Madeleine McCann: Suspect seen 'carrying girl to the beach' as police reveal 'overwhelming response' to Crimewatch appeal

Police hoping new timeline of events could lead to breakthrough

Crime Correspondent

Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann say they have had an “overwhelming response” to a televised appeal broadcast on Monday which included e-fits of a man believed to be a key suspect. It comes after a radical shift in what police believe happened on the night she went missing.

Police said they had received over 118 calls after a new appeal that saw e-fits of a white man of medium build, who is thought to have been seen with a child in his arms on the night Madeleine disappeared.

The new images, broadcast on Monday night as part of an appeal on BBC Crimewatch, were drawn up five years ago by a private detective agency but they were never publicly released as Portuguese police were working on a theory that the three-year-old had been snatched 45 minutes earlier.

The man, believed to be in his 30s, was spotted by a holidaying Irish family at about 10pm just minutes from the apartment at the Algarve resort in Praia de Luz where Kate and Gerry McCann had been staying.

Martin Smith and his family left Portugal the day after the disappearance and only later realised the significance of the man walking towards the ocean with the young girl wearing pyjamas in his arms.

The man’s importance only emerged after Scotland Yard pored through tens of thousands of documents compiled by Portuguese and British police and private detectives hired by the family during the six years that she has been missing.

Police are focusing on the man in the e-fit after ruling out another person of interest – a dark-haired man spotted walking away from the apartment with a child at around 9.15pm on May 3, 2007.

That man – who had been a focus of police inquiries for years – has been identified as an innocent British holidaymaker who had been collecting his own daughter from a crèche at the resort. He had been spotted by Jane Tanner, a member of the so-called “Tapas Nine”, friends of the McCann family who had been eating together at a resort in the Portuguese town after putting their children to bed.

“Our focus in terms of understanding what happened on the night of May 3 has now given us a shift of emphasis,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the inquiry. “We are almost certain that the man seen by Jane Tanner is not Madeleine’s abductor.

“It takes us through to a position at 10pm when we see another man who is walking towards the ocean, close by to the apartment, with a young child in his arms.”

In another new line of enquiry broadcast on Monday, police said the disappearance had "all the hallmarks of a pre-planned abduction".

The review – part of an £5m operation after the McCanns made a direct appeal to the Prime Minister in 2011 – has led to what police believe is the most detailed picture so far of what happened on the night of the abduction. The police team has scrutinised the key 90-minute period when the McCanns joined their friends for dinner culminating in Kate McCann’s discovery that her daughter was missing at about 10pm.

After the Crimewatch appeal, Det Chief Insp Redwood said the investigation had an “overwhelming response from the public” with a flurry of calls including many from holidaymakers that were on the resort in 2007. He added: “There are still people out there who can help us with key information"

Scotland Yard is also investigating sightings of unknown blonde men around the resort in the days and hours before the three-year-old was snatched. Police said the sightings, including men believed to be speaking German, suggested preparation and planning.

DCI Redwood said there had been a four-fold increase in burglaries in the area in the months before the attack and could not rule out that Madeleine had disturbed someone who had broken into the apartment where she was sleeping. In the 17 days before she was snatched, there was an attempted burglary and burglary in the same block where the family were staying.

Police said on Monday night they were also trying to trace a number of people going door-to-door collecting money in a potentially bogus charity scam.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)