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Madeleine McCann: Police link suspect to missing schoolboy, 6

German police have contacted the family of a six-year-old who vanished in the Algarve in 1996 - after linking him to the suspect in Madeleine McCann's case.

German detectives investigating Christian Brueckner, 43, for the disappearance of British Madeleine have contacted the family of René Hasee to say they are looking into his 1996 abduction again.

The six-year-old from Elsdorf, Germany, was on holiday with his family in Aljezur - just 25 miles from Praia da Luz, in the Algarve -  when he vanished on June 21, 1996. 

Andreas Hasee, René's father, revealed an investigator from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) contacted him today - the first time he had heard from police in 20 years. He told German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger: 'There could be a connection.' 

German detectives investigating Christian B, 43, have contacted the family of René Hasee to say they were looking into his 1996 abduction again

Detectives have said the suspect (left) was regularly living in the Algarve from 1995. He was already convicted of sex offences against children and would have been 19 at the time René disappeared. Madeleine McCann (right) disappeared during a family holiday in Praia da Luz in May 2007

René was last seen running ahead of his mother and step-father during a walk on the beach to swim in the sea. After losing sight of him never saw him again; left with just his clothes lying on the beach.

Detectives have said the suspect was regularly living in the Algarve from 1995. He was already convicted of sex offences against children and would have been 19 at the time René disappeared.

Mr Hasee, who had accepted his son had drowned, added: 'René went to Portugal with my ex-wife and her new partner.

'He was actually also a very careful child, he would not have easily climbed into the Atlantic alone. Of course you start thinking, yes. I don't imagine that René is still alive,' he added.

An expert at the time found tide and current conditions in the sea made a swimming accident unlikely and BKA police officers in Germany have maintained other victims could be linked to the Maddie investigation. The force declined to comment on René Hasee.   

René was last seen running ahead of his mother and step-father during a walk on the beach to swim in the sea. After losing sight of him never saw him again; left with just his clothes lying on the beach. Pictured, it was just 25 miles from where Brueckner lived in Praia da Luz

Police are set to return to this abandoned box factory in Neuwegersleben, Germany, where Christian Brueckner lived in a caravan and hid child porn among animal bones. Police raided it in 2016 looking for missing Inga Gehricke

It is not clear if the paedophile owned the abandoned box factory or part of it - but he is known to have been living there in a caravan behind its gates

Inga Gehricke vanished from Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof in Saxony-Anhalt during a family outing on May 2, 2015 in an case that detectives have been unable to solve ever since. Prosecutors confirmed they have reopened a preliminary investigation into whether Christian Brueckner (pictured in 2018) was involved in the unsolved Inga case

More than 100 police officers descended on the site in February 201 (pictured), digging holes looking for missing Inga

It comes after prosecutors re-opened the investigation into whether Brueckner abducted five-year-old Inga Gehricke after she was grabbed from Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof in Saxony-Anhalt during a family outing five years ago.  

Christian Brueckner's troubled Bavarian youth 

Brueckner was 17 when he molested a six-year-old girl in a public playground in his home town of Wuerzburg, Bavaria.

He only stopped groping the terrified schoolgirl when she began to scream and cry and he then ran away, a youth court was told.

Later, the then-teenage Brueckner 'dropped his trousers' at a nine-year-old before fleeing the scene, according to German newspaper Bild.

Brueckner, who had quit secondary school to train as a car mechanic, was arrested later for the vile acts in 1994.

At his trial at Wuerzburg District Court, he was asked by the juvenile judge what he thought about his actions and he replied: 'I didn't think anything,' according to the newspaper.

Her disappearance on May 2, 2015 - almost eight years to the day after Madeleine vanished in Portugal on May 3, 2007 - was only 48 miles away from where Brueckner lived on the five-acre site of a box factory in the isolated of village of Neuwegersleben, south-east of Hanover.

More than 100 officers descended on the old box factory in February 2016, digging holes looking for Inga's body. 

The little girl wasn't found but Brueckner's USB stash of child sex abuse images was found on a USB stick hidden under 'animal bones' with police now set to return, according to German tabloid Bild.

Brueckner was prosecuted over the child porn but he was never charged with Inga's disappearance when the probe was dropped after four weeks.

But today prosecutors confirmed they have reopened a preliminary investigation into whether he was involved in the unsolved Inga case. 

