AN East Lancashire solicitor is leading a private investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance - and believes she is still alive.

Edward Smethurst is the in-house lawyer based in Clitheroe for double-glazing tycoon Brian Kennedy, who has pledged to bankroll Madeleine's parents Gerry and Kate McCann's legal and media costs.

Mr Smethurst, who has been tasked as the McCanns' legal co-oridinator, works for Ultraframe which was sold last year in a £58million deal with a company called Latium Holdings, led by the Sale Sharks rugby team owner and double glazing millionaire.

The solicitor has been tasked with managing and directing the legal teams in the UK and Portugal.

Mr Smethurst is also running a team of private investigators who are tracking Madeleine's disappearance throughout Spain and Portugal.

Madeleine vanished on May 3 in the resort of Praia da Luz in the Algarve, just days short of her fourth birthday.

Mr Smethurst said: "Obviously it's a strangely challenging case with a huge amount of media interest.

"It's a highly pressurised case and there is an enormous amount of scrutiny, but it's an extremely worthwhile cause.

"We are providing our services entirely free of charge because we know that Gerry and Kate are completely innocent. We want to see justice done.

"The best solution is the safe return of Madeleine McCann.

"There can't be any legal prosecutions if Madeleine was taken and is returned, and that would prove the innocence of Gerry and Kate."

Madeleine's disappearance has generated international media attention, with controversy surrounding the Portuguese-led police investigation after her parents were named as suspects.

Mr Kennedy, the Cheshire-based owner of Sale Sharks rugby union club, has put the financial clout of his Latium business group behind the McCanns' fight to clear their name.

He said: "In the light of the incredible accusations against Gerry and Kate McCann, which are clearly exacerbating their emotional torture, I felt compelled to offer, along with other like-minded businessmen, financial support and the full logistical support of the Latium team. That support is principally our in-house lawyer Ed Smethurst, and Clarence Mitchell."

Mr Smethurst is a life-long Bury resident and specialises in high profile cases. He is also ambassador of Cancer Research UK and recently mounted a legal challenge to stop the controversial £50 million wind farm development at Scout Moor, Edenfield.

He has been a solicitor for 15 years.