Madeleine McCann suspect has been convicted of sexual contact with girls, German police reveal

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

The new prime suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a convicted child sex offender, German police have revealed.

The 43-year-old man, who has not been named, is white with short blond hair, possibly fair, and about 6ft tall with a slim build at the time the toddler vanished on May 3 2007.

Christian Hoppe, from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), told the country's ZDF television channel the suspect is serving a prison sentence for a sex crime and has two previous convictions for "sexual contact with girls".

A new suspect has been identified in the hunt for Madeleine McCann. (PA)

German newspaper Braunschweiger Zeitung reported the suspect, a German national, was carrying out a seven-year prison sentence for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Portugal in 2005.

The newspaper said he was convicted of the offence in Braunschweig district court in December last year.

Murder probe

Hoppe said German police have not ruled out a sexual motive for the alleged crime against Madeleine, which is being treated as murder by the BKA.

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 McCann, and her twin siblings Sean and Amelie – before spontaneously kidnapping her.

A police officer stands outside the apartment at the Ocean Club Hotel in Luz, Portugal, where Madeleine McCann went missing. (PA)

Hans Christian Wolters, a spokesman for the Braunschweig Public Prosecutor's Office, said: "In connection with the disappearance of the three-year-old British girl Madeleine McCann on 3 May, 2007 from an apartment complex in Praia da Luz, in Portugal, the Braunschweig prosecution is investigating against a 43-year-old German on suspicion of murder. 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."

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Police also said there are other who have “concrete knowledge” of Madeleine’s disappearance.

A BKA appeal said: "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.”

Suspect’s connection to Praia da Luz

The suspect is known to have been in and around the area on the Algarve coast at the time Madeleine went missing shortly before her fourth birthday.

A half-hour phone call was made to his Portuguese mobile phone around an hour before Madeleine is believed to have gone missing.

Undated handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of a VW T3 Westfalia campervan that has been linked to the Madeleine McCann suspect. (PA)
The suspect has been linked to an early 1980s VW T3 Westfalia camper van. (PA)

The suspect has been linked to an early 1980s VW T3 Westfalia camper van – with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal – which was pictured in the Algarve in 2007.

Scotland Yard said he was driving the vehicle in the Praia da Luz area in the days before Madeleine's disappearance and is believed to have been living in it for days or weeks before and after 3 May.

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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.

Undated handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 that has been linked to the suspect. (PA)
The suspect been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007. (PA)

Both vehicles have been seized by German police, who said there is information to suggest the suspect may have used one of them in an offence.

An appeal on German Crimewatch-style programme XY said the suspect is thought to have worked odd jobs, including as a waiter, but also committed burglaries in hotels and holiday resorts and dealt drugs.

The BKA is also appealing for other potential victims to come forward.

Car bumper stickers raising awareness of Madeleine McCann are handed out inside the Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz in Praia Da Luz, Portugal. (PA)

‘Now is the time to come forward’

DCI Mark Cranwell, who is leading the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance for the Metropolitan Police, appealed to the public for details about the suspect.

He said: "Some people will know the man we are describing today, the suspect in our investigation. I'm appealing to you directly.

"You may know, you may be aware of some of the things he has done. He may have confided in you about the disappearance of Madeleine.

"More than 13 years have passed and your loyalties may have changed.

"This individual is in prison and we are conscious that some people may have been concerned about contacting police in the past. Now is the time to come forward."

Gerry and Kate McCann at a press conference in London where they hold an image of what Madeline might look like as an older girl. (PA)

Tip-off

The Met's investigation has identified more than 600 people as potentially significant and were tipped off about the German national, already known to detectives, following a 2017 appeal 10 years after she went missing.

She vanished shortly before her fourth birthday and would have turned 17 last month.

German police are treating her disappearance as a murder investigation but the Met's Operation Grange, launched in 2013, has always considered the case a missing person inquiry.

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Parents’ reaction

A statement from Madeleine's parents, read by DCI Cranwell, said: "We welcome the appeal today regarding the disappearance of our daughter Madeleine.

"We would like to thank the police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine.

"All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice.”

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Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for Madeleine's family, said her parents felt the development was "potentially very significant" and that he could not "recall an instance when the police had been so specific about an individual" in the 13 years since she disappeared.

He told BBC Breakfast: "Of all the thousands of leads and potential suspects that have been mentioned in the past, there has never been something as clear-cut as that from not just one, but three, police forces."

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, Germany. (AP)

Downing Street response

Downing Street said the latest developments appeared to be significant and added that Number 10's thoughts were with the McCann family "who have had to endure so much".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The police have said that this appears to be a significant development in the case.

"The investigation is ongoing and I am not in a position to comment any further.

"Our thoughts remain with Madeleine's family, who have had to endure so much over the past 13 years."

The spokesman said that any decisions concerning extradition and charging would be a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Operation Grange incident room can be contacted on 0207 321 9251 or operation.grange@met.police.uk.

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