Woman raped at knifepoint in Portugal gives evidence in Christian Brückner trial

<span>Christian Brückner, 47, is accused of assaulting five women and girls aged between 10 and 80 years old.</span><span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Christian Brückner, 47, is accused of assaulting five women and girls aged between 10 and 80 years old.Photograph: Reuters

A woman who was raped at knifepoint by a masked man in Portugal 20 years ago has told a German court how the trauma of the ordeal had left her suffering from frequent panic attacks.

Hazel Behan, 40, broke down as she recalled how a man dressed in black had entered her apartment in the resort of Praia da Rocha in the Algarve at 3am on 16 June 2004. She told how he stood over her bed and woke her by calling her name before proceeding to rape her repeatedly over several hours.

Behan was giving evidence at the trial in Braunschweig, northern Germany, of Christian Brückner, 47, the main suspect in the 2007 disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann. He stands accused of three rapes and two indecent assaults, incidents that took place in Portugal between December 2000 and June 2017. The incidents involved five women and girls aged between 10 and 80 years old.

In a graphic account, told over several hours, Behan, who is an Irish national, had to pause several times. The court pored over the details of accounts she had given first to the Portuguese police, and later to the Irish police, as well as photographs from the crime scene. Physical details, such as her description of a distinctive mark on the perpetrator’s right upper thigh, and his accent were also deliberated over.

Behan had come forward to offer the account of her ordeal to British police in 2020 after learning of a Metropolitan police appeal for witnesses after German police named Brückner as the main suspect in the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine.

The newspaper report on the appeal included a picture of Brückner. Behan described to the court how she had first seen the picture in June 2020, recognising what she described as “his very piercing blue eyes”. “I saw his eyes … and I was sick,” she said.

The judge, Uta Engemann, asked: “So you saw the photo and you vomited?” Behan replied: “Yes”. The judge added: “Because you thought that was the photo of the perpetrator?” Behan replied: “Yes.”

Asked if she had compared the picture to other pictures, to be sure it was the same person, Behan, crying, said: “I didn’t need to.”

The attack on Behan, who works as an administrator, from Mullingar, in county Westmeath, Ireland, took place when she worked as a holiday representative at the resort, a job she said she had “absolutely loved” before the attack, which she said “took the fire out of me”.

She said the experience had turned her from a carefree 20-year-old into “someone I did not much like”, who for years blamed herself for the attack.

Behan said it had taken her years to get help, turning to her GP and Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre. She still receives counselling and suffers regular panic attacks and said the attack had brought her to the brink of wanting to end her own life, feelings she said were only averted after she knew she was going to become a mother, “which saved my life”.

Behan said “the blood rushed from my body” during the ordeal. “I was just trying to figure out how am I going to get out of this?”

She described how she was repeatedly raped, whipped and tied up in her apartment, and how the perpetrator had filmed everything on a camera he had strategically positioned on the television set.

After forcing her to move to the bathroom, Behan described watching from under a sheet hours later as the attacker retreated backwards out of the apartment, through the balcony door, slipped into his shoes he had left there, and fled. She described her agonising wait, deciding only to leave the apartment to get help after she was sure he had gone.

She later described her anger towards the Portuguese police who allegedly failed to take a proper statement from her and, when she had been called to the local police station, had tossed her clothes – some of which the attacker had cut off with a pair of scissors – across a desk at her. She described being repeatedly urged to leave the resort, and was regularly followed by plain-clothed policemen.

Confronting them one day with the question: “Why are you following me?” She described how two of them had answered: “We just want to see if you’re a slut.”

“They said it would be best if I just went home because something like this would ruin tourism in the area … my friends would lose their jobs,” she said.

Brückner, who denies the sexual assault charges and also denies involvement in the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann at the Praia da Luz resort, 37km (23 miles) away, sat metres away from Behan appearing to show no reaction.

He appeared to listen to her account, his chin resting on the fingers of his left hand for the majority of it. He is currently in prison for the rape of an American tourist and is due for release next year.

German police first began focusing on Brückner in 2013, asking him to speak to them in relation to the disappearance of Madeleine. Despite naming him as their main suspect in her disappearance, they have not been explicit as to the reasons why.

They have continued to pursue the case, going so far as to say that they do not believe Madeleine is alive, but have refused to go into any detail as to why.

Behan is to continue giving evidence on Thursday.

The case continues.