Madeleine McCann detectives launch major search for missing toddler
Madeleine McCann detectives launch major search for missing toddler at Portuguese reservoir that suspect Christian Brueckner called his ‘little paradise’
- Police have started searching the Barragem do Arade reservoir in Portugal
- It will be the first major operation of its kind since a dig in Praia da Luz in 2014
- Scotland Yard detectives and German police will assist Portuguese authorities
Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have launched a major search of a Portuguese reservoir that prime suspect Christian Brueckner used to call his ‘little paradise’.
Portuguese police have today been spotted searching the Barragem do Arade reservoir, near the town of Silves in southern Portugal, with some officers pictured arriving in vehicles laden with wheelbarrows.
A flurry of activity at the reservoir comes amid an official search for the British toddler, who went missing in Portugal in 2007, starting tomorrow – with Scotland Yard detectives also involved in the operation.
Madeleine was just three years old when she disappeared from her bed some 31 miles away from the reservoir in the Algarve holiday resort of Praia da Luz 16 years ago. She was in the same room as her two-year-old twin brother and sister while her parents had dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant.
German police were also said to have arrived at the reservoir at around 6.30pm local time today, having received permission to search the ‘area of interest’ that Brueckner reportedly used to come to ‘regularly’.
Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (left) have launched a major search of a Portuguese reservoir that suspect Christian Brueckner (right) used to call his ‘little paradise’
Portuguese officers were pictured surveying the reservoir in Silves today ahead of the start of the official search operation for Madeleine beginning tomorrow
The search is expected to last for at least two days and beyond that if anything of relevance is found at the reservoir, which lies about 45 minutes from Praia da Luz – where Madeleine vanished without a trace in 2007 aged three
Officers of Portugal’s investigative Judicial Police are seen at the site of a remote reservoir in Silves. They confirmed today that they have launched a fresh search alongside German and British authorities
A vehicle of Portugal’s Emergency Services carries wheelbarrows at the site of the reservoir
Two officers from Portugal’s Judicial Police are pictured walking around the grounds of the reservoir today
German prosecutors were remaining tight lipped on the new development, but they are expected to reveal further details soon.
Privately, senior investigators close to the case told MailOnline they ‘didn’t have a specific lead’ but that the search was part of the ‘ongoing investigation’.
The search is expected to last for at least two days and beyond that if anything of relevance is found at the reservoir, which lies about 45 minutes from Praia da Luz.
This morning, police tents were being erected at the scene as cops descended on the reservoir in preparation for the search to begin.
It will be the first major operation of its kind since June 2014 when British police were given permission to dig in Praia da Luz using sniffer dogs trained in detecting bodies and ground-penetrating radar.
‘Obviously we remain confident that we will find an element or piece of evidence that will lead to the case being solved but at the moment we are still looking at various elements,’ the source told MailOnline.
‘We know that the main suspect visited the area frequently and we have spoken to several witnesses who knew him at the time and who have confirmed this.
‘It would be bad police work if we didn’t check everything out but for the time being it’s safe to say there is no new hot lead.’
Police tents have been spotted being erected as cops prepare for a new search operation, 16 years on from the toddler going missing
Portuguese police have been spotted at a makeshift base camp in the Arade dam area, Faro district, one day before the official start of a new search for Madeleine
Pictured: Tents are seen set up near the reservoir in Portugal as police start searching for Madeleine
Pictured: Tens of a makeshift base camps in the Arade dam area, Faro district, one day before the official start of a new search operation amid the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, in Silves, Portugal, 22 May
It was not immediately clear what had prompted this week’s operation, and whether it was hastily arranged after police in Germany received a new tip-off or had been organised over time as prosecutors there continue to try to build up a picture of sole suspect Christian Brueckner’s life on the Algarve and the places he frequented.
Portuguese broadcaster SIC reported that German police sought permission to search the dam in an official judicial request to Portugal after concluding it was ‘an area of interest’.
It said: ‘Investigators know suspect Cristian Brueckner used to come to this dam regularly.
‘He would call it his little paradise and would often spend the night here. He was seen here often.
‘The German authorities considered this reservoir to be an area of interest and ended up sending an International letter of request or letter rogatory.’
A lorry driver says that he saw a woman handing a child who looked like Madeleine over to a man two days after she went missing from her Praia da Luz holiday apartment on May 3 in 2007.
It was searched twice in February and March 2008 by divers hired by a Portuguese lawyer.
Expert divers are now set to explore the murky depths of the dam around the Barragem do Arade reservoir, but digs will also take place in woodland by the water.
Senior investigators close to the case told MailOnline they ‘didn’t have a specific lead’ but that the search was part of the ‘ongoing investigation’
Police are aiming to build up a picture of sole suspect Christian Brueckner’s life on the Algarve and the places he frequented as they search the Barragem reservoir in Silves, Portugal
Local reports are claiming around 80 per cent of the searches will be on land and the rest underwater.
As police from three countries gear up for a mass search, a source close to the lawyer of prime suspect Brueckner said they would be ‘amazed if they find anything’ at the reservoir he used to visit.
Today has been described as a preparation day in which logistics are sorted out ahead of the search tomorrow.
A peninsula over a mile long jutting into the reservoir was sealed off just after midday today, ahead of the dive.
Several local council lorries were also spotted on the land as tents were set up.
In another area, just under a mile away, Portuguese Civil Protection workers were seen setting up a tent alongside police.
Portugal’s Policia Judiciaria force said in a statement: ‘In view of the news made public, the Judiciary Police confirms that, regarding the investigation into the disappearance of an English child, which occurred in the Algarve in 2007, steps are still being taken to fully clarify the situation.
