Europe

Friday 25 July 2014

Police in Madeleine McCann case hunt intruder who sexually abused five girls

Margaret Davis

Published 19/03/2014|11:38

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Madeline McCann. Inset: This distinctive red hooped t-shirt is linked to the hunt
This distinctive red hooped t-shirt is linked to the hunt
This distinctive red hooped t-shirt is linked to the hunt
Photo of missing girl Madeleine McCann
Photo of missing girl Madeleine McCann

DETECTIVES investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are looking for a lone intruder who sexually abused five girls during break-ins at holiday homes.

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The tanned, dark-haired man is suspected of breaking in to 12 properties where British families were staying in the Algarve, Portugal between 2004 and 2010.

In the four incidents, girls aged between seven and 10 years of age were sexually assaulted.

The attacks happened between 2004 and 2006, before Madeleine vanished in 2007.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said tracing the man, said to have "an unhealthy interest in young white female children", is one of his priority lines of inquiry.

His team currently have 38 people classed as "persons of interest" to the inquiry and are also sifting through details of 530 known sex offenders whose whereabouts they cannot account for.

Of those, 59 are classed as high priority and some of those are British.

British detectives are looking at the series of 12 break-ins, in six of which the man sat on or got into bed with young girls, and two of which were in Praia da Luz, where Madeleine was staying with her family when she disappeared.

They had previously been discounted by Portuguese investigators because they are spread over a wide geographical area and there were no apparent attempts at abduction.

Nine of the 12 incidents were reported to Portuguese police at the time they happened, and details of three of those became known to British investigators only after they made televised appeals last autumn.

Mr Redwood said two of the families described the intruder wearing a distinctive burgundy long-sleeved top, and one said that it had a white circle on the back.

In nine of the break-ins nothing was taken, and in the remainder "low-level" items were stolen, such as cash.

The man was described as talking English slowly, with a foreign accent, and remaining calm even when he was disturbed.

"This is an offender who has got a very, very unhealthy interest in young, white, female children who he is attacking whilst they are on holiday in their beds," Mr Redwood said.

"While I completely accept that there are differences (between the break-ins and the McCann case), there is no abduction that we can see, but the assumption from that is that Madeleine McCann has been abducted. That may not necessarily follow with all our thinking about what may have become of Madeleine McCann.

"It is really critical for us to identify this offender and prove or disprove whether he was involved in Madeleine's disappearance."

Mr Redwood said that if names are put forward, his team will be able to eliminate suspects from their inquiry. This suggests that police have DNA on file.

His team had previously appealed for help identifying a man who was seen carrying a child towards the sea on the night that Madeleine, then aged three, vanished, as well as a group of men who were seen lurking near the holiday apartment where her family was staying.

So far they have not been able to eliminate any of the men from their inquiry.

British investigators have so far sent three international letters of request to Portuguese authorities over the investigation, covering 41 priority areas for the team, involving 287 separate requests.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said he is frustrated at how slow the legal process has been. "That's causing us frustration because we know what we want to do and we are ready to go with that. But the process is the process."

Another 30 letters have been written to other European countries, but the force would not reveal where.

Madeleine, who was then nearly four, disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in the Algarve on May 3 2007 as her parents dined at a nearby restaurant with friends.

British detectives launched a fresh investigation into the youngster's disappearance in July last year - two years into a review of the case - and made renewed appeals on television in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.

After shelving their inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance in 2008, Portuguese authorities said last October that a review had uncovered enough new information to justify reopening it.

The 12 break-ins included four in Carvoeiro, six in the Vale da Parra, Praia da Gale district and two in Praia da Luz.

Mr Redwood appealed for anyone else who may have been a victim of the intruder to come forward.

He said: "We need to establish the identity of this man.

"These offences are very serious and no one has been charged in connection with them. We also need to eliminate this man from our enquiries and ascertain whether these offences are linked to Madeleine's disappearance.

"If you have been a victim of a similar crime please come forward even if you reported the incident to police in Portugal, or anywhere else, please do not assume we have been made aware of it.

"While some of these offences have been in the public domain before, following our appeal in October three more were reported to us as a direct result of that appeal. One of those reports we believe is the first in the potential series.

"Please call us on 0800 0961011 if you are within the UK. The number for non-UK residents is +44 207 1580 126. Alternatively if you do not want to speak to us directly you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."

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