German prosecutors believe Madeleine McCann is dead

German prosecutors believe Madeleine McCann is dead and are investigating a child sex predator on suspicion of her murder.

The suspect – a 43-year-old German national partially identified as Christian B by local media – is reportedly serving a seven-year prison sentence for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Portugal in 2005.

He is known to have lived on the Algarve coast between 1995 and 2007 and his Portuguese mobile phone received a half-hour phone call in Praia da Luz around an hour before Madeleine, three, went missing.

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 May 3 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.

The apartment block in Praia Da Luz, Portugal where Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007
The apartment block in Praia da Luz, Portugal, where Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007 (Steve Parsons/PA)

“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.”

He said the suspect was regularly living in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, where he worked jobs, including in the gastronomy business, but funded his lifestyle by committing crimes, including thefts in hotel complexes and apartments, as well as drug dealing.

Christian Hoppe, from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), told the country’s ZDF television channel on Wednesday night he is serving a prison sentence for a sex crime and has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls”.

German newspaper Braunschweiger Zeitung reported the suspect was convicted of rape in Braunschweig District Court in December last year.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported he was extradited from Portugal in 2017 and initially convicted of drug trafficking.

Mr Hoppe said German police have not ruled out a sexual motive for the alleged crime against Madeleine.

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

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.”

A house in Portugal linked to the suspect
A house in Portugal linked to the suspect (Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany/PA)

Scotland Yard said 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.

He is believed to have been driving the vehicle in the Praia da Luz 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 is information to suggest the suspect may have used one of them in an offence.

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

Scotland Yard has launched a joint appeal with the BKA and the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria (PJ), including a £20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance.

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

Kate and Gerry McCann in 2007
Kate and Gerry McCann in 2007 (Steve Parsons/PA)

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

The Met’s Operation Grange, launched in 2013, still considers the case a missing person inquiry and detectives said there is no “definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead”.

Kate and Gerry McCann welcomed the latest appeal in a statement, which 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.”

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.”

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