Madeleine holiday ad image appalls McCanns

The BBC captured Madeleine's image on this holiday deals website.
The BBC captured Madeleine's image on this holiday deals website. 

Missing British girl Madeleine McCann's image has been used to promote low-cost holidays in Portugal in an online advertisement that has horrified her parents.

The photo of three-year-old Madeleine became familiar to millions after she vanished from a Portuguese resort five years ago.

Now, it has been used to promote holiday deals to Portugal's Algarve, where Madeleine disappeared, region by lowcostholidays.com on the website voucherdigg.co.uk.

The original photo, taken hours before Madeleine disappeared, and released by the McCanns.
The original photo, taken hours before Madeleine disappeared, and released by the McCanns. 

The photo, taken just hours before her disappearance, shows Madeleine in a sunhat and pink dress paddling her feet in a swimming pool.

McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the advertisement was "appallingly insensitive" and a law firm had been engaged to demand the picture's removal with "immediate effect".

Lowcostholidays.com chief operating officer Lawrence Hunt told the BBC the company had "no contract with VoucherDigg to advertise our holidays" and had moved immediately to contact the website to have the image removed.

How she might look like now: The McCanns this month released an age-progression image of Madeleine aged 9, right.
How she might look like now: The McCanns this month released an age-progression image of Madeleine aged 9, right. Photo: AFP/Metropolitan Police Service

"We discovered this vile material yesterday and immediately broke all the [web] links to our site and contacted our lawyers," he said.

"We apologise for any distress this may have caused which is completely beyond our control and are disgusted by the use of this image."

The BBC is carrying a screengrab of the offending webpage, but voucherdigg.co.uk appeared to be offline today.

Appalled: Kate and Gerry McCann.
Appalled: Kate and Gerry McCann. Photo: AP

Mr Mitchell said Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry, from Rothley, Leicestershire, knew their daughter's picture had been misused. He told Britain's Sky News the photo been online for at least 24 hours and its misuse was "utterly appalling and frankly unforgivable".

"Kate and Gerry were horrified when they found out about it. It is offensive in the extreme," he said.

The McCanns were holidaying in coastal Praia Da Luz five years ago when Madeleine was left sleeping in a unit with her younger twin siblings while her parents ate dinner 100 metres away. She was gone when Kate McCann checked on the children and has not been seen since.

Just last week, the McCanns spoke of their renewed hope that Madeleine would be found alive.

Kate McCann said an ongoing review of the case by Scotland Yard and the release of a new age-progression picture of Madeleine had left them feeling "probably as positive" as they had been for a long time.

"We are realistic. We don't know what has happened but we know there is a very good chance that she could be alive - there is no evidence to the contrary," Mrs McCann told a UK television presenter.

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