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Madeleine McCann: German police reveal photo of suspect

This is the first picture of the prime suspect in the Madeleine McCann case who was shopped to the police by a friend after he confessed during a drinking session that he 'knew all about' what had happened to her, MailOnline can reveal today.

The 43-year-old was today named as Christian Brueckner - a German paedophile and drug trafficker jailed last year for raping a 72-year-old American tourist in Praia da Luz shortly before Maddie was snatched from her bed 13 years ago. 

His alleged admission to a friend about Maddie's abduction came over a drink on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance when her face appeared on the German pub's TV screen in 2017. He then showed his friend a video of him raping a woman, which led to the associate tipping off police but it is not known why it has taken them three years to act.

It came as German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters told a press conference today: 'We think that Madeleine McCann is dead and are appealing for witnesses. The 43 year old suspect is a multiple sexual predator already convicted of crimes against little girls'. Scotland Yard is still treating Madeleine as missing.

Brueckner, described as a drifter, was living in Praia da Luz when Maddie vanished from an apartment 13 years ago as her parents Gerry and Kate were out for dinner at a nearby tapas restaurant.   

The convicted child sex offender spent 12 years in the Algarve resort dealing drugs, burgling holiday homes and robbing tourists and was jailed last year for the rape of a 72-year-old American in same resort just 18 months before the British three-year-old vanished on May 3, 2007.  

In December 2019 he was convicted in Germany for the attack on the US-born pensioner in September 2005, according to Braunschweiger Zeitung, the newspaper for the central German city of Braunschweig where he was put on trial. 

He planned the rape having broken into the victim's house wearing a mask and armed with a rope to tie her to a wooden beam. She was blindfolded, gagged and whipped with a piece of metal before being raped and robbed - but hairs left at the scene later linked him to the crime. She told the police: 'He enjoyed torturing me'.

He denied the attack but friends had gone to police saying that videos of him raping other women had 'fallen into their hands' and they were in no doubt that they were 'real scenes', the court heard. 

The sex attack on the 72-year-old woman could be significant because the convicted paedophile had broken into her Praia da Luz holiday home to loot it - police have long believed Maddie may have been snatched during a burglary.

As detectives in Germany said Maddie's case was being treated as murder, but the Met said it remains a missing persons inquiry, it also emerged today:

This is Christian Brueckner, the new key suspect in the Madeleine McCann case, whose identity is protected in Germany despite being in jail for raping a US tourist in Praia da Luz in the months before Maddie vanished. In 2013 police released a photofit of a man seen lurking near the McCann apartment and Scotland Yard said that suspect last night had not yet been ruled out of the probe

The suspect, who is in prison in Germany for rape, has been linked to an early 1980s camper van - with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal - which is seen here on the Algarve in 2007. Police believe it may have been used in the crime

He has also been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and the surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007 including just days before Maddie's disappearance. It has been seized by police.

A German prisoner has been identified as a suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in what could be a major breakthrough in the case. He is in jail in Germany for the rape of an American tourist 18 months before Maddie vanished - 

The German suspect had lived in a warehouse outside Praia da Luz for several years but moved into a campervan just before Maddie vanished

What do we know about Maddie suspect Christian Brueckner?

1995: Christian Brueckner arrives in Portugal as an 18-year-old backpacker and begins working in catering in the seaside resorts of Lagos and Praia da Luz.

But friends say he became involved with a criminal syndicate trafficking drugs into the Algarve.

September 2005:  He dons a mask and breaks into an apartment where a 72-year-old American tourist.

The victim was bound, gagged, blindfolded and whipped with a metal cane before being raped for 15 minutes. She said afterwards that he had clearly enjoyed 'torturing' her before the rape.

April 2007: He moves out of a farmhouse and into a campervan now linked to the crime. The farmhouse is cleaned and a bag of wigs and 'exotic clothes' is found.

May 3, 2007: Madeleine McCann is snatched at around 10pm from her bed as her parents eat tapas with friends yards away.

Brueckner's mobile phone places him in the area that night.   He returns to his native Germany shortly after that.

In 2013 police released a photofit of a man seen lurking near the McCann apartment and Scotland Yard said that suspect last night had not yet been ruled out of the probe

2008-2016: He is in and out of jail for drug dealing and child abuse offences on 'little girls'. 

May 3, 2017: Brueckner is said to be in a bar with a friend when a ten-year anniversary appeal following Maddie's disappearance is shown on German television.

He is said to have told him in a bar that he 'knew all about' what happened to her. He then showed his friend a video of him raping a woman.

MailOnline understands the friend went to police shortly afterwards.

June 2017: He heads back to Portugal and extradited again to Germany. The reason was a sentencing of the Braunschweig district court to 15 months' imprisonment for the sexual abuse of a child. 

August 2018: He is released from prison and lives on the streets

First Prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters addresses the media during a press conference on the Madeleine McCann case at the public prosecutor's office in Braunschweig

September 2018: Brueckner is arrested in Milan, Italy and extradited to Germany and put on trial for raping the American tourist in 2007 after a DNA match to hair found at the crime scene.

December 2019: He is jailed for seven years after being convicted of rape and extortion.

June 3, 2020: Scotland Yard and the German police reveal that that they have identified a suspect in the Maddie McCann case

June 4, 2020: Prosecutors in Braunschweig, where he lives, say they believe Maddie McCann has been murdered, says spokesman Hans Christian Wolters. He is named in the German press as the prime suspect.

German police have revealed that the suspect had arrived in the Algarve in 1995 aged 18, a common destination for the country's teenage backpackers.  For the next 12 years he lived around Praia da Luz and nearby Lagos, telling family he was working as a caterer and odd-job man, when in fact he was dealing cannabis, trafficking drugs and burgling holiday homes and hotel rooms.

