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article imageGermany suspects sex predator killed missing British girl Madeleine McCann

By Joe JACKSON (AFP)     Jun 4, 2020 in World

German prosecutors appealed Thursday for information about a sex offender they suspect killed missing British girl Madeleine McCann, in what her parents called a potentially significant development in solving a mystery that has captured public attention for over a decade.

Madeleine vanished from the family's holiday apartment in southern Portugal in 2007, a few days before her fourth birthday, sparking a huge investigation, global interest -- and a slew of theories about what had happened.

Germany urged anyone with information to come forward after police said Wednesday a 43-year-old man with a history of child sex abuse and currently in jail was now a prime suspect.

"He is a sex offender with several previous convictions, including for the sexual abuse of children," Hans Christian Wolters, spokesman for Braunschweig prosecutor's office in northern Germany, told reporters Thursday.

"We're assuming that the girl (Madeleine) is dead."

German media outlets identified the suspect as "Christian B".

He is serving a prison sentence for narcotics offences but also faces a seven-year jail term for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Portugal in 2005, they said.

- 'Need to find peace' -

Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry, said the couple -- both doctors -- welcomed the latest efforts by police.

"They have not given up hope of finding Madeleine alive, despite the length of time -- they've never given up that hope," he added.

McCann's disappearance has captured public attention for more than a decade
McCann's disappearance has captured public attention for more than a decade

"But they are realistic and they say that whatever the outcome of this appeal... they do need to know because they need to find peace."

Portuguese police closed their case in 2008 but London's Metropolitan Police opened a separate missing persons inquiry in 2013.

The force revealed the new suspect was identified in May 2017 after an appeal for information on the 10th anniversary of the little girl's disappearance.

He was among more than 600 people previously identified as "potentially significant" but was not a suspect in the case then, it said.

Later that year the Met alerted German counterparts, and police in Portugal were also contacted.

- 'Somebody knows something' -

Officials in the southern Portuguese region of Faro confirmed Wednesday they were working with UK and German police, including speaking to witnesses.

Described as white with short blond hair in 2007, the suspect was about six feet (1.8 metres) tall, with a slim build.

He regularly lived between 1995 and 2007 in the Algarve -- where the Praia da Luz resort town the girl disappeared from is located -- and did occasional jobs in the region.

"There is information suggesting that he also earned his living by committing criminal offences, such as burglaries of hotel complexes and holiday flats, as well as trafficking in narcotic drugs," German police said.

Police have released details and images of two vehicles the suspect was known to have used as well as two phone numbers linked to him.

Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry McCann have not given up hope of finding Madeleine alive  th...
Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry McCann have not given up hope of finding Madeleine alive, their spokesman said
Joe Giddens, POOL/AFP/File

Officials believe he was living in one of the vehicles, a "distinctive and slightly unusual" VW camper van, at the time of Madeleine's disappearance.

They say the registration of his other vehicle, a dark-coloured Jaguar XJR 6 with a German number plate, was changed remotely the day after she vanished.

Meanwhile, a mobile phone number belonging to the suspect held a 30-minute call in Praia da Luz around an hour before Madeleine was last seen, according to police.

"Somebody knows something," said Mark Cranwell, the UK's lead investigator.

"Some people will know the man we are describing today... I'm appealing to you directly."

- 'Biggest break yet' -

The family's spokesman Mitchell called the suspect's identification and the level of detail in the police appeals "significant".

"There has never been something as clear-cut as that from not just one, but indeed now three, police forces," he said.

British media seized on the latest twist in the 13-year-old case.

"Biggest break yet in search for Madeleine," said the Daily Telegraph, one of six national newspapers to have the story on their front pages.

The Daily Mail asked: "Have they found man who took Maddie?"

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