Madeleine McCann’s parents say they are ‘never going to give up’ the search for their daughter in a poignant tribute to mark her 16th birthday today.
Kate and Gerry wrote ‘Happy 16th Birthday, Madeleine!’ on the official Find Maddie Campaign Facebook page.
The message accompanies a cherished last photo of her as a three-year-old, smiling under a wide-brimmed sun hat.
A green and yellow ribbon symbolises hope, strength and solidarity beneath the picture.
The post reads: ‘We love you and we’re waiting for you and we’re never going to give up.’
Their gesture comes after it was revealed Kate had laid presents in Maddie’s bedroom, hoping one day she will be back home to open them.
Her family are set to mark her birthday with a low-key party and a commemorative cake her siblings will blow out for her.
Former GP Kate, 51, now a medical worker, has carefully chosen gifts to reflect the milestone – as she has done every year since she vanished in 2007.
She has placed them alongside messages of support in her daughter’s pretty pink bedroom at their home in Rothley, Leicestershire, which is believed to have remained untouched since she was abducted.
With no evidence Maddie is dead, the family remain hopeful that eventually she will return home and open them.
Ahead of the significant birthday, they declared: ‘She should be here and we should be celebrating with her.’
At Sunday’s gathering, Kate and eminent heart doctor husband Gerry, 50, will pray for their daughter’s safe return.
Along with their 14-year-old twins Sean and Amelie, they will also blow out candles on a commemorative cake for her.
A family friend said: ‘Kate and Gerry are planning a get together with a few friends and family to remember Madeleine on her very special birthday.
‘There will be prayers and quiet reflection but also a cake and presents to mark her turning 16, a significant age.
‘It’s a poignant time for the family and comes just days after the 12th anniversary but they remain hopeful and vow to never to give up the search.’
Kate has previously spoken about Maddie’s birthday – her toughest day on the calendar and ‘a difficult time because that’s when you really feel her absence’.
She revealed: ‘I do all the present buying. I think about what age she is and buy something that, whenever we find her, will still be appropriate so there’s a lot of thought goes into it.’
Maddie’s great uncle Brian Kennedy said: ‘It would be lovely to have a real celebration one day. We never lose hope.’
In a poignant message posted on the anniversary of her disappearance nine days ago, Kate and Gerry shared their heartache that Maddie would soon be turning 16.
The couple wrote on social media: ‘The months and years roll by too quickly; Madeleine will be sixteen this month.
‘It’s impossible to put into words just how that makes us feel. There is comfort and reassurance though in knowing that the investigation continues and many people around the world remain vigilant.’
Anguished Kate still spends precious moments each day in Maddie’s bedroom which still has ‘shocking pink walls and stars on the ceiling’, and where her dolls and teddies are on display, along with an ever growing number of presents.
She said she could never ignore Maddie’s birthday and the family ‘still celebrates her being part of our lives’.
Kate told BBC’s Panorama to mark the milestone decade anniversary in 2017: ‘I couldn’t not, she’s still our daughter, she’ll always be our daughter.’
She added: ‘Everything’s the same and there are photographs all around the house. Whether it be a birthday, family occasion or even an achievement that is when you really feel her absence.’
Maddie was snatched after being left sleeping alone with her younger twin siblings at their holiday apartment in the Algarve’s Praia da Luz.
At the time, her parents were dining with friends at a nearby resort tapas restaurant. She was discovered missing from her bed by her horrified mother shortly before 10pm.
Detectives believe she was stolen by child traffickers, sex fiends or during a burglary gone wrong and are understood to be closing in on a suspect.
Scotland Yard are still chasing ‘two final lines of inquiry’ with an extra £300,000 funding set to be pledged by the Home Office to keep their Operation Grange investigation going until the end of March next year.