Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner has dropped his bid for an early release from prison, on the same day that German police dug up an allotment near his former home and removed possible evidence in bags.
Brueckner is currently in prison in Kiel for drug offences and had launched legal proceedings for an early release after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
The two-thirds benchmark passed on June 7, leading to fears he could be released and subsequently disappear before the Maddie case was resolved.
However, he has now dropped his bid, though he is still appealing against a conviction for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old woman, also in Praia da Luz. That sentence has not yet been finalised pending an appeal by the defendant’s lawyers over extradition technicalities.
It comes as police were seen digging up a garden with an excavator after fencing off the allotment and sending in a sniffer dog this morning, four miles outside Hannover where Brueckner once lived.
‘I can confirm that the search is being carried out in connection with our investigations into the Maddie case,’ said Julia Meyer from the prosecutor’s office in nearby Braunschweig.
What police are hoping to find is not clear, but Brueckner is known to have lived in a trailer and worked in a car repair garage in the area, in between spells living in Portugal where Madeleine disappeared in 2007.
Police were later seen withdrawing bags of possible evidence from the site, with a witness telling German newspaper Bild that Brueckner had previously lived at the allotment.
A German police officer stands chest-deep in a hole while a sniffer dog watches on at an allotment near Hannover today where authorities are digging up a garden in their search for Madeleine McCann
German police use an excavator at an allotment garden near Hannover today in an operation linked to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007
Police were digging up the the garden with ‘heavy equipment’ including an excavator after fencing off the allotment this morning
An excavator in the allotment today which was being searched by German police in connection with the Madeleine McCann investigation in which they have had the leading role since Brueckner was identified as the key suspect last month
Christian Brueckner (right) is prime suspect in the kidnap and murder of three-year-old Madeleine (left) in 2007 while she was on holiday in Praia da Luz
Police were today searching an allotment in the area marked in red, outside the city of Hannover in northern Germany
What do we know about Maddie murder suspect Christian Brueckner and his criminal past?
1976: Christian Brueckner is born in Würzburg under a different name. He was adopted by the Brueckner family and took their surname.
1992: Brueckner is arrested on suspicion of burglary in his hometown of Wurzburg, Bavaria.
1994: He is given a two-year youth jail sentence for ‘abusing a child’ and ‘performing sex acts in front of a child’.
1995: Brueckner arrives in Portugal as an 18-year-old backpacker and begins working in catering in the seaside resorts of Lagos and Praia da Luz. But friends say he became involved with a criminal syndicate trafficking drugs into the Algarve.
September 2005: He dons a mask and breaks into an apartment where he rapes a 72-year-old American tourist.
The victim was bound, gagged, blindfolded and whipped with a metal cane before being raped for 15 minutes. She said afterwards that he had clearly enjoyed ‘torturing’ her before the rape.
April 2007: He moves out of a farmhouse and into a campervan now linked to the crime. The farmhouse is cleaned and a bag of wigs and ‘exotic clothes’ is found.
May 3, 2007: Madeleine McCann is snatched at around 10pm from her bed as her parents eat tapas with friends yards away. Brueckner’s mobile phone places him in the area that night. He returns to his native Germany shortly after that.
October 2011: He is sentenced to 21 months for ‘dealing narcotics’ in Niebüll, in northern Germany.
2014: He moves to Braunschweig where he starts running a town-centre kiosk. He then goes back to Portugal with a girlfriend.
2016: He is back in Germany. He is given 15 months in prison for ‘sexual abuse of a child in the act of creating and possessing child pornographic material’.
May 3, 2017: Brueckner is said to be in a bar with a friend when a ten-year anniversary appeal following Madeleine’s disappearance is shown on German television. He is said to have told him in a bar that he ‘knew all about’ what happened to her. The friend apparently went to police.
June 2017: He heads back to Portugal and is extradited again to Germany to face 15 months’ imprisonment for the sexual abuse of a child.
August 2018: After his release from prison he lives on the streets. But he was jailed again for drug offences.
September 2018: Brueckner is arrested in Milan and extradited to Germany and to face trial for raping the American tourist after a DNA match to hair found at the scene.
July 2019: He is jailed for 21 months for drug dealing in the northern German resort of Sylt.
August 2019: Brueckner is charged with the rape of the American tourist in Praia da Luz in 2005.
December 2019: He is convicted of rape raping the tourist based on DNA evidence. He is given a seven year sentence, but has not yet started it because of an ongoing appeal.
June 4, 2020: Brueckner is named by German media as the prime suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.
Police put up a fence around the allotment after they started their search early this morning, meaning they could only be seen through a copse of trees.
Some of the detectives were wearing forensic suits and putting possible pieces of evidence into plastic bags, while others were using rakes and shovels to scour for clues.
A sniffer dog was also deployed, while one officer stood chest-deep in a hole that had been dug at the allotment.
