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Madeleine McCann witness says she saw suspect Christian Brueckner’s VW camper van four years ago

The woman who claims to have spotted missing Madeleine McCann at an Algarve supermarket says she also remembers seeing suspect Christian Brueckner’s distinctive VW camper van nearby.

The Portuguese woman, a German-speaking teacher known only as Maria, went to police recently to tell them a girl she was ‘sure’ was Maddie because of the unique blemish in her right eye, had been beside her at Apolonia Supermarket in Gale near Albufeira.

She went public with her sighting last night night on an investigative programme called Sexta as 9, screened by Portuguese state broadcaster RTP.

As well as telling reporter and presenter Sandra Felgueiras she was ‘certain’ she had seen the missing Brit youngster talking to another girl in German before they vanished, she said she remembered seeing the VW camper van which featured in a police appeal about the German paedophile’s vehicles.

The Portuguese woman, a German-speaking teacher known only as Maria, went to police recently to tell them a girl she was ‘sure’ was Maddie (pictured) because of the unique blemish in her right eye, had been beside her at Apolonia Supermarket in Gale near Albufeira

She went public with her sighting last night night on an investigative programme called Sexta as 9, screened by Portuguese state broadcaster RTP. Pictured, the Apolonia supermarket

She went public with her sighting last night night on an investigative programme called Sexta as 9, screened by Portuguese state broadcaster RTP. Pictured, the Apolonia supermarket

She said: ‘I perfectly remember seeing it somewhere, in a side street or in the area where they used to park which is now West Gale car park, long before it was handed over as part of a concession and there were a lot of camper vans there.

‘I recall that van being parked somewhere near the Apolonia supermarket.

‘It was the white and yellow two-toned van. I can’t remember exactly when I saw it but I recall seeing it.’

She also revealed she had phoned the McCanns’ Portuguese lawyer Rogerio Alves after calling the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria police force which is involved in the hunt for Maddie.

Maria, who spoke with a strong northern Portuguese accent and was described as a regular long-time holidaymaker in the Algarve area, said she was dissuaded from her family from going to police after ‘spotting Madeleine three to four years ago.’

As well as telling reporter and presenter Sandra Felgueiras she was 'certain' she had seen the missing Brit youngster, she said she remembered seeing the VW camper van (pictured) which featured in a police appeal about the German paedophile's vehicles

As well as telling reporter and presenter Sandra Felgueiras she was ‘certain’ she had seen the missing Brit youngster, she said she remembered seeing the VW camper van (pictured) which featured in a police appeal about the German paedophile’s vehicles

She contacted the authorities after the recent police appeal about Brueckner and reports he could be linked to a November 2007 burglary at a house near the supermarket where a family’s £91,000 savings were taken.

Sandra Felgueiras made the link to Brueckner on a previous programme, saying the German paedophile had been working with a female accomplice who tipped him off so he could break into properties in the Algarve in copycat raids to the one investigators believe resulted in Maddie’s abduction.

Maria told Sexta as 9 she was in the dark about whether the police were investigating her information because after her calls to Mr Alves and the PJ, she has had ‘no more contact with anyone up until today.’

Speaking with her voice distorted to mask her identity, she said: ‘ ‘It was three to four years ago, I can’t be sure exactly when, at Apolonia Supermarket in Gale.

The Portuguese woman claims she saw a teenage girl with Madeleine's distinctive blemish in her right eye outside a supermarket in Gale near Albufeira (file image of Praia Da Luz, Portugal on June 4)

The Portuguese woman claims she saw a teenage girl with Madeleine’s distinctive blemish in her right eye outside a supermarket in Gale near Albufeira (file image of Praia Da Luz, Portugal on June 4)

‘There was a girl to my right speaking with another in German.

‘When I looked at her eyes, I was sure about what I saw.

‘They were light-coloured eyes with the same blemish Maddie has. The blemish was in her right eye. I’m sure about what I saw.

She added: ‘The girl I saw was about 13 to 14. Unfortunately it was only a few seconds after they had left the supermarket that I realised who that face belonged to.

‘I made the link but sadly it was too late.

‘I spent a few moments looking to see if they were in one of the aisles and I spent some time waiting to see if they were alone or with someone by the tills but I didn’t see them again.

Last week Portugal's version of Crimewatch - the RTP investigative programme Sexta - linked Madeleine suspect Christian Brueckner (pictured) to a burglary in 2007 where a family's £91,000 savings were taken

Last week Portugal’s version of Crimewatch – the RTP investigative programme Sexta – linked Madeleine suspect Christian Brueckner (pictured) to a burglary in 2007 where a family’s £91,000 savings were taken

‘I don’t know if they were with someone or if they were alone. They weren’t carrying anything in their hands, I remember that well.’

Praia da Gale is a 45-minute drive east of Praia da Luz where the British youngster was last seen on May 3 2007.

The supermarket at the centre of the new sighting is understood to erase its CCTV footage every so often and no images from the time exist.

Child psychologist Ana Vasconcelos told the programme children snatched from their parents at a young age can ‘consciously switch off’ the trauma and get used to living in captivity.

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, believed to be Fischer. He was adopted by the Brueckner family and took their surname.

1992: Christian 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 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. 

