MEP to meet McCanns over child-snatch alerts

A Yorkshire MEP will meet Kate and Gerry McCann as he presses ahead with his campaign to introduce a high-powered child abduction warning system to the UK.

Edward McMillan-Scott said that the McCann tragedy, the Shannon Matthews disappearance and the abduction of two children from Rotherham this week showed how important it was to introduce a new system.

The Tory vice-president of the European Parliament wants Britain to introduce a similar system to those found in the United States, France and Belgium. He will meet the McCanns in Brussels in the next two weeks to help press the case.

In those countries a hotline is available for parents to report missing children. News flashes are then broadcast on television, motorway gantries and town centre information screens; airports are automatically informed; and police have access to a central database helping track down those who may be responsible.

While a British version exists – the Child Rescue Alert system – not all police forces are signed up; each force runs on different technology, making it difficult to roll out instant alerts; and there is no central hub available to assist detectives in their search.

Mr McMillan-Scott said that children's charities including PACT and Missing People were convinced Britain needed a better system. The McCanns are in Washington this Easter studying the US Amber Alert system before meeting him in Brussels to discuss how they can help the campaign, he said.

"It is my understanding the McCanns are in favour of the American system," he said. "In the last few weeks we have heard in the House of Commons that many Asian children in Bradford are the victims of forced marriage, we have heard about Shannon Matthews and now about the Rotherham children.

"We should be considering as a society whether we are getting things right and working out the best way forward. I'm calling for police forces in the region to get together and take into account the recent issues here.

"The Government has to take this issue up as it is being asked to by a number of charities. The current situation is to the disbenefit of our children, and I speak as a father and grandfather."

He said 17-month-old Alex Mendoza and his sister Eva, eight months, who were snatched from their Rotherham home on March 8 and taken by their father to California, could have been kept in Britain if an Amber Alert system had been in place. "We need a children's resource centre at a national level and a hotline that Cara Mendoza (the children's mother) could have rung and known that the person on the other end knew what they were talking about," he said.

The Rotherham case "was about getting the information out fast, making sure airports were informed straight away, and for that we need a properly constructed missing children portal".

The MEP said he "stood by" comments made last weekend when he said an Amber Alert system would have helped find Shannon Matthews, despite claims from the West Yorkshire Police that he did not know what he was talking about.

"Because of the central hub in America there are lots of statistics available that aid police in finding missing children," he said. "They show, for example, that the abductor is likely to be in the extended family, likely to be local, and recovery depends on getting out the information early.

"The police did not put out an alert until 9am on the day after Shannon was abducted. All of this suggests the police inquiry went in the wrong direction."

In a letter this week to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Mr McMillan-Scott wrote: "The West Yorkshire Police spokesmen have suggested that it is 'totally inaccurate' to suggest, as I do, that had we an Amber Alert system in place in the UK and had it been activated, the statistics suggest that an inquiry based on them would have resulted in an earlier discovery. I hold to my view."

West Yorkshire Police said last week that UK police had the Child Rescue Alert Scheme, "designed for use in potential child abductions when the vehicle or partial vehicle details are known. As such its use would have been wholly inappropriate in this case and any suggestions that it would have speeded up the Shannon operation is wholly inaccurate."