents or somebody who’s in close proximity with the child.’
But later knowledge of the case convinced him they were innocent, and he described Portuguese detectives’ decision to name them as formal suspects in September 2007 – a decision later lifted – as ‘clutching at straws’.
Mr Gamble told the new Netflix documentary: ‘Now I don’t believe that Kate or Gerry McCann had anything to do with the fact their daughter has gone missing and potentially had been abducted.’
The McCanns, from Rothley in Leicestershire, were asked to take part in the eight-part documentary but refused as they believed it ‘could potentially hinder’ the British police investigation.
The series scrutinises the Portuguese inquiry, and includes an admission from the detective who led the hunt that the police’s initial response was ‘inadequate’.
Goncalo Amaral said the failure to secure the holiday apartment in Praia de Luz after Madeleine vanished meant evidence was lost or destroyed.
The documentary also features haunting images of Madeleine in the days before she went missing, including mobile phone footage of her boarding a flight to Portugal at East Midlands Airport.
A Scotland Yard probe into Madeleine’s disappearance continues and her parents say they will never lose hope they will find her.
* The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is available on streaming service Netflix.