- Police are searching a reservoir in Portugal as part of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann
- German police requested the search as the area was visited by Christian B when Madeleine disappeared – the 45-year-old German man was made a formal suspect in 2022
- Police teams set up tents around the Arade dam, about 50km (31 miles) from where the toddler went missing in Praia da Luz in 2007
- Officers in boats went out into the reservoir and sniffer dogs worked their way along the bank
- More than 20 officers are digging beside the reservoir and a number of bags have been taken away from the search area, although it is not known what is in them
- There are reportedly four areas of interest to be searched this week
Will we ever find Madeleine McCann?
The disappearance of Madeleine McCann has captivated the world for many years, garnering a level of attention most disappearances are unable to do. And still, 16 years on from the toddler’s disappearance, a new search has begun and many are holding out hope that the case may finally come to a close.
Madeleine McCann, a then 3-year-old, British girl disappeared from her bedroom at a rented apartment in the Portuguese resort town of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007. Maddie was in the same room with her younger brother and sister, whilst her parents dined with friends at a nearby restaurant. The group had devised a system to check on all the children every half hour. At around 10 pm, Maddie’s mother Kate McCann raised the alarm when she realised her daughter’s bed was empty and the shutters of her children’s room were open.
The police were called and over the next couple of hours, they searched the area with Maddie’s parents, their friends and staff at the complex joining in the search. The following weeks and months would see hundreds of police and volunteers search the surrounding area. International media soon descended on the resort and the disappearance of the British toddler soon sparked global interest.
Despite the media attention and large funding in Maddie’s case, there has been little progress. Over the years, there have been countless investigations, TV appeals and money-raising events. Private investigators have been hired, inquiries held and theories spread. By 2019, the case was the subject of a Netflix documentary – despite all of the continued media and public interest, little progress was made.
But in 2020, Germany launched their own investigation. The public prosecutor of the German city Braunschweig ordered an inquiry regarding the possible involvement of a man known as Christian B (under German privacy laws), a convicted sex offender who is believed to have been living in a camper van in the Algarve region at the time of Maddie’s disappearance.
German authorities stated that they no longer anticipated finding Madeleine alive.
This week, at the request of German police, local Portuguese authorities started searching a remote reservoir around 31 miles from the resort area where Maddie disappeared. The police have removed items in bags and say they are working on tip-offs – but won’t yet say what information they have.
British police are confirmed to also be present at the search.
So, could this be the breakthrough in the case we’ve been waiting for? It sure feels like it.
What’s the latest in the case?
The new search was announced on Monday and since the news dropped, it has reignited the global interest in the case.
In an official statement, the Judicial Police of Portugal confirmed media reports about the forthcoming search, stating that it would commence in the coming days.
- Portuguese authorities leading the coordination of the search
- The search was at the request of German authorities
- British officials will be present during the operation
- The search is expected to be conducted over the week
- There are reportedly four areas of interest to be searched
Although the Portuguese police’s statement did not mention Madeleine by name, it was reported by The Associated Press that the search was specifically focused on locating her.
A fire official informed Reuters that the police were preparing to search an area near a dam in the southern Algarve region, approximately 30 miles from the resort where Madeleine vanished. Reuters further reported that blue tents had been set up, roads leading to the dam were being closed off, and a team of 20 officers had been assigned to the operation.
‘More than a needle in haystack’
Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command Centre, said the new search appears to be much more serious than “a needle in the haystack search over a reservoir”.
Gamble told the BBC that Germany’s role in leading this investigation, with the support of Portuguese authorities, is “key”.
Gamble led the UK’s own review of the disappearance of Madeleine.
He told the Mirror that the German Police statements are “uncharacteristic”, as the language they are using suggests they are certain she is dead.
He continued: “From my point of view, the German police clearly know something. They have a level of confidence when they talk about their suspect and Madeleine’s death.
“But they have not shared specific reasons with the public, as you don’t want to give your suspect any more information than you have to until you’re ready to charge them.”
The Barragem do Arade reservoir is said to be a favourite spot of the convicted rapist Christian B, who allegedly referred to it as “his little paradise.”
According to The Times, an insider said the police could be looking for “rags,” which could be the pink Marks & Spencer pyjamas worn by Maddie on the night she went missing.
It emerged that authorities found photographs of the reservoir when he was arrested six years ago.
Christian B is currently in a German jail for a rape he committed in Portugal two years before Maddie disappeared in the country, and separately he is under investigation on suspicion of murder in the McCann case but hasn’t been charged.
During the search of the reservoir, a team focused on a small peninsula jutting into the water, as a group walked in a line and scoured the area. Sky News says the search was aided by a dog and trainer and a member of the group was consulting a device he carried.
A Portuguese source close to the investigation told The Sun: “The search is being taken very seriously and is being controlled totally by the Germans.
“They asked Portuguese officers assisting them to look for any evidence – but especially rags.
A well-placed source said: “Portuguese police are going to carry out a thorough and very careful search of the area today.
“Policia Judiciaria officers are going to be divided into four teams who will focus on a land search. It will be very meticulous and exhaustive.
“Forget the idea of big trucks and large machinery. A lot of the work that’s going to be done here today will be done by hand with backup technology.”
High-tech equipment used to detect human remains buried under the earth, as well as underwater if required, is expected to be used.
The new search has come after tip-offs. German prosecutor Christian Wolter said: “We are investigating in Portugal on the basis of certain tips (tip-offs).”
Speaking to the Mirror, a cop who worked on the original case said: “I absolutely believe that during my lifetime we will find out what happened to Maddie.”
Since the early days of Maddie McCann’s disappearance, the case has never been clear-cut. There have been countless false leads, conspiracies and relentless whispers. The case is, after all, fraught with complexities and the pursuit for answers has been an uphill battle.
But this latest development has ignited real hope that the toddler’s fate might finally be unravelled and the public, and most importantly her family, can finally have the answers they’ve been searching for.