Weeks before Maddie disappeared he moved from a rural farmhouse into a VW T3 Westfalia campervan taken in the Portuguese resort in the days before she vanished. He also had a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate that was registered to another person in his home country 24 hours after Maddie was taken - but he was still driving it, Scotland Yard has said. Both vehicles have been traced by police.

The suspect then returned to Germany where he was jailed for dealing drugs in the North Sea resort of Sylt and later 'sentenced on numerous occasions to prison terms for sexual abuse of children in the past', Christian Hoppe, from the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) has said. 

He had been registered in Braunschweig since 2014. In court, he said he worked until seven in the morning until midnight but the business, along with his relationship, failed and he began to hit the bottle and live on social assistance.

He returned to Portugal where he was arrested in June 2017 and extradited again to Germany. The reason was a sentencing of the Braunschweig district court to 15 months' imprisonment for the sexual abuse of a child.

After his release in August 2018, he was homeless, the accused continued at his trial. He spent nights sleeping in park benches before fleeing to Italy where he was arrested in Milan in September 2018.

After being released from prison he appears to have left Germany for Italy but was held by police last year after an European arrest warrant was out out over the 2005 rape of the US tourist. He is now less than seven months into his seven-year jail term for the crime - but is appealing claiming his extradition was unlawful. 

Mr Hoppe last night also described the prisoner as being white, with short blond hair, around 6ft tall and of slim build and offered a 10,000 euro reward for information that could lead to his prosecution. Although there are concerns that Germany's strict privacy laws, which allow the suspect anonymity, could hamper the investigation because potential witnesses aren't being given his identity.  

Scotland Yard revealed a man with short, light-coloured hair was seen lurking near the apartment in question on the day that Madeleine was snatched. Detectives have said the e-fit of the man released in 2013 had 'not been ruled out', suggesting he may resemble the new suspect. 

Hans Christian Wolters, a spokesman for the Braunschweig Public Prosecutor's Office, said: 'In connection with the disappearance of the three-year-old British girl Madeleine McCann on May 3 2007 from an apartment complex in Praia da Luz, in Portugal, the Braunschweig prosecution is investigating against a 43-year-old German on suspicion of murder.

'We are assuming that the girl is dead. With the suspect, we are talking about a sexual predator who has already been convicted of crimes against little girls and he's already serving a long sentence.'

He said the suspect was regularly living in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, where he worked jobs in the gastronomy business, but funded his lifestyle by committing crimes, including thefts in hotel complexes and apartments, as well as drug dealing.

He added: 'The Braunschweig prosecution is now concerned because before going abroad he last had his residence in Braunschweig.'

Police also revealed last night that the German suspect made a 30-minute phone call that located him in Praia da Luz just an hour before the Maddie was last seen on May 3, 2007. The following day he suspiciously transferred the ownership of his Jaguar car to another person despite continuing to drive it, police said.

They think the man - who has also got previous convictions for sex crimes against girls - made money dealing drugs and burgling holiday homes and that could be how he chanced upon Maddie. 

Detectives in London leading the hunt called a press conference last night to announce the 'major breakthrough'. The suspect was not named by Scotland Yard due to German anonymity laws, and British officers insisted theirs was still a 'missing persons' inquiry rather than a murder probe.

However German police chief Christian Hoppe last night went on the country's TV show XY - his country's version of Crimewatch – and revealed: 'The investigation leads us to believe that Maddie McCann was killed.'

The news today has given hope to comes as a shot in the arm to her parents Kate and Gerry McCann (pictured in 2017), who have never given up hope in the search for their daughter

On May 3, 2007 Kate and Gerry McCann went to a small tapas bar metres away from their apartment to dine with friends. But when Kate returned to do a routine check on their children, she found that Madeleine had disappeared

'He enjoyed torturing me': How new Madeleine McCann prime suspect whipped and raped US tourist, 72

A year and a half before the mysterious disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann another crime had occurred in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz in the Algarve: A 72-year-old American was brutally raped and robbed in her home.

There was no trace of a perpetrator for years.

Until a witness spoke to police In 2006. He stole a video camera from a friend's house in Praia da Luz. The acquaintance had been detained for diesel theft and he and a friend had used the opportunity to break into his home.

The man testified at the trial of Christian Brueckner in December, stating he saw a film sequence on the video camera in which an older woman was bound and masked and whipped then raped.

'Then the man sat on the bed and pulled the mask off his face. Then I thought: That can't be. ' He recognised the house occupant.

A second film showed a younger person in the house. She was tied naked to a wooden beam. The house inhabitant, his acquaintance, had sat on the sofa in this sequence. The young woman had asked him to release her a few times.

It was a rape, what was going on, she said in German. The witness who stole the camera said he and his friend wanted nothing to do with what they found.

He claimed he left the videotapes in his motorhome which which was later scrapped. He said he and his accomplice were certain that what they saw was no staged scene.

MailOnline understands the BKA unit firmly believes their 43-year-old suspect is the man who took Maddie. 

Maddie, who vanished days before her fourth birthday and would now be 17, had been left sleeping with her baby siblings Sean and Amelie on the night she disappeared as her parents went to a tapas restaurant nearby with friends.

Last night Kate and Gerry said: '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.' 

The attack on the American pensioner took place in Praia da Luz, 18 months before Maddie vanished from the same resort town. It was unclear this morning why the man, who was extradited to Germany from Portugal, had not faced trial in Portugal for the offence. 

German law prevents police from naming even convicted criminals – so the McCann suspect remained anonymous even as he was jailed last year.

And it meant Scotland Yard was unable to name him when they made their announcement about the case last night.

Downing Street said the latest developments appeared to be significant and added that Number 10's thoughts were with the McCann family 'who have had to endure so much'.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'The police have said that this appears to be a significant development in the case.

'The investigation is ongoing and I am not in a position to comment any further.

'Our thoughts remain with Madeleine's family, who have had to endure so much over the past 13 years.'

