Police in the U.K. have asked the public for help in tracking the movements of a 43-year-old German man identified as the main suspect in the mysterious disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
Madeleine vanished from a hotel apartment in Praia da Luz on Portugal’s Algarve coast in May 2007, while on holiday with her parents and twin siblings.
It is the first time British police have identified a key suspect, and senior police officers described the breakthrough to the U.K.’s Telegraph as “significant.” Friends of Kate and Gerry McCann told the newspaper it was the biggest development to date in a case often described as the most scrutinized missing persons case in modern history.
Scotland Yard said in a statement that detectives had identified the 43-year-old German man, currently in prison in Germany on unrelated charges, as a suspect following a 2017 appeal on the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance.
On Wednesday, they appealed for help from the public in tracking the German man’s movements around the Algarve during the time Madeleine went missing.
The man, whose name was not released due to German privacy laws, lived on and off in the Algarve between 1995 and 2008. At the time of Madeleine’s disappearance, he was 30 years old and was living in a camper van in the area.
“He received a 30-minute phone call in Praia da Luz, the resort where the McCanns were on holiday, just an hour before the 3-year-old girl vanished,” the statement said.
Police are trying to track down the man on the other end of the phone call and took the unusual step on Wednesday of releasing the Portuguese mobile phone number the suspect was using as well as the number of the person who called him.
Police also released images of the distinctive VW camper the suspect was living in, and a 1993 Jaguar saloon car that the suspect owned and re-registered in Germany under another person’s name the day after Madeleine went missing. The Jaguar stayed in Portugal despite the man re-registering it in Germany.
Scotland Yard said he was driving the camper around Praia da Luz in the days before Madeleine’s disappearance and had been living it in for days or weeks.
Madeleine’s disappearance almost 13 years ago garnered an extraordinary amount of interest globally and led to a high-profile—but largely fruitless—search for answers.
There has never been any trace of Madeleine since she vanished and no arrests have been made. British tabloids subjected the McCanns to vicious and baseless allegations of being involved in their daughter’s disappearance—however investigators have maintained that it was a criminal act by a stranger.
In a statement, Kate and Gerry McCann said they welcomed the appeal and thanked police. “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.”
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who leads the task force set up by U.K. police to investigate the disappearance, said: “While this male is a suspect we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry.“
A similar public appeal for information was due to be made on German television on Wednesday.
The suspect was described by police as white and in 2007 was believed to have been six feet tall, aged between 25 to early 30s, with short blond fair, a slim build, and fair skin.