Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner investigated over 2015 disappearance of German girl

Inga Gehricke, five, went missing while collecting wood for a campfire in the district where Christian Brueckner was living

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 05 June 2020 16:33
German authorities give statement on latest in Madeleine McCann investigation

The German suspect in the Madeleine McCann case is now being investigated over the disappearance of a five-year-old girl.

Inga Gehricke went missing during a family barbecue in a forest in Germany in May 2015, while Christian Brueckner was living in the same area.

Despite five years of police appeals and a reward of 25,000 euros for information leading to her whereabouts, Inga has never been found.

“At the time of her disappearance, the girl was visiting the Wilhelmshof district of Stendal and wanted to look for wood for a campfire in the forest with other children,” said Saxony-Anhalt police. “The girl did not return.”

At the time she disappeared Inga was described as blonde with blue eyes, around 120cm tall and wearing distinctive dark pink shoes.

Investigators are now looking into the possibility that Christian Brueckner could be linked to the case.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the Stendal public prosecutor’s office said it was reopening the investigation.

Birte Iliev added: “It is now being examined whether there are new clues in connection with the murder suspect in Braunschweig.”

Braunschweig, in Lower Saxony, is Brueckner’s most recent place of residence in Germany and where he was put on trial last year for raping an American woman in Portugal in 2005.

He was convicted of the attack, which happened a year-and-a-half before Madeleine’s disappearance in the same area, but his seven-year sentence is on hold pending an appeal.

Brueckner remains in prison serving an unrelated sentence for drug trafficking, but will soon be considered for parole.

The Volksstimme newspaper reported that he owned an abandoned property in Neuwegersleben, around 57 miles from where Inga went missing.

Inga Gehricke, five, went missing from a family barbeque in a German forest in May 2015

The home was reportedly searched as part of a child abuse investigation in 2016, with officers finding a USB stick containing indecent images.

Detectives investigating Inga’s disappearance were also involved in the searches, and Brueckner is reported not to have an alibi for the time she vanished.

A lawyer representing her family said Brueckner stayed at the house in May 2015 and one day before Inga disappeared, police records place him in a nearby motorway service station where he had a parking accident.

He is believed to have commuted by car between the property in Neuwegersleben and Braunschweig, around 35 miles away.

Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) said that Brueckner, who it did not name, had a history of child sex offences and other crimes, including drug trafficking and burgling holiday apartments in Portugal.

Police said the suspect lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007 apart from brief spells in Germany.

He moved to Portugal with his then-girlfriend in 1995, while fleeing a prison sentence in Germany.

He had been convicted for child sex abuse for the first time in 1994, and in 2016 he was convicted for child sex abuse and possessing indecent images.

Brueckner is believed to have served prison sentences in Portugal, where he was known to police for drug dealing and breaking into holiday apartments and hotels.

His reported total of 17 previous convictions also include drug trafficking, theft and forging documents.

In December last year, Brueckner was convicted of the 2005 rape in Portugal and jailed for seven years, but the sentence has not yet been imposed because of an ongoing appeal.

The attack happened in Praia da Luz in September 2005, a year-and-a-half before Madeleine went missing nearby.

He is currently serving an unrelated sentence for drug trafficking in the northern German city of Kiel.

German court documents show that he has served two thirds of that sentence and can be considered for parole from Sunday onwards.

But even if a judge decides to release him on probation for the drugs offence, he will remain in custody over the rape case.

Brueckner appealed over that conviction to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, which referred it to the European Court of Justice.

The Metropolitan Police admitted that Brueckner had been among 600 people previously considered potentially significant in the McCann inquiry.

But investigators said he was not considered a suspect until new information was received in response to an appeal made on the 10th anniversary of her disappearance in 2017.

They did not disclose what that information was, but Sky News reported that Brueckner himself had told a friend that he knew what happened to Madeleine in a Portuguese bar.

Brueckner is believed to have filmed himself beating and raping the 72-year-old victim, who was tied up, on a video camera that was later stolen by an acquaintance.

The man, who said there was also footage of a young woman being abused, later came forward to German police.

Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) admitted that it first received information linking Brueckner to Madeleine’s disappearance in 2013, following a television appeal by her parents.

Convicted paedophile Christian Bruckner has emerged as the lead suspect in the Madeleine McCann case

But a senior officer said it was not sufficient to trigger an investigation and “certainly not for arrest”.

Documents seen by Der Spiegel said that in that year, he had fantasised about kidnapping and sexually abusing a child in an online chat with a friend.

In September 2013, he allegedly wrote that he wanted to “catch something small and use it for days“, and then destroy the evidence.

The BKA is leading the McCann investigation, which it is treating as a murder inquiry.

The Metropolitan Police said they were still treating the case as a missing person investigation, and that they had no “definitive evidence” indicating whether Madeleine is alive or dead.

Investigators are appealing for information on a campervan, car and mobile phone number linked to him that could be “critical” for the case.

Police are seeking information on:

  • A VW T3 Westfalia campervan. Early 1980s model, with two tone markings, a white upper body and a yellow skirting. It had a Portuguese registration plate.
  • A 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6, with a German number plate and registered in Germany.
  • The phone number +351 912 730 680, which was being used by the suspect.
  • The second number is +351 916 510 683, which called the suspect on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance.

The Operation Grange incident room can be contacted via 0207 321 9251 or operation.grange@met.police.uk.

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