The spokesman said that any decisions concerning extradition and charging would be a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Up until April this year there had been £12.3 million in funding for Operation Grange, the investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance.

'The Home Office maintains an ongoing dialogue with the Met around funding for Operation Grange and regularly reviews its progress,' the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

KEY EVIDENCE REVEALED

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, from Operation Grange, the £12m Met Police taskforce launched in 2013 to find Maddie, said the suspect took a 30-minute call to his Portuguese phone between 7.30pm and 8pm on May 3, 2007, around an hour before Maddie was snatched.

He said the suspect had lived between 1995 and 2007 in a rented farmhouse two miles outside of the Praia da Luz, but is believed to have moved into a campervan months before Maddie's disappearance.

He revealed pictures of that 1980s VW T3 Westfalia campervan taken in the Portuguese resort in the days before she vanished.

They also disclosed the suspect is linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007.

The Jaguar was originally registered in the suspect's name, but the day after Madeleine's disappearance it was re-registered to someone else in Germany. To re-register the car in Germany you don't have to have the car in the country or region

Both vehicles have been seized by German police, who say they are leading a murder investigation, although British police still insist it's a missing person inquiry

Police released these pictures of the VW T3 Westfalia campervan, used in and around Praia da Luz, Portugal, by a new suspect

It is believed that the suspect, a convicted paedophile, was living in the 1980s camper van at the time of Maddie's disappearance

The suspect is said to have lived at this property named Escola Vehla - meaning 'old school' - during his time in Portugal

The house is situated between the resort of Praia da Luz and the larger town of Lagos four miles away

Madeleine McCann would have turned 17 last month. In 2012, five years after her disappearance, her family issued an age progression efit photo to show what Madeleine may have looked like aged nine (right)

How Germany's strict privacy laws meant Madeleine McCann suspect's full name and photograph were held back from the public 

The name of the German paedophile suspected of kidnapping Madeleine McCann was held back by detectives because of German privacy laws which protect the rights of suspects and even criminals. 

The restrictions mean that people in Britain, Germany and Portugal were initially asked to come forward with tips without knowing his full name or what he looks like.

However, media reports today identified him as Christian Brückner.  

Guarding privacy rights is a highly sensitive subject in Germany because of the history of surveillance by the Nazis and more recently the Stasi in East Germany. 

Naming criminal suspects is seen in German law as a 'profound intrusion' into their privacy rights which is only justifiable in exceptional cases.  

In some cases the restrictions do not end when a person is convicted, and giving their name is thought to wreck their chances of a successful rehabilitation.   

The day after Madeleine went missing, he 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, who say there is evidence one of them is linked to 'an offence'.

DCI Cranwell said his suspect is described as white with short blond hair, possibly fair, and around 6ft tall with a slim build.

'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.

Maddie's parents refuse to believe their daughter is dead until her body is found, close friend says 

Madeleine McCann's parents refuse to believe their daughter is dead until her body is found, a close friend said tonight.

Kate and Gerry cling onto a glimmer of hope that Maddie could still be alive as police probing her disappearance have sensationally revealed a prime suspect in a huge breakthrough in the 13-year mystery.

As police could be closing in on her kidnapper - a 43-year-old German who is currently in jail after committing other offences - the couple 'remain on tenterhooks' as they anxiously await updates.

A pal of the couple from Rothley, Leicestershire, said: 'German police are now leading on this inquiry and are treating it as murder. But what proof officers have got has not been spelt out at this stage. Until a body is found and it is proved to be Madeleine's, Kate and Gerry are not giving up hope.

'This is the biggest police activity for many years, it appears to be a significant breakthrough after all this time. In 13 years never before has any police force said 'We believe this person to be the prime suspect.' There is tangible evidence, the suspect was in Praia da Luz when Madeleine went missing and he had been behaving suspiciously and is now serving a prison sentence.

'But does it make him Madeleine's abductor and, if it does, where is she and why now has he suddenly come to light when his name was given to police three years ago. And has he had any involvement in paedophilia?

'There are still many unanswered questions and we cannot speculate.

'Kate and Gerry want answers more than anyone but while the Metropolitan Police are still treating Madeleine's disappearance as a missing people's inquiry, it gives the family hope that she could still be alive. Nothing has changed for them. They will continuing hoping until they know for sure.'

The friend said that heart doctor Gerry, 51, and ex GP turned medical worker Kate, 52, remained 'incredibly grateful' to the British force for its continuing work over nine years.

McCann spokesman Clarence Mitchell declined to make a comment, saying: 'Kate and Gerry have given a direct statement through police.' 

The family have recently been buoyed up by news of a Chinese boy being found alive 32 years after being abducted. The pal said: 'This is the news they are dreaming of receiving themselves one day.'  

'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.

'This might be a good time, this is a good time, to come forward and talk to, whether it's the UK police, whether it's the German police or the Portuguese police.'

In what he termed a 'really unusual' step, DCI Cranwell also told reporters that Scotland Yard were releasing two mobile phone numbers as part of the appeal.

The first, (+351) 912 730 680, is believed to have been used by the suspect and received a call from another Portuguese mobile, (+351) 916 510 683, while in the Praia da Luz area, starting at 7.32pm and ending at 8.02pm on May 3.

Madeleine is believed to have disappeared between 9.10pm and 10pm that evening.

The caller, who is not thought to have been in the Praia da Luz area, is not being treated as a suspect, but is said to be a 'key witness'.

'Any information in relation to these mobile numbers during the spring and summer of 2007 could be critical to this investigation,' DCI Cranwell said.

The suspect's name was first given to UK Police in 2017, Sky News reported.

DCI Cranwell added: 'We know a lot about the suspect, but we need to know more about his movements on the night Madeleine vanished and in the days before and afterwards.

'We know he was in the resort on the night, about an hour before Madeleine was last seen about 9pm.