‘Within the scope of international cooperation, in the next few days in the Algarve region, new searches will be carried out, coordinated by the Judiciary Police, at the request of the German Authorities (BKA) and with the presence of the British Authorities.
‘Information will be provided in due course on the outcome of the proceedings.’
One well-placed source described the new search as a German-led operation which was being coordinated with the help of Portuguese police and was linked to information the authorities had gleaned pointing to regular trips Brueckner made to the dam.
The insider said: ‘Portuguese police will offer logistical support but the initiative is German and they were the ones that requested the work that is going to take place this week.
‘Scotland Yard officers are due to travel to Portugal but theirs will be a watching brief.’
Officials were pictured starting to gather at the site of the reservoir ahead of the search
Local police set up cordons ahead of the major search expected to last at least two days
Officials were seen nearby earlier today, setting up tents ahead of the major search
Barragem reservoir in Silves, southern Portugal, where police will start to look for Madeleine
German police looking for Madeleine McCann are about to begin a major search of a remote Algarve reservoir suspect Christian Brueckner used to visit. Pictured: Barragem reservoir in Silves
A general view of the dam which Brueckner reportedly called his ‘little paradise’
Marcos Aragao Correia organised the privately-funded operation after claiming he had been tipped off by underworld contacts that Madeleine had been murdered and her body thrown into the reservoir within 48 hours of her disappearance.
Two bags containing small bones were found during the second search after divers had earlier recovered several lengths of cord, some plastic tape and a single white cotton sock.
Portuguese police were alerted following the discovery but subsequently ruled out the possibility the bones were human because of their size.
Last year, suspect Christian Brueckner spoke out for the first time on the case, denying allegations he was involved in her disappearance in a letter seen by MailOnline.
After being made an official suspect in the case in April 2022, he stressed that he was ‘not there at the time and that he was not living close to the place [of her disappearance].’
Brueckner, linked to four child murders across Europe since 1996, said: ‘I’m the most-known bad person in the world and I did nothing – well almost nothing.’
He added: ‘I wasn’t kidnapping anybody and of course I wasn’t killing anybody.
‘I’ll go further, I’ll tell you I wasn’t attacking anybody after I was 18.
‘I made some silly mistakes when I was younger but who hasn’t?’
Brueckner has yet to face any formal accusation over the youngster’s disappearance.
On May 12, the family posted a video to mark their daughter’s 20th birthday.
The slideshow featured images of Madeleine and missing person posters put up since her disappearance.
‘We love you and we’re waiting for you. We’re never going to give up,’ it read.
Madeleine Beth McCann went missing while on holiday with her family on the evening of May 3, 2007.
The McCanns were themselves given ‘arguido’ suspect status in September 2007, which was lifted when the case was archived in July 2008 for lack of evidence.
The family kept the investigation open with private detectives until Scotland Yard opened its own enquiry in 2011.
Nine years later, police in Braunschweig, northern Germany, identified a convicted paedophile and German national as a new suspect.
In 2021, prosecutors said they were ‘100% sure’ that they had the right man.
German prosecutor Hans Wolters said evidence included phone analysis placing him at the Ocean Club resort the family was staying at when Madeleine went missing and an alleged confession Brueckner made to a friend.
In April, it was reported Christian Brueckner may not face charges in Germany over Madeleine’s disappearance after a court ruled prosecutors had no jurisdiction to pursue a case against him, however.
Handout picture of Madeleine McCann, who went missing in Portugal on May 3 in 2007
Parents Kate (L) and Gerry McCann (R) pose with an artist’s impression of how their daughter might have looked [then] at the age of nine ahead of a press conference on May 2, 2012
The Ocean Club in Luz in the Algarve, Portugal, where Madeleine McCann went missing
Expert divers are now set to explore the murky depths of the dam around the Barragem do Arade reservoir (pictured)
Madeleine’s parents Gerry and Kate McCann had previously dismissed Mr Correia as a self-publicist and said there was no evidence suggesting any link between their daughter and the reservoir.
It is not thought to have been searched since March 2008 as part of the ongoing investigation into her disappearance.
Digs by Scotland Yard nearly nine years ago in Praia da Luz were linked to the leading UK police theory at the time, that Madeleine died during a break-in and burglars dumped her body nearby.
In July 2020 Portuguese police and firefighters searched three wells for Madeleine’s body but failed to find any trace of her.
Hopes were dashed last month when a DNA test showed Julia Wendell was not Madeleine McCann, despite her insistence that she was.
Wendell’s own parents branded her claims ‘lies and manipulation’.
Later in April, she was reported to police over claims she had explicit images of children on her phone.
She denied the claims and said she had already spoken to Polish police about the matter.
Who is sole suspect Christian Brueckner?
Christian Brueckner is a German native and sex offender named as a suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
He was officially named as a suspect in April 2022 after his yellow and white VW T3 Westfalia campervan was reportedly spotted near the Praia da Luz resort in Portugal where Maddie vanished.
Brueckner has denied he was in the area at the time and distanced himself from the allegations against him.
But German prosecutors say phone logs show he received a call on May 3 2007 near the Ocean Club.
Brueckner maintains that he was miles away with a young woman.
He remains the sole significant suspect in the case since 2007.
It is believed he worked in the food industry in Portugal between 1995 and 2007.
He is currently in prison for the separate rape and murder of a 72-year-old woman, and has previously been convicted for sex crimes against young girls.
It is understood he has 17 convictions against him for different crimes, including the disappearances of multiple children.
Now, German police will search the area investigators believed to be a getaway for the offender.
According to Portuguese broadcaster SIC, Brueckner used to visit the dam regularly.
He was said to call it his ‘little paradise’ and was often seen at the reservoir.
Brueckner also spent time living in and around the hamlet of Foral, around 12 miles from the reservoir.
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