A KEY Irish witness who believes he may have seen Madeleine McCann being carried away on the night of her disappearance has said he ‘does not recognise’ new suspect Christian Brueckner as the man he saw carrying her.
Martin Smith, a former Unilever executive from Drogheda, Co. Louth, made a statement along with his wife Mary, daughter Aoife and son Peter soon after Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007.
Mr Smith helped compile e-fits a year later, but the images were not released at the time and were only made public in 2013.
In his statement to authorities, he described the man he saw as caucasian, around 175-180cm tall and appeared to be about 35 to 40-years-old, of an average build, a bit on the thin side.
His statement also said that the man’s hair was short, in a basic male cut, brown in colour.
Approached by the Sunday World at his Drogheda home on Saturday and asked whether convicted paedophile Christian Brueckner, identified this week as a suspect in the disappearance, could be the man he saw, Mr Smith said: “I cannot add to the statement I gave police six years ago. This all happened 13 years ago.
“I have seen the pictures and coverage this week but everything I could say I said in my statements to police.
“I don’t recognise this man.”
Asked whether German investigators or officers from the Metropolitan Police have been in contact in the wake of Brueckner’s emergence as a suspect, Mr Smith said they have not.
“They haven’t been in contact and I doubt they will be. I had quite a lot of interaction on all of this with the Metropolitan Police in 2013 and I told them everything I knew then.”
In his original statements, Mr Smith and family members who were interviewed said they went to Kelly’s Barin Praia de Luz, after a family meal in a nearby restaurant on the night Madeleine disappeared.
They spent about 30 minutes in the bar before leaving at around 10pm.
As the group made their way back to their apartment, several noticed a man walking down the middle of the street, Rua 25 de Abril, carrying a girl, about three or four years old.
It was claimed the child’s head was lying against the man’s left shoulder and the arms hanging down alongside the body. The child had blonde hair, according to detailed descriptions given, and her skin was very fair.
The alleged sighting – later labelled ‘The Smith Sighting’ occurred less than 300 metres from the Ocean Club Resort, where the McCanns’ were staying, and the man was heading towards the beach just 150 metres away.
At the time the family thought little about it, and headed for home from the holiday the next day, but images from Portugal, including one of Gerry McCann carrying one of Madeleine’s twin siblings down the steps of a plane, triggered their memories.
Their evidence has always been regarded as significant, although they couldn’t definitively identify the individual concerned.
At the time, local officers were focused on another sighting of a man near Kate and Gerry McCann’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz 45 minutes earlier.
Scotland Yard detectives, who later reviewed the case, established that the suspect Portuguese police were keen to trace was an innocent British tourist returning his own child from a crèche.
The review, Operation Grange, considered the information given by the Smith family as credible.
In light of what police described as “a revelation moment”, altering six years of thinking about the case, investigating officers formed the view that Madeleine could have been taken up to 45 minutes later.
The Smith family gave a statement to police soon after their holiday.
The e-fits were compiled by private detectives in September 2008.
However, in 2012, Det. Chief Insp Andy Redwood, from the Metropolitan Police, said that for years the sighting was seen as “wrong place, wrong time” and thus unimportant.
Now a new prime suspect has been identified, it is likely investigators will again focus on the statements given by Smith family.
Separately, it was reported at the weekend that a UK-based witness in the case, a nanny who looked after Madeleine McCann in the holiday resort before she disappeared, was shown a photo of Christian Bruecknerby Portuguese police just five days after the child’s disappearance.
The nanny told a UK publication: “I was shown identikits the day after they took my statement. I recognised a few people from just being about…one guy was a known paedophile who later committed suicide. I am aware of his (Brueckner’s) name and face from photos I was shown but I don’t think I remember having seen him in real life.”
Madeleine McCann Premium
There is an expression in German, wie die Jungfrau zum Kind. Literally it translates as ''like the virgin to the child'' but it denotes a bolt from the blue, a piece of information that changes everything.
IRISH tourists who holidayed in Portugal in 2007 and who may remember the movements of a distinctive Volkswagen camper van and Jaguar car around the Algarve have been urged to contact police investigating the disappearance of little Madeleine McCann.
One of the first things people instinctively do when a toddler goes missing in a holiday resort is check all the nearby swimming pools. Every year, several hundred kids around the world accidentally drown in swimming pools when they wander off from their parents.