In Brief

What happened to Madeleine McCann? A timeline of the case

German prosecutors say ‘prime suspect’ in the disappearance will be charged in relation to other crimes

Madeleine McCann

Prosecutors are confident of bringing charges against the convicted paeodohile and rapist arrested in June in connection with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

The 43-year-old man, known only as Christian B, is currently being held in jail in Germany, having been arrested there earlier this year.

Police at the time said they had “concrete evidence” that he was linked to McCann’s death and are “also set to charge him with three other sex crimes on Portugal’s Algarve coast”, The Sun reports. 

Madeleine, then aged three, disappeared in 2007 while on holiday with her parents in Portugal. Here is a timeline of the case:

3 May 2007

Gerry and Kate McCann, doctors from Leicestershire, were on holiday in Praia da Luz, Portugal, with their three children – Madeleine, nearly four, and twins Sean and Amelie, two.

At 8.30pm, the McCanns left their sleeping children in their holiday apartment to meet friends for dinner at a tapas bar in the Ocean Club resort where they were all staying. When Kate returned to the apartment to check on the children at around 10pm, she discovered Madeleine’s bed was empty and the child had gone.

14 May 2007

British expat Robert Murat, who lived next to the resort where Madeleine went missing, was named as an “arguido” in the case following an anonymous tip-off. The Portuguese legal term, often translated as “suspect”, is closer to being a person questioned under caution.

Despite becoming the subject of lurid tabloid speculation, the IT consultant was “never arrested over Madeleine’s disappearance”, says the Daily Telegraph.

7 September 2007

After further questioning of Madeleine’s parents, detectives also named them as “arguidos”, sparking widespread media speculation that the McCanns were complicit in their daughter’s disappearance.

21 July 2008

After declaring that all existing avenues of investigation had been exhausted, the Portuguese attorney general shelved the McCann case, and lifted the “arguido” status of the McCanns and Murat. Once cleared, all three won several hundreds of thousands of pounds in libel damages from British newspapers.

5 July 2010

The McCanns met with then-home secretary Theresa May to discuss the search for Madeleine, shortly after the third anniversary of their daughter’s disappearance.

12 May 2011

Following a request from May, Scotland Yard launched its own review of the case, known as Operation Grange.

25 April 2012

British detectives said they had reason to believe Madeleine could still be alive and released a computer-generated image of how she might look aged nine. However, Portuguese police declined to reopen the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

4 July 2014

Two years into its review, the Met confirmed that it had uncovered “genuinely new” lines of inquiry and 38 people of interest.

24 October 2014

Portuguese police reopened the case after their own review uncovered new leads.

28 April 2015

Goncalo Amaral, who led the investigation in 2007, was found guilty of libelling the McCanns in his 2008 book, The Truth of the Lie, and is ordered to pay €500,000.

28 October 2015

Having pursued 560 lines of inquiry, Operation Grange was scaled down from 29 full-time detectives to four. “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.

4 December 2016

The Home Office agreed to extend funding of Operation Grange until April 2017 while detectives re-examined a previous theory that Madeleine could have been abducted by a European human trafficking gang. The funds were subsequently extended every six months.

February 2017

Supreme Court judges in Portugal rule in favour of a lower court decision to overturn the McCanns’ 2015 libel win against Amaral.

27 March 2018

Investigating police confirm that they have been granted further funding from the Home Office, bringing the total to over £11m.

15 March 2019

Netflix releases a new documentary series about Madeleine McCann, reigniting speculation about her whereabouts. The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, an eight-part series, was widely criticised. The Daily Telegraph said it “confirms that the true crime genre has become prisoner to its crassest tendencies”.

5 June 2019

The government says it will continue to fund the police investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance until March 2020.

3 June 2020

German investigators announce that a 43-year-old German man, who has not been named and is currently in prison, is a new suspect in the case.

The man has been described as white with short blond hair, about 6ft tall and with a slim build at the time. He has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls”, the BBC reports.

Police also released photos of two vehicles - a VW camper van and a Jaguar car - which are believed to be linked to the man, as well as a house in Portugal.

3 December 2020

German prosecutors say a range of charges relating to several ccases may be brought against Christian B. Speaking to The Sun, prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said: “Whether and when charges will be brought in these cases cannot be predicted at present. 

“I am also very confident with the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance but due to the scope of the case, the other proceedings can be expected to conclude earlier.”

The other cases in question are the rape of Irish tour guide Hazel Behan and indecent exposure to children. 

A source close to the investigation said that “there have been several promising leads and tips” in relation to Madeleine, however, the investigation does not yet have “enough to charge him” with her disappearance.

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