LONDON — The identification of a German sex offender as the prime suspect in the 2007 disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann “does feel more significant” than previous announcements about the case, a McCann family spokesman told NBC News.
Clarence Mitchell said Thursday that it was “different from other times” because three police forces in Portugal, the U.K. and Germany were all interested in establishing all the details around the man named by German prosecutors as Christian B, 43.
His last name was not released because of German privacy rules, but he has been named as Christian Bruckner by German and British media outlets. NBC News has not confirmed this information.
“This is the only time in 13 years that police have been so specific about a suspect, down to the phone numbers, vehicles and particularly with a known individual,” Mitchell said.
He added that it “does feel more significant because of the sheer level of detail they are asking about for this individual.”
Madeleine was staying with her parents Gerry and Kate McCann and her younger twin siblings in a holiday apartment when she vanished from the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz 13 years ago.
Her parents had put the children to bed and went out to eat at restaurant around 200 feet away. She vanished in the few hours they were gone.
Her disappearance sparked an international search, with missing posters of the little girl’s face papered across the world and celebrity appeals for information that could help track her down and bring her abductors to justice.
Portuguese police closed the investigation in 2008, but after two years of reviewing case documents, London police reopened the case, which has transfixed Britain, in July 2013. They have since spent the equivalent of millions of dollars trying to find her, but no one has been charged and there have been no confirmed sightings.
Announcing the new suspect on Wednesday London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that they had “established that he lived on and off in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007,” and that he was “connected to the area of Praia da Luz.”
The case was being treated as a suspected murder, German police said in a statement Thursday, adding they had determined the method used to kill McCann. No body has ever been found.
The suspect — who is currently imprisoned in that country on unrelated offences — has a number of convictions for child sexual abuse, the statement said. It added that he was also thought to have earned his living “by committing criminal offences, such as burglaries of hotel complexes and holiday apartments as well as trafficking in narcotic drugs.”
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Both British and German police appealed for information about the man and released photographs of vehicles — a Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar — which he used at the time.
The public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig is investigating, Braunschweig state prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said Thursday.
“We assume that the girl is dead,” he added.
The McCann’s “were coping as best as they can but want to focus to remain on the police investigation,” Mitchell said.
“They still remain hopeful,” he added.