Madeleine McCann: what happened to her - when did she go missing in Portugal?

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Christian Brueckner was named as a “formal suspect” in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal

On the 17th anniversary of Madeleine McCann's disappearance, her parents have released a statement in which they expressed how much "the absence still aches."

In a message issued on the official Find Madeleine website, Kate and Gerry McCann said: “It’s 17 years since Madeleine was taken from us. It’s hard to even say that number without shaking our heads in disbelief.

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“Whilst we are fortunate in many ways and able to live a relatively normal and enjoyable life now, the ‘living in limbo’ is still very unsettling. And the absence still aches.”

The couple added: “Your support continues to encourage us and bolsters our strength to keep going. We know the love and hope for Madeleine and the will to find her, even after so many years, remains, and we are truly thankful for that.

“Thank you again for remembering Madeleine and all missing children.”

The tragic disappearance of McCann has become one of the most famous missing person cases in history. Despite a high profile campaign to find her and reported sightings all over the world, no trace of her has been found.

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This is what you need to know about the case from Madeleine’s disappearance in May 2007, the investigation and the formal suspect Christian Brueckner.

Madeleine was three years old when she went missing on May 3 2007 while on holiday in Portugal.Madeleine was three years old when she went missing on May 3 2007 while on holiday in Portugal.
Madeleine was three years old when she went missing on May 3 2007 while on holiday in Portugal.

What happened to Madeleine McCann?

Three-year-old Madeleine McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, was on holiday in Praia da Luz with her parents Kate and Gerry and her twin siblings who were two years old at the time.

Madeleine was just days away from her 4th birthday.

On the evening of 3 May 2007, Madeleine and the twins were left asleep at 8.30pm in the ground-floor apartment the family was staying in at the Ocean Club.

Kate and Gerry went with friends for dinner at a tapas restaurant around 50 yards away.

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The parents took turns to check on the children during the evening, and when Gerry checks just after 9pm he sees all three children asleep.

It was just after 10pm when Kate discovered Madeleine was missing .

Madeleine’s favourite toy called Cuddle Cat, which she had with her in her bed prior to going missing, was found on a ledge in the apartment by Kate.

Over the years there have been thousands of reported sightings of the missing girl all over Europe and further afield. Several sightings were reported in Morocco. However, what happened to Madeleine remains a mystery.

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Madeleine McCann’s parents have said they welcome the news that Portuguese authorities have declared a German man a formal suspect in her disappearance.Madeleine McCann’s parents have said they welcome the news that Portuguese authorities have declared a German man a formal suspect in her disappearance.
Madeleine McCann’s parents have said they welcome the news that Portuguese authorities have declared a German man a formal suspect in her disappearance.

What is happening with the investigation?

Initially Portuguese police said they believed Madeleine had been abducted, but thought she was still alive and in the country. However, 100 days after she disappeared, investigating officers publicly acknowledge for the first time that she could be dead.

In the early days of the investigation detectives took Anglo-Portuguese property developer Robert Murat in for questioning and make him an “arguido”, or formal suspect.

Officers also searched the home he shared with his mother in Praia da Luz, just 100 yards from where the youngster vanished.

Months later during questioning of Mr and Mrs McCann, detectives make them both “arguidos” in their daughter’s disappearance.

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The following year the Portuguese authorities shelved their investigation and lift the “arguido” status of the McCanns and Robert Murat.

In 2013 Scotland Yard confirmed it has launched its own investigation, Operation Grange, into Madeleine’s disappearance two years into a review of the case. It had “genuinely new” lines of inquiry and identified 38 people of interest, including 12 Britons.

Later that year Portuguese police confirmed a review of their original investigation has uncovered new lines of inquiry, and they reopen the case.

In 2014 British detectives fly to Portugal amid claims they are planning to make arrests. However, by the the following year Scotland Yard’s investigation into the disappearance has been cut from 29 officers to four.

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A breakthrough comes in 2020 when it is revealed a 43-year-old German prisoner has been identified as a suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.

German prosecutors say they believe Madeleine is dead and are investigating the suspect – known as Christian B in Germany – on suspicion of her murder.

He was named as an “arguido” last month.

Speaking on the 15th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell from the Metropolitan Police, who leads Operation Grange, said: “Fifteen years on from Madeleine’s disappearance in Praia Da Luz our thoughts, as always, are with her family.

“Officers continue to investigate the case and our dedicated team are still working closely with law enforcement colleagues from the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria as well as the German Bundeskriminalamt.

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“At this time, the case remains a missing person’s inquiry and all involved are committed to doing what we can to find answers.”

What’s been said about new evidence found?

A German prosecutor revealed during an interview on Portuguese TV on the anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance that new evidence against the prime suspect had been found.

Christian Brueckner was declared a suspect in the case by Portuguese officials last month as a 15-year legal deadline approached, and he has been under investigation by German officials for two years.

Hans Christian Wolters told Portuguese TV journalist Sandra Felgueiras on the TV channel CMTV: “The investigation is still going on and I think we found some new facts, some new evidence, not forensic evidence, but evidence.”

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In the interview, Ms Felgueiras asked Mr Wolters: “Is it true that you found something belonging to Madeleine in the caravan of Christian Brueckner? You can’t deny it, can you?”

He replied: “I don’t want to deny it.

Christian Brueckner.Christian Brueckner.
Christian Brueckner. | Carabinieri Milano via Getty Ima

Who is Christian Brueckner?

Christian Brueckner, a German national, has been linked to the disappearance of Madeleine. Last month he was made a “formal suspect” by Portuguese authorities.

The-44-year-old was identified as a murder suspect by German prosecutors in June 2020, but he has not been charged since then.

Investigators believe the convicted sex offender killed Madeleine, then three, after abducting her from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in May 2007.

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He is currently serving a jail term for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz, and was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2019, at a court in Brunswick, Lower Saxony.

He has always maintained he had nothing to do with Madeleine’s disappearance, and reports say he claims he was miles away from the scene at the time and was having sex with a woman in his camper van. He claimed he then drove the woman to Faro airport the following morning.

He has now had a parole application rejected in Germany, according to a report.

According to the Daily Mirror, Brueckner was denied parole in April due to his “social prognosis”.

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A spokesperson for the Oldenburg District Court told the paper: “The court ruled there were no grounds for suspending the remainder of the sentence.”

Brueckner, who was identified as a murder suspect by German prosecutors in June 2020, has reportedly denied any involvement in the McCann case and has not been charged.

Lead German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters told the Mirror: “His request was rejected on the grounds that he could not be given a positive social prognosis.

“In other words, the court has said it believes that the convict will commit further offences if released.”