Madeleine McCann case update: police apologise to her parents, Gerry and Kate

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Police apologise to Gerry and Kate McCann NATHALIE MAGNIEZ - Getty Images

Over sixteen years ago, on 3 May 3 2007, three-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished from a holiday apartment in Portugal's Praia de Luz, while her parents Kate and Gerry had dinner with a group of friends nearby. During the initial investigation, Kate and Gerry were wrongly named as formal suspects or “arguidos”.

The pair were formally cleared by the Portuguese authorities in 2008, with the country's attorney general citing "insufficient evidence".

Now, Portuguese police have travelled from Lisbon to London to formally apologise to Kate and Gerry for the poor handling of the initial investigation.

We take a look back at the timeline of Madeleines disappearance below:

3 May 2007

At around 8.30pm, Kate and Gerry go for dinner with friends at a tapas restaurant 55 metres away from their apartment (via The Guardian). Around 9pm, Gerry goes and checks on the children and returns to the restaurant. At 10pm, Kate goes to check the apartment and discovers Madeleine missing. The McCanns' friend Jane Tanner reports seeing a man carrying a child earlier that night. At 22:10, Gerry sends friend Matthew Oldfield to ask the resort's reception desk to call the police, and at 22:30 the resort activates its missing-child search protocol.

Missing Madeleine McCann
Handout - Getty Images

4 May 2007

The Polícia Judiciária arrive after 1am, and sniffer dogs are brought in. Police and volunteers search the village, beach and resort. Spanish and border police and airports are notified.

14 May 2007

British-Portuguese property consultant Robert Murat becomes the first arguido [suspect] (via BBC). He lives with his mother in a villa 150 yards from the McCanns' holiday apartment 5a. A Sunday Mirror journalist tells Portuguese police that he appeared shifty and was asking reporters lots of questions about the case.

Police had signed him up as an official interpreter as he had said he wanted to help with their inquiry. Police search his home. Murat denies any involvement in Madeleine's disappearance.

Robert Murat leaves teh Casa Liliana in
Robert Murat in Portugal FRANCISCO LEONG - Getty Images

26 May 2007

Praia da Luz holidaymakers Martin and Mary Smith tell Portuguese police that they saw a man 500 yards away from the McCanns' apartment carrying a young girl in her pyjamas towards the beach.

30 May 2007

The McCanns visit the Pope after receiving a formal invitation from the Vatican. They leave their two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie, in Portugal (via The Telegraph).

3 June 2007

JK Rowling offers support to the McCann family. The Harry Potter author also goes on to donate money to the Madeleine Fund (The Telegraph).

jk rowling
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August 2007

Portuguese police "abandon abduction theory" [via The Sunday Times] and launch a murder investigation.

7 September 2007

Kate and Gerry McCann are made 'arguidos' in Madeleine's disappearance during questioning.

9 September 2007

Despite their 'arguidos' status, the McCanns are allowed to return to the UK. They fly back to Britain with Sean and Amelie [BBC].

Gerry tells media: "We want the twins, as much as is reasonably possible, to live an ordinary life in their home country, and want to consider the events of the last few days, which have been so deeply disturbing. Despite there being so much we wish to say we are unable to do so, except to say this: we played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter, Madeleine."

21 September 2007

The head of the Portuguese police federation Carlos Anjos accuse Kate and Gerry of hindering the investigation into Madeleine's disappearance [via The Telegraph].

"They are arguidos, a status which allows them to remain silent and they have already said that they will make no more statements," Anjos tells reporters.

The McCanns' spokesman Clarence Mitchell dismisses claims that the McCanns are using their right to silence to withhold co-operation with police.

2 October 2007

Chief Inspector Gonçalo Amaral is removed from the case after criticising British police in a Portuguese tabloid newspaper. Amaral criticised the British police's decision to investigate an email to Prince Charles' website claiming Madeleine was abducted by a former employee of the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz, where the family were staying [The Guardian].

Goncalo Amaral, Former Policia Judiciaria (Crime Police)
Goncalo AmaralAFP - Getty Images

He also accused British detectives of only investigating leads that the McCanns wanted followed-up.

