Within days of Madeleine’s disappearance, Gerry and Kate McCann were poring, hour after hour, over photographs of known offenders. They included local men and British citizens – either residents of Portugal or individuals known to have visited the country in the days and weeks leading up to May 3, 2007.
|Kate and Gerry McCann with artists conception of Madeleine at 9 years old|
A number of men, at one point considered possible suspects, have been named publicly. Three months after Madeleine’s disappearance, a five-year-old blonde girl, Ylenia Lenhard, vanished in Switzerland after visiting a swimming pool. Her decomposing body was found the following month.
Nearby was the corpse of a 67-year-old man, Urs Hans von Aesch, an apparent suicide. Forensic evidence would establish that Ylenia had been in his white Renault van. The precise circumstances remain unclear, but everything indicates he was responsible for the child’s death. Von Aesch had long been resident in Spain, near to where Madeleine vanished on the Algarve, and was living there at the time. A man in a white van, moreover, had been seen parked near the McCanns’ holiday apartment at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz.
Scotland Yard detectives would travel to Switzerland in 2012 to confer with their counterparts there. The elements that made von Aesch seem suspicious, however, appear not to add up. The white van in Praia da Luz had not been the make the suspect owned; von Aesch was much older than any of the men potentially linked to the case by testimony, and there is no known evidence that he had, in fact, been in the Algarve in May 2007.
The Swiss police could “neither make any connection of von Aesch to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann nor exclude a connection with absolute certainty,” the police chief who ran the original investigation, Bruno Fehr, told us.
The suggestion that Hewlett might have abducted Madeleine became public in May 2009, when a couple who had met him in Portugal – but not at the time known about his past – reported that he had chattered about “gypsies” having offered him money for one of his own daughters. Another couple, who encountered him in Morocco, said he had talked about the McCann case a lot, saying he knew Praia da Luz and the Ocean Club and had often parked his van near Apartment 5A, where the McCanns stayed in May 2007.
|Ocean Club Resort|
Subsequently, however, in an interview with a newspaper, Hewlett came up with a quite different story. He insisted that he “didn’t kill the McCann girl… I’d take a lie-detector test… The only time I’ve seen Madeleine McCann is on missing posters. And I saw her on TV in a bar once. But I’ve never seen her in real life. Yes, I’ve been to Praia da Luz, but not since 2002.” He claimed he had been in Vila Real de Santo António, on the Spanish border, when Madeleine vanished.
British officers working on the current Metropolitan Police investigation [Operation Grange, set up in 2011] took an interest in the Hewlett matter in 2012, but his name has not come up publicly since. Though Hewlett was a convicted child molester, there is no substantive evidence that he had anything to do with the Madeleine case.
|Maddy and Ugly Man seen by a few people|
He died in his early sixties in Portugal in 2013. If, as it appears, Reid was still in Carvoeiro in May 2007 when Madeleine vanished, that fact deserved investigation – whatever his claims to have been a changed man.
Carvoeiro has been of special interest to investigators for years – and still was, as this book went to press, to detectives running the current Metropolitan Police investigation. As early as 2009, working from police records released to the McCanns and other material, their private detectives had identified four villages and towns – all within 40 miles of Praia da Luz – where, in the period before Madeleine’s disappearance, intruders had assaulted, tried to assault and in one case tried to abduct, young girls.
One of the incidents in the Carvoeiro area was described to us by a British resident of Portugal, a well-known face on British television who prefers not to be named here. It occurred some three years before Madeleine vanished, and the target was the eight-year-old daughter of an English couple – friends of the resident – who were renting a villa nearby.
|The McCanns themselves|
were considered suspects
for a while
“The older girl woke up at that point and saw what was happening. The man got up and walked out of the room into the kitchen. The older girl told her sister something like, 'Keep quiet. Just keep quiet.’ But then, when the man had gone, the kids woke their parents.”
Years later, after a study by the Metropolitan Police of the various attacks, Operation Grange chief Andy Redwood would update the information on potentially relevant incidents before and after Madeleine’s disappearance. There had, in fact, been 18 break-ins that involved children, he said, in properties where British families stayed between 2004 and 2010: five in Carvoeiro, nine at locations near either Carvoeiro or Albufeira, one in the village of Vilamoura and three in Praia da Luz itself.
