Did Portuguese police let Madeleine McCann abductor escape?

The actions of Portuguese detectives who probed the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have once again been called into question after it emerged they identified the man Scotland Yard’s now say is their chief suspect in 2007 – but ‘discarded’ him from their investigation.

Goncalo Amaral, the man who led the initial probe into Madeleine’s disappearance, confirmed in April last year that ‘a German paedophile currently in jail in Germany‘ was identified by his team 13 years ago as a potential suspect.

But Amaral, who was sacked after naming Kate and Jerry as suspects in the disappearance and maintains they were responsible, said the man was ‘discarded’ from the probe and that he does not believe he is the one who took Madeleine.

He did not say why the man was initially suspected, what led police to discard him from their probe, or why he still does not believe the man is guilty.

Goncalo Amaral

Goncalo Amaral

Goncalo Amaral

Goncalo Amaral

Goncalo Amaral, the Portuguese ex-investigator who was in charge of the initial Madeleine probe, said his team identified a German suspect matching the description of the new chief suspect back in 2007 – but ‘discarded’ him from their investigation

Madeleine McCann

Madeleine McCann

Christian Bruckner

Christian Bruckner

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, the suspect – named locally as Christian 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.

Brueckner was subsequently convicted of robbing hotels and apartment complexes in the region, CM Portugal reported. 

Despite this criminal history including a child sex attack, Amaral described Brueckner last year as a ‘scapegoat’.

Speaking to Australian podcast Maddie in April 2019, he 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. 

‘I don’t know how they will start it, but that will be the big ending, if it ends,’ he said.

Asked whether he was able to name the currently-jailed paedophile, he said ‘no’. 

On Wednesday evening, detectives from Operation Grange – a £12million, eight-year investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance – announced their new chief suspect.

The man, who they also did not name due to privacy laws, is a 43-year-old who is currently in jail in Germany for the rape and assault of a 72-year-old American woman in the Algarve in 2005.

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)

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)

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)

He has been named in media reports as Christian Brückner. 

Police say the man was a drifter who was known to live in the Algarve, including in Praia da Luz, between 1995 and 2007 – the year Madeleine vanished.

Just an hour before her disappearance – the night of May 3 – officers say the suspect received a phonecall that placed him in the resort town.

Officers say that, in addition to his rape conviction, the man has convictions for drug smuggling and burglaries on hotel complexes in the town.

They also say he has convictions for sexual assaults on two children.

However, it is not clear when or in what country he was convicted of these crimes, and whether Portuguese police would have been aware of them in 2007. 

It is thought Bruckner was arrested for the 2005 rape of the American woman in Portugal last year, before being deported to Germany for trial under a European arrest warrant.

It is not clear when exactly he was identified as a suspect in that attack, which happened 18 months before Madeleine vanished. 

It is also not clear when exactly he was arrested, though he was convicted and sentenced in December 2019, according to local media.

It is possible he was being held awaiting trial in April last year, which means he would have been behind bars when Goncales gave his interview.

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 a person who held a 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

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

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.

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.

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 de 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

The suspect is said to have lived at this property named Escola Vehla - meaning 'old school' - during his time in Portugal

The suspect is said to have lived at this property named Escola Vehla – meaning ‘old school’ – during his time in Portugal

The house is situated between the resort of Praia da Luz and the larger town of Lagos four miles away

The house is situated between the resort of Praia da Luz and the larger town of Lagos four miles away

The house is situated between the resort of Praia da Luz and the larger town of Lagos four miles away

The house is situated between the resort of Praia da Luz and the larger town of Lagos four miles away

The house is situated between the resort of Praia da Luz and the larger town of Lagos four miles away

The German suspect had lived in a warehouse outside Praia da Luz for several years but moved into a campervan just before Maddie vanished

The German suspect had lived in a warehouse outside Praia da Luz for several years but moved into a campervan just before Maddie vanished

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 de 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 suspect Christian Brueckner?

1995: Christian 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 is raped.

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 had not yet been ruled out of the probe

In 2013 police released a photofit of a man seen lurking near the McCann apartment and Scotland Yard said that suspect had not yet been ruled out of the probe

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.

2019: Brueckner is arrested in 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. He is named in the German press as the prime suspect.

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