'He took a phone call on his Portuguese mobile from another Portuguese mobile. The call lasted half an hour.'

He added: 'Any information in relation to these mobile numbers during the spring and summer of 2007 could be critical to this investigation.

Who did suspect make 30-minute phone call to shortly before Maddie's disappearance?

The German suspect is known to have been in and around the area of Praia da Luz on the Algarve coast at the time Madeleine McCann went missing shortly after 9pm on May 3, 2007.

A half-hour phone call was made to his Portuguese mobile phone between 7.30 and 8pm, around an hour before Madeleine is believed to have disappeared. 

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell told reporters on Wednesday that he was taking the 'really unusual' step of releasing two mobile phone numbers as part of the appeal.

The first, (+351) 912 730 680, is believed to have been used by the suspect and received a call from another Portuguese mobile, (+351) 916 510 683, while in the Praia da Luz area, starting at 7.32pm and ending at 8.02pm on the night of May 3 2007.

Extraditing a foreign suspect will be difficult

It is expected that Met Police will want any suspect charged in the Madeleine McCann case to be tried in the UK, given the nationality of the victim.

The force has consistently said that if the suspect were British, then they would push for a prosecution at the Old Bailey, rather than Portugal where the crime was committed.

But if the suspect happens to be from any other country, the chances of extraditing them to the UK for a crime which took place overseas is unlikely.

If a German national is ever charged, it is unclear if Portuguese authorities, who have been heavily criticised for their involvement in the past, who pursue a prosecution of allow Germany to try their own citizen.

Portugal the maximum prison sentence that can be imposed is 25 years, whereas Germany can hand down an indeterminate life sentence - although there can be the option for parole after 15 years.

'Some people will know the man we are describing today, the suspect in our investigation. I'm appealing to you directly.

'You may know, 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.

'This individual 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.

'I'm appealing to you to contact us, or the German authorities or the Portuguese authorities.'

However he stressed: 'While this male is a suspect we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry.'

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said the investigation into the suspect had seen Met detectives sent to Portugal and Germany.

He added: 'This is a significant development, which is why we've made the decision to take this significant step of making a public appeal on some information that we would not normally talk about in our major investigations.'

Scotland Yard's appeal was made jointly with Germany's BKA and the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria, and includes a £20,000 reward for information.

FEARS MADDIE IS DEAD

On the German 'Crimewatch', BKA director Christian Hoppe urged anyone with information 'of the possible course of events' to come forward and 'clear their conscience'.

He said his officers needed people who were holidaying in Praia da Luz in May 2007 to fill 'the final gaps' in his investigation.

The BKA's appeal said: 'There is reason to assume that there are other persons, apart from the suspect, who have concrete knowledge of the course of the crime and maybe also of the place where the body was left.'

Mr Hoppe gave a list of questions his team wanted answering:

Mr Hoppe said the suspect had two previous convictions for 'sexual contact with girls' and he could not rule out a sexual motive for the alleged crime.

He said he was also investigating the possibility the suspect was burgling the McCanns' holiday apartment and kidnapped Maddie opportunistically after finding her alone.

Madeleine vanished from this holiday apartment in the popular Portuguese holiday resort of Praia da Luz - Apartment 5a - while her parents were with friends nearby and regularly checking on their three sleeping children

Scotland Yard is launching a 'major' joint appeal with the German and Portuguese forces, just over 13 years after she vanished. Pictured: DCI Mark Cranwell

Scotland Yard is launching a 'major' joint appeal with the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany (BKA) and the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria (PJ), just over 13 years after she vanished

GERMAN SUSPECT WAS DRIFTER

The German suspect lived in and around the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz for more than a decade, police said.

His main home was a run-down rented farmhouse on a hillside that runs from Praia da Luz beach. Sky News reported he left suddenly a year before Madeleine disappeared but is thought to have remained in the area.

A former neighbour of the suspect told the TV channel: '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. It had been trashed, with broken stuff like computers all over the place.

'We found a bin bag and inside were wigs and exotic clothing, whether just fancy dress or something stranger I couldn't tell.'

German police believe he burgled hotels and holiday homes and sold drugs in the resort to earn money. He also had casual hospitality jobs in the nearby town of Lagos.

He was also linked to a second home in Portugal, inland from the beach resorts, according to the police.

CHATROOM LINK TO SUSPECT?

Portuguese police have long considered the case a 'thorn in their side', Pedro do Carmo, then the national assistant director of the Policia Judiciaria said in 2017.

'We'd never had a case like it and we've never had one since,' he added.

Last year the former lead investigator on the McCann case Goncalo Amaral, said the focus of his inquiry had been on a German paedophile. He claimed that the suspect had been ruled out of the inquiry in 2008 but later jailed in Germany for killing children.

'Many years later, it appears that in an internet chatroom there is a conversation between that person and another person where they talk about Madeleine,' the former detective said.

Last night the PJ issued a short statement. It read: 'The PJ confirms that as part of the investigation into the disappearance of a British child in the Algarve in 2007, measures are still being taken to clarify completely the situation.

'Through close coordination with the German authorities (BKA) and the Metropolitan Police, through the sharing of information and the undertaking of formal investigative and expert work, in Portugal and abroad, material was collected that indicates the possible involvement of a German national in the disappearance of the child.

'The family of the missing child has been informed of these developments by the British authorities. The investigation continues.'

KATE AND GERRY WELCOME DEVELOPMENTS

A statement from Madeleine's parents, read by DCI Cranwell last night, said: '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.

'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.'

Kate and Gerry McCann seen on the balcony of their apartment in Praia da Luz in May 2007 shortly after Maddie disappeared

Last night's developments will give a shot in the arm to Maddie's parents, who have never given up hope in the search for their daughter.

Last month, the couple penned an impassioned letter ahead of what would have been their daughter's 17th birthday.

