Madeleine McCann: German suspect battling to be freed from prison with rape conviction appeal

Dispute over European Arrest Warrant used to extradite suspect before separate rape trial being considered by European Court of Justice

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 04 June 2020 14:29
German authorities give statement on latest in Madeleine McCann investigation

The German suspect being investigated over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is battling to be freed from prison.

The man, named by German media as Christian Brueckner, is believed to be a rapist who was jailed in December for raping a 72-year-old American woman in Portugal.

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

He denied the crime and has launched a legal challenge against his conviction that will be considered by the European Court of Justice.

It received the case on 8 May and The Independent understands that as it was filed under the “urgent preliminary ruling procedure”, a decision will be made between three and six months from that date.

The Braunschweiger Zeitung reported that the man’s defence lawyer called for him to be acquitted during the trial and appealed to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice.

The man is challenging the evidence and witness testimony against him and accuses the German authorities of violating international law and making legal errors during his extradition.

He was transferred to Germany under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) relating to a different criminal offence.

Under the principle of “specialty”, extradited people can normally only be prosecuted for the crime for which the EAW was granted.

The rule does not apply in all circumstances and the requesting country can ask the extraditing judicial authority for consent to change or add offences.

The Federal Court of Justice referred the issue to the European Court of Justice in April.

If judges find that German authorities made a legal error, the man’s conviction could be overturned and the case will have to restart.

German suspect identified in Madeleine McCann disappearance

German officials said the man being investigated over Madeleine’s disappearance had a criminal history including sexual offences and child sexual abuse and was serving a prison sentence, but did not give further details.

He is believed to be the same man convicted in December of raping the American woman in Portugal in 2005.

Comparisons between the man wanted over Madeleine’s disappearance and the rapist who was tried at the Regional Court of Braunschweig last year strongly indicate they are the same person.

Both men are 43, originally from Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, and moved to Portugal in 1995.

Both lived near Praia da Luz, where Madeleine disappeared on 3 May 2007 from the holiday apartment rented by her parents’ at the Ocean Club resort.

Last year’s court case heard evidence describing a room with a sofa and a wooden beam, which matches photos of the new suspect’s home shown on German television.

Witnesses said the rapist drove a Jaguar. Police are seeking information on a German-registered Jaguar that was used by the suspect at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.

The BKA said the suspect had several previous convictions including for sex offences, child sexual abuse, burgling holiday apartments and hotels and drug trafficking.

The rapist has the same criminal history, and reports of his trial said he had previously been jailed in both Portugal and Germany.

He was arrested for attacking the American woman after a former friend from Portugal came forward to police revealing that he had stolen a video camera showing the assault.

The witness told the court that he stole the camera from his friend’s house in Praia da Luz in 2006 and that it showed an older woman being tied up, beaten and raped.

German police examined cold cases and found the victim’s original report of the attack, which had not been solved, and the culprit was charged in August last year.

The suspect was first linked to the McCann case in 2013 after information was given in response to an appeal by Gerry and Kate McCann on the German equivalent of Crimewatch.

A senior officer from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) said it was not sufficient to trigger an investigation and “certainly not for arrest”, but police zoned in on the suspect after further details were given to the Metropolitan Police four years later.

“The information that we can gain from our investigations is increasingly leading us to believe that the suspect could be the culprit,” Christian Hoppe added.

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

“There is reason to assume that there are other persons, apart from the suspect, who have concrete knowledge of the course of the crime and maybe also of the place where the body was left,” a statement said.

“We explicitly ask these persons to contact us and provide information.”

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.

“As the years go on, we are realistic about what we might be dealing with but there is always hope,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy.

“We are asking the public for help to prove or disprove whether this man was involved in Madeleine’s disappearance.”

“We retain an open mind about his involvement and we will follow the evidence wherever it may take us.”

A VW T3 Westfalia campervan that has been linked to the suspect

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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