Madeleine McCann police officers fear worst but parents cling to hope

Madeleine McCann police officers fear worst but parents cling to hope

Madeleine McCann is assumed to be dead by police investigating a child sex predator suspected of kidnapping and killing her.

German police say they assume she was murdered after being snatched aged three from a Portuguese holiday resort 13 years ago.

Last night it was reported police know how Madeleine was killed, but no further details were revealed.

However, it is understood they do not believe it was premeditated.

Yesterday 43-year-old German drifter Christian Brueckner was named as the suspect.

He is currently in jail in Kiel, northern Germany, for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman during a raid on her home in the Algarve, where Madeleine vanished in Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007.

He has 17 convictions to his name including two for sex attacks on girls, the first when he was in his teens.

Detectives are examining the theory the suspect may have decided to kidnap Madeleine only after breaking into the apartment in the Ocean Club complex where Madeleine was on holiday with her parents and twin siblings Sean and Amelie.

Hans Christian Wolters, from the German Public Prosecutor’s Office, said yesterday: “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.”

But Scotland Yard said it is still a missing person inquiry and parents Kate and Gerry hope Madeleine, who would now be 17, will be found alive.

McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: “German police say they are assuming that Madeleine is dead but they have no proof.

“British police are keeping an open mind and Portuguese police are reacting with caution too.

“So Kate and Gerry still fervently hope that Madeleine will be found alive despite everything that appears to be happening. They continue to hope she is alive until they can be shown incontrovertible evidence which proves that she is not.”

But German police said the focus is now on finding a body and the search for associates of Brueckner who could help finally solve the case.

They added: “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.”

Over 270 calls and emails had been received by the Metropolitan Police since it launched a new appeal on Wednesday, the force said last night.

In Germany over 30 officers manned a hotline following a ­televised appeal there watched by 5.22million viewers. It is understood they received useful new information.

One source said: “The phones rang hot.” A BKA spokesman described the public response as “encouraging” but declined to give any details.

The appeal revealed Brueckner’s Portuguese-registered phone took a half-hour call in the Praia da Luz area from another Portuguese number an hour before Madeleine disappeared. It is not known who made the call.

DCI Mark Cranwell of Operation Grange said yesterday: “Following our appeal for information I want to thank members of the public who have contacted us. As of 4pm today we have received over 270 calls and emails into the incident room. We are pleased with the information and it will be assessed and prioritised. We continue to urge anyone with information to come forward.”

Brueckner lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007 and had local jobs including in catering, but also burgled hotels and dealt drugs. Scotland Yard has previously said a key line of inquiry was that Madeleine was taken in a break-in.

In the 17 days before she disappeared there was one burglary and one attempted burglary in the block where the McCann family were staying.

Brueckner raped the American pensioner in the Algarve less than two years earlier and was convicted last year, after his hair was found at the scene. He broke in wearing a mask and armed with a rope to tie the woman up. The victim later told the police: “He enjoyed torturing me.”

Before Madeleine disappeared, Brueckner moved from a farmhouse on the outskirts of Praia da Luz into the an early-1980s VW T3 Westfalia camper van with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal. It was pictured in the Algarve in 2007.

He is believed to have been driving the vehicle in the area in the days before Madeleine’s disappearance and is thought to have been living in it for days or weeks before and after May 3.

He has also been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007.

The day after Madeleine went missing, the suspect had 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 said there was information to suggest that the suspect may have used one of them to commit an offence.

The vehicles have been forensically examined and reportedly no link has been found to Madeleine.

Scotland Yard’s Operation Grange team have been focusing on Brueckner for three years and the appeal was thought to be a final bid get enough evidence to bring charges.

Former Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said in 2017: “I know we have a significant line of inquiry which is worth pursuing, and because it’s worth pursuing it could provide an answer, but until we’ve gone through it I won’t know whether we are going to get there or not.”

Scotland Yard launched a joint appeal with the BKA – Germany’s equivalent of America’s FBI – and the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria.

The appeal includes a £20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance.

The BKA made its appeal on Wednesday on an unsolved-crimes show. A spokesman said the public response was “encouraging”.

The Met’s Operation Grange had received £12.3million in funding up to April since it was launched in 2013.

Detectives there said there is no “definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead”. Kate and Gerry McCann, of Rothley, Leics, welcomed the appeal, saying in a statement: “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.”

Former police officer Jim Gamble, who worked on the original investigation, said: “It’s the most hopeful I’ve been in the last 13 years.”

Downing Street said that the developments appeared to be significant and added that No10’s thoughts were with the McCann family “who have had to endure so much”.

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