Sixteen years after Madeleine McCann vanished from the Algarve holiday apartment where she was sleeping next to her infant twin siblings, police have launched a major new search for evidence.
After laying dormant for several years since David Cameron kickstarted an ultimately fruitless Metropolitan Police inquiry in 2011, the case of the missing three-year-old was revived once more in 2020 when German prosecutors revealed a new suspect.
But three years on, 43-year-old convicted paedophile Christian Brueckner – who denies any connection to the missing youngster – is yet to be charged, as he languishes in a German prison for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman two years prior to Madeleine’s disappearance at the same resort.
However, on Monday, police activity was spotted at a reservoir some 30 miles from the Praia da Luz resort, in what was soon reported to be international authorities gearing up for a major new search this week based on leads suggesting Brueckner made repeated trips to the area which he dubbed his “little slice of paradise”.
The fresh search at the reservoir – one of six in the Algarve – is the first in Portugal since 2014, and comes as the Metropolitan Police were granted a further £110,000 by the Home Office to fund their search for Madeleine, who would turn 20 this month.
It brings the total amount spent on the search for the Leicestershire-born girl, codenamed Operation Grange, to just shy of £13.1m since 2011, and is significantly less than the more than £300,000 approved by the Home Office the year prior.
While the costs incurred by German and Portuguese authorities are unknown, Lisbon’s then-attorney general Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro said in 2012 that the search for Madeleine had been the most expensive in the country’s history.
As they began their fresh search near the Arade reservoir on Tuesday, police combed the waterway’s banks with the help of sniffer dogs, rakes and pickaxes, with emergency service divers spotted on a rigid-hull inflatable boat.
Further along the banks of the reservoir, emergency services and officials from Portugal, Germany and the UK were seen holding briefings near blue police tents.
Four teams of officers from the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria are involved in the operation, along with at least 20 of their German counterparts, Portuguese news outlet SIC said. A no-fly zone has been put in place over the water and media and other onlookers are being kept a mile back from the site of the search.
The reservoir was previously searched in 2008, at the height of efforts to find Madeleine, when Portuguese lawyer Marcos Aragao Correia paid for specialist divers to search it, claiming to have been tipped off by criminal contacts that Madeleine’s body was there.
Earlier this month, Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann posted a short statement on their Find Madeleine Campaign website to mark the anniversary of her disappearance.
They said: “Today marks the 16th anniversary of Madeleine’s abduction. Still missing… still very much missed. It is hard to find the words to convey how we feel.
“The police investigation continues, and we await a breakthrough.”
Additional reporting by PA