Trees were cut down to assist the search, according to local newspaper HAZ, while police vans were parked outside the allotment and in a nearby field by the side of a canal.
The search was taking place between the towns of Ahlem and Seelze to the west of Hannover city centre – and is expected to continue into Wednesday.
Meyer, the prosecutors’ office spokeswoman, said she could not give any further details on the operation but added only that police would ‘still need some more time to finish.’ It is not clear in what way Brueckner might be linked to the garden.
The search was being carried out by officials from the prosecutors’ office in Braunschweig, where Brueckner was convicted of rape last year, and the German federal police.
Brueckner, a career criminal, was identified as the new lead suspect in June after German police released a trove of new evidence including details of his cars and phone numbers, urging people to come forward with new tip-offs.
Investigators in Germany said at the time that Madeleine was assumed to be dead, going further than British police who are still treating the toddler’s disappearance as a missing-person case.
Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, last month denied receiving a letter from German investigators stating that ‘there is evidence or proof’ Madeleine is dead.
German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters, who is leading the German investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, said that a letter had been written to the couple, but would not reveal what it said.
Mr Wolters said prosecutors have ‘concrete evidence’, but not ‘forensic evidence’ that Madeleine was killed by the suspect and may ‘know more’ than Scotland Yard, who are still treating the case as a missing person investigation.
The Metropolitan Police maintain their active investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, Operation Grange, is a missing person inquiry as there is no ‘definitive evidence whether Madeleine is alive or dead’.
In the days after the renewed appeal, Scotland Yard said they received hundreds of tips to their Operation Grange team.
Brueckner is thought to have worked in a car repair shop while living in a trailer in Hannover, and his last known address in Germany was 40 miles away in Braunschweig.
German media says he received at least two criminal convictions from a Hannover court, one for forging documents in 2010 and another for theft in 2013.
He split his time between Germany and Portugal from 2013 to 2015, prosecutors in Hannover have said.
At the end of 2012, he reportedly opened a small shop in Brunswick with his then girlfriend. After they split up, he continued to run the shop alone until he gave it up 18 months later, along with the adjacent apartment.
Portuguese authorities are also continuing their investigation and earlier this month searched a series of wells in the Algarve region.
Police and divers in the Algarve region examined a series disused wells in Vila do Bispo, around 10 miles from Praia da Luz.
Multiple investigators were at the scene with specialist diving equipment to examine the wells, with the largest thought to be more than 40ft deep.
Brueckner is known to have lived on the Algarve coast and his Portuguese mobile phone received a half-hour phone call in Praia da Luz around an hour before Madeleine went missing 13 years ago – a key piece of evidence in the German investigation.
Police hope to track down the person who placed the call, regarding them as a crucial witness to Brueckner’s movements on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance.
Brueckner made a living doing odd jobs in the area where Madeleine disappeared, and was also known to have burgled hotel rooms and holiday flats.
He has not yet spoken to investigators, who say they are convinced that he has committed other sex attacks.
German investigators wearing protective gear are seen through the trees during their search of an allotment garden near Hannover on Tuesday morning
A sniffer dog took part in the police search, which prosecutors have given few details about and is expected to continue into Wednesday
An excavator at the scene during an operation which authorities have given few details about, beyond confirming that it related to the Madeleine McCann investigation
Uniformed German police officers at an allotment garden plot near Hannover today where the investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance is continuing today
The area was fenced off by police today after the search got underway with ‘heavy equipment’ four miles outside Hannover
Madeleine went missing from her family’s holiday apartment in the Portuguese holiday resort of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, a few days before her fourth birthday, as her parents dined with friends at a nearby tapas bar.
Despite a huge international manhunt, no trace of her has been found, nor has anyone been charged over her disappearance.
In September 2007, Gerry and Kate McCann were questioned by police as formal suspects. The following July, the Portuguese police dropped their investigation because of a lack of evidence and cleared the McCanns of any involvement.
The UK government has continued to fund Scotland Yard’s investigation despite increasing doubts over whether the case would ever be solved.
The McCanns’ lawyer Rogerio Alves said police have only 22 more months to nail down the case because of a 15-year statute of limitations in Portugal.
Speaking on McCann: The Hunt for the Prime Suspect on ITV, Alves said: ‘We have a 15 years time barrier, even to manslaughter, to homicide, to certain sexual offences — and even to the most serious kind of kidnapping.
‘So we are still on time. But time is getting short now.’
A police vehicle outside the allotment, where the police officers’ operations were partly hidden by trees and fencing
A police van outside the allotment near Hannover where authorities from the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office and the German federal police were investigating today
A police van is parked near a skip and a line of tape near the allotment which was being searched in northern Germany today
Kate and Gerry McCann (pictured together) discovered their daughter Madeleine missing in Praia da Luz in May 2007
Brueckner’s name has also been mentioned in connection with other missing children, some of whom vanished in similar circumstances to Madeleine.
