Madeleine McCann case: ‘We assume the girl is dead’, German prosecutors say

German child sex offender (43) is being investigated on suspicion of murder

 Kate (L) and Gerry McCann (R) holding an age-progressed police image of their daughter Madeleine during a news conference in 2012 to mark the 5th anniversary of their daughter Madeleine’s disappearance, in London, Britain. File photograph: Dacundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Kate (L) and Gerry McCann (R) holding an age-progressed police image of their daughter Madeleine during a news conference in 2012 to mark the 5th anniversary of their daughter Madeleine’s disappearance, in London, Britain. File photograph: Dacundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

 

German investigators believe abducted British child Madeleine McCann is dead, 13 years after her disappearance in Portugal, and have identified as their prime suspect a convicted sex offender.

A new stage in the McCann investigation was made public on Wednesday evening after German police said they had been investigating the 43-year-old suspect since receiving “significant” information about him in May 2017, the 10th anniversary of the girl’s disappearance.

According to a friend, the suspect - a Bavarian-born drifter and petty criminal - claimed he “knew all about” the fate of the three-year-old girl.

In the last three years, German federal police have done a “huge amount of work” with Portuguese and UK investigators piecing together the suspect’s life in Portugal.

A poster of three-year-old Madeleine McCann, a British girl who went missing in 2007 while on holiday with her parents in Praia da Luz, in Lagos, Portugal. Photograph: Luis Forra/EPA
A poster of three-year-old Madeleine McCann, a British girl who went missing in 2007 while on holiday with her parents in Praia da Luz, in Lagos, Portugal. Photograph: Luis Forra/EPA

The man had a transient lifestyle on the Algarve coast between 1995 and 2007, but mostly was located near the Praia da Luz resort where the girl went missing.

He is serving a seven-year sentence in Braunschweig, handed down last December, for  raping a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz in 2005, just 18 months before Madeleine McCann disappeared in the same town.

German investigators believe the suspect may have broken into the McCann apartment in the Ocean Club complex as the parents ate at a nearby restaurant, but that a planned burglary turned into a spontaneous kidnapping.

“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,” the police added in a statement.

Around the time of the girl’s disappearance, between 9.10pm and 10pm, police say someone spoke with the German man on his Portuguese mobile.

The phone call lasted half an hour until 20.02 local time. 

An undated handout photograph released by the Metropolitan Police in London showing a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, believed to have been used in and around Praia da Luz, Portugal, by a new suspect in the case of missing British girl Madeleine McCann. Photograph: Handout/AFP via Getty Images
An undated handout photograph released by the Metropolitan Police in London showing a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, believed to have been used in and around Praia da Luz, Portugal, by a new suspect in the case of missing British girl Madeleine McCann. Photograph: Handout/AFP via Getty Images
An undated handout photo made available by Federal Criminal Police Office shows a Volkswagen (VW) T3 Westfalia camper van which police mention in connection with the disappearance of missing girl Madeleine McCann. Photograph: EPA
An undated handout photo made available by Federal Criminal Police Office shows a Volkswagen (VW) T3 Westfalia camper van which police mention in connection with the disappearance of missing girl Madeleine McCann. Photograph: EPA

Police have released details of the suspect’s phone number (+351 912 730 680) and the number that dialled him (+351 916 510 683). Any information about these numbers could be “critical”, police added.

“We are not saying the person making that call is a suspect in this case. They are someone we need to identify as a key person and we need to get in touch with them,” said Stuart Cundy, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

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

On Wednesday evening German criminal police investigator Christian Hoppe appeared on a public television show similar to the BBC’s Crimewatch, telling its audience of five million of their new leads in the case.

Mr Hoppe said the phone calls were a key part in “leading us to the conviction that we have in the suspect the perpetrator”. He announced a €10,000 reward for any tip-offs that lead to a conviction.

As well as last December’s rape conviction, the suspect has two previous convictions for sexual contact with girls. He was reportedly extradited from Portugal in 2017 after a drug trafficking conviction and returned to Braunschweig.

German police have released photos of the suspect’s Portuguese home and of two vehicles – a Jaguar car and a VW camper van – believed to be linked to the man. They are in the possession of German police, who found no DNA traces of the girl.

Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann have thanked police for their continued efforts and expressed hope they would learn their daughter’s fate. While Scotland Yard still views it as a missing persons case, German prosectors were less optimistic.

“We are assuming that the girl is dead,” said Hans Christian Wolters, a public prosecutor spokesman for the northeastern city of Braunschweig. German prosecutors say they hope their public appeal will lead to information about the location of the girl’s grave as, without a body, there can be no murder conviction.