Portuguese detectives who probed the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have been left facing tough questions after it emerged they identified the German paedophile who is now the chief suspect in 2007 – but ‘discarded’ him.
Goncalo Amaral, the man who led the initial investigation, confirmed in April last year that ‘a German paedophile currently in jail in Germany’ – now named as Christian Brueckner – was identified 13 years ago as a potential suspect.
But Amaral, who was sacked after naming Kate and Jerry McCann as suspects in the disappearance and maintains they were responsible, said his detectives ‘found nothing to suggest [Brueckner] took Madeleine’.
That is despite revelations today that Brueckner had a lengthy criminal record including burglary and child sex crimes, lived in a property just three miles from where Maddie went missing, and can be placed in the area on the night in question using mobile phone records.
Goncalo Amaral, the Portuguese ex-investigator who was in charge of the initial Madeleine probe, said his team identified the man now considered to be the chief suspect back in 2007 – but ‘discarded’ him from their investigation
British police are now working on the theory that the German national – named in media reports as Christian Bruckner (right) – was responsible for taking Madeleine (left)
According to German media, Brueckner was first convicted of child sex offences in Germany in 1994, aged 17.
He was sentenced to two years in jail but was released early, travelling to the Algarve in 1995 as a backpacker, where he became involved in drug smuggling.
He then spent 12 years on the Algarve dealing drugs, burgling holiday homes and even raped a 72-year-old American tourist after breaking into her holiday home to loot it – but was never arrested.
Police have long believed Maddie may have been snatched during a burglary.
He was then brought to the attention of Amaral as he investigated Madeleine’s disappearance in 2007, but was dismissed as a ‘scapegoat’.
Speaking to Australian podcast Maddie in April last year, Amaral predicted that British police ‘are probably going to use a German paedophile who is in jail in Germany’ as their chief suspect.
He said that the Portuguese Polícia Judiciária, ‘investigated him at the time but found nothing to suggest he took Madeleine.’
Amaral suggested that British police had been working up cases against two German paedophiles – one of whom died a few years ago, leaving one suspect to pursue.
In the interview, he accused British detectives of ‘wanting it to be’ the now-dead paedophile.
German and British police say Brueckner was not on a shortlist of 600 suspects drawn up by Portuguese officers despite his criminal record.
On Wednesday evening, British detectives from Operation Grange – a £12million, eight-year investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance – announced Brueckner as their new chief suspect, though without naming him due to privacy laws.
They confirmed he is currently in jail in Germany for the rape and assault of the American woman which occurred in 2005, 18 months before Maddie vanished.
Amaral was sacked from the 2007 investigation after launching public attacks on the British police, and has been involved in bitter legal disputes with Kate and Jerry McCann (pictured)
Police allege that he had been living in a house three miles from the resort where Madeleine vanished – moving out just a month beforehand.
Officers say he left the house filthy and rent unpaid, and that he moved into a VW campervan.
On the night of Maddie’s disappearance, they say a phone call placed Brueckner in the area where she vanished.
They say he spoke on the phone with the mystery caller for half an hour, before hanging up.
Some time after she vanished, Brueckner moved back to Germany where he continued to reoffend, and in 2011 was sentenced to jail for drug smuggling.
In 2016 he was jailed for sexually abusing a child and possession child pornography.
After serving that sentence he made his way to Italy, where he was arrested last year in Milan for the 2005 rape.
He was deported back to Germany where he was convicted in December thanks to DNA evidence, and was sentenced to seven years in jail.
In total, he has 17 prior convictions including driving without a licence, assault, burglary, theft and drink driving.
Today German prosecutors said they are confident Madeleine is dead, they know how she was killed, and are treating the investigation as a murder inquiry.
British police continue to pursue it as a missing persons case.
Friends say Kate and Jerry McCann are ‘realistic’ about the possibility their daughter is dead, but still hope she may be alive since no body has been found.
Portuguese lawyers have cautioned that, in the absence of a body, it may be impossible to get a conviction against the suspect since he is unlikely to confess.
‘Without the body of little Maddie and without a confession, it will probably be very difficult to provide the necessary evidence in a trial,’ said experienced lawyer Sofía Matos on Portuguese television.
Henrique Machado, another senior lawyer, added: ‘Motivation and opportunity are not sufficient for an indictment.’
British, Portuguese and German police are now issuing a joint appeal for anyone who might know the man they have described to come forward.
They are particularly interested in speaking to the person who held the thirty-minute phone conversation with their suspect on the night Maddie vanished.
As part of the investigation they have revealed two phone numbers – +351 / 91 65 10 683, which they say belonged to the witness, and +351 / 91 27 30 680, which they say belonged to the suspect.
Officers have appealed for anyone with information on either of those phone numbers or the people using them in 2007 to come forward.