Last night Portuguese police last night hit back at claims that Madeleine McCann suspect Brueckner slipped through their net.

Policia Judiciaria insisted the German’s name was one of those passed to British police in case files in 2012 – and said Scotland Yard had never asked them to take a closer look at him.

Deputy director Carlos Farinha said: ‘If the suspicions about this man were so obvious, he would have been the subject of requests made by the British, which were always authorised by Portugal, but those requests about him were never made.’ 

In an interview with Portuguese news agency Lusa, he added: ‘If the PJ is being accused of giving Brueckner a lack of priority, the same could be said of the Metropolitan Police. In theory everything could have been different but in 2007 and in 2012 we didn’t known what we knew in 2017.’

He said this week’s fresh appeal was an initiative of the German police who were convinced it could lead to additional information coming in.

But appearing to hint that the evidence the three police forces have may not be enough to bring charges and a successful prosecution, he said: ‘Suspicions about the German national have grown but unfortunately they are not enough to make him an arguido and formally accuse him.’ 

It came as documents revealed by Spiegel allegedly show Brueckner fantasised in disgusting online chats about the kidnapping and sexual abuse of a child in September 2013. 

Christian Brueckner, pictured with a friend in 2011,  was adopted as a baby after being given up by his birth mother and began abusing children as a teenager

Christian Brueckner (picutred left) left Portugal after then three-year-old Madeline (pictured right) disappeared in 2007

How the unsolved case of missing Inga Gehricke, five, involved a search team of 500 people after she wandered off to collect wood

Inga Gehricke, five, had been having a barbecue with her family on May 2, 2015

The disappearance of five-year-old Inga Gehricke during a trip to a forest area in Saxony-Anhalt prompted a huge search involving 500 people.

She had been having a barbecue with her family at an apartment complex in Diakoniewerk Wilhelmshof on May 2, 2015 when she disappeared.

The girl is believed to have wandered off to collect wood to light a campfire at about 6.30pm but never returned.

Police dogs also failed to pick up the scent of Inga who had been wearing a butterfly T-shirt, blue jeans and her hair in two plaits.

One of the main suspects was former security guard Silvio Schulz, but he denied involvement police were never able to prove any link.

In July 2016, Schulz was handed a life sentence for murdering two children, one of them a four-year-old Bosnian boy snatched from a migrant registration centre the year before.

Police also allegedly investigated Christian Brueckner and found a device at his home with child pornography, but could not prove any link to Inga's case.

In June 2017, officers formally dropped the probe into Inga's disappearance. 

Inga had been on the trip with her parents Victoria and Jens-Uwe Gehricke, as well as her three siblings Maxim, 15, Julius, 13, and eight-year-old Freya.

Speaking in April 2017, Mrs Gehricke told Stern magazine that her 'feeling tells me that she is still alive', while her husband said: 'I still have the hope that she will be found. But the hope that she will come back alive goes to zero for me.'

Inga's disappearance on May 2, 2015 was almost eight years to the day after Madeleine vanished in Portugal on May 3, 2007

He is said to have told one acquaintance he wanted to 'capture something small and use it for days', and that it would be safer if 'the evidence is destroyed afterwards'.

Brueckner was given up by his mother at birth and began abusing children as a teenager when he molested a six-year-old in a public playground, it was revealed today. 

Madeleine McCanns parents are encouraged by public response

More than 270 people contacted Scotland Yard in the first 24 hours of its appeal for information about the new Madeleine McCann suspect.

Parents Kate and Gerry McCann are said to be very encouraged by the response.

They are now waiting to learn if potential witnesses have crucial information about German convicted child sex offender Christian Brueckner.

The McCanns believe the appeal was the most significant development to date in the 13-year search for their missing daughter.

Spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the couple, both 52, from Rothley, Leicestershire, were 'trying to maintain as normal a life as possible' for the sake of their younger children Sean and Amelie, who were toddlers when Madeleine disappeared.

He said: 'They certainly will be encouraged to know the appeal is yielding results already and hopefully within that there will be crucial bits of information.

'They are continuing their medical work where necessary and bringing the twins up as best they can, while shielding them from all the attention.' 

Christian Brueckner was 17 in 1994 when he attacked the little girl in his home town of Wurzburg, Bavaria - and he only stopped groping her when she started screaming and crying.

But he is also said to have 'dropped his trousers' at a nine-year-old boy before fleeing the scene, according to German tabloid Bild.  

