The parents of Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal in 2007 aged just three, said on Thursday that the announcement of a new suspect was a potentially very significant development in the 13-year worldwide hunt for their daughter.
McCann disappeared from her bedroom on May 3 during a family holiday in the Algarve while her parents were dining with friends nearby in the resort of Praia da Luz.
British and German police appealed on Wednesday for information about a German child sex offender currently imprisoned in Germany. He was 30 at the time of McCann’s disappearance.
“Kate and Gerry do feel it’s potentially very significant,” said Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for the family, told BBC radio. “They’ve never given up hope that she may still be found alive but they are realistic.”
“Whatever the outcome of this particular line of investigation maybe, they do need to know what happened to their daughter to find peace and to bring whoever is responsible to justice,” Mitchell said.
Police want to speak to anyone who has relevant information on a 43-year old man, whom they did not name, or the movements of two vehicles linked to him during the period around the girl’s disappearance. Both cars, a Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar, are now in the possession of German police.
The suspect, German police said, lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007 – and for several years in a house near Praia da Luz – and burgled hotels and holiday flats as well as trading drugs.
German police said the man has been “sentenced on numerous occasions to prison terms for sexual abuse of children in the past.”
They said they were treating the case as a suspected murder and had determined the method used to kill McCann. They did not believe the murder was pre-meditated and said the man was involved in crimes like break-ins and burglary.
Madeleine McCann’s key dates:
- May 3: Kate and Gerry McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, leave their three children asleep in their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in southern Portugal while they dine with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant. Nothing is amiss when Mr McCann checks on the youngsters just after 9pm, but when his wife goes back at about 10pm she finds three-year-old Madeleine missing. Jane Tanner, one of the friends dining with the McCanns, reports seeing a man carrying a child earlier that night.
- May 14: Detectives take Anglo-Portuguese property developer Robert Murat in for questioning and make him an “arguido”, or formal suspect. Officers also search the home he shares with his mother in Praia da Luz, just 100 yards from where the youngster vanished.
- August 11: Exactly 100 days after Madeleine disappeared, investigating officers publicly acknowledge for the first time that she could be dead.
- September 7: During questioning of Mr and Mrs McCann, detectives make them both “arguidos” in their daughter’s disappearance.
- September 9: The McCanns fly back to England with their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.
- July 21: The Portuguese authorities shelve their investigation and lift the “arguido” status of the McCanns and Robert Murat.
- May 12: Mrs McCann publishes a book about her daughter’s disappearance, on Madeleine’s eighth birthday. Scotland Yard launches a review of the case after a request from Home Secretary Theresa May, supported by Prime Minister David Cameron.
- April 25: Scotland Yard detectives say they believe Madeleine could still be alive, release an age-progression picture of how she might look as a nine-year-old, and call on the Portuguese authorities to reopen the case, but Portuguese police say they have found no new material.
- July 4: Scotland Yard confirms it has launched its own investigation, Operation Grange, into Madeleine’s disappearance two years into a review of the case. It has “genuinely new” lines of inquiry and has identified 38 people of interest, including 12 Britons.
- October 24: Portuguese police confirm that a review of their original investigation has uncovered new lines of inquiry, and they reopen the case.
- January 29: British detectives fly to Portugal amid claims they are planning to make arrests.
- June 3: Sniffer dogs and specialist teams are used to search an area of scrubland close to where Madeleine went missing.
- December 12: Detectives began questioning 11 people who it was thought may have information on the case.
- September 16: The Government discloses that the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine has cost more than £10 million.
- October 28: Scotland Yard’s investigation into the disappearance has been cut from 29 officers to four.
- April 30: The couple prepare to mark 10 years since their daughter’s disappearance with a BBC interview where they vow to do “whatever it takes for as long as it takes” to find her.
- May 3: Local media report Portuguese detectives are investigating a foreign paedophile as a suspect in the abduction of Madeleine McCann.
- June 3: Police reveal that a 43-year-old German prisoner has been identified as a suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.