Madeleine McCann: police identify German paedophile as new prime suspect

Man in jail on another charge was living near where toddler vanished in Portugal in 2007

Police have identified a German national as the new prime suspect in the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal 13 years ago, as a fresh international appeal for information was launched.

The suspect who is currently in prison in Germany has not been named. He was in the vicinity of the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz on the evening of 3 May 2007, and had a telephone conversation that ended just over an hour before the child went missing from the holiday apartment where she had been sleeping alone with her younger twin siblings as her parents dined at a nearby restaurant.

German investigators launched an appeal for witnesses on Wednesday in which they revealed the suspect was a convicted paedophile in prison for sexual offences and drug trafficking. They have initiated proceedings against the suspect on suspicion of McCann’s murder.

He was described as being white, with short blonde hair, possibly fair, and being of around six foot tall. Now aged 43, in 2007 he was 30 – but it was said that he may have looked as young as 25. The man, who is in prison on an unrelated matter, had been in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, with short spells in Germany during that time.

And in what the Metropolitan police described as a significant moment in their inquiry, investigators released details of the telephone number used by the man and a number he had been called from, along with photos of a camper van he was said to have been using to live “a transient lifestyle” in Portugal’s Algarve.

An appeal for information was made for anyone who recognised the numbers, the camper van and also a Jaguar car linked to the man. German police also issued an appeal with additional details on national television.

Kate and Gerry McCann
Kate and Gerry McCann, in 2012, with an image of what Madeline might look like as an older girl. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

“Our main line of inquiry is this suspect,” said Stuart Cundy, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner.

“He is the main focus of our investigation, which is why we are making this appeal, to help us with that investigation, to prove or disprove his involvement.”

Kate and Gerry McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, issued a statement through the police in which they welcomed the appeal. Madeleine would have turned 17 on 12 May this year.

“We welcome the appeal today regarding the disappearance of our daughter, Madeleine. We would like to thank the police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine,” the couple said.

“All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice. We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know, as we need to find peace.”

Police said that significant information regarding the man had emerged after investigators made an appeal in May 2017, the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance.

After German federal police authorities were engaged by British and Portuguese forces in November 2017, a “huge amount of work” had taken place so that investigators could understand all that they could about him and his connections to Praia da Luz.

Images were released of a distinctive VW T3 Westfalia campervan, an early 1980s model with white upper body and a yellow skirting and a Portuguese registration plate; as well as a 1993 Jaguar car that was registered in Germany. On 4 May 2007, the day after Madeleine’s disappearance, the suspect got the car re-registered in Germany under someone else’s name at a time when police believe the car was still in Portugal. They want information from anyone who may have seen both vehicles, which have been seized and are in the possession of police in Germany.

In what was described as an unusual action, police released the details of two Portuguese mobile phone numbers. Members of the public are being asked if they recognised one of them, +351 912 730 680 , which was used by the suspect or if they had stored it in their contacts. It was called by someone else from the number +351 916 510 683 on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance at 7.32pm for a conversation that finished shortly after 8pm.

“We are not saying the person making that call is a suspect in this case. They are someone we need to identify as key person and we need to get in touch with them,” said Cundy, who added that any information in relation to the numbers could be critical.

Some people would know the man who the police were describing, he said, appealing to them directly.

The camper van police are appealing for information about.
The camper van police are appealing for information about. Photograph: Metropolitan police

“You may be aware of some of the things he has done. He may have confided in you about the disappearance of Madeleine. More than 13 years have passed and your loyalties may have changed. He is in prison and we are conscious that some people may have been concerned about contacting police in the past. Now is the time to come forward. We are appealing to you.”

Other details about the man’s lifestyle and properties in the Algarve were due to be released on Wednesday evening on a German television programme similar to the BBC’s Crimewatch, but British police want the public to focus on the details of the telephone numbers and the car.

In Germany, an appeal for witnesses was aired on Wednesday night via Aktenzeichen XY, a long-running TV programme with the aim of throwing light on unsolved crimes.

Christian Hoppe, of the German federal office of criminal investigations, told the programme the suspect had two previous convictions for sexual abuse of girls. He said the suspect lived in Portugal between 1995 and 2007 in a house between Praia da Luz and Lagos, where it appears he drew the attention of the authorities for drug dealing and break-ins at hotels and holiday homes. 

While German police first received a tip-off about the suspect following a broadcast on the same programme in October 2013, the information at the time had not sufficed for an investigation or an arrest. On the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance in 2017, Hoppe said, police had received a tip-off about the same suspect but still required further testimonies.

Unlike the German murder inquiry the Met investigation is still being treated as a missing person’s investigation. Cundy said police did not have definitive evidence as to whether Madeleine was alive or dead. 

More than £11m has been spent on the British investigation, known as Operation Grange. Its funding, which was formed at the request of David Cameron’s government in 2011 after a plea from Madeleine’s parents, is regularly reviewed.

A team of four Metropolitan police detectives continue to investigate. Their investigation has looked at more than 600 people who they believe or believed may be significant and in 2013 four male suspects were identified. Interviews in Portugal led to a search of an area of land close to where Madeleine had been staying but the men were subsequently eliminated from the investigation.


Ben Quinn, and Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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