He was born Christian Fischer in Bavaria in 1976, but was given up by his birth mother and placed in a children's home in Wuerzburg and was adopted by the Brueckner family as a baby, taking their name.

He descended into a life of crime as a young teenager, and was convicted of his first burglary in his home town of Wurzburg in 1992, when he was 15. 

Within two years, the warped teenager had progressed to sexually abusing a child, with the playground attack earning him a two-year youth sentence, of which he served only a part.

As a young man, Brueckner had dreamed of emigrating with his girlfriend of the time, and when he turned 18 - with a fresh driver's license, and a series of court hearings still pending - he took off to Portugal with his German girlfriend, and the Algarve town of Lagos, said Germany's Bild newspaper, which quoted him as having said: 'We didn't know anything about Portugal. We went to Lagos because we liked the name so much. We had a tent with us and camped in the wild.' 

He eventually settled in Praia da Luz, the picturesque resort where the McCanns chose to take their three children on holiday.

For 12 years he lived there, 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.

He was briefly locked up for diesel theft, and is also said to have traded passports and stolen goods.

He lived in Praia da Luz in a somewhat dilapidated and remote house accessed by a dirt road. 'In terms of furnishings, it was a typical bachelor's apartment,' said one acquaintance.

After a decade on the Algarve, perverted 6-foot Brueckner burgled a 72-year-old American widow - and subjected her to a hideous sexual assault.

He broke into her villa near Praia da Luz brandishing a 30cm 'sabre', according to evidence at a court that eventually convicted him.

He beat her, tied her up, gagged and blindfolded her, before carrying out a degrading rape which he videotaped, the court in Braunschweig, Germany, heard. On the video, he finished by ripping off his own mask, a witness told the court.

Justizvollzugsanstalt Kiel in northern Germany where Brueckner is currently being held in jail

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

Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry McCann are pictured in London in October 2014 at a function to promote Child Rescue Alert

Brueckner had lived in this remote villa overlooking Praia da Luz from 1999 to 2006. Neighbours described him as unfriendly

Brueckner broke into this secluded home (pictured) two years before the three-year-old went missing from her family's apartment in he resort of Praia da Luz

His victim told investigators: 'I felt that he enjoyed torturing me.' At the time, Brueckner lived in a rented whitewashed villa on a remote hillside along a footpath that runs from above the beach where Madeleine and her family played during their week's holiday.

Neighbours described him as an 'angry' car dealer, who sped along country roads, and saying that when he vanished he left a collection of wigs, fancy dress and exotic clothing.

Brueckner left Portugal after Madeline disappeared on May 3, 2007. The previous month, he had moved out of the villa and into a VW Westfalia campervan which police have now linked to Madeleine's disappearance.

He also kept his prized 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with its German number plate. Yet the day after she vanished, he re-registered the classic British car to another person, although he was still driving it, Scotland Yard has said. 

This is Christian Brueckner's home in Braunschweig near Hanover, where he had lived before he fled to Italy and was arrested over the rape of an American in Praia da Luz

A map of the area of Praia de Luz in Portugal showing the suspect's house and the McCanns' holiday apartment which was nearby

Augsburg resident Alexander Bischof has told how he befriended Maddie McCann suspect Brueckner after being introduced by a mutual friend in around 2007 or 2008.

'This is still unimaginable,' says Bischof who says he met him 12 or 13 years ago. 'He said he needed help and was looking for an apartment in Augsburg.

'He gave me his Jaguar - but he never mentioned Maddie', says friend who let Christian Brueckner live in his attic after he fled Praia da Luz

A friend of Christian Brueckner let him live in his attic just after he fled Praia da Luz, and even looked after the Jaguar at the centre of the Madeleine McCann probe, it was revealed today.

'This is still unimaginable,' said Augsburg resident Alexander Bischof, who says he met him 12 or 13 years ago. 'He said he needed help and was looking for an apartment in Augsburg'.

He was driving a Jaguar, which he bought from the ´mutual acquaintance. 'Because I'm also a Jaguar lover, we had a topic of conversation right away,' says Bischof.

At one point he offered Brueckner the opportunity to stay with him and his wife if he wanted to.

He said Brueckner was 'often underway - sometimes he traveled to Portugal, sometimes to Sylt, to Munich. In between, he spent nights sleeping in my attic.'

