Maddie McCann: What does the latest breakthrough mean in the search for the missing child?

Madeleine McCann: A timeline of key dates and developments

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Last night, the Portuguese police force tasked with the investigation released a statement saying that a German man had been made a formal suspect on Wednesday. Though it did not state who the suspect was, the Portimao section of the Faro department of criminal investigation said the suspect had been identified by German authorities.

The German public prosecutor investigating the disappearance of Madeleine have previously told this publication that they only have one prime suspect in the case: convicted child sexual abuser Christian B.

Christian B has always denied all allegations in relation to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

The Portuguese police force said they had made the person an “arguido”, reportedly at the request of Portugal’s public prosecution service, which means a named suspect in a case.

Why now?

Christian B has been the subject of a great deal of media attention in recent months, particularly in Germany, where he was the focus of an investigative documentary aimed at uncovering new clues in the case.

German TV channel Sat.1 claimed it had evidence that Christian B had “repeatedly worked” at the Ocean Club resort where the McCanns were staying. He was known to have been living in the area at the time, and had worked as a handyman as well as a drug dealer.

The documentary also spoke to former acquaintances, who claimed they found a gun and child pornography at his addresses. Other reports from German outlets also suggested officers had found child pornography at his addresses.

The day after Madeleine disappeared, the suspect is said to have transferred his Jaguar car to someone else’s name. Police have also uncovered phone records that appeared to place him in the Praia da Luz area on the evening of Madeleine’s disappearance.

Despite naming Christian B as their prime suspect in the case in 2020, the prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig has yet to charge him with any offence in relation to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

German investigators appear to still be searching for crucial evidence. They welcomed the evidence handed over to them by the Sat.1 team, and in January, spokesperson Hands Christian Wolters told “The investigations are currently ongoing. Whether this will lead to an indictment, I cannot say today.”

Charlie Hedges, a former member of the UK police who previously was head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection unit at the National Crime Agency, said that the revelations were “pieces in the jigsaw”, but that a “clinching piece of evidence” was still needed.

The move still suggests, though, that the police forces working on the disappearance believe they might still bring charges: reports say it was linked to Portugal’s statute of limitations, which typically prevents crimes which carry a maximum prison sentence to be prosecuted over fifteen years after they were committed.

Christian B’s lawyer, Friedrich Fuelscher, told German newspaper Bild that the decision was a “procedural trick”.

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What does it mean for the case?

In Portuguese law, an “arguido” status can be a preliminary move ahead of an arrest being made or charges brought.

Naming the suspect as an arguido means that he can be transferred to the Algarve before May 3 – the 15th anniversary of Maddie’s disappearance. This leaves open the possibility he could be charged in Portugal before the statute of limitations takes effect.

Christian B is currently serving out other sentences in a German prison.

The latest development means that investigating forces, including the Metropolitan Police, could be tantalisingly close to charging a suspect with the disappearance. It also suggests that all three believe the German national to be responsible.

A charge, however, is very different to a conviction, and police forces investigating the disappearance still have the uphill task of convincing a jury based on teenage evidence.

Even though the latest revelations around Christian B may paint him as a fantasist in child sexual abuse, the publicly known evidence concerning him with regards to Madeleine remains circumstantial.

Speaking in February, Mr Hedges said: “It’s not unheard of for things to be proven on circumstantial evidence if there’s enough of it. But, again, you’ve got the challenge of any evidence that comes forward.”

He added: “Nothing should be ruled out, as you never know what might be out there, but if the evidence hasn’t been captured now then it makes it increasingly difficult to do much with it.

“If you look at it with a cold view and look at the knowledge of other cases, […] the chances of resolving it are diminishingly small, but that doesn’t mean you can completely dismiss that. Because there is that possibility, and surprising things do happen.”

It is also the nature of such missing person cases that even if police are able to locate the abductor, there is no guarantee of being able to locate the missing person. Even if charges are brought, we may still never know Maddie’s true whereabouts.

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