'The public prosecutor's office in Braunschweig is investigating a 43-year-old German national on suspicion of murder. From this you can see that we assume that the girl is dead."
o said German state prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters last Thursday, the day after the BKA, the Federal Criminal Police Office, posted new information on their website regarding the case of Madeleine McCann, missing since 2007.
Missing. It can mean a million things, and presumably has meant a million things in the best and worst moments that Kate and Gerry McCann have experienced in the past 13 years. It can mean that the now 17-year-old is somewhere being loved by another family; or somewhere suffering some dreadful torture; she could be happy and have forgotten them, or in agony desperate to return. She could be anywhere, with anyone, but at least while she's missing, Madeleine could still be alive.
Dead. It's very definite.
What was remarkable last week, after the BKA appealed for help in building a case against Christian Brueckner (43), a convicted sex offender currently in prison for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old tourist in Praia da Luz, the Portuguese resort where Madeleine disappeared, was just how much they believed they could say for definite.
After more than a decade of nothing concrete but plenty of conjecture, suddenly there were things that could be said for sure.
The German national is a known child sex offender. He lived in Portugal, including in Praia da Luz, from 1995 to 2007. He burgled holiday homes and apartments. He drove a camper van, in which he probably also lived, around the time of Madeleine's disappearance, and had a Jaguar car, too, which he re-registered in Germany the day after she went missing. The police provided details on all of the above, including the registration plates of the vehicles, all in an attempt to stir the memories of those who might have been in Praia da Luz at the time. They also showed us his face, not a photofit, not an artist's impression, an actual photo.
This is the chief suspect. They were very definite, but now they have to build a case.
Go and have a look through your 13-year-old holiday photos, tourists who visited the town in May 2007 were encouraged last week. There might be a detail there you missed before. Before you had Christian Brueckner's face or camper van or Jag to look for.
Suddenly, there is so much information, it seems, where once there was nothing but speculation. And such damage was done by that speculation, in particular to Kate and Gerry McCann, not just because it meant that their daughter remained missing, but because, always, the finger of blame and suspicion was pointed at them.
There is a sliding scale when it comes to blaming the McCanns, as opposed to simply feeling sorry for their loss. The worst of it is that they were involved in her death and in covering it up. The mildest of it is that they contributed to her abduction through their neglect, leaving her alone with her toddler siblings, taking turns with their friends to go and check on their various sleeping children from the tapas bar where they were having dinner. Not just dinner, but wine, too.
They were out, whooping it up, while something awful happened to their child. If they didn't do it, then they didn't seem to care that it was happening, has been the perverse logic.
Kate McCann, in an interview conducted 100 days after her daughter's disappearance, pronounced herself the "unluckiest person in the world". By that time, not only had she lost her daughter, but she had been blamed for it, unofficially in public opinion, and officially, by being declared an ''arguido'', an ''official suspect'', by Portuguese police.
Kate McCann had been described by Portuguese police chief Goncalo Amaral as a ''cold actress'', whose lack of public tears or dramatic emotion indicated guilt. Later, Clarence Mitchell, spokesperson for the McCanns, said that they had been told to remain impassive while pleading for Madeleine's return, as paedophile abductors often took pleasure in seeing the distress they could cause.
Last week it emerged that Christian Brueckner was a suspect in the initial investigation, and seems to have been disregarded when what could now be described as a desire to implicate the McCanns took precedence.
The 2019 eight-part American-made documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann made for an interesting summing up of the case. To many viewers, it was disappointing in that it came up with no answers, but that was half the point.
For more than half the series, it seemed that ''evidence'' was stacking up against Kate and Gerry McCann, the pair of middle-class doctors who took their three children, Madeleine (almost four) and twins Sean and Amelie (two) to Portugal on holiday with a group of friends and their children. The series covered again how they knew in advance that the resort's remote listening service was unavailable and chose to make checks on the children themselves instead of employing an actual babysitter. All the usual ''clues'' against the McCanns were unrolled and, for several episodes, it seemed this was forming a case against them.
Jim Gamble, a former RUC officer who, when he became involved in the McCann case was chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, made an interesting contribution to the series.
Initially, he said, he didn't warm to Gerry McCann in particular and, in admitting this, he unveiled the connection between liking a person and making assumptions about their guilt or innocence.
Time and evidence, in Gamble's case, showed him the McCanns's innocence and distress and has since made him one of their greatest supporters. Last week, in common with the Portuguese and British police, he declined to consider Madeleine definitively dead, as the Germans have.
Instead, said Gamble last week, until anything is proven, the McCanns should be allowed to hang on to some hope, even to give them the ability to get out of bed in the morning. Children missing for longer than Madeleine, he said, have turned up alive.
Last week there was suddenly so much information about Christian Brueckner. How he reportedly boasted on the 10th anniversary of Madeleine's abduction that he knew "all about" what happened to her. How he has been investigated for the abduction of another little girl in Germany in 2015. How he engaged in online chats about kidnap and sexual abuse of children. How he has a history of abuse of children and violence.
None of it will make anyone feel any better about the potential fate of Madeleine McCann, but it may bring the mystery around her disappearance to an end. And bring her parents some resolution and maybe some freedom from the blame.
Kate and Gerry McCann haven't given a public interview since 2017, but last Wednesday, they made a short statement to follow the German police's announcement.
"All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice," said the McCanns. "We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive, but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace."
For now, and for their sake, let her remain missing, until or unless she definitively is not.