Otherwise, he stayed in his VW bus. Most of the time he went to Portugal, where he is said to have had a girlfriend. Once he took them into Augsuburg to meet his girlfriend where they spoke to each other in English.

'At some point I reached the conclusion that he was involved with drugs,' he added, and was in prison in Portugal for two or three months, during which time he handed over the Jaguar car to him.

'When he came out, he was back here quickly, I didn't know more at the time,' he says. Later, he gave the car over to an acquaintance in Munich. 'He always made surprisingly quick decisions,' he added.

After some time Bishop distanced himself from Brueckner. 'He uses my living quarters and he's involved with drugs - I couldn't handle that,' he said.

'I thought I couldn't do that,' Bishop said. 'After a few years the law stood at my door. The police wanted to search the living quarters where he had stayed.'

At that time he learned that he had 'some things in his past.' He did not know what. Only that it would be a 'capital crime'. During a re-interrogation, the officials mentioned the name 'Maddie'.

When Bishop first heard about the murder allegations he was shocked. 

He said; 'We never talked about young children, our conversations were about cars, football and Portugal, men's stuff.'

He was driving a Jaguar, which he bought from the mutual acquaintance. 'Because I'm also a Jaguar lover, we had a topic of conversation right away,' says Bischof.

At one point he offered Brueckner the opportunity to stay with him and his wife if he wanted to.

He said Brueckner was 'often underway - sometimes he traveled to Portugal, sometimes to Sylt, to Munich. In between, he spent nights sleeping in my attic.' 

Otherwise, he stayed in his VW bus. Most of the time he went to Portugal, where he is said to have had a girlfriend. Once he took them into Augsuburg to meet his girlfriend where they spoke to each other in English.

'At some point I reached the conclusion that he was involved with drugs,' he added, and was in prison in Portugal for two or three months, during which time he handed over the Jagguar car to him.

'When he came out, he was back here quickly, I didn't know more at the time,' he says. Later, he gave the car over to an acquaintance in Munich. 'He always made surprisingly quick decisions,' he added.

After some time Bishop distanced himself from Brueckner. 'He uses my living quarters and he's involved with drugs - I couldn't handle that,' he said.

'I thought I couldn't do that,' Bishop said. 'After a few years the law stood at my door. The police wanted to search the living quarters where he had stayed.'

At that time he learned that he had 'some things in his past.' He did not know what. Only that it would be a 'capital crime'. During a re-interrogation, the officials mentioned the name 'Maddie'.

When Bishop first heard about the murder allegations he was shocked. 

He said; 'We never talked about young children, our conversations were about cars, football and Portugal, men's stuff.'

Back in Germany, rather than keeping his head down, Brueckner continued stealing and drug dealing. By October 2011, the district court in Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, had sentenced him to 'imprisonment of narcotics in large quantities' for one year and nine months. The sentence was initially suspended.

By 2014, Brueckner was living in Braunschweig, near Hanover, where he boasted to friends he had opened a local shop. He claimed he worked from seven in the morning until midnight but the business, along with his relationship, failed and he began to hit the bottle and live on benefits. 

German TV station RTL.DE interviewed a friend of Bruekner's who met him in Braunschweig, and is believed to have lived above his shop.

Norbert M, whose name was changed by the TV station, said: 'You couldn't tell what made him tick.'

Norbert claimed his former friend was in debt to many people and was running a kiosk in the town.

The witness claimed Bruekner had an underage Kosovan girlfriend, though he had never seen the suspect with young children. He is alleged to have beaten her.

He said: 'I heard that he left the kiosk and then went to Portugal or Spain with a girl. He then left dogs in his kiosk for weeks.

'I can imagine that he is behind the disappearance of Maddie.' 

Friend who agreed to 'own' Christian Brueckner's Jaguar a day after Maddie vanished tells how the 'nervous' paedophile slept in his attic after fleeing Portugal 

This is the dingy attic bolthole where 'nervous' Madeleine suspect Christian Brueckner slept after leaving Portugal 'to start a new life'. 

Brueckner told landlord Alexander Bischof he was 'between jobs and had no money' and missed his English girlfriend. 

Mr Bischof also said he agreed to take on the registration of Brueckner's Jaguar, which is at the centre of the police inquiry, as a 'favour'. 

Brueckner arrived at his house in Braunschweig, near Hanover, shortly after the three-year-old vanished. 

