'Older' Madeleine image released

An image of how Madeleine McCann might look now, if still alive, has been released ahead of the second anniversary of her disappearance.

Gerry and Kate McCann are to distribute their daughter's image worldwide as part of their continuing search for Madeleine, who vanished aged three.

The McCanns used a forensic imaging artist to produce a photographic impression of an older Madeleine.

She vanished from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal in May 2007.

Her parents believe there is "a very real likelihood" that Madeleine is still alive, and the poster shows her aged nearly six, smiling and with a pink head-band in her fair shoulder-length hair.

Alongside it is the well-known picture of Madeleine taken just before she went missing.

McCann spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: "This is the child that somebody who is close to Madeleine may spot, rather than the child in those other photos."

At the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an artist used photographs of Mr and Mrs McCann at around the same childhood age to produce an "age progression image".

The couple believe it is the most realistic picture possible of how she might look today, said Mr Mitchell.

He said it was "difficult" for Mrs McCann see the image at first, but over time she got used to it.

The picture was unveiled on a US TV show on Friday, and in an interview to be broadcast there on Monday Kate McCann admits that there have been times where she has let herself "go to the worst" during her search for Madeleine.

She tells chat show host Oprah Winfrey: "I think it's natural …I know people mean well when they say don't let yourself go there …But as a mom, inevitably there are times when I do. And they're the times that I kind of dip down."

Gerry McCann concedes that cases of child abduction have the potential to destroy marriages.

But he adds: "We've been supported tremendously well and I think that's helped us stay strong and stay together."

To deal with the expected world-wide response to the new campaign, the family has hired private detectives and established a telephone hotline.

Anyone who has seen Madeleine is urged to contact their local police force or visit the McCann's Findmadeleine.com website.

The McCann's are said to be "incredibly hopeful" that the new image will spark the phone call that finds Madeleine and brings her home to her family.