Police in Portugal have reopened their investigation into the rape of Irish woman Hazel Behan after she came forward to say she believes her attacker may be Madeleine McCann suspect, Christian Brueckner.
Ms Behan (37), who is originally from Dublin and now lives in Westmeath with her family, was working as a holiday representative in Praia da Rocha when she was viciously assaulted in June 2004, two weeks before her 21st birthday.
She told police her attacker was about 6ft 1in tall (1.85m), had “blond eyebrows, piercing blue eyes” and spoke English with a German accent.
The victim believes a key suspect in the Madeleine McCann case, named as German Christian Brueckner, could be her attacker after she noted similarities between Bruckner’s 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz and her own ordeal.
Sky News is now reporting that Portuguese detectives collected archived files earlier this week in order to reopen her case.
Noeline Blackwell, lawyer and head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said it is “heartening” that police are reopening their investigation.
“It is never going to be an open and shut case until such a time as the perpetrator or perpetrators are brought to justice,” she told Independent.ie.
“One of the things that is going to make progress for us as an Irish and European society, is somebody who is the victim can depend on the cooperation between European states and can depend on a high level of knowledge in the area of sexual violence.
“Sexual violence can happen any time, anywhere, police throughout the union need to be well equipped to investigate these crimes and to bring perpetrators to prosecution.
“It is important to see that increasingly throughout the whole EU there is more recognition of sexual violence as a real crime.
“I know she was unhappy with the initial investigation, and what I can do is hope that progress can now be made.”
Brueckner is currently serving a 15-month jail term for drugs trafficking and has applied for early release. He has also been identified as a suspect in the Madeleine McCann disappearance. He has denied any involvement.
Hazel, who waived her right to anonymity, told The Guardian last month: “My mind was blown when I read how he had attacked a woman in 2005, both the tactics and the methods he used, the tools he had with him, how well he had planned it out.
“I puked, to be honest with you, as reading about it took me right back to my experience.”
“This woman was the victim of a horrific crime and she has suffered a lot. It is a matter for police all over Europe to do their best to bring the person who carried out this crime to justice,” she said.
Recalling the horrific ordeal, Hazel said: “I had gone to bed around 1am, and was awoken by someone calling my name.
“I turned on to my back and standing there was a masked man dressed in tights and what resembled a leotard, a machete around 12in long in his hand.”
The man had removed his shoes at the door and set up a video camera in the room.
He took out a bag full of whips and chains before cutting her clothes from her body and gagging her.
She said: “It seemed to me he had worked everything out, he had a plan and was very deliberate.
“He consistently cleaned his hands, and repeatedly changed condoms. This went on, I guess, for around four or five hours.
“He got angry and ordered me into the bathroom and he picked up the machete. I was convinced he was going to kill me and I threatened to scream and said I would not go in there.
“My hands were still tied behind my back and he leaned me over a small bench and put a sheet over my head.
“I thought that was it, my life was over. But underneath the sheet I watched as he backed out of the door, put on his shoes and ran away down the street.”
Once her attacker left, she ran down the corridor to find help and shortly after, around 30 policemen and officials came to investigate. Hazel said they took her back to the room “where I was asked to strip off and stand in a star jump-like stance whilst they took pictures of me. That was one of the most humiliating aspects of the whole ordeal.”
She was brought to the local hospital where she was examined, but she does not know if forensic evidence was taken.
Hazel added that she is “not very confident” police examined her room correctly either.
She said she had “little hope” over the past 16 years that detectives would find her assailant.
“I was told at the time that I should just be quiet, that if I talked about what had happened I would bring bad publicity to the resort and put off the tourists.
“Then I read about the poor American woman who was raped in September 2005 – who I would love to talk to – and the possible link that was being made between her attack and the person who abducted Madeleine McCann, and I was so full of anger, I knew in my gut it was the right thing to do to speak out.
“I think if the police had done their job investigating what happened to me, if this is indeed the same man that attacked the American and abducted Madeleine McCann, they might have prevented the attack on her and Madeleine would now be at home with her parents.”
Hazel gave a statement to the London Met Police, who have told her they are taking her case seriously and would be contacting Portuguese police.
Independent.ie has contacted the Met Police and Portuguese police for comment.
Last year she was selected as Sinn Féin’s candidate for the Kinnegad area in May’s local elections.
She is an advocate for people who have experienced domestic abuse or sexual abuse and has worked with families living with addiction.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s 24-hour helpline can be contacted on 1800-77-88-88.