Retired Mr Bischof (right) was asked to help him by a mutual acquaintance – and Christian Brueckner (left) lived in his attic for two or three weeks at a time.

Retired Mr Bischof was asked to help him by a mutual acquaintance – and Brueckner lived in his attic for two or three weeks at a time. 

Last night Mr Bischof, 64, told the Daily Mail: 'He was always anxious, never relaxed. His eyes would always dart around the room when you were trying to have a conversation.' 

But he was shocked when police later came to ask him about Madeleine. Former telecoms engineer Mr Bischof said: 'He was always a little nervous. He just couldn't hold down a job and I tried to encourage him to do so. 

'He said he grew up in an orphanage and never ever mentioned any family. 

'He never really stayed in one place. He only talked about his girlfriend Maria – I think she was English and was working in Portugal. 

He said he missed her all the time.' Showing his attic to Mail reporter Inderdeep Bains, Mr Bischof said he did not know Brueckner until they were introduced by a common acquaintance, who said Brueckner had been living in Portugal for some time but had decided to start afresh in Germany. 

'Mr Bischof added that they shared a 'passion for Jaguar vehicles'. 

He said he had agreed to take on the registration of Brueckner's Jaguar XJR6. The car was registered to another driver the day after Maddie vanished. 

handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 that has been linked to Maddie suspect Christian Brueckner

Mr Bischof revealed he asked Brueckner to leave his home after realising he was mixed up with drugs. 

'He was using my living space and is then dealing drugs. That's a no-go, I thought,' he said. 

Some time after Brueckner left, he said police came to search his attic, mentioning 'Maddie' and a 'murder'.

He added: 'I was baffled. 'I was stunned, it was unbelievable. I would never have thought that of him. 

'He never spoke a word about such things. We never talked about young children, our talks were always dealing with cars, football and Portugal. Men's stuff.' 

He said the detectives were 'fixated' on the Jaguar, which Brueckner had hitched up to his camper van and driven to north Germany. Mr Bischof also told the Mail that Brueckner returned from Portugal 'with expensive things'. 

He said: 'He had a very expensive camera and also a laptop. He even came back with a Rolex once and even a Breitling watch. 

'He was trying to sell them, but I started to realise that he was stealing while working in his jobs in the hotels there. 

'I was uncomfortable and tried to encourage him on the right path.' 

Mr Bischof said he soon realised Brueckner was using his roof to dry out marijuana that he was selling, saying: 'He was proud he had dreamed up a way to dry it in the roof because of the heat. He was selling it and making money. 

'I thought something is not right with this man. It was not good for me or my mother and wife who lived here too. 

'My wife never liked him. When he entered the room, she would leave.' 

Eventually they fell out and went their separate ways. Mr Bischof said he wrote him a letter a few weeks later. 

'I tried one more time to get him on the right path,' he said. 

'I said it was only a matter of time before he would end up in the jailhouse and that he needed to sort out his ways. I never heard from him again.' 

His twisted obsession with child pornography caught up with him and, in 2016, he was sentenced by a district court there to one year and three months' imprisonment for 'sexually abusing a child in the act of procuring himself and possessing child pornography.' 

After his bar-room claims to a friend about Madeleine, on the tenth anniversary in May 2017, Brueckner appears to have returned to the Algarve, but within a month he was arrested there under a European Arrest Warrant and extradited back to Germany.

The paedophile (pictured) was arrested while living on the streets of Milan in late 2018 on a European Arrest Warrant over the Algarve rape of the 72-year-old American 

Brueckner is currently behind bars in Germany serving 21 months for dealing drugs. While he was in prison last December he was also found guilty of raping a 72-year-old American tourist in Praia da Luz just 18 months before Madeleine disappeared. 

The seven-year jail term for this conviction will not start until his appeal has been heard. 

His legal battle with the German authorities over the rape case means he could walk free within days having served two-thirds of his drugs sentence in Kiel prison, Schleswig-Holstein, according to the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau. 

The paedophile was arrested while living on the streets of Milan in late 2018 on a European Arrest Warrant over the Algarve rape of the 72-year-old American. He was brought back to Germany and charged in August 2019. 

A month earlier he was convicted of drug dealing in the German resort of Sylt and handed the 21-month term he is currently serving. 

