The youngster, who disappeared just days before her fourth birthday, was sleeping in Apartment 5A of the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz, while her parents ate dinner at a tapas restaurant just metres away with their seven friends on May 3, 2007. After more than a decade searching for Maddie, prosecutors in Germany revealed a heartbreaking twist to the story last month, announcing the youngster is “assumed to be dead” and they have opened a murder investigation into a 43-year-old German man, named as Christian B. It came following an appeal for information from British, Portuguese and German police regarding the new prime suspect who was seen driving a camper van in the area of Praia da Luz around the time of the disappearance and a 30-minute call made to his phone in the area where Maddie vanished.
Last night, ITV aired its new documentary ‘Madeleine McCann: The Hunt for the Prime Suspect’ as an investigation into the convicted sex offender who is currently serving a long sentence in prison, laying bare his criminal history, which included being arrested by Portuguese police just one year before Madeleine vanished for stealing diesel.
Presenter Julie Etchingham said: “For years he gave the Portuguese police the runaround, until April 2006, when his luck ran out.
“Surprisingly, it was in court – in front of the judge – that Christian B revealed his past criminal record.
“In the end, Christian B spent eight months in detention for theft, but this did little to slow his criminal activity.
A man, named only as Dieter, revealed information on the Madeleine McCann case
Madeleine McCann disappeared from Apartment 5A
“On his release he drifted around the area, living in various camper vans.”
German authorities said at this point the suspect is thought to have been living a transient lifestyle and had jobs in catering, but also committed burglaries in hotels and holiday resorts and dealt drugs.
During the ITV documentary, a man named only as Dieter claims to have met Christian B in 2007.
He also claimed to have been inside the camper van he was using at the time, adding a sobering remark the criminal allegedly said.
Dieter claimed last night: “So I met Christian in Portugal and we talked
Julie Etchingham during the new ITV show
“Then he invited me into his camper van, this huge camper van.
“And then he told me, of his own accord, what he wanted to do and I looked at him a little sceptically when he said to me he could smuggle 50kg of marijuana in the van.
“But then he said it was so big that you could fit a small child inside.
“I didn’t know what he meant about having a child inside, I didn’t know what he was going on about.”
The series went on to ask why more questions were not asked by the Portuguese police after his initial arrest in 2006.
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Dieter speaking to ITV
Ms Etchingham added: “Before Madeleine McCann vanished the courts knew that they had a convicted criminal and self-confessed sex offender living in their community.
“Yet the dots that might have linked him to that crime were not joined up.
“Kate and Gerry McCann watched as the Portuguese investigation into Maddie’s disappearance slowed to a standstill.
“They lobbied the media, they lobbied the police and they lobbied the Government – they refused to give up believing that their daughter would be found.”
It was not until June this year that investigators would make an appeal for information regarding a camper van seen driving in the area that Maddie went missing from and the suspects other vehicle, a Jaguar, which was transferred to someone else’s name the day after Maddie vanished.
Authorities linked the suspect to an early Eighties VW T3 Westfalia camper van – with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal – which was pictured in the Algarve in 2007.
Hans Christian Wolters, Braunschweig public prosecutor
Kate and Gerry McCann long to find out what happened to Madeleine
Scotland Yard said he was driving the vehicle in the Praia da Luz area in the days before Maddie’s disappearance and is believed to have been living in it for days or weeks before and after May 3.
The suspect has also been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007.
Investigators want to speak to an individual who had a 30-minute phone call with the suspect an hour before Madeleine’s disappearance, adding that it could hold the “key” to unlocking the mystery.
A phone allegedly belonging to Christian B was “pinged” by a cell phone tower in Praia da Luz, close to where Madeleine disappeared, on the night she went missing.
The mystery call was received on a mobile phone belonging to the suspect at 7.32pm and finished at 8.02pm.
Madeleine was last seen at 9.05pm, when her father Gerry McCann checked the room and left via the unlocked patio doors.
Portuguese police are working in conjunction with British and German authorities in a bid to trace who called the phone on that fateful night.
Maddie disappeared 13 years ago
The three-year old was on holiday at the Ocean Club resort
Hans Christian Wolters, Braunschweig public prosecutor, discussed the development in the case during the ITV documentary.
He said: “We’re now looking for the other person who was on the call. We want to know what they talked about.
“But we also want the other person to tell us who they were talking to.
“The data shows that the phone was there, not who used it. That’s why the other person on the call would be so important to us.
“They could tell us who they spoke to, possibly our suspect. In that regard, it could result in a conviction.”
However, the investigators face a mammoth task in getting anyone to come forward with information about the call.
Dr Alexander Stevens, a criminal law specialist, believes the chances of finding the person on the other end of the call are slim.
He said: “The biggest challenge to the German prosecutor to get witnesses is the fact that any confident would have to incriminate himself.
“Once you are involved in a murder crime they’d have to at least be sentenced to 10 years in prison. So the chances of getting somebody to come forward are actually quite low.
Relations between officials investigating the case have also become strained as Scotland Yard continues to treat their investigation as a “missing persons” case and stated that German authorities have not revealed evidence that Maddie is dead.
Police in Portugal have also been searching wells in Vila do Bispo – just a 10-minute drive from the Ocean Club resort Maddie vanished from – but authorities in Germany and Britain are unaware of what prompted the operation.