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Madeleine McCann: Police begin search of reservoir in Algarve

Police divers working on the Madeleine McCann investigation today entered the water at a remote Portuguese reservoir as the hunt for evidence about her fate reached a potentially decisive new phase.

A motorboat was also being used in the search of the Barragem do Arade reservoir as officers from Portugal, Germany and Britain were seen next to large blue tents at a site overlooking a promontory on the western side of the water. Briefings were being held while other officers patrolled the area, which was sealed off overnight.

It has been claimed that the prime suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance used to visit the lake regularly and would call it his “little paradise”. The police operation was taking place about 30 miles from the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz where three-year-old Madeleine vanished in 2007.

Shortly after the start of the searches, German prosecutors confirmed that they had requested them.

German police arrived last night to begin the search today for Madeleine McCann’s body with Portuguese Police at the Barragem reservoir on the Algarve (Nick Edwards)
German police arrived last night to begin the search today for Madeleine McCann’s body with Portuguese Police at the Barragem reservoir on the Algarve (Nick Edwards)

A statement issued by the prosecutor’s office in the state of Braunschweig, which has named jailed sex offender Christian Brueckner as its prime suspect, said: “The measures are being implemented... by the Portuguese law enforcement authorities with the support of officers of the [German] Federal Criminal Police Office.”

Portuguese officials had earlier said that officers from Britain, where the Met has been leading the inquiry into Madeleine’s disappearance, were also taking part in today’s operation.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

It comes almost three years after German police and the Met announced that Brueckner had been identified as the prime suspect. He is serving a prison sentence in Germany for the rape of a 72-year-old woman in the Algarve two years before Madeleine vanished. He lived in the area between 2000 and 2017.

Police have said that a yellow and white VW Westfalia camper van that he drove was seen in Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, the day that Madeleine disappeared. Phone records have also placed him in the area at the time.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Brueckner has denied any involvement, claiming he was with a German woman “miles away” when Madeleine vanished, but was made a formal suspect in the case by the Portuguese authorities last year.

German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters has said that police there believe that Madeleine was abducted and killed in Portugal, without disclosing the reasons why, and that Brueckner, who also has convictions for child sex offending, was being investigated over her murder.

He told Sky News: “We are investigating in Portugal on the basis of certain tips (tip-offs). I can’t disclose the background at the moment, like why we are searching there and what we hope to find there. That shall remain our secret for the moment.”

Today’s search of the reservoir is not the first time that divers have entered it looking for evidence about Madeleine’s disappearance from the holiday apartment rented by her parents Kate and Gerry for a family holiday.

A Portuguese lawyer, Marcos Aragao Correia, paid for divers to search it in 2008 after saying that he had been tipped off by underworld contacts that Madeleine had been murdered and her body thrown into the reservoir within 48 hours of her disappearance.

Nothing conclusive was found but former senior British officer Jim Gamble, an expert in child sex abuse investigations, told the BBC today that German police were likely to “have more information than they’re sharing with the public” about Brueckner.

“Given that they are pursuing these lines of inquiry in such a positive and direct way, I would make the assumption that this is going to be a very deliberate, direct and focused search,” Mr Gamble said.

Christian Brueckner (AFP PHOTO/ ITALIAN CARABINIERI)
Christian Brueckner (AFP PHOTO/ ITALIAN CARABINIERI)

The reservoir is near the town of Silves where a lorry driver says he saw a woman handing a child looking like Madeleine McCann over to a man two days after she went missing,

The search is the first major operation of its kind since June 2014 when British police were given permission to carry out digs in Praia da Luz that involved sniffer dogs trained in detecting bodies and ground-penetrating radar.

The Scotland Yard digs were linked to the leading UK police theory at the time that Madeleine died during a break-in and burglars dumped her body nearby.

The Met has continued to class its investigation into Madeleine’s fate as a missing person inquiry.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, leading the Met’s Operation Grange, said: “The Met continues to work with and support colleagues in Portugal and Germany, with their investigations into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.“Met officers will be in Portugal and I am grateful to the Polícia Judiciária and Bundeskriminalamt for allowing us to be present whilst their work is ongoing, so that we can inform Madeleine’s family of any developments.”