In December 2019 a court in Braunschweig, where he had lived before fleeing to Italy, convicted him of the rape because DNA from his hair was found in the woman's holiday home - making it a 244billion to one chance it was not him, the judge was told.

But he is appealing the rape verdict on the grounds his extradition from Italy was illegal with Germany's Federal High Court due to rule on the case, and if they find against him he will then start his seven-year sentence. German legal experts said last night that his appeal means he is on the verge of getting parole and could get his freedom as early as Sunday. 

What do we know about Maddie murder suspect Christian Brueckner and his criminal past?

1976: Christian Brueckner is born in Würzburg under a different name, believed to be Fischer. He was adopted by the Brueckner family and took their surname.

1992: Christian Brueckner is arrested on suspicion of burglary in his hometown of Wurzburg, Bavaria.

1994: He is given a two-year youth jail sentence for 'abusing a child' and 'performing sex acts in front of a child'.

1995: 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. 

October 2011: He is sentenced to 21 months for 'dealing narcotics' in Niebüll, in northern Germany. 

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

2014: He moves to Braunschweig where he starts running a town-centre kiosk. He then goes back to Portugal with a girlfriend.

2016: He is back in Germany. He is given 15 months in prison for 'sexual abuse of a child in the act of creating and possessing child pornographic material'. 

May 3, 2017: Brueckner is said to be in a bar with a friend when a ten-year anniversary appeal following Madeleine'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: After his release from prison he lives on the streets. But he was jailed again for drug offences. 

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.

July 2019: He is jailed for 21 months for drug dealing in the northern German resort of Sylt.

August 2019: Brueckner  is charged with the rape of the American tourist in Praia da Luz in 2005.

December 2019: He is convicted of rape of extortion of the tourist based on DNA evidence. He is given a seven year sentence, but this has not been imposed pending an appeal. 

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 Madeleine McCann has been murdered, says spokesman Hans Christian Wolters. He is named in the German press as the prime suspect.

'This time it feels very different': Kate and Gerry McCann have had their hopes raised so many times but their close adviser CLARENCE MITCHELL believes the latest development in Germany could be significant 

by Clarence Mitchell for the Daily Mail 

For Kate and Gerry McCann there have been many heart-stopping moments since their three-year-old daughter Madeleine went missing from their holiday apartment in Portugal 13 years ago.

Countless times their hopes have been raised over the years, but nothing has brought them any closer to solving the mystery of their daughter’s disappearance – or ending their pain.

Ever since that terrible night of May 3, 2007, it’s been a rollercoaster of alleged sightings around the world and tip-offs, most of which, while well-meaning, have not been accurate.

Clarence Mitchell (pictured), the spokesperson for the McCann family, discusses how Kate and Gerry McCann are feeling following the latest news regarding the disappearance of their daughter Madeline in 2007

We’ve had a plane with engines running, ready to recover a child who turned out not to be Madeleine and hundreds, if not thousands, of psychics telling us where she is. None of it has come to anything.

The situation goes quiet for a long time, then comes back with the force of a train. 

With the manic events of the past 36 hours, you could say we have been here before – but this time something feels very different.

This is the first time I can recall the police, not just in one country but three, targeting a specific, identifiable individual: a 43-year-old German itinerant who was living in Praia da Luz when Madeleine vanished.

For the first time detectives are asking very specific, detailed questions about one person’s activities, his vehicles and his phones. 

Let’s bear in mind he may still be ruled out, but we have never had that degree of focus before which makes it feel more significant.

Kate and Gerry have known for some time about this new lead. They knew it would cause something of a storm, which it has. They were told by the police not to tell anyone. They didn’t, not even their wider family, so the appeal would have maximum impact.

The Germans are treating this as a murder investigation, but have made it quite clear they don’t have any evidence to prove the worst has happened. 

The British police are keeping an open mind and are still treating it a missing person investigation, as are the Portuguese.

Kate and Gerry have never given up hope, even with the latest developments, that Madeleine might still be found alive. 

Only when they are presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary will they accept that the worst has happened.

Sometimes Kate asks me ‘am I wrong to keep hoping?’, and I tell her: ‘No, you are not.’ There was a child recovered in China last month after being missing for 33 years. It happens.

I still believe it’s possible, but with this suspect’s criminal convictions, including sex offences, there is always that terrible thought in the back of your mind.

