Madeleine McCann suspect investigated over missing German girl

Investigation opens into whether child sex offender is linked to 2015 disappearance of five-year-old

German prosecutors believe Madeleine McCann is dead after she vanished from an apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on May 3rd, 2007. File photograph: EPA/Metropolitian police UK

German prosecutors believe Madeleine McCann is dead after she vanished from an apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on May 3rd, 2007. File photograph: EPA/Metropolitian police UK

 

The new suspect in the Madeleine McCann case is being investigated over the disappearance of a five-year-old girl in Germany.

The 43-year-old German national is a convicted child sex offender currently in prison in his home country.

German prosecutors believe Madeleine is dead after she vanished from an apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on May 3rd, 2007, while on holiday with her family, and are investigating the suspect for her murder.

A preliminary investigation has also been opened into whether the suspect is linked to the 2015 disappearance of a five-year-old girl in Germany, prosecutors in the northern town of Stendal told the dpa news agency.

Inga Gehricke vanished from a nearby forest in Saxony-Anhalt on May 2nd, 2015.

The suspect reportedly had a property in the town of Neuwegersleben, around 95km (60 miles) southwest of Stendal when she went missing.

It comes after claims, originally reported by Sky News, that the suspect confessed to his part in Madeleine’s disappearance to a friend as they watched a TV news report on the case in a German bar on the 10th anniversary of her disappearance.

Scotland Yard said his name was already known to its investigation, but he did not become a suspect until after information was received as a “direct consequence” of a 2017 appeal.

The force’s Operation Grange still considers the case a missing person inquiry because there is no “definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead”.

But German prosecutors have said they believe she is dead and are investigating the child sex predator on suspicion of her murder.

The suspect is reportedly serving a seven-year prison sentence in the German port city of Kiel for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Portugal in 2005 after he was convicted of rape at Braunschweig District Court in December last year.

Der Spiegel reported his criminal record contains a total of 17 entries, including a conviction for the sexual abuse of a child in 1994 when he was aged 17, and a 2016 conviction for abusing another child and possession of child pornography.

The details emerged after British, German and Portuguese authorities revealed a new suspect had been identified in Madeleine’s disappearance as a fresh appeal was launched on Wednesday night.

UK Det Chief Insp Mark Cranwell, who is leading the Metropolitan Police probe, said he was “pleased” with information coming in after receiving more than 270 calls and emails by 4pm on Thursday.

Madeleine’s doctor parents Kate and Gerry McCann from Rothley, Leicestershire, welcomed the latest appeal in a statement saying: “We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive.”

Their spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said on Friday: “They certainly will be encouraged to know the appeal is yielding results already and hopefully within that there will be crucial bits of information the police can act upon.”

Kate and Gerry McCann during an interview with the BBC’s Fiona Bruce at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough, UK in 2017. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Kate and Gerry McCann during an interview with the BBC’s Fiona Bruce at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough, UK in 2017. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

He added: “They are trying to maintain as normal a life as possible under the circumstances, continuing their medical work where necessary and bringing the twins up as best they can, while shielding them from all the attention.

“They wait to hear any developments from police.”

The suspect is known to have been living in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, where he funded his lifestyle by committing crimes, including breaking into hotel complexes and holiday apartments.

His Portuguese mobile phone was in Praia da Luz when it received a half-hour phone call around an hour before Madeleine, three, was last seen.

Detectives said he was believed to have been living in a distinctive early 1980s VW T3 Westfalia campervan at the time and re-registered a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 in someone else’s name the day after her disappearance.

Christian Hoppe, from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), has said that German police have not ruled out a sexual motive for the alleged crime against Madeleine.

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

The revelations raise questions over whether mistakes in the Portuguese probe may have allowed the suspect to slip through the net.

Portuguese police would not answer questions about whether the suspect was ever spoken to as part of their initial investigation.–PA