United Kingdom

Madeleine McCann suspect vanished suddenly from his rented home

The suspect in Madeleine McCann's disappearance is a convicted child sex offender whose farm was on a footpath leading to the beach where the little girl played.

Extraordinary details emerged tonight about the German criminal currently at the centre of an international investigation.

It can be revealed he is a suspected burglar, drug dealer and paedophile who was living just two miles from the holiday apartment where Madeleine vanished in May 2007.

Above, an interior of the rented home where the suspect lived. Extraordinary details emerged tonight about the German criminal currently at the centre of an international investigation

The living room of the rental apartment where the suspect was living just two miles from the McCann's holiday apartment 

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

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.'

Christian Hoppe, from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), said the 43-year-old paedophile was serving a long prison sentence in his homeland for a sex crime and had two previous convictions for 'sexual contact with girls'.

Mr Hoppe 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.

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

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.

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

Neighbours described him as an 'angry' car dealer who vanished suddenly, leaving a collection of wigs, fancy dress and exotic clothing. He lived in a rented ramshackle farm 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 in May 2007.

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 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Scotland Yard released images of a second vehicle the suspect owned

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

'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.' 

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