LONDON - The United Kingdom's national law enforcement center for protecting children-the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre-has issued an online viral message aimed at anyone close to the person who was involved in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The victim, 3-years old at the time, disappeared more than two years ago from a hotel in Portugal.
The person the police hope to connect with could be a relative, friend, work colleague or neighbor. Whoever they are, they have a secret that could reveal what happened to Madeleine and protect other children.
In order to increase the possibility of reaching that person, the CEOP Centre, supported by global law enforcement agencies that include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), CEOP's partner in the Virtual Global Taskforce, is asking the public to help spread the message via the Internet.
CEOP has released a 60-second film that can be viewed at ceop.police.uk. The public is being asked to link to it and build it into their own online environments. The film also includes new age-progressed images that show Madeleine as she may look today.
INTERPOL, Europol and national police agencies from Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Europe are supporting the initiative. Specialist charities and NGO's, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Missing Children Europe and the United Kingdom's charity Parents and Abducted Children Together (PACT) have all thrown their weight and expertise behind the initiative.
Jim Gamble, head of the CEOP Centre, explained the rationale:
"The person we are looking to reach is likely to be a partner, family member, friend or colleague of the person or people who were involved in Madeleine's disappearance," Gamble said. "It is also highly probable that they, or someone close to them, is using the internet to search for any updates that may suggest the police are getting closer to discovering the truth.
"Today we want to deliver a message to that person and we're asking everyone who goes online to help us," Gamble continued. "We want the message to become so widespread that it becomes just one click from any Madeleine search as a constant reminder to that person that it is never too late to do the right thing - that it is never too late for that person to redeem themselves.
"So if you are a parent or carer, a student or member of the public who is a social networker, blogger or e-mailer, or if you run any type of online environment, big or small please look at the film today, link to it, share it with your friends and post it in the online communities you occupy," Gamble concluded. "Do everything you can to spread it around the online world. We want to make it omnipresent so that the person we are trying to reach sees it and is prompted to do the right thing."
"ICE is glad to support this new approach to finding a missing child," said John Morton, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "ICE stands behind CEOP's effort to identify anyone who may have information about the criminal responsible for Madeleine's disappearance."
The message is available at ceop.police.uk in seven languages - English, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.
The message reads:
"Madeleine disappeared on May 3, 2007, while on holiday with her family in Portugal. Madeleine is now six years old … We know that there is someone out there who knows who is involved in her disappearance.
"They may be keeping this secret out of fear, misplaced loyalty or even love. Keeping this information secret only increases the anguish of Madeleine's family and friends and increases the risk to other children.
"If you know who is involved and are keeping this secret remember that it is never too late to do the right thing.
"We urge anyone who knows anything about the whereabouts of Madeleine or has any information regarding her disappearance to do the right thing and to give that information to their local police."
The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) is made up of law enforcement agencies from around the world working together to fight child abuse online. The aim of the VGT is to build an effective, international partnership of law enforcement agencies that helps to protect children from online child abuse. ICE is the U.S. representative to the VGT.
Other VGT members are Australian Federal Police, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the Italian Postal and Communication Police Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and INTERPOL.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.