The suspect, who is in prison in Germany for rape, has been linked to an early 1980s camper van – with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal – which is seen here on the Algarve in 2007. Police believe it may have been used in the crime
He has also been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and the surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007 including just days before Maddie’s disappearance. It has been seized by police.
They have also revealed details of two vehicles connected to their chief suspect – a white and yellow camper van and a German-registered Jaguar XJR6.
Anyone with information on either of the two vehicles or their whereabouts in 2007 is also being asked to come forward.
Finally, they say the man rented a property called Escola Vehla which is located between Praia da Luz and Lagos which he vacated suddenly in 2006, and a second property located inland from the beach resorts.
They are asking for anyone with information on either of the properties to come forward.
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who is working with Operation Grange, said last night: ‘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.
‘I’m appealing to you to contact us, or the German authorities or the Portuguese authorities.’
The suspect is said to have lived at this property named Escola Vehla – meaning ‘old school’ – during his time in Portugal
German federal police say the man lived in this house until shortly before Madeleine disappeared – when he left abruptly without paying rent
The house is located just three miles from where Madeleine vanished in 2007
The German suspect had lived in a warehouse outside Praia da Luz for several years but moved into a campervan just before Maddie vanished
Madeleine – then aged three – disappeared from an apartment where she was staying with her family in Praia da Luz on the night of May 3, 2007.
Her parents, Kate and Jerry, had been dining with friends in a nearby restaurant and periodically checking on Madelenie and her two siblings – Sean and Amelie – as they slept.
Around 9pm, Jerry went to check on the children and found them sleeping. At 9.30pm, a family friend went to the apartment and heard no noise, but did not check far enough into the room to see if Madeleine was there.
At 10pm, Kate went to check on the children and found Maddie was gone.
The disappearance was reported immediately and a search party launched the same evening including officers from the Guarda Nacional Republicana and the Polícia Judiciária, which launched an investigation.
Amaral was brought in to head that investigation and ran it for several months, infamously naming both Kate and Jerry as suspects.
He was sacked shortly after launching a public attack on British detectives – accusing them of only pursuing investigative lines given to them by the McCanns.
He has since published a book and appeared in a documentary called ‘The Truth of the Lie’ in which he repeated his claims against the McCanns.
The family won a libel suit against him in 2015, and were awarded £500,000 in damages.
He is now retired and lives in Lisbon. He rarely speaks about the case or appears in public.
What do we know about Maddie murder suspect Christian Brueckner?
1992: Christian Brueckner is arrested on suspicion of burglary in his hometown of Wurzburg, Bavaria.
1994: He is given a two-year youth jail sentence for sexually abusing a minor.
1995: Brueckner arrives in Portugal as an 18-year-old backpacker and begins working in catering in the seaside resorts of Lagos and Praia da Luz.
But friends say he became involved with a criminal syndicate trafficking drugs into the Algarve.
September 2005: He dons a mask and breaks into an apartment where a 72-year-old American tourist.
The victim was bound, gagged, blindfolded and whipped with a metal cane before being raped for 15 minutes. She said afterwards that he had clearly enjoyed ‘torturing’ her before the rape.
April 2007: He moves out of a farmhouse and into a campervan now linked to the crime. The farmhouse is cleaned and a bag of wigs and ‘exotic clothes’ is found.
May 3, 2007: Madeleine McCann is snatched at around 10pm from her bed as her parents eat tapas with friends yards away.
Brueckner’s mobile phone places him in the area that night. He returns to his native Germany shortly after that.
In 2013 police released a photofit of a man seen lurking near the McCann apartment and Scotland Yard said that suspect last night had not yet been ruled out of the probe
2008-2016: He is in and out of jail for drug dealing and child abuse offences on ‘little girls’.
May 3, 2017: Brueckner is said to be in a bar with a friend when a ten-year anniversary appeal following Maddie’s disappearance is shown on German television.
He is said to have told him in a bar that he ‘knew all about’ what happened to her. He then showed his friend a video of him raping a woman.
MailOnline understands the friend went to police shortly afterwards.
June 2017: He heads back to Portugal and extradited again to Germany. The reason was a sentencing of the Braunschweig district court to 15 months’ imprisonment for the sexual abuse of a child.
August 2018: He is released from prison and lives on the streets
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
September 2018: Brueckner is arrested in Milan, Italy and extradited to Germany and put on trial for raping the American tourist in 2007 after a DNA match to hair found at the crime scene.
December 2019: He is jailed for seven years after being convicted of rape and extortion.
June 3, 2020: Scotland Yard and the German police reveal that that they have identified a suspect in the Maddie McCann case
June 4, 2020: Prosecutors in Braunschweig, where he lives, say they believe Maddie McCann has been murdered, says spokesman Hans Christian Wolters. He is named in the German press as the prime suspect.
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