Kate and Gerry McCann’s daughter was just three years old when she disappeared from their apartment in the Praia da Luz resort on May 3, 2007, launching an international hunt. She was never found, and no one has ever been accused of her disappearance.
On Wednesday, police in Britain and Germany identified the new suspect as a 43-year-old German. Authorities in the UK described the development as a “significant new line of investigation”, while German authorities revealed that the suspect had previously been convicted of child sexual abuse.
A family spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said Thursday that the complaint by British and German police was “the first time in more than 13 years that they can recall [police] focusing on one individual ”.
“Kate and Gerry find this very significant,” Mitchell told BBC radio. “This is another important chapter in the search for their daughter,” he added.
The German state prosecutor’s office Braunschweig in the state of Lower Saxony announced on Wednesday that the suspect is currently serving a “long” prison sentence “for an unrelated matter”. An investigation is now underway into a “possible murder” in connection with McCann, the office said.
State Prosecution spokesman Hans Christian Wolters said Thursday that CNN believes McCann is dead. Wolters said he would not specify what evidence they have to support it because an investigation is ongoing.
Wolters also explained that if an indictment is launched and a trial is launched, the suspect will be tried in Germany, because murder in Germany is a criminal offense, as it is in Portugal, regardless of the crime scene.
In a German crime-solving show “Aktenzeichen XY Unresolved” on public television ZDF on Wednesday night, Christian Hoppe of Germany’s Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation said no body had been found, but “an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation instead led to the assumption that McCann became a murder victim. “
In a statement sent to CNN on Wednesday, the parents of the missing girl’s parents thanked “police forces involved in their ongoing efforts to search for Madeleine.”
“All we ever wanted to do was find, discover the truth and bring those responsible to justice. We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive, but whatever the outcome, we need to know how to find peace.”
In an interview with BBC 4 radio, Mitchell underlined that although German police classify it as a murder investigation, British police still treat it as a case of missing persons.
“A British citizen is still missing, and British police have been trying to say that there is no evidence at all that she has caused damage, that she is dead or that she is indeed alive, so they are literally keeping it open,” he explained.
The suspect lived in the Algarve region of Portugal from 1995 to 2007, and also stayed at a house in Praia de Luz, the tourist town from which McCann disappeared, according to the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office.
London Metropolitan Police on Wednesday also revealed details of two cars linked to the suspect at the time of the disappearance and urged the public to come forward with any information about them.
“The first vehicle is the recognizable VW T3 Westfalia camper. It is an early 1980s model, with two-tone markings, a white upper body and a yellow corner. It had a Portuguese license plate,” the UK statement said.
“The suspect had access to this van at least from April 2007 until sometime after May 2007. It was used in and around the Praia da Luz area.”
“The second vehicle is a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German license plate and registered in Germany,” the statement added. “This car is believed to have been located in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007. The car was originally registered in the suspect’s name. On May 4, 2007, the day after Madeleine’s disappearance, the car was re-registered to someone else in Germany. “
Asked if this might be another case of an obvious shift that comes to nothing, Mitchell accepted that there were “countless quotes, remarks, rumors, assumptions” that “unfortunately became nothing.” “But as I said, in my memory that I was involved in the case, the police have never been as specific to an individual as they were in this complaint,” he continued.
Kate and Gerry McCann are not doing the interviews because they want the focus to remain on the police request for information on the phone numbers and cars used by this new suspect, Mitchell added.
Metropolitan police began an investigation into McCann’s disappearance in 2011, in a major investigation known as Operation Grange that has cost at least £ 11.75 million ($ 14.7) since June 2019.
“After the tenth anniversary, Matt received information about a German man who was known to have been in and around Praia da Luz. We were working with colleagues in Germany and Portugal and that man is suspected of Madeleine’s disappearance.” Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell said in a statement Wednesday.
Authorities in the UK are offering a reward of £ 20,000 (about $ 25,000) for information leading to the beliefs of those responsible.
CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in Berlin, Mia Alberti in Lisbon, Zamira Rahim, Max Ramsay, Milena Veselinovic and Isa Soares of London contributed to this report.