MADRID (Reuters) – Portuguese prosecutors said late on Thursday a man had been formally identified as a suspect in the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann 15 years ago.
Prosecutors in Faro, Algarve’s main city, did not publicly name the man but said in a statement he was identified as a suspect by German authorities at its request.
German police said in June 2020 that Madeleine was assumed dead and that convicted child abuser and drug trader Christian Brueckner, 45, was likely responsible for it.
Brueckner has not been charged with any crime related to the disappearance and denies any involvement. He is behind bars in Germany for raping a woman in the Algarve region where Madeleine went missing in 2007.
Here are details about the main developments in the McCann case, one of Britain’s biggest unsolved crimes which attracted worldwide attention and a global hunt.
On May 3, 2007, Madeleine McCann, 3, vanished from her bedroom in the apartment her family were staying in at the Praia da Luz resort in Portugal while her parents, Kate and Gerry, ate with friends – known as the “Tapas 7” – at a nearby restaurant.
The apartment was broken into while Madeleine and her twin baby siblings were asleep, and local police concluded it was a kidnapping. The family voiced concern at what they called a slow initial police response and a failure to secure the crime scene.
The McCanns turned to the media to help find their daughter, and the case drew global attention with soccer stars David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo joining appeals for information.
The media focus on the case led to reported sightings of Madeleine across the globe. However, the early investigation by Portuguese police produced no major leads and the detectives began to focus attention on the parents themselves.
In September 2007, Gerry and Kate McCann were questioned by police as formal suspects. The following July, the Portuguese police dropped their investigation because of a lack of evidence and cleared the McCanns of any involvement.
The couple and their friends who were with them on the night Madeleine went missing successfully sued a number of British tabloids for libel for suggesting they were involved in their daughter’s disappearance.
In 2015, a Portuguese court also ordered a former Portuguese investigator involved in the initial inquiry to pay the McCanns damages for alleging in a book that the girl had died in an accident and the parents had covered it up.
A British man, whose mother’s house was close to the McCann’s apartment, also won libel damages from 10 British newspapers after they accused him of being involved in Madeleine’s abduction.
In 2011, then British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review by London police after being contacted by the McCanns.
The following year, detectives said they had identified 195 “investigative opportunities” and in 2013, the British police began their own investigation – Operation Grange – saying they had identified 38 potential suspects.
Later that year, they released an e-fit image of a number of men. Soon after, Portuguese prosecutors ordered the case to be reopened by local police.
The new inquiry led Portuguese police to interview four suspects, but they were later cleared of any involvement, and a search by British detectives of wasteland near Praia da Luz also failed to provide a breakthrough.
UK detectives later suggested Madeleine might have been one of the victims of a series of sexual assaults on British children in Portugal between 2004 and 2010.
But in 2017, marking a decade since she disappeared, detectives said they might never solve the case despite still following critical lines of inquiry.
In June 2020, British and German police said they had identified a new suspect, a 43-year-old German man. The suspect, Christian Brueckner, lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007 and burgled hotels and holiday flats as well as trading drugs. He was jailed for seven years in 2019 for raping and robbing a 72-year-old American woman in her home in the Algarve.
Also in June 2020, police in Britain and Germany broadcast a televised appeal for information in the hope that members of the public might turn up evidence needed to bring charges, saying they received “hundreds” of tips as a result.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Editing by William Maclean)