In one chilling incident in 2006 in Praia da Luz, at the Ocean Club, children in a ground-floor apartment (like the McCanns’) had seen a man break in through a patio door. He had taken nothing, but merely stood staring into a child’s travel cot. The previous year in Praia da Luz, a 10-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted. In all, nine children in the wider area had been sexually assaulted. There had been three “near misses” – where the offender was in close proximity to the potential victim – and six other occasions in which an intruder had been interrupted before he could carry out an attack.
|Man seen carrying a child was eventually identified and cleared|
One account given to us, however, suggests there was a sexual motive behind these visits. A British citizen long resident in the Algarve has described a frightening episode when a man claiming to represent an orphanage came to the door of her friend, also English. “There was a knock at the door,” she recalled, “and the man standing there said he was collecting for some orphanage. What made her very uncomfortable was that, all the time he was stood there, he wasn’t looking at her but past her – at her three-year-old daughter.”
A couple of hours later, when the British woman went to pick up an older child from school, she spotted him again. “He was still there, waiting at the end of the road,” her friend told us. “Her sense of unease increased. And the following day, she left her three-year-old daughter downstairs for a minute or two while she went upstairs. Then, when she was coming back down the stairs, she caught a glimpse of a man – really only his legs – in the living room with her child. He left rapidly as she came down the stairs, obviously.
“My friend thought it was the same man who had come to the door the previous day collecting for an orphanage. She thought he had got in through the patio doors and believed – even then – that he had meant to take her daughter.”
This was very shortly before Madeleine disappeared. The family’s rented villa was, moreover, in Praia da Luz, where six other “orphanage” incidents were reported – one of them, the week before Madeleine went missing, at the Ocean Club’s Apartment 5A.
Compelling testimony, indicating that someone was watching that apartment comes from a British girl, Tasmin Sillence. As a 12-year-old who lived nearby, she had reason to notice what went on in the vicinity of the flat. It had once belonged to her grandmother and she had lived there for a time.
She told police that she had twice seen a man near 5A. He had seemed to be hanging around, watching the place. The first time, on April 30, the third day of the McCanns’ ill-fated trip, he had been leaning against the wall in the lane, on the pool side of the apartment block, “staring intently at the balcony” of 5A. On the eve of Madeleine’s disappearance, Tasmin saw him standing in front of the Ocean Club entrance that led to the Tapas restaurant. Hands in pockets, he was again gazing in the direction of Apartment 5A.
A second witness, a British tourist staying in an apartment close to the McCanns’, also saw a man in more or less the same spot who appeared to be watching 5A.
What had struck her as so peculiar was the way the man had closed the gate, as though he was “ensuring it did not make a noise… he closed it with both his hands, several times… It was his furtiveness that got my attention.”
In April 2014, Operation Grange’s Chief Inspector Redwood made public a description of the intruder involved in actual or attempted sex assaults on girls in their beds. “The offender, we know,” he revealed, “is described as being a male, with dark hair, who has got dark brown tanned skin. He often speaks to the victims in a foreign accent, in English, with his voice being rather slow or possibly slurred.’’
The man was unshaven, with unkempt hair. Some witnesses had described him as having a pot belly, and three of the children said he had “a noticeable odour”. He had on occasion been bare-chested. On two occasions, though, the man had worn a distinctive long-sleeved burgundy-coloured top. One former police detective has suggested it might have been a promotional T-shirt for Super Bock, a brand of beer. The shirts were of a type some bars in Portugal give free to regular customers. Just possibly, checks could trace at least some of the people who received the shirt in the relevant area of the Algarve.
|Two sketches of same suspect|
Relevant material, Redwood thought, might be lying forgotten “in police exhibit stores somewhere in the Algarve”. If such evidence does exist, could be retrieved and if it led to identification of an individual, the investigation might yet take a great leap forward.
It is fair to say that if Gerry and Kate McCann had known of the history of sexual assaults on tourists’ children in Praia da Luz and the surrounding area, they would never have left their patio door unlocked to make dinner-time checks easier. Indeed, had they known about the sex assaults in advance of the holiday, they might not have travelled to the Algarve at all.
'Looking For Madeleine' by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan (Headline, £18.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £16.99 + £1.95 p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk
© Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan 2014