19 March, 2008

Kate and Gerry McCann accept £550,000 libel damages and front-page apologies from Express Newspapers over allegations they were responsible for Madeleine's death.

21 July 2008

Portuguese authorities lift the 'arguido' status of the McCanns and Robert Murat.

24 July 2008

Detective Goncalo Amaral's book The Truth Of The Lie is published. He claims that Madeleine died in the holiday apartment the day she disappeared. Amaral also appears in a Portuguese documentary during which he alleges that the McCanns had hidden Madeleine's body. The McCanns strongly deny the allegations and say Amaral's publication defames them and discourages their continuing inquiry (BBC).

1 May 2009

Kate and Gerry McCann release a computer-altered image of what Madeleine would look like, two years after her disappearance.

Madeleine McCann: A timeline of her disappearance
Getty Images

12 May 2011

Kate McCann's book about Madeleine's disappearance is published on Madeleine's eighth birthday.

May 2011

Under Home Secretary Theresa May, Scotland Yard launches an investigative review, Operation Grange, with a team of 29 detectives and eight civilians (via Freedom of Information request). Prime Minister David Cameron says that Operation Grange will be financed by a Home Office contingency fund.

July 2013

Scotland Yard says it has "new evidence and new witnesses" in the case and opens a formal investigation into her disappearance (via BBC). The Met Police says they believe there's a chance that Madeleine could still be alive. Police say they are investigating 38 "persons of interest", which includes 12 British nationals.

Gerry And Kate McCann Launch Their Book 'Madeleine'
Dan Kitwood - Getty Images

October 2013

Scotland Yard and the BBC's Crimewatch stage a reconstruction and detectives release two e-fits of a man carrying a child in pyjamas towards the beach in Praia da Luz on the night Madeleine went missing. E-fits based on Martin and Mary Smith's testimony were originally created in 2008 by Oakley International, private investigators hired by the McCanns.

24 October 2013

Portuguese police reopen the case after confirming a review into their original investigation uncovered new lines of inquiry.

January 2014

British detectives fly to Portugal to speak with local officers (via BBC) following claims they are about to make an arrest. In the 17 days before Madeleine's disappearance, there had been two incidents in the McCanns' block, one burglary and one attempted burglary.

Police say the possibility that Madeleine had been snatched by burglars as part of a bungled break-in is a key line of inquiry.

Kate and Gerry in 2014PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA - Getty Images

March 2014

Scotland Yard launches new appeal information with a potential link to a series of twelve crimes which occurred between 2004 and 2010, mostly in low season, whereby a male intruder had gained access to mainly holiday villas occupied by UK families on holiday in the Western Algarve.

In four cases between 2004 and 2006 the man sexually assaulted 5 white girls, aged between 7 and 10 years, whilst in their beds. On one of these occasions, he assaulted two girls in the same villa [Metropolitan Police].

2 June 2014

Police search scrubland near where Madeleine disappeared. Officers use dogs and "ground penetrating radar" to search the scrubland as they look for signs of disturbed earth (via BBC).

April 2015

Goncalo Amaral is ordered to pay €500,000 (£429,000) in compensation to Kate and Gerry McCann by a Lisbon court over allegations he made in his book, which alleged the McCanns disposed of Madeleine's body (via The Guardian).

Madeleine McCann: A timeline of her disappearance
Getty Images

October 2015

Scotland Yard confirm they are scaling down their investigation, reducing 29 officers to four.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police says (via The Telegraph): "While there remain lines of inquiry to follow, the vast majority of the work by Operation Grange has been completed."

April 2016

Home secretary Theresa May grants UK police Operation Grange £95,000 to continue their investigation for a further six months.

20 April 2016

The libel conviction of former detective Goncalo Amaral is overturned by an appeals court in Portugal (The Guardian).

February 2017

Kate and Gerry McCann are "disappointed" after Portugal's highest court throw out their libel case against Goncalo Amaral. The McCanns had taken the case to Portugal's Supreme Court, but it is dismissed (BBC).

March 2017

The Home Office grants Operation Grange an extra £85,000 to continue the investigation from April to September.