In one case, five-year-old Inga Gehricke vanished from a forest in Saxony-Anhalt in 2015 and prosecutors confirmed they were probing possible connections to the McCann case, while saying that Brueckner was not currently a suspect.
He reportedly had a property in the town of Neuwegersleben, around 60 miles south-west of Stendal when Inga went missing.
Separately, the family of German six-year-old René Hasse, who went missing in the Algarve in 1996, revealed that police are re-investigating the case for the first time in 20 years.
Dutch police have also prepared a dossier for German police to look for a possible link to the disappearance of seven-year-old Jair Soares in 2005.
Jair went missing when he went to buy chips near the town of Monster in the South Holland province of the country on August 4, 1995.
A spokesman for police in The Hague confirmed that after announcing their intention to exchange information they have now presented the case and ‘were in talks’.
He said: ‘Presenting the case means that we look if there are any similarities between the cases. So we look for clues that connect them.’
How the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann unfolded over 13 years
May 3: Gerry and Kate McCann leave their three children, including Maddie, asleep in their hotel apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, as they eat with friends in a nearby restaurant. When they return, they find Maddie missing from her bed
May 4: A friend of the McCanns reports of seeing a man carrying a child away in the night. Meanwhile, airports and borders are put on high alert as search gets underway
May 14: Robert Murat, a property developer who lives a few yards from the hotel, is made a suspect by Portuguese police
May 30: The McCanns meet the Pope in Rome in a bid to bring worldwide attention to the search
August 11: Police in Portugal acknowledge for the first time in the investigation that Maddie might be dead.
September 7: Spanish police make the McCanns official suspects in the disappearance. Two days later the family flies back to England
July 21: Spanish police remove the McCanns and Mr Mural as official suspects as the case is shelved
May 1: A computer-generated image of what Maddie could look like two years after she disappeared is released by the McCanns
May 12: A review into the disappearance is launched by Scotland Yard, following a plea from then-Home Secretary Theresa May
April 25: After a year of reviewing the case, Scotland Yard announce they belief that Maddie could be alive and call on police in Portugal to reopen the case, but it falls on deaf ears amid ‘a lack of new evidence’
Kate and Gerry McCann mark the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine with the publication of the book written by her mother in 2011
July 4: Scotland Yard opens new investigation and claim to have identified 38 ‘people of interest’
October 24: A review into the investigation is opened by Portuguese police and new lines of inquiry are discovered, forcing them to reopen the case
January 29: British officers arrive in Portugal as a detailed investigation takes place. During the year, several locations are searched, including an area of scrubland near the resort
October 28: British police announce that team investigating Maddie’s disappearance is reduced from 29 officers to just four, as it is also revealed that the investigation has cost £10million
April 3: Operation Grange is handed an additional £95,000 by Theresa May to keep the investigation alive for another six months
March 11: Cash is once again pumped into keeping the investigation alive, with £85,000 granted to keep it running until September, when it is extended once again until April next year
March 27: The Home Office reveals it has allocated further funds to Operation Grange. The new fund is believed to be as large as £150,000
September 11: Parents fear as police hunt into daughter’s disappearance could be shelved within three weeks by the new Home Secretary amid funding cuts
September 26: Fresh hope in the search for Madeleine McCann as it emerges the Home Office is considering allocating more cash for the police to find her
April: Controversial new Netflix documentary re-examining Maddie’s kidnap is released, triggering a barrage of online abuse against Kate and Gerry by heartless trolls. They pair, who refused to take part in the eight hour programme series, slammed it for ‘potentially hindering’ the search for their daughter while an active police hunt is ongoing
June 5: The Home Office gives the Metropolitan Police enough funding to investigate for another year
June 22: Detectives say they are ‘closer than ever’ to solving the disappearance as they look into a new suspect. A joint effort by British and Portuguese police narrowed in on a ‘foreign’ man who was in the Algarve when she went missing in 2007
December 7: Paulo Pereira Cristovao, a long-time critic of Maddie’s parents who angered them with a controversial book about the mystery disappearance, was convicted of participating in the planning of two violent break-ins at properties in Lisbon and the nearby resort of Cascais. He is jailed for seven and a half years
December 11: Maddie’s parents revealed a touching list of what they miss most about their daughter as they spent their 13th Christmas without her
February 22: Scotland Yard detectives questioned a British expat about her German ex-boyfriend. Carol Hickman, 59, claims police entered her bar in Praia da Luz, Portugal to ask questions about her former partner
March 27: Detectives requested extra money to continue their investigation into the disappearance of the toddler in Portugal back in 2007, with funds for the operation set to run out at the end of the month
June 3: Police reveal that a 43-year-old German prisoner has been identified as a suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.