The long-standing police investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from her holiday apartment in Portugal back in 2007, has seen searches begin at a reservoir, some 30 miles (48km) from where the British youngster went missing.
It is believed that the action is being taken on the strength of new leads, and as a consequence an area of the waterway’s peninsula has been sealed off at the request of German police, in co-ordination with their Portuguese counterparts, and with UK officers also present.
Christian Brueckner a 45-year-old German national is the chief suspect, although he has never been charged and he has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Madeleine case. He is currently in prison for an unrelated incident.
Madelaine (Maddie) was on holiday with her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, along with her twin brother and sister in Praia da Luz, in early May 2007. The children had been left asleep in their apartment whilst their parents, along with several other adults who had done the same with their children, sat down at the restaurant within the complex. They had devised a rota-system for regular 15 minute checks on all the children throughout the evening, but when Kate looked in she found her daughter missing.
So began a nightmare for the McCann’s that has continued for 16 years. Earlier this month the family marked Madeleine’s 20th birthday, vowing to “never give up” on finding their daughter.
Prosecutor convinced German is responsible
This latest development comes as German state prosecutor, Hans Christian Wolters becomes even more convinced that the main suspect, Brueckner, is responsible for the little girl’s disappearance. He said that there is a growing amount of evidence to connect him, including his mobile phone records showing he was in the Praia de Luz area at the time when Madeleine went missing.
Brueckner is part way through a lengthy sentence for the rape of a 72-year-old woman, which he was found guilty of committing back in 2005.
Two-day operation begins
Roads near to the man-made dam have been closed off, with a huge tent erected on site for what is expected to be a two-day operation. It is not the first time the reservoir has been searched as part of the on-going 16-year investigation.
In 2008, one year after Madeleine disappeared, Portuguese lawyer Marcos Aragao Correia paid for specialist divers to check the body of water, after he claimed to have been tipped off by a criminal contact, who had informed him that Madeleine would be found in the reservoir. Nothing was discovered.
So many mistakes
Madeleine was just three-year-old when this shocking story hit the headlines back in 2007 and sparked a massive, Europe wide police operation, which has been littered with many mistakes along the way.
When her mother, Kate, sounded the alarm, the crime scene was not properly secured and Portuguese police were forced to admit that vital forensic clues may well have been destroyed as a result.
Description by witness ignored
Border staff and airport personnel were put on alert in the days immediately after her disappearance and many local interviews were conducted. One of the guests at the complex gave a description of a man seen on the night carrying a little girl in his arms, but it was given little credibility by the police. The image she put forward bears a striking resemblance to that of Christian Brueckner.
Astonishingly, the authorities in Portugal announced that they were making the McCann’s suspects in their daughter’s disappearance, with no evidence to back up the scandalous accusation.
Desperately clinging to hope
The family have always clung to the hope that Madeleine may have been abducted and given to another family somewhere; which heartbreaking as it was, would at least mean she was still alive.
However, as the years passed, “sightings” which raised hopes all came to nothing. In 2015 the British government disclosed that the investigation had at that point gone beyond £10m.
Portuguese join Germans is believing they have their man
Then in 2020 German investigators got a breakthrough and pointed the finger at Brueckner, and based on the bits of evidence they had uncovered, classed it as a murder inquiry, convinced that Madeleine is dead.
Portuguese prosecutors followed suit and declared the same man as an official suspect.
20th Birthday message
What has prompted this new move is unclear, but it will be met with mixed emotions by the McCann family. All they have ever wanted was to find their little girl, but if any remains are identified it would end their slender hopes that she could somehow still be alive somewhere.
On what would have been Madeleine’s 20th birthday on 12 May, their message in a Facebook post on the official Find Madeleine Campaign page was: “Happy birthday Madeleine. Still missing. Still very much missed. Still looking. For as long as it takes.” Going on to say: “We love you and we’re waiting for you. We’re never going to give up.”
Possibly “peace” at last?
No doubt they have replayed the events of that evening a million times over in their heads and would do things completely differently if given the chance; but hindsight can be a cruel thing and if the rational and logical answer can be found in this latest development, then at least it may eventually bring the family some form of peace.