Lib Dem hopeful behind McCanns' campaign

Last updated at 23:56 08 September 2007

The campaign by the McCanns to find their daughter has been masterminded during the past two months by public relations expert Justine McGuinness.

The 37-year-old former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, who finished second to Conservative MP Oliver Letwin in the race for the West Dorset seat in the 2005 General Election, was selected by the McCanns via a headhunter.

She was chosen for the position specifically because of her background in politics and is paid a 'notional' salary from funds raised by the campaign.

Since taking up the post she has acted as the McCanns' personal spokeswoman and organised events to keep the hunt for Madeleine in the public eye.

These have included a succession of interviews and photocalls with the couple, and Gerry McCann's visit to Washington DC in July on a fact-finding mission about the latest techniques for tracking missing children.

But she has been criticised for adding to the sense that the campaign has become an overly slick, and cynical, PR operation.

Recently, she reportedly had to be dissuaded from arranging a photocall for Kate McCann at a Portuguese orphanage.

Prior to McGuinness's arrival in Praia da Luz, the McCanns' media handling was run, in an unprecedented move, by a team from the British Government.

To help the family cope with the enormous level of interest, first Sheree Dodd, a former Daily Mirror journalist, was dispatched to Portugal by the Foreign Office.

Then Clarence Mitchell, an ex-BBC news presenter now working as a senior government spin doctor, became the voice of the McCanns.

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