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Madeleine McCann timeline: Portuguese police start new search

Madeleine McCann would now be 19 years old  (PA Media)
Madeleine McCann would now be 19 years old (PA Media)

A key witness in the Madeleine McCann disappearance says he was ignored by the Met Police when he first alerted them to suspect Christian Brückner.

The witness, identified as Helge B, said he raised his suspicions about Brückner in 2008. But it wasn’t until 2017, the 10-year anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance, that the police acted upon his tip-off after he alerted them again.

Prosecutors in Portugal officially declared Christian Brückner, 45, an “arguido” in 2022. It is thought he visited the area around the time Madeleine went missing.

Madeleine was three years old when she disappeared from the family’s holiday apartment in Portugal’s Praia da Luz back in 2007. Siblings Amelie and her twin brother Sean were sleeping in the same room the night Madeleine was allegedly kidnapped.

Despite the British Government dedicating millions of pounds to police investigations, Madeleine has never been found.

Here is a comprehensive look at the timeline of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance.

2007

On May 3, Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry left their three kids asleep in their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz as they met up with friends for dinner.

At 9 pm, Gerry walked back to the apartment, which was 100 yards away, to check on the little ones.

At 10 pm, Kate made the same journey for another check. However, this time, Madeleine was gone.

Hotel staff and guests searched the hotel complex while the police started the investigations that night. The next few days saw hundreds of volunteers and officials join the search.

The Portuguese police revealed that they believed the little girl had been abducted but remained alive and in Portugal.

A family friend of Kate and Gerry’s, who was dining with them on the night of the disappearance, revealed that she’d seen a man carrying a child on the night Maddie disappeared.

On May 14, an Anglo-Portuguese property developer was arrested. He lived just 100 yards from the holiday apartment Maddie was sleeping in.

Later, in June of that year, the Portuguese officials confessed that they may have lost vital evidence. In July, the British police decided to send sniffer dogs.

On August 11, for the first time, Portuguese forces said that Madeleine might be dead.

Weeks later, in September, after talking to her parents, they also made them official suspects in their daughter’s disappearance. In a matter of days after becoming suspects, the McCanns decided to fly back to the UK with their children.

2008

In July 2008, the Portuguese police removed the McCanns and the property developer from the suspect list, while investigations continued.

The reservoir area is first checked. Portuguese lawyer Marcos Aragao Correia reportedly paid for specialist divers to check the Arade dam after he claimed to have been tipped off by criminal contacts that Madeleine’s body was in the reservoir.

2009

In May 2009, the McCanns announced they would be taking the Portuguese detective in charge of the original investigation, Goncalo Amaral, to court, after he published a book that claimed Maddie died in her family’s holiday apartment and wasn’t abducted.

In November, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in Britain released a video message in seven languages that showcased what Maddie would look like two years after her disappearance.

2010

Madeleine’s parents launched a petition that asked for the Portugal and UK investigations to be reviewed after the two countries shelved their search efforts.

2011

Gerry McCann published a book about Maddie’s disappearance on what would have been her eighth birthday on May 12.

Meanwhile, following the request of the then home secretary Theresa May, which was backed by then prime minister David Cameron, Scotland Yard launched an official review of the Madeleine McCann case.

2012

In April, Scotland Yard officials revealed they believed Maddie could still be alive.

They released images of what she would look like as a nine-year-old and urged Portuguese forces to reopen the case. Portuguese officials, however, declined the request, citing a lack of fresh evidence.

Kate and Gerry McCann with an updated poster of what police believed Madeleine would look like at age 9 (John Stilwell / PA Archive)
Kate and Gerry McCann with an updated poster of what police believed Madeleine would look like at age 9 (John Stilwell / PA Archive)

2013

In July, Scotland Yard officially launched its own investigation into Maddie’s disappearance, called Operation Grange.

They revealed that they had identified 38 people of interest, including 12 Britons.

In October, the Portuguese police shared that they had reviewed their original investigation and found new lines of inquiry, too, and would be reopening the case.

2014

British detectives travelled to Portugal at the start of the year, with many believing they were about to make arrests. However, this didn’t happen.

In June, the authorities used specialist teams and sniffer dogs to search an area close to where Maddie was staying, but nothing of interest was discovered.

In December, the detectives started questioning 11 new people.

2015

In September, the Government revealed that the investigation into the disappearance of Maddie had cost the taxpayers more than £10 million. A month after the announcement, Operation Grange’s team was slashed from 29 officers to four.

2017

In April, Kate and Gerry McCann marked a decade since their daughter’s disappearance by doing an interview with the BBC. They vowed that they will do “whatever it takes as long as it takes”.

2018

The Government dedicated another £150,000 to the investigation, pushing the overall cost of the search to an estimated £11.75 million.

2019

In March, Netflix released an eight-part docuseries about Madeleine’s disappearance.

In May, the Portuguese media revealed that the police were investigating a foreign paedophile as a suspect.

2020

In June, Scotland Yard revealed they had identified a 43-year-old German prisoner by the name of Christian Brueckner as a suspect in Maddie’s disappearance.

The man was in the Praia de Luz resort on the night Maddie vanished. He completed a half-hour phone call shortly before she went missing on May 3, 2007, and re-registered his 1993 Jaguar vehicle the next day.

The German police revealed their investigations suggested Maddie was no longer alive.

Meanwhile, in 2020, Scotland Yard said they had now spent £12.3 million of taxpayers’ money on the case and had no “definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead”.

2021

In May, Kate and Gerry share a statement on the official Find Madeleine website saying they still hope to see their daughter again one day.

Official suspect Christian Brueckner (Italian Carabinieri / AFP Photo)
Official suspect Christian Brueckner (Italian Carabinieri / AFP Photo)

2022

In April, Portuguese authorities also made Brueckner one of their formal suspects.

In May, the McCann family said it’s “essential” for them to find out what happened to their daughter.

On October 11, Brueckner was charged with three counts of rape and two charges of child sex abuse, unrelated to Maddie’s disappearance.

2023

German Police  search for Madeleine McCann’s body with Portuguese Police at the Barragem reservoir on the Algarve (Nick Edwards)
German Police search for Madeleine McCann’s body with Portuguese Police at the Barragem reservoir on the Algarve (Nick Edwards)

In February, an Instagrammer claimed she was Madeleine. By April, her claims had been universally dismissed and her account suspended, and a DNA test put an end to the saga once and for all, though she controversially gained more than one million followers.

In March, an additional £302,470 of funding for Operation Grange was approved for 2022/2023, and a Home Office spokesperson confirmed that another application had been made, although they did not disclose for how much.

Last month, Brueckner had the unrelated charges of rape and sexual assault thrown out by a German court because he lived in a different region of the country at the time of the alleged offences.

This means legal authorities in Braunschweig have no jurisdiction over Madeleine’s case, although he remains an official suspect.

In May, Portuguese police along with British officers searched a reservoir on the Algarve 30 minutes from where McCann vanished.

The search was requested by German authorities as Brueckner reportedly visited the area around the time Madeleine disappeared.

Brueckner is currently in prison for the September 2005 rape of a 72-year-old woman in the resort where Madeleine vanished,

He has never been charged over Madeleine’s disappearance and has denied any involvement.