They wrote: 'It is now 13 years since we were last with Madeleine. Her 17th birthday is to follow in the next couple of weeks… the latter tangibly, painfully, bringing it home to us what we have missed and continue to miss as a family.'

A close friend of the Kate and Gerry told MailOnline that they refuse to believe their daughter is dead until her body is found.

A pal of the couple said: 'German police are now leading on this inquiry and are treating it as murder. But what proof officers have got has not been spelt out at this stage. Until a body is found and it is proved to be Madeleine's, Kate and Gerry are not giving up hope.

Three-year-old Madeleine, who would have turned 17 on May 12, vanished after she had been left sleeping alone with her younger twin siblings while her parents were dining in a nearby tapas restaurant at their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in 2007.

The couple, from Rothley in Leicestershire, have always maintained they made regular checks on the children throughout that evening.

A controversial Netflix documentary re-examining Maddie's kidnap was released last year, triggering a barrage of online abuse against Kate and Gerry by heartless trolls.

'Here's hoping that normal, safe and happy times are close at hand': Kate and Gerry McCann pen letter ahead of their daughter's birthday

Kate and Gerry McCann penned a heartfelt letter as the UK remained in lockdown in May 2020, ahead of Maddie's 17th birthday:

'I don't think any of us could have predicted the situation we all find ourselves in currently. It shows how easy it is to become complacent with our lives and circumstances, albeit a totally normal and understandable, human characteristic.

It is now 13 years since we were last with Madeleine. Her 17th birthday is to follow in the next couple of weeks….the latter tangibly, painfully, bringing it home to us what we have missed and continue to miss as a family.

We are very conscious that many families around the world are experiencing similar feelings at this time……being separated from each other and with many having lost loved ones prematurely and unexpectedly. There will also be many vulnerable people whose situation will have become even more precarious in the current lockdown conditions, with fear, worry and isolation - emotions that we dreaded Madeleine experiencing and which haunted us for a long time - and still do on occasions. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those suffering at this time.

We have been fortunate to spend more time together as a family since lockdown began, an enforced block to a usually frenetic life, a silver lining to this dark cloud. It has made us think about Madeleine even more, as she would have shared this period of special closeness with us too.

The investigation to find Madeleine remains open and continues, even though, in a way different to the ideal. We remain grateful for the ongoing efforts and commitment from all those involved in the search to find her and we hope and pray, as always, that our efforts will be fruitful.

Thank you to everyone still offering their support and good wishes for Madeleine and ourselves. Such solidarity continues to strengthen us. Thank you.

Please take care and please spare a thought or prayer for Madeleine and all missing children this weekend. Here's hoping that more 'normal', safe and happy times are close at hand.' - Kate and Gerry

The pair, who refused to take part in the eight hour programme series, slammed it for 'potentially hindering' the search for their daughter while an active police hunt is ongoing.

Ever since her disappearance, Madeleine's parents have consistently vowed to keep searching for their daughter.

The ceaseless campaign to locate the missing girl has frequently forced the McCanns to recall the day their 'perfect nuclear family' was hit by horror.

On May 3 2007, the couple, from Rothley, Leicestershire, left their three children asleep in their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in southern Portugal while they had dinner with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant.

Mr McCann found nothing amiss when he checked on the youngsters just after 9pm, but when his wife returned at about 10pm she discovered three-year-old Madeleine was missing.

Driven by an 'almost feral reaction' they carried out a desperate search and raised the alarm, but from that night their lives would never be the same again.

The couple are both from close-knit working-class Catholic families and have found solace through their relatives and their faith in the years since Madeleine's disappearance.

Mr McCann is from Glasgow and his wife from Liverpool, but they met while working as junior doctors at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow.

Mrs McCann stopped working as a GP after her daughter went missing to focus on campaign work and her two other children, twins Amelie and Sean, aged just two when Madeleine disappeared.

She poured her energies into charity work, including as an ambassador for the Missing People charity, before returning to work in another area of medicine.

Mr McCann is a professor of cardiac imaging at the University of Leicester and a consultant cardiologist who has been open about his mental health struggles since the night Madeleine went missing.

Over the years the McCann family have launched numerous public appeals, won high-profile backers, seen millions of pounds in public money spent on investigations, all to no avail.

In 2017, the McCanns said they had managed to adjust to a 'new normality' of being a family-of-four, with their focus on giving the twins 'a very normal, happy and fulfilling life'.

Speaking to the BBC on the 10-year anniversary of her daughter's disappearance, Mrs McCann said: 'We had some excellent advice early on. We have been as open with them as we can. We have told them about things and that people are writing things that are simply just untrue and they need to be aware of that.'

Madeleine's parents admitted they have been shocked by hurtful online abuse, saying they had seen 'the worst and the best of human nature' since the campaign to find their daughter thrust them into the spotlight.

They have also endured a long-running libel battle against Goncalo Amaral, the Portuguese detective who led the initial inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance, who alleged in a book that the girl had died in the holiday flat.

In 2017, Mrs McCann blasted the 'misinformation, half-truths and downright lies' that had circulated around her daughter's case, but her husband has insisted that overall they had 'been overwhelmingly seeing the better side of human nature' and received 'fantastic support'.

Kate and Gerry in 2012, five years after Maddie's disappearance, at an appeal revealing an aged photo of how she may look

Over the years, the McCanns have built a bond with the Portuguese town where they last saw their daughter.

The couple were regular visitors to the church of Our Lady of Light in Praia da Luz after Madeleine's disappearance.

In 2017, it was revealed that villagers in Praia da Luz have prayed for Madeleine every Sunday since.

In a letter written that year, Mrs McCann thanked local friends and supporters 'for being strong enough and brave enough to keep Madeleine and our family in your prayers and in your hearts'.

She added: 'Your love and compassion has given us fortitude over the years and sustained our hope in immeasurable amounts.'

