New Madeleine McCann suspect investigated over missing five-year-old girl
The new suspect in the Madeleine McCann case is being investigated for the disappearance of a five-year-old girl in Germany, prosecutors have revealed.
Christian B, a 43-year-old paedophile named in German media, lived in the Portuguese coastal village of Praia da Luz on-and-off between 1995 and 2007.
A preliminary investigation has now been opened to establish whether he is linked to the disappearance of a girl in Germany, prosecutors in the northern town of Stendal told the dpa news agency.
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Inga Gehricke vanished from a nearby forest in Saxony-Anhalt on May 2 2015.
He reportedly had a property in the town of Neuwegersleben, around 60 miles south-west of Stendal when she went missing.
Portuguese authorities have been under renewed scrutiny over missed opportunities to interview the man when it came to their initial investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine.
The German national, who cannot be named in full due to strict laws around naming criminals in his home country, has been identified as the main suspect in the case, with police urging anyone with information to come forward.
A year before moving to the Algarve region, he was reportedly convicted of two child sex crimes in Germany, the then-18-year-old serving only part of his two-year sentence.
While in Portugal, he worked odd-jobs, and had experience of breaking into apartments as police said he burgled hotels and villas as well as selling drugs.
Madeleine, then three, was abducted from a room in the Ocean Club holiday complex in the area on May 3, 2007.
The suspect received a 30-minute long phone call from an unknown person around an hour before Madeleine was last seen.
Police have also released images of the farmhouse he was living in near the time of the abduction.
A Jaguar car registered in his name was re-registered to someone else in Germany the day after Madeleine went missing.
That vehicle, along with a VW camper van he was said to be living in at the time, have become crucial pieces of evidence in a renewed police appeal for information.
Grassy scrubland near the property on the outskirts of the town was extensively searched by British and Portuguese police seven years later in 2014, but no evidence was found.
Portuguese police would not answer questions about whether the suspect was ever spoken to as part of their initial investigation, but reports suggest a German paedophile was looked at and ruled out as a suspect in 2008.
Portuguese detectives were widely criticised for their handling of the case, missing chances to secure potentially key forensic evidence in the apartment room from where Madeleine was taken.
They shelved their investigation as unsolved after just 14 months, a period which saw Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry made formal suspects.
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Ex-lead detective Goncalo Amaral, who was removed from the case after criticising British police, wrote a best-selling book in 2008 wrongly implicating them in their daughter’s abduction and accusing them of hiding her body.
He was ordered to pay the McCann’s €500,000 in libel damages by a Lisbon court in 2015 but the decision was overturned and then thrown out by the country’s Supreme Court in 2017.
Mr Amaral, who has made outlandish claims including that MI5 was involved in a cover-up, said last year that a German paedophile currently in jail was “probably going to be the scapegoat” in the case.
The suspect was known to Scotland Yard’s investigation but did not become an official suspect until 2017 following information received after the 10-year anniversary appeal and subsequent inquiries, the force said.
He is currently in jail in Germany for raping an elderly woman in the same area of Portugal around 18 months before Madeleine’s disappearance, reports say.
German newspaper Braunschweiger Zeitung said he is serving a seven-year sentence for raping the 72-year-old American woman in 2005 after he was convicted at Braunschweig District Court in December last year.
German magazine Der Spiegel reported he was extradited from Portugal in 2017 and initially convicted of drug trafficking.
In 1994, a year before the then-18-year-old moved to the Algarve, he was convicted of “abusing a child” and “sexual acts against a child”, the magazine added, citing official criminal records.
He served only a part of his two-year sentence in a young offenders institute.
German prosecutors said they believe Madeleine is dead and are conducting a murder investigation, but Scotland Yard still considers the case a missing person inquiry because there is no “definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead”.