Missing British girl Madeleine McCann is assumed dead by the German prosecutors who are investigating a new suspect for “possible murder” in connection to her case.
McCann was just three years old when she vanished from a holiday apartment in the resort of Praia da Luz, Portugal, on May 3 in 2007, sparking an international hunt. She has never been found, and no one has ever been charged over her disappearance.
On Thursday, the spokesman for the State Prosecutor’s Office of Braunschweig, in the state of Lower-Saxony, told CNN his office assumes McCann is dead. Spokesman Hans Christian Wolters said they would not elaborate what evidence they have to support this as it is an ongoing investigation.
The development came after police in Britain and Germany on Wednesday identified a new suspect as a 43-year-old German man.
He was named in German media as “Christian B.” The suspect’s full name is not being reported in accordance with German privacy laws.
CNN has independently confirmed his identity with a source close to the investigation.
UK authorities described the development as a “significant new line of enquiry”, while German authorities revealed the suspect has previously been convicted for sexually abusing children.
The Braunschweig Prosecutor’s office said in a statement Wednesday that the suspect is currently serving a “long” jail sentence “for an unrelated matter.” He is now being investigated for “possible murder” in connection with McCann, the office said.
Wolters told CNN that if the investigation were to lead to charges and to a trial, the suspect would be tried in Germany, as murder is a criminal offense in Germany, as it is in Portugal, independent of where the crime was carried out.
McCann’s parents believe the police announcement of a new suspect is potentially a “very significant” development in the case. The family’s spokesperson, Clarence Mitchell, said Thursday that the British and German police appeal was “the first time in more than 13 years that I can recall [police] focusing on one individual”.
“Kate and Gerry do feel it’s potentially very significant,” Mitchell told BBC radio. “This is another important chapter in the search for their daughter,” he added.
In Germany’s crime solving show “Aktenzeichen XY Unsolved” on public broadcaster ZDF Wednesday night, Christian Hoppe of Germany’s Federal Criminal Investigations Office said no body has been found but “the investigation of the Federal Criminal Investigations Office instead led to the assumption that McCann has become the victim of a killing.”
In a statement sent to CNN on Wednesday, the missing girl’s parents thanked the “police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine.”
“All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice. We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace.”
Mitchell, in his interview with the BBC’s Radio 4, underlined that although the German police are classifying it as a murder investigation, the British police are still treating it as a missing persons case.
“A British national is still missing and the British police have been at pains to say there is no evidence at all that she has come to harm, is dead, or indeed alive so they are literally keeping an open mind on it,” he explained.
The suspect had lived in Portugal’s Algarve region from 1995 to 2007, and also resided in a house in Praia de Luz, the resort town from which McCann disappeared, according to the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office.
London’s Metropolitan Police on Wednesday also revealed details of two cars linked to the suspect around the time of the disappearance, and called on the public to step forward with any information about them.
“The first vehicle is a distinctive VW T3 Westfalia campervan. It is an early 1980s model, with two tone markings, a white upper body and a yellow skirting. It had a Portuguese registration plate,” the UK statement said.
“The suspect had access to this van from at least April 2007 until sometime after May 2007. It was used in and around the area of Praia da Luz.”
“The second vehicle is a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German number plate and registered in Germany,” the statement added. “This car is believed to have been in the Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007. The car was originally registered in the suspect’s name. On 4 May 2007, the day after Madeleine’s disappearance, the car was re-registered to someone else in Germany.”
Asked whether this might be another instance of an apparent breakthrough that comes to nothing, Mitchell accepted there had been “countless citings, tip offs, rumours, assumptions” that “have all sadly come to nothing”. “But as I say, in my memory of being involved in the case, the police have never been quite so specific about an individual as they have been in this appeal,” he continued.
Kate and Gerry McCann are not doing interviews as they want the focus to remain on the police’s request for information around the phone numbers and cars used by this new suspect, Mitchell added.
The Metropolitan Police began reviewing McCann’s disappearance in 2011, in an large-scale investigation known as Operation Grange that has cost at least £11.75m ($14.7) as of June 2019.
“Following the ten-year anniversary, the Met received information about a German man who was known to have been in and around Praia da Luz. We have been working with colleagues in Germany and Portugal and this man is a suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance,” Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell said in a statement Wednesday.
UK authorities are offering a £20,000 (about $25,000) reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.
CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in Berlin, Mia Alberti in Lisbon, Zamira Rahim, Max Ramsay, Milena Veselinovic and Isa Soares in London contributed to this report.