13 YEARS OF POLICEWORK

The Portuguese probe into Madeleine McCann's disappearance was archived in July 2008.

It was reopened in October 2013 after convicted burglar Euclides Monteiro, a former employee at the Ocean club holiday resort where the youngster vanished from, was identified as a suspect.

The Metropolitan Police took over the hunt in 2011 after the parents made a personal plea to then-Prime Minister David Cameron.

Their subsequent investigation, Operation Grange, has received more than £11m in funding, despite calls from some police chiefs for the search to end.

After last night's appeal, UK police are want to speak to anyone who may have seen the camper van in or around Praia da Luz on the night Madeleine went missing, or in the days before or weeks after.

Detectives also want to hear from anyone who saw the van together with the Jaguar, or individually, during the spring and summer of 2007.

The predator who roamed Europe attacking women: Madeleine McCann suspect is 'angry' German paedophile, 43, who burgled Algarve holiday homes while living in 'vile' farmhouse two miles from Praia da Luz

The new prime suspect in Madeleine McCann's disappearance was today revealed as a rapist who lived in a farmhouse two miles from where she went missing in Portugal.

The 43-year-old German criminal lived on the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, including for a few years in the ramshackle home between Lagos and Praia da Luz.

The suspected burglar, drug dealer and paedophile had been residing only two miles from the holiday apartment where Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007. 

Neighbours described the man - who has not been named - as an 'angry' car dealer who vanished suddenly, leaving a collection of wigs, fancy dress and exotic clothing.

He lived in the rented building on a remote hillside along a footpath that runs from above the beach where Madeleine and her family played during their week's holiday. 

The farmhouse where the new prime suspect in Madeleine McCann's disappearance lived was located just two miles from where she went missing from her family's holiday apartment

The 43-year-old German prime suspect lived in the rented building on a remote hillside along a footpath that runs from above the beach where Madeleine and her family played on holiday

According to residents, he littered the land with old vehicles which he bought and sold for a living, which may explain how he acquired the distinctive camper van and Jaguar which are now at the centre of the police investigation.

Months before Madeleine's disappearance, the paedophile is said to have left the farm to move into his two-tonne camper van.

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

Neighbours reveal the German man was 'always a bit angry'

A former neighbour told Sky News: '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.'

The neighbour added: 'About six months later I was asked to help clean up the place and it was disgusting, absolutely vile. It had been trashed, with broken stuff like computers all over the place.'

The neighbour said she was contacted by Scotland Yard detectives last year. They asked her about the man, without revealing why. 

The living room of the rental apartment where the suspect was living just two miles from the McCann's holiday apartment. Neighbours described the man as an 'angry' car dealer

Above, an interior of the rented home where the suspect lived in Portugal. Neighbours said that he vanished suddenly, leaving a collection of wigs, fancy dress and exotic clothing

This year she was visited by Portuguese detectives who showed her photographs of the man and asked more questions. 

Madeleine McCann went missing in May 2007 while on holiday on the Algarve in Portugal

It is understood that many neighbours, friends and acquaintances of the suspect have since been interviewed as police try to establish his movements around the time Madeleine disappeared from her family's holiday apartment. 

He is serving seven years in jail for raping a 72-year-old woman

Meanwhile it has also emerged that the man is serving a seven-year jail sentence for the rape of 72-year-old American woman, according to reports.

The German criminal was convicted in Braunschweig district court last year for a rape he is said to have committed in Portugal in 2005.

He lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, according to Braunschweig Zeitung. 

Just two years before Maddie's disappearance, the criminal raped an American tourist, the newspaper reported. 

He has two previous convictions for 'sexual contact with girls', according to Christian Hoppe from Germany's federal criminal police office, and the farmhouse he rented was on the footpath leading to the beach where the little girl played. 

The man may have stolen from local holiday homes 

It is thought the suspect made his living by stealing from holiday apartments in the area, and he may have entered the McCann's apartment and decided to take their daughter, say Braunschweig public prosecutor's office.   

The suspect's battered camper van. Scotland Yard released images of the VW T3 Westfalia camper van, with a white upper body and a yellow skirting, with a Portuguese registration plate

Scotland Yard insisted it was still a missing person inquiry, but German police said: 'There is reason to believe that there are other people besides the perpetrator who have concrete knowledge of the possible scene of the crime and, if necessary, where the body is stored.

'We expressly ask these people to report and share their knowledge.'

Mr Hoppe, from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), said police had not ruled out a sexual motive for the crime.

He added that the suspect may have broken into an apartment in the Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz – where Madeleine was on holiday with her parents, Kate and Gerry and her twin siblings Sean and Amelie – before spontaneously kidnapping her.

Pictured above and below, the Jaguar he re-registered the day after Maddie disappeared 

In 2007, when the suspect was 30, he is said to have spent his days stealing from hotel complexes and holiday apartments and trafficking drugs, according to police.

Last night it was reported that he may also have committed further sexual assaults or rapes during his time in Portugal. 

Police investigate vehicles the suspect used at the time

Yesterday Scotland Yard released images of the VW T3 Westfalia camper van, with a white upper body and a yellow skirting, with a Portuguese registration plate.

They also released images of a second vehicle the suspect owned – a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German number plate and registered in Germany.

Scotland Yard released images of a second vehicle the suspect owned

Detectives say it is significant that the day after Madeleine's disappearance, the paedophile re-registered the car in someone else's name back in Augsburg, Germany, even though the vehicle had never left Portugal.

The Jaguar is believed to have been in the Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007 and was originally registered in the suspect's name.

German police said there were indications that he could have used one of these vehicles to commit the crime and they want to trace anyone who remembers seeing them parked up anywhere.

The man lived mostly permanently in the Algarve for 12 years

Detectives revealed last night that the suspect lived more or less permanently in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007. 

