A fresh development in the hunt for Madeleine McCann emerged last night when a spokesman for the McCann family confirmed that a British paedophile has been identified as a "person of interest" to the private investigators searching for the missing girl.
Clarence Mitchell said he understood that Raymond Hewlett, 64, was staying in Faro, an hour's drive from Praia da Luz in Portugal, where the family were on holiday when the three-year-old went missing in April 2007.
While confirming that the investigators are pursuing a number of lines of inquiry, Mr Mitchell said: "We are aware of Raymond Hewlett and the claims that have been made surrounding him. The investigators searching for Madeleine are currently looking into the circumstances surrounding those claims. Hewlett is an individual of interest to the Madeleine investigation. Beyond that, I cannot go into any further operational detail." Mr Mitchell added that Madeleine's parents were "fully aware" of the development and that the couple's investigators had been in Portugal for the last week.
Hewlett has been convicted several times for sexual offences against girls, and was jailed for six years in 1988 after abducting a 14-year-old newspaper delivery girl, driving her 100 miles and forcing her to strip naked at knifepoint. He is also wanted by the police for questioning in connection with sex attacks going back nearly 30 years.
In September 1972 Hewlett abducted a 12-year-old girl and took her on to moors near his home in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, where he incapacitated her with a rag soaked in paint thinners and sexually assaulted her. Six years later Hewlett attacked another girl at gunpoint but she managed to convince him that she was expecting visitors and he let her go.
In 2001 he was investigated in connection with the murder of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed, who was abducted near her home in Rochdale in 1975 on her way to buy a loaf of bread. She was sexually assaulted, stabbed 12 times and dumped on nearby moors.
Tax clerk Stefan Kiszko was convicted of her murder but cleared on appeal in 1991, having spent 16 years in jail. Kiszko died of a heart attack shortly after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Ronald Castree, 54, was jailed in 2007 for the murder of the schoolgirl, after DNA taken during an arrest in 2005 for an unrelated incident matched that recovered at the scene. He has since been given permission to challenge his conviction.
Hewlett, who is currently believed to be receiving cancer treatment in Germany, has a long history of travelling around Europe in a van and is known by police to have lived in Italy, Scotland, Ireland and England in the 1990s. He is described by detectives as "cunning" and a "danger to children". In the past he has posed as a police officer and befriended families to get access to their children.
Kate and Gerry McCann have refused to give up hope of finding their daughter and have employed the services of two retired police officers, Detective Inspector Dave Edgar and former Detective Sergeant Arthur Crowley, to continue the search for her. Earlier this month they marked the second anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance by releasing a computer-generated image of what she may look like today.