25 April 2017

Kate posts an emotional message almost ten years to the day of Madeleine's disappearance on the Official Find Madeleine Campaign Facebook page.

"Ten years - a horrible marker of time, stolen time," she writes.

Kate And Gerry McCann Give An Interview To The BBC To Mark 10 Year Anniversary of Disappearance Of Their Daughter Madeleine McCann
Kate and Gerry mark the 10 year anniversary of the disappearance Madeleine WPA Pool - Getty Images

November 2018

Police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine are granted an extra £150,000 to continue the investigation. It is the latest in a series of six-month extensions which takes the cost of Operation Grange to an estimated £11.75m, the BBC reports.

March 2019

Kate and Gerry McCann say Netflix's documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann could "potentially hinder" the search for her.

15 March 2019

The unsolved case becomes the focus of a controversial eight-part Netflix series – The Disappearance Of Madeleine which blends new interviews with more than 40 contributors, 120 hour of interviews, archival news footage and reenactments, and has access to never-before-heard testimonies from friends of the McCann family, investigators working the case and from those who became the subject of media speculation and rumour. Kate and Gerry distanced themselves from the production, and vocalised instead their concern that the series could "potentially hinder" the search for Madeleine.

4 June 2020

New reports say police are appealing for the public's help with the case once more and that they've identified a new suspect: a 43-year-old German prisoner. The man in question (who can only be named as 'Christian B' due to German privacy laws) already has multiple previous convictions relating to child sexual abuse, and is currently serving jail time for rape and drug offences.

A spokesman for the McCann family, Clarence Mitchell, told BBC Breakfast he couldn't recall an instance when officers had clearly pinpointed an individual in this way. "Of all the thousands of leads and potential suspects that have been mentioned in the past, there has never been something as clear cut as that from not just one, but three, police forces."

The Met Police, who have joined forces with their German and Portuguese counterparts for the investigation, said the case is still a "missing persons" one, as there's a lack of sufficient evidence as to whether Madeleine is still alive. However, German investigators have classed it as a murder inquiry.

16 June 2020

German police were reported to have written to Madeleine's parents saying they have evidence that their daughter was killed, and that they are now treating it as a murder case. However, the McCanns later denied that they had received any such letter from the German authorities.

"The widely reported news that we have a received a letter from the German authorities that states there is evidence or proof that Madeleine is dead is FALSE," Kate and Gerry McCann wrote. "As we have stated many times before, we will not give a running commentary on the investigation - that is the job of the law enforcement agencies and we will support them in any way requested."

28 July 2020

German police officers in Hanover searched an allotment 40 miles from where the main suspect, Christian B, was last registered as living.

Footage from the scene shows forensic investigators using machinery and manual tools to comb the area. It has not been made clear exactly what police are looking for, and whether it directly links to the suspect.

12 October 2022

German prisoner Christian Brueckner is formally named as a suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Born in 1976, Brueckner moved to Portugal in his late teens and was living near the resort where McCann went missing.

Already in prison in Germany for the rape of a 72-year-old woman, he has now also been charged with multiple sex offences which are alleged to have taken place between 2000 and 2007.

Brueckner has denied any involvement McCann's disappearance.

30 October 2023

Senior Portuguese police officers travelled to London to formally apologise to Kate and Gerry McCann about the initial investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance.

In September 2007, four months after Madeleine vanished, Kate and Gerry McCann were made suspects in the Portuguese investigation. Both were questioned by detectives, who believed they had staged an abduction and concealed Madeleine's body. The pair were cleared in 2008.

Now, 16 years later, Portuguese police now say their initial investigation into Madeleine's disappearance was not handled properly, according to BBC's Panorama.

They cite Kate and Gerry's position as holidaymakers in a foreign environment, as well as not giving missing children investigations prominent importance, as reasons why the initial investigation was bungled.

The McCann family are yet to formally publicly comment on the apology.

Hans Christian Wolters, one of the German prosecutors on the case, welcomed the Portuguese apology.

"It's a good sign," he said, adding: "It shows that, in Portugal, there's development in the McCann case."

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