The car is a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German number plate and registered in Germany

He worked occasionally in the catering business in the Lagos area. But police believe he was really earning his living by committing burglaries of hotel complexes and holiday flats as well as trafficking cannabis.

In 2013, Scotland Yard revealed that a blond man had been seen lurking near the 5A apartment about 4pm on the day that Madeleine was snatched.

He was described as white, aged 30 to 35, thin, with short, light-coloured hair and spots on his face possibly caused by shaving. 

Last night detectives said the e-fit of the man released in 2013 had 'not been ruled out', suggesting he may resemble the new suspect.

A blond-haired man was also seen on the balcony of a nearby empty apartment and in the stairwell of the McCanns' block.

How a mobile phone call is a key piece of evidence 

Police believe a mobile phone call made by the suspect could be the key piece of evidence that unlocks the mystery which has puzzled detectives the world over for 13 years.

At 7.30pm on May 3, 2007, he made a call which places him in Praia da Luz. For half an hour he chatted to a mystery person before ending the call at 8.03pm.

Three-year-old Madeleine was snatched from her bed sometime after 9pm.

The Ocean Club in Praia Da Luz, where Madeleine disappeared on May 3, 2007, during a family holiday with her parents and younger twin siblings

Yesterday Scotland Yard took the highly unusual step of releasing the suspect's Portuguese mobile phone number – 00351 912 730 680 – and that of the mystery witness he spoke to. 

The unidentified witness, who used the Portuguese phone number 00351 916 510 683, was not staying in the area at the time of the call.

The suspect's name was given to the Metropolitan Police in 2017 after the 10th anniversary.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell said: 'We know a lot about the suspect, but we need to know more about his movements on the night Madeleine vanished and in the days before and afterwards.

Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry were sitting at The Ocean Club Tapas Bar and had just checked on their daughter who was sleeping in their holiday apartment when she went missing just after 10pm

'We know he was in the resort on the night, about an hour before Madeleine was last seen about 9pm.

'He took a phone call on his Portuguese mobile from another Portuguese mobile. The call lasted half an hour.

'While this male is a suspect we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry.'

Police investigate two properties near where Maddie vanished

German police said inquiries were homing in on two properties near where the toddler vanished and last night they appealed for anyone who could provide information about the rooms the man used to come forward.

The last photograph taken of the little girl shows her smiling next to her little sister Amelie and their father Gerry

Scotland Yard is launching a joint appeal with the BKA and the Portugal's Policia Judiciaria, including a £20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible of Madeleine's disappearance.

Last night, as more details emerged about the suspect, there were questions about why police took so long to release the information. 

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who is leading the British investigation, said Scotland Yard knew a lot about the man who became a suspect when officers received critical information in 2017. 

It emerged that since then Scotland Yard had been secretly working with German and Portuguese police to piece together his movements.

A photograph of the bedroom from which Madeleine was snatched in May 2007, which was included in police files released in August 2008

Yet Scotland Yard chose to make the information public only when the German police announced their appeal yesterday.

Yesterday Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy denied the timing was anything to do with seeking extra funding for Operation Grange, which has cost £12 million so far.

Mr Cranwell said: 'We know a lot about the suspect, but we need to know more about his movements on the night Madeleine vanished and in the days before and afterwards. 

'It's more than 13 years since Madeleine went missing and none of us can imagine what it must be like for her family, not knowing what happened or where she is.

On May 3, 2007 Kate and Gerry McCann went to a small tapas bar metres away from their apartment to dine with friends. But when Kate returned to do a routine check on their children, she found that Madeleine had disappeared

'Following the ten-year anniversary, the Met received information about a German man who was known to have been in and around Praia da Luz.

'We have been working with colleagues in Germany and Portugal and this man is a suspect in Madeleine's disappearance.

'The Met conducted a number of enquiries and in November 2017 engaged with the BKA who agreed to work with the Met.

'Since then a huge amount of work has taken place by both the Met, the BKA and the Polícia Judiciaria. While this male is a suspect, we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry.' 

How the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann unfolded over 13 years  

2007

May 3: Gerry and Kate McCann leave their three children, including Maddie, asleep in their hotel apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, as they eat with friends in a nearby restaurant. When they return, they find Maddie missing from her bed

May 4: A friend of the McCanns reports of seeing a man carrying a child away in the night.  Meanwhile, airports and borders are put on high alert as search gets underway

May 14: Robert Mural, a property developer who lives a few yards from the hotel, is made a suspect by Portuguese police

May 30: The McCanns meet the Pope in Rome in a bid to bring worldwide attention to the search

August 11: Police in Portugal acknowledge for the first time in the investigation that Maddie might be dead. 

September 7: Spanish police make the McCanns official suspects in the disappearance. Two days later the family flies back to England

2008

July 21: Spanish police remove the McCanns and Mr Mural as official suspects as the case is shelved

2009

May 1: A computer-generated image of what Maddie could look like two years after she disappeared is released by the McCanns 

2011

May 12: A review into the disappearance is launched by Scotland Yard, following a plea from then-Home Secretary Theresa May 

2012

April 25: After a year of reviewing the case, Scotland Yard announce they belief that Maddie could be alive and call on police in Portugal to reopen the case, but it falls on deaf ears amid 'a lack of new evidence'

Kate and Gerry McCann mark the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine with the publication of the book written by her mother in 2011

2013

July 4: Scotland Yard opens new investigation and claim to have identified 38 'people of interest'

October 24: A review into the investigation is opened by Portuguese police and new lines of inquiry are discovered, forcing them to reopen the case

2014

January 29: British officers arrive in Portugal as a detailed investigation takes place. During the year, several locations are searched, including an area of scrubland near the resort 

2015

October 28: British police announce that team investigating Maddie's disappearance is reduced from 29 officers to just four, as it is also revealed that the investigation has cost £10million 

2016

April 3: Operation Grange is handed an additional £95,000 by Theresa May to keep the investigation alive for another six months  

