The new prime suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a German convicted child sex offender who lived in a campervan near to where the three-year-old vanished.

Detectives investigating the case last night made the bombshell revelation that the 43-year-old prisoner was seen in the area around the resort of Praia da Luz, Portugal, in the days and weeks before Madeleine went missing.

While Metropolitan Police have not named the man, he is described as white with short blond hair, possibly fair, and about 6ft tall with a slim build.

Madeleine was on holiday with her parents,  Kate and Gerry McCann, and her twin siblings Sean and Amelie when she disappeared on May 3, 2007.

Madeleine McCann went missing from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007

German state prosecutor Christian Hoppe confirmed the suspect is a paedophile who has been convicted of sexual abuse against children as well as other sex crimes, The Mirror reports.

He told the country's ZDF television channel that he is currently serving a prison sentence for a sex crime and has two previous convictions for "sexual contact with girls".

It also emerged that the suspect had rented a "disgusting" ramshackle farmhouse from a British man two miles from the Portuguese resort and had made money selling cars.

Former neighbours told Sky News he had “disappeared without a word” from the Algarve farmhouse in 2006.

They said there were forced to clean up the house after he left, and had found bin bags of "wigs and exotic clothing".

One said: “He arrived in the mid-90s and rented the place from the English owner.

"He went back to Germany at one stage and moved another German guy in to look after it, then came back and threw him out on the street.

“He was always a bit angry, driving fast up and down the lane.

"And then one day, around 2006, he just disappeared without a word. I think he left some rent unpaid.

"About six months later I was asked to help clean up the place and it was disgusting, ­absolutely vile.

“We found a bin bag and inside were wigs and exotic clothing.”

The two vehicles linked to the German suspect

According to authorities, the suspect worked in several casual hospitality jobs in the neighbouring Lagos area.

It is believed he moved into a campervan months before Madeleine's disappearance.

He is described as having a "transient lifestyle", living in his campervan for days at a time.

Back in 2013, Scotland Yard said that a blond man had been seen lurking by the apartment where Maddie was taken from.

Last night, detectives said the e-fit of the man that was released at the time had 'not been ruled out'.

This suggests that the new suspect may resemble the 2013 one.

It has been suggested that he was also dealing drugs and burgled hotels and apartment complexes.

German police have speculated that he could have crept into the McCann's apartment and kidnapped Maddie.

Police are unclear if the suspected motive was a burglary and he stumbled across Maddie, or if he went with the intention to abduct her.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who leads Operation Grange, told the press briefing: "He is a German national, he's currently in a German prison for an unrelated matter. He's white, he's about six foot in height. 

"He's 43 now. At the time he was 30, but he could have looked aged somewhere between 25 and 32.

"There may be people in the past who have been quite fearful of coming forward to the police, and my message is to anybody that has information... the message really is associated with the fact he is currently in prison."

A half-hour phone call was made to the suspect's Portuguese mobile phone around an hour before Maddie is believed to have gone missing.

He has been linked to an early 1980s camper van - with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal - which was pictured in the Algarve in 2007.

Scotland Yard said he was driving the vehicle in the Praia da Luz area in the days before Maddie's disappearance and is believed to have been living in it for days or weeks before and after May 3.

The apartments in Portugal where Madeleine McCann went missing

He has also been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007.

The day after Maddie went missing, the suspect got the car re-registered in Germany under someone else's name, although it is believed the vehicle was still in Portugal.

Both vehicles have been seized by German police.

Scotland Yard is launching a joint appeal with the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany (BKA) and the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria (PJ).

The Met's investigation has identified more than 600 people as potentially significant and were tipped off about the German national, already known to detectives, following a 2017 appeal 10 years after she went missing.

She vanished shortly before her fourth birthday and would have turned 17 last month.

German police are treating her disappearance as a murder investigation but the Met's Operation Grange, launched in 2013, has always considered the case a missing person inquiry.