Police switch focus to sex attacker in McCann inquiry
Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are hunting for a man who sexually assaulted five British youngsters after entering their holiday apartments on the Algarve.
The attacks all took place between 2004 and 2007 and involved white girls aged between seven and 10.
Scotland Yard described the man as tanned, unshaven, with dark unkempt hair and a "distinct odour".
He spoke English with a foreign accent. Two of the victims described him as wearing a distinctive burgundy top, with long sleeves and a white circle printed on the back. Detectives are investigating a total of 12 incidents between 2004 and 2010 in which a lone male entered the apartments of British holidaymakers at three locations in the Algarve.
Two of the incidents took place in Praia da Luz, from where Madeleine disappeared on May 3, 2007, aged three. The other two locations were Carvoeiro, about 27 miles from Praia da Luz, and Praia da Gale, 33 miles to the east.
In most of the cases, as with the McCann incident, there was no sign of forced entry and nothing was taken from the apartment. In six of the 12 incidents the man sat on the youngster's bed, and in four he went on to commit serious sexual assaults on five girls.
The attacks generally took place in the early hours, often while the parents were asleep in the apartment. In some cases he was disturbed either by the youngsters or their parents. Police said that even in these situations he had remained calm.
Some witnesses spoke of hearing a bin collection lorry outside at the times the incidents took place.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood accepted that there were differences between the incidents and the disappearance of Madeleine, but said that finding the man, who appeared to have an "unhealthy interest in young white female children", had become a priority.
"We need to establish the identity of this man. These offences are very serious and no one has been charged in connection with them," he said. "We also need to eliminate this man from our inquiries and ascertain whether these offences are linked to Madeleine's disappearance."
He said that while no attempt was made to abduct victims in the other cases, this did not rule out a link because detectives had to consider the possibility that Madeleine had been killed rather than abducted.
"One assumption is that when Madeleine left apartment G5A she was alive. That is just one assertion. We hope that is the case, we cannot prove it is not the case, but there is always the potential that she did not leave the apartment alive," he added.
The Scotland Yard team has been assessing thousands of potential lines of inquiry and has identified 38 "persons of interest" as well as 530 known sex offenders whose whereabouts have not been accounted for.
A spokesman for the McCann family said: "Kate and Gerry continue to believe fervently that Madeleine is still out there to be found and they hope this latest police appeal will lead to the breakthrough that everybody wants." (© Daily Telegraph, London)