Unfortunately, Kate and Gerry have known the risk of Madeleine being the victim of this type of crime from day one, but they are resilient enough to understand that without going to pieces. 

That gives them strength, so whenever a gruesome headline appears they are expecting it.

Like everyone they have good and bad days, Kate particularly, but they are fully aware and realistic about the awful possibility of what might have happened. 

They just want to know the truth and whoever was responsible to be held to account and face justice.

They need to know what happened to their daughter because they need peace.

Their last day together: Madeline (right) pictured with father Gerry (left) and sister Amelie (middle) on the same day she went missing 

I first met the McCanns two weeks after Madeleine’s disappearance. I was working as a civil servant for the Cabinet Office; having been a BBC journalist for 20 years, I was seconded by the Foreign Office to help them deal with the media. 

I first met Gerry when he came back to Britain to get some of Madeleine’s belongings to help with DNA profiling. I was introduced to him at a police station in Leicestershire and we went back to Portugal together. I met Kate the next day.

It was a surreal time. It was so long ago now but in many ways still feels like yesterday.

Of course there was a professional detachment, but as a father to three young children I could feel a certain degree of sympathy and understanding for them.

Sending out videos and pictures, I felt I almost knew Madeleine as well, and yet she was a girl I had never met.

Because I’d had assurances from the authorities that they were innocent parties in a rare case of stranger abduction – and I could see they were from everything they said and did, and how they reacted to everything – I thought there was also a moral case here to help a family in obvious crisis.

Such was the scale of the story, it was a cycle of madness that snowballed along and negative stories gained traction very quickly. In 2007 social media was only just kicking off. 

Public opinion hardened the moment it was reported Gerry and Kate had been dining with friends in a tapas restaurant when Madeleine was abducted from her bed a few metres away, while her twin siblings Sean and Amelie slept.

Instantly, there was judgment that they were somehow neglectful and had let their daughter down, but the reality of the situation is that their checking system – with adults going to see the sleeping children every 20 or 30 minutes – was better than anything that could have been offered by the holiday centre.

I could see they had done their best under the circumstances, made a judgment. They fully accept that due to a billion-to-one chance they’d got it wrong. That’s something they are going to have to live with for the rest of their lives. They have always said that.

The fact is they did not think it any more dangerous than having dinner in the garden while their children slept in the house. The restaurant was far closer to the apartment than aerial photos in the media suggested, and they had a clear line of sight to the French windows.

But I could see in private moments the real pain, upset, anger, hurt and distress which people weren’t seeing outside. 

All they were seeing of Kate and Gerry was when they made an occasional statement – and then they were accused of being cold and aloof.

Public opinion of Madeline's parents (pictured) when it was discovered that Kate and Gerry were dining with friends in a tapas restaurant when Madeleine was abducted

That was because they were told not to show, if possible, any overt emotions, because (I am sad to say) some offenders who commit these sorts of crimes can get a perverse kind of kick out of seeing the distress they have caused the parents of the children they have taken. Because they both Kate and Gerry were doctors, they took that very seriously.

I got to know them as friends and knew they were innocent of any involvement. I could see the way they had been traduced and the pain that caused them, quite apart from the loss of Madeleine. I felt very sorry for them.

So it was a calculated risk when I quit my civil service job to work for the McCanns. Madeleine could have been found the very next day and I would have been out of work – but I also wanted to do it on a personal level, to act as a fire shield for them.

I could see they needed help and I was proud to be able to give it. I have continued to work for them ever since, lately pro bono.

Despite all they’ve been through they are two very strong characters. It’s often said that something like this can tear a couple apart, but in this case it has brought Kate and Gerry together more strongly, partly for Madeleine’s sake but also to focus on their twins Sean and Amelie, who were very young at the time.

Kate threw herself into looking after the twins and eventually stopped her medical work to look after them full-time, though she does do a little bit of voluntary work with people with dementia. She is also an ambassador for the charity Missing People.

Gerry is very practical. He threw himself into his job as a cardiologist and he is the breadwinner.

When I first started working with them I never imagined that Madeleine’s disappearance would remain unsolved after 13 years. Obviously you hope it will be solved in one day, and we always said ‘all it takes is one phone call’.

They very much welcome this new appeal for information around this individual. It would be fantastic news and a right and happy result if Madeleine were still found alive, but, whatever the outcome of this latest development, essentially Kate and Gerry just want to know the truth about what happened to their daughter.

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