Madeleine McCann: Portuguese and German police begin searching reservoir site
Operation at site about 30 miles from where three-year-old went missing in 2007 is expected to last two days
Portuguese and German police launched a search of the banks of a reservoir in the Algarve for Madeleine McCann after photographs and video of the site were said to have been found in the possession of a man suspected of involvement in the child’s disappearance 16 years ago.
Officers with pickaxes, chainsaws and rakes started to examine the barren spot and surrounding woods by the Barragem do Arade reservoir in Portugal on Tuesday morning, fanning out across a piece of land roughly 500 sq metres in size.
Officers from a specialist Portuguese force, the Guarda Nacional Republicana, also assisted by using ground-penetrating radar devices at the isolated location, which is about 30 miles from Praia da Luz, where Madeleine went missing days before her fourth birthday.
The operation at the reservoir, which is expected to last two days, had been requested by German police after they reportedly discovered photos of Christian Brückner at his self-described “little paradise” near the town of Silves.
Brückner, who was jailed in 2019 for the rape of a 72-year-old American tourist a mile from the McCanns’ holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, was officially named by the Portuguese police as a suspect, or arguido, last year in the disappearance of the British child, who went missing from her parents’ holiday apartment in the Ocean Club resort in May 2007.
Last month, a German court said it was cancelling a sexual offences trial against Brückner on charges unrelated to McCann’s disappearance but which were also said to have taken place in Portugal, on the grounds that the region where it is located is not the last place he lived in Germany.
He had been facing prosecution in Braunschweig over three offences of aggravated rape of women and two offences of sexual abuse of children. The alleged offences took place in Portugal between December 2000 and July 2017.
Madeleine’s parents, Gerry and Kate, have not made any comment on the new search, the first in this area since 2008 when “non-human origin” bones were discovered in a bag.
Their daughter went missing from the bedroom she was sharing on holiday with her twin siblings Sean and Amelie, then two years old, while the couple, both doctors, were eating a tapas meal with friends within sight of their holiday apartment on 4 May 2007.
A German prosecutor, Hans Christian Wolters, said the full reasons for the search of the peninsula would remain secret until the results were known.
He said: “The measures in Portugal are connected with the Madeleine McCann proceedings, which means that we are investigating there in Portugal on the basis of certain tips. There is a major search operation taking place that is being implemented by the Portuguese authorities.
“But there are also German officers from the federal criminal police office on site who are supporting the whole thing. I can’t disclose the background at the moment, ie why we are searching there and what we hope to find there. That shall remain our secret for the moment.
“If we find something and we think the results are publishable, then we will certainly inform you about it. But give us a little bit of time. The action itself will also take a bit of time. It will not be completed within two hours or so. And whether we then find something and what we find, of course, we have to see that first.”
The Portuguese broadcaster SIC reported that the police would mainly focus their searches on land and claimed investigators knew Brückner spent time in his camper van in the area and “would call it his little paradise and would often spend the night here”.
The Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã reported that German police had given their Portuguese counterparts videos and photographs taken by Brückner of the area at the centre of the search.
Police set up two tents for their forensic teams where about 20 officers are focusing their search. The isolated area was designated a no-fly zone to allow the investigators to use a drone to spot signs of disturbance. The main road leading to the reservoir was blocked to traffic.
Earlier on Tuesday, a police motorboat was seen on the water with two officers onboard. There were as yet no signs of diving activity in the large reservoir, which has an average depth of about 14 metres.
German police said in June 2020 that Madeleine was assumed dead and that Brückner, 45, was probably responsible for her disappearance. He has not been charged with any offences connected with Madeleine’s disappearance and has denied any involvement, although mobile phone records placed him close to the holiday apartment on the night she disappeared.
It is first major operation of its kind since June 2014, when the Metropolitan police received permission from Portuguese officials to search Praia da Luz with dogs and ground-penetrating radar.
The Met continues to treat Madeleine’s disappearance as a missing person case under Operation Grange. DCI Mark Cranwell said: “The Met continues to work with and support colleagues in Portugal and Germany, with their investigations into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
“Met officers will be in Portugal and I am grateful to the Policia Judiciaria and Bundeskriminalamt for allowing us to be present whilst their work is ongoing, so that we can inform Madeleine’s family of any developments.”
Source The Guardian.