By Wendy Williams
EVERY hour – even every minute – children go missing around the world.
Due to a lack of coherent data the exact number is unknown but the estimations are extremely disturbing.
This year alone eight million children are expected to go missing, and some of these will never be found.
With this in mind, May 25 marks International Missing Children’s Day.
It shares the date with the day six-year-old Etan Patz went missing in New York in 1979, never to be seen again.
The day is intended to encourage everyone to remember the children who are missing and send a message of support to the parents who have often campaigned tirelessly to find answers.
One of the most high-profile campaigns is, of course, that of Madeleine McCann (below, how experts believe she would look now) who vanished from Portugal on May 3, 2007, just days before her fourth birthday.
Her departure is very much back in the news – particularly in Spain – with the fifth anniversary having just passed, heralded with a spate of sightings and a new police probe launched around Nerja.
“It is only since Madeleine was taken from us, that Gerry and myself have become aware of just how many children go missing each year,” explained her mother Kate McCann this week.
“The scale of the problem is huge. In fact, it is terrifying.
“It is the most painful and agonising experience you could ever imagine,” she added.
“My thoughts of the fear, confusion and loss of love and security that my precious daughter has had to endure are unbearable – crippling. And yet I am not the victim, Madeleine is.
“No child should EVER have to experience something so terrible.”
The last confirmed sighting of Madeleine was in the early evening of May 3 by Miguel Matias, manager of the beachside Paraiso restaurant, who saw dad Gerry dancing with his daughter while the family ate a meal on the terrace.
Since then there have been many reported sightings of Madeleine in both Portugal and Spain as well as elsewhere in the world, yet, oddly perhaps, not one has produced any firm leads.
Nor, however, have most been conclusively eliminated.
This month marks the fifth anniversary since Maddie vanished, and police have issued a new photo of what they believe Maddie may look like now.
It comes a year after the Metropolitan Police – at the bidding of Prime Minister David Cameron – ordered a complete review of the case.
Since then there has been a renewed surge in publicity, as well as in sightings.
And Kate McCann is, at least, upbeat insisting ‘the chances of finding Madeleine are now significantly greater’.
“The term ‘mystery’ (commonly used by the media) is not applicable until all possible avenues have been explored.
“They haven’t been, and can’t be until the case is reopened,” she insisted.
Intriguingly, as reported in the Olive Press, many of the apparent sightings have been around Spain, with lots of people believing she could easily be living here.
It would have been easy for a possible kidnapper to sneak the toddler across the border and disappear into Spain.
Particularly as Portuguese police failed to inform the border of a missing toddler for 12 hours and, crucially, the CCTV on the A22 motorway was not working on the night in question.
This suspicion was heightened when a taxi driver came forward a fortnight ago claiming he had taken four adults with a young girl, looking like Madeleine, from a pick up in the Algarve towards Spain.
Antonio Castela, 72, went to Portugal’s CID, after three men, a woman and a young girl got into his cab on May 4 2007 in Monte Gordo and driving the group to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, where they drove away in a blue jeep.
Gerry McCann has always maintained there is a ‘very real possibility’ his daughter is in Spain.
“It’s about 90 minutes drive away so if the perpetrator had a car waiting, she could easily have been moved to Spain,” he has said.
Indeed in August 2009 it emerged that just 72 hours after Madeleine disappeared, two British men were approached, in Barcelona, by a ‘Victoria Beckham lookalike’ who reportedly asked: “Are you here to deliver my new daughter?”
Two detectives working with the Met Police’s Operation Grange actually flew to Spain in November 2011, to re-investigate that incident.
According to reports they have been back on various occasions since, always refusing to comment on the case.
Most recently Portuguese police sent a request to their Spanish counterparts to investigate a sighting in Nerja.
It came just weeks after another Olive Press reader Yvonne Tunnicliffe insisted she was ‘100 per cent sure’ she saw Maddie while out on a shopping trip in Alhaurin two years ago.
Since then the Olive Press has also investigated sightings in nearby Sayalonga and Cabopino.
Many people have questioned the value of investigating these sightings but the McCann family continues to ask the public to report anything that could provide a clue.
“People have asked (usually in a critical manner) why has Madeleine received such attention when there are thousands of missing children around the world?
“My feeling is that the publicity surrounding Madeleine’s abduction was not inappropriate. Every child in such a situation should receive this same amount of attention, but it shouldn’t be down to the family to instigate it,” said Kate.
As we go to print, Portuguese police are still refusing to officially reopen the case, despite British police claiming there are 195 new leads as a result of Operation Grange launched last year.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood even went on record this month to say he ‘genuinely’ believes she could be alive.
He added that the original investigation was flawed because police were looking for a dead person and got it into their minds that the parents were to blame.
There are still several vocal groups that continue to uphold this theory and there are websites dedicated to bringing the parents ‘to justice.’
But the only thing that is certain is that Maddie is still missing and her parents are continuing the campaign to find her.
Just as parents around the world are campaigning to find their missing children.
Here the Olive Press looks look at a few of the cases of children who have gone missing from Spain…
Irish teenager Amy Fitzpatrick vanished without trace while walking home on New Year’s Day in 2008.
Despite a high profile campaign no trace of the 15-year-old has ever been found.
A lot of mystery surrounds the disappearance and, as reported in the Olive Press, police files emerged last year allegedly confirming she was a wild child living a lifestyle spiralling out of control.
An Olive Press reader recently dismissed claims that Amy ‘had to forage for food in the bins’ but confirmed that the teen spent four months living with her, ‘on and off’, instead of with her parents.
Incredibly, mother Audrey Fitzpatrick has recently claimed that Amy could have been murdered by convicted killer Eric ‘Lucky’ Wilson.
Wilson is currently serving 23 years in prison for shooting down Dan Smith outside the Lounge Bar, in Riviera, in June 2010.
Audrey made a formal statement to police in Ireland after ‘an underworld source’ approached them alleging Dubliner Wilson had boasted about killing Amy.
Yeremi Vargas was just seven years old when he disappeared from outside his family home on Gran Canaria five years ago.
His bespectacled smiling face has since become well known across Spain.
But there has been no trace of him.
This despite the police insisting at the time that they were confident he could not have left the Canary Islands as all boats were stopped from leaving within hours of his disappearance and those that had already left were searched when they reached their destination.
His mother Ithaisa Suarez, who was just 16 when Yeremi was born, maintains her son was kidnapped. “I called him in for lunch and he nodded and said he’d be there in a moment,” she says.
“Five minutes – it couldn’t have been more than five minutes, I put my head round the door and he was gone.”
There were no witnesses to his disappearance but police reopened the case in March this year, exactly five years after Yeremi vanished, following a new lead involving a white Opel Corsa, seen in the area at the time.
Jose and Ruth
The two siblings Jose and Ruth Breton, two and six, disappeared from a park in Cordoba last October.
Their dad Jose Breton has since been arrested over their disappearance and is being held in prison.
Meanwhile their mother Ruth Ortiz has publicly declared she believes her ex-husband murdered them.
Police have failed to find any trace of them despite several searches of his family home with radar equipment.
But the judge in the preliminary hearing has now said a third party could be implicated.
Security cameras show Breton arriving at his parents home with another man.
And Judge Jose Luis Rodriguez Lianz thinks this other man could have moved the children, and acted ‘through friendship or even for money’.
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