In 2013 police released a photofit of a man seen lurking near the McCann apartment and Scotland Yard said that suspect had not yet been ruled out of the probe

In 2013 police released a photofit of a man seen lurking near the McCann apartment and Scotland Yard said that suspect last night had not yet been ruled out of the probe

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. He then showed his friend a video of him raping a woman.

MailOnline understands the friend went to police shortly afterwards.

June 2017: He heads back to Portugal and extradited again to Germany. The reason was a sentencing of the Braunschweig district court to 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. 

First Prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters addresses the media during a press conference on the Madeleine McCann case at the public prosecutor's office in Braunschweig

First Prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters addresses the media during a press conference on the Madeleine McCann case at the public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig

September 2018: Brueckner is arrested in Milan, Italy and extradited to Germany and put on trial for raping the American tourist in 2007 after a DNA match to hair found at the crime 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 of extortion of the tourist based on DNA evidence. He is given a seven year sentence, but this has not been imposed pending an appeal. 

June 3, 2020: Scotland Yard and the German police reveal that that they have identified a suspect in the Maddie McCann case

June 4, 2020: Prosecutors in Braunschweig, where he lives, say they believe Madeleine McCann has been murdered, says spokesman Hans Christian Wolters. He is named in the German press as the prime suspect.

Madeleine McCann has a rare eye condition known as a Coloboma. It is a gap in part of the eye’s structure, normally towards the bottom of the eye.

It can affect one or both eyes. It only occurs in one in 10,000 births. Maddie’s mark is thought to affect as few as seven out of one million people.

Drifter Brueckner, 43, is currently serving a 21-month drug sentence in prison in the German city of Kiel for drugs offences. It expires next January.

He is appealing a conviction late last year for the rape of an American pensioner in Praia da Luz in September 2005 following a break-in.

His lawyer Friedrich Fulscher went to the Court of Justice of Luxembourg earlier this month to demand he be freed from jail on a technicality over his rape conviction.

An interim decision has been earmarked for August 6 and a final judgement is expected between two and six months later.

Bruckner was twice extradited from Portugal to Germany after international arrest warrants were issued for him.

The second time was in 2017 after it was discovered he was wanted for child sex abuse and possession of child pornography.

Christian Brueckner is also a suspect in the disappearance of Inga Gehricke, five, who vanished in Germany in 2015

Peggy Knobloch

Christian Brueckner is also a suspect in the disappearance of Inga Gehricke, five, (left) who vanished in Germany in 2015 and Peggy Knobloch, nine, (right) whose remains were discovered in the Thuringian Forest in Germany on July 2 2016

How Madeleine McCann’s disappearance unfolded 

2007

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 Mural, 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

2008

July 21: Spanish police remove the McCanns and Mr Mural as official suspects as the case is shelved

2009

May 1: A computer-generated image of what Maddie could look like two years after she disappeared is released by the McCanns 

2011

May 12: A review into the disappearance is launched by Scotland Yard, following a plea from then-Home Secretary Theresa May 

2012

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

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

2013

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

2014

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 

2015

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 

2016

April 3: Operation Grange is handed an additional £95,000 by Theresa May to keep the investigation alive for another six months  

2017

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

2018

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. 

2019

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. The 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.

May: A convicted German paedophile and serial killer emerges as a key suspect. Martin Ney, 48, serving life in prison for abducting and killing three children, was said to resemble closely a photofit issued in 2013 of a man spotted acting suspiciously in Praia da Luz around the time Madeleine was abducted.

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. They say: ‘We love her, we miss her, we hope as always. The search for Madeleine goes on with unwavering commitment.’

2020

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.

Portuguese police nabbed him after arresting him on suspicion of exposing himself to young children at a playground in Sao Bartolomeu de Messines a 40-minute drive from Praia de Luz. 

He was never prosecuted and the criminal probe was mothballed despite protests from the youngsters’ angry parents.

On July 9 police and firefighters searched three wells for Madeleine’s body but failed to find any trace of her.

The abandoned wells are a 15-minute drive from Brueckner’s rented cottage on the outskirts of Praia de Luz, on a narrow road leading down to a beach where the paedophile used to park his VW camper van. 

A show source said: ‘This woman has just come forward and said she saw Madeleine several years ago and recognised her from the distinctive blemish in her eye. She was certain it was Maddie, aged about 14-15. She appears very credible and has been filmed.

‘She believes Maddie is being brought up in the community without anyone knowing and the Policia Judiciaria are now looking into her claims.

‘It may sound very far fetched but anything’s possible and cannot be ruled out.’ 

Last month German police named Brueckner as their prime suspect in the kidnap and murder of Madeleine who vanished while on holiday.

Detectives in northern Germany have spent weeks making desperate appeals for information to link him to the youngster’s abduction but have not so far secured the vital evidence they need.

Prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters, who is leading the investigation, has told the McCanns they have concrete evidence Madeleine is dead, in the biggest break-through in the 13-year-old case.

He said he hoped to be able to charge Brueckner within the next two months – but has warned that their investigation will not drag on forever.

Fulscher said it was for detectives to prove he was guilty. ‘As things stand now I do not actually believe there will be any charges,’ he said. ‘I do not anticipate a prosecution.

‘Thank God, in our legal system the prosecution has to prove the crime to an accused person and it is not the accused who must exonerate himself.

‘As long as my client does not know what he is accused of, and on what basis, there is no reason to think otherwise.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk