In Depth

Why everybody’s talking about the new Madeleine McCann suspect

Prosecutors says German sex offender is being investigated on suspicion of murder

Police are appealing for the public’s help to solve the Madeleine McCann case, after a German child sex offender was identified as a new suspect.

The 43-year-old suspect, currently in prison, is believed by investigators to have been in the area when the young girl disappeared during a holiday in Portugal 13 years ago, according to German state prosecutors. 

Clarence Mitchell - who has represented the McCann family since Madeleine vanished, at the age of three - told the BBC that he could not “recall an instance when the police had been so specific about an individual”.

What do we know about the suspect?

The name of the suspect has not yet been released, but he is described as white and about 6ft tall. He had short blonde hair with a slim build at the time that Madeleine went missing.

The suspect has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls”, according to Germany’s federal criminal police office, which is leading this stage of the case.

Madeleine is “assumed to be dead” and he is being investigated on suspicion of murder, the German public prosecutor added.

Police have released photos of a house in Portugal and two vehicles associated with the man - a VW camper van and a Jaguar car (pictured below). He transferred the Jaguar to someone else’s name on 4 May 2007, the day after Madeleine disappeared.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who is leading the Metropolitan Police’s investigation, said that the suspect frequented the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, staying for “days upon end” in his camper van and living a “transient lifestyle”.

German police believe the man “worked jobs including as a waiter, but also committed burglaries in hotels and holiday resorts and dealt drugs”, says the BBC.

Christian Hoppe, director of Germany’s National Crime Agency, said the suspect may have broken into the McCaans’ apartment before spontaneously kidnapping the child.

The suspect was in the Praia de Luz area where the McCanns were renting an apartment when Madeleine disappeared, and received a phone call on that day at 7.32pm which lasted until 8.02pm, police say. Madeleine is believed to have disappeared between 9.10pm and 10pm, while her parents were with friends at a nearby restaurant.

Police have released the suspect’s phone number (+351 912 730 680) at the time, and the number that dialled him (+351 916 510 683), and said any information about these numbers could be “critical”. 

The Met’s Cranwell has urged the caller to get in touch, saying that they could be a “key witness”.

What has happened so far?

Following years of investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, the Portuguese attorney general shelved the case in July 2018.

In May 2011, Scotland Yard launched its own review of the case, known as Operation Grange. “By 2015, they had taken 1,338 statements, collected 1,027 exhibits and investigated 60 persons of interest, as well as 650 sex offenders,” The Sun reports.

The UK government has bankrolled the investigation, with police applying for more funds in February this year to continue their hunt, as the Daily Mirror reported at the time.

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What next?

Police in the UK, Portugal and Germany have appealed for anyone with information on the suspect or the case to come forward. In a video appeal, DCI Cranwell said: “Some people will know the man we are describing today, the suspect in our investigation... 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.”

Investigators say they are trying to “prove or disprove” the German suspect’s involvement in the case and keep an “open mind”.

Madeleine’s parents, Gerry and Kate, have released a statement thanking police for their continued efforts.

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

Anyone with information relating to the case can contact the Met Police’s incident room on 020 7321 9251.

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