2017

March 11: Cash is once again pumped into keeping the investigation alive, with £85,000 granted to keep it running until September, when it is extended once again until April next year

2018

March 27: The Home Office reveals it has allocated further funds to Operation Grange. The new fund is believed to be as large as £150,000

September 11: Parents fear as police hunt into daughter's disappearance could be shelved within three weeks by the new Home Secretary amid funding cuts

September 26: Fresh hope in the search for Madeleine McCann as it emerges the Home Office is considering allocating more cash for the police to find her

2019  

April: Controversial new Netflix documentary re-examining Maddie's kidnap is released, triggering a barrage of online abuse against Kate and Gerry by heartless trolls. They pair, who refused to take part in the eight hour programme series, slammed it for 'potentially hindering' the search for their daughter while an active police hunt is ongoing

June 5: The Home Office gives the Metropolitan Police enough funding to investigate for another year

June 22: Detectives say they are 'closer than ever' to solving the disappearance as they look into a new suspect. A joint effort by British and Portuguese police narrowed in on a 'foreign' man who was in the Algarve when she went missing in 2007

December 7: Paulo Pereira Cristovao, a long-time critic of Maddie's parents who angered them with a controversial book about the mystery disappearance, was convicted of participating in the planning of two violent break-ins at properties in Lisbon and the nearby resort of Cascais. He is jailed for seven and a half years

December 11: Maddie's revealed a touching list of what they miss most about their daughter as they spent their 13th Christmas without her

2020

February 22: Scotland Yard detectives questioned a British expat about her German ex-boyfriend. Carol Hickman, 59, claims police entered her bar in Praia da Luz, Portugal to ask questions about her former partner 

March 27: Detectives requested extra money to continue their investigation into the disappearance of the toddler in Portugal back in 2007, with funds for the operation set to run out at the end of the month

 June 3: Police reveal that a 43-year-old German prisoner has been identified as a suspect in Madeleine's disappearance.

How the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann unfolded over 13 years  

2007

May 3: Gerry and Kate McCann leave their three children, including Maddie, asleep in their hotel apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, as they eat with friends in a nearby restaurant. When they return, they find Maddie missing from her bed

May 4: A friend of the McCanns reports of seeing a man carrying a child away in the night.  Meanwhile, airports and borders are put on high alert as search gets underway

May 14: Robert Mural, a property developer who lives a few yards from the hotel, is made a suspect by Portuguese police

May 30: The McCanns meet the Pope in Rome in a bid to bring worldwide attention to the search

August 11: Police in Portugal acknowledge for the first time in the investigation that Maddie might be dead. 

September 7: Spanish police make the McCanns official suspects in the disappearance. Two days later the family flies back to England

2008

July 21: Spanish police remove the McCanns and Mr Mural as official suspects as the case is shelved

2009

May 1: A computer-generated image of what Maddie could look like two years after she disappeared is released by the McCanns 

2011

May 12: A review into the disappearance is launched by Scotland Yard, following a plea from then-Home Secretary Theresa May 

2012

April 25: After a year of reviewing the case, Scotland Yard announce they belief that Maddie could be alive and call on police in Portugal to reopen the case, but it falls on deaf ears amid 'a lack of new evidence'

Kate and Gerry McCann mark the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine with the publication of the book written by her mother in 2011

2013

July 4: Scotland Yard opens new investigation and claim to have identified 38 'people of interest'

October 24: A review into the investigation is opened by Portuguese police and new lines of inquiry are discovered, forcing them to reopen the case

2014

January 29: British officers arrive in Portugal as a detailed investigation takes place. During the year, several locations are searched, including an area of scrubland near the resort 

2015

October 28: British police announce that team investigating Maddie's disappearance is reduced from 29 officers to just four, as it is also revealed that the investigation has cost £10million 

2016

April 3: Operation Grange is handed an additional £95,000 by Theresa May to keep the investigation alive for another six months  

2017

March 11: Cash is once again pumped into keeping the investigation alive, with £85,000 granted to keep it running until September, when it is extended once again until April next year

2018

March 27: The Home Office reveals it has allocated further funds to Operation Grange. The new fund is believed to be as large as £150,000

September 11: Parents fear as police hunt into daughter's disappearance could be shelved within three weeks by the new Home Secretary amid funding cuts

September 26: Fresh hope in the search for Madeleine McCann as it emerges the Home Office is considering allocating more cash for the police to find her

2019  

April: Controversial new Netflix documentary re-examining Maddie's kidnap is released, triggering a barrage of online abuse against Kate and Gerry by heartless trolls. They pair, who refused to take part in the eight hour programme series, slammed it for 'potentially hindering' the search for their daughter while an active police hunt is ongoing

June 5: The Home Office gives the Metropolitan Police enough funding to investigate for another year

June 22: Detectives say they are 'closer than ever' to solving the disappearance as they look into a new suspect. A joint effort by British and Portuguese police narrowed in on a 'foreign' man who was in the Algarve when she went missing in 2007

December 7: Paulo Pereira Cristovao, a long-time critic of Maddie's parents who angered them with a controversial book about the mystery disappearance, was convicted of participating in the planning of two violent break-ins at properties in Lisbon and the nearby resort of Cascais. He is jailed for seven and a half years

December 11: Maddie's revealed a touching list of what they miss most about their daughter as they spent their 13th Christmas without her

2020

February 22: Scotland Yard detectives questioned a British expat about her German ex-boyfriend. Carol Hickman, 59, claims police entered her bar in Praia da Luz, Portugal to ask questions about her former partner 

March 27: Detectives requested extra money to continue their investigation into the disappearance of the toddler in Portugal back in 2007, with funds for the operation set to run out at the end of the month

 June 3: Police reveal that a 43-year-old German prisoner has been identified as a suspect in Madeleine's disappearance.

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