German prosecutors announced on Thursday that they believe Madeleine McCann, a British girl who disappeared in Portugal 13 years ago, is dead, and are treating her disappearance as a murder.
“The public prosecutor's office in Braunschweig is investigating a 43-year-old German national on suspicion of murder. From this you can see that we assume that the girl is dead,” German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said.
"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," German police said.
McCann disappeared from her home on May 3, 2007, while she was in Portugal with her family in Algarve. She was 4 years old at the time, and on the day of her disappearance her parents were outside the home eating with friends at a nearby tapas bar in the Praia da Luz resort.
Her disappearance has been a huge and ongoing story in both the UK and Europe, with the latest Metropolitan Police investigation into her disappearance costing over £11 million ($13.8 million).
Yesterday, German and British police appealed for information about the 43-year-old suspect, a convicted pedophile who is currently in a German prison serving a sentence for sexual offences.
The man has not been named by police due to strict German privacy laws, but was described as white and slim, with short blond hair, and around six feet (1.8 meters) tall.
German police said he lived in Algarve, southern Portugal, between 1995 and 2007, dealing drugs and burgling flats. He had also been sentenced numerous times in the past for the sexual abuse of children.
He had apparently confessed to another man in a bar in Germany that he knew what happened to Madeline, then showed the man a video of him raping a women. That video led to an investigation and conviction of him for the 2005 rape of a tourist in Algarve. This in turn brought him onto the police radar.
McCanns won't give up hope
In a statement on Thursday, child's parents said: “We would like to thank the police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine.
“All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice.
“We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive, but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace.”
Clarence Mitchell, the spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann said: “From everything police are saying and doing, this would appear to be the most significant lead that they are trying to close down in the 13 years since Madeleine disappeared.”
Madeleine's parents “are realistic,” he said, adding “they simply want to know what happened to their daughter.”
“That's always been the case, they want whoever is responsible for her disappearance to be brought to justice,” he said.
He added: “Whatever the outcome of this particular line of enquiry might be, they need to know and they need to find peace.”