Ludicrous to suggest McCanns guilty -spokesman

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ROTHLEY, England, Sep 18 (Reuters) The new spokesman for the parents of missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann said today it was ludicrous to suggest they were guilty of harming her.

Gerry and Kate McCann are trying to clear their names after Portuguese police named them as formal suspects in the disappearance of their daughter four months ago.

Since their return to England last Sunday, the McCanns have faced intense media speculation about their role in the case.

''To suggest that they somehow harmed Madeleine accidentally or otherwise is as ludicrous as it is nonsensensical,'' Clarence Mitchell told reporters with the McCanns standing beside him outside their home.

''The focus must now return to Madeleine and move away from the rampant, unfounded and inaccurate speculation of recent days,'' said Mitchell, who has resigned his job as a government official to represent the McCanns.

He declined to answer questions from journalists at the time but later told Sky television the McCanns had no plans to return to Portugal in the near future.

He also said he was not being paid either by the McCanns or their fighting fund. His expenses were being met by one of the couple's ''generous financial backers.'' The couple have denied any involvement in their daughter's disappearance on holiday in southern Portugal on May 3 and say they are convinced she is still alive.

The McCanns, both 39-year-old doctors, have hired lawyers in Portugal and England to defend them in case they are charged.

Mitchell said he spent nearly a month with the McCanns for up to 14 hours a day when he was representing the Foreign Office over the case.

''During that time, I saw or heard nothing that gave me cause for concern or any suspicion,'' he said.

REUTERS ARB HT1555

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