Yesterday police said a German had been identified as a prime suspect in the investigation, which today was described by prosecutors as a murder probe. He said he heard about the breakthrough in the case from UK media reports, telling the paper in a doorstep interview but insisting on not being named: “It’s very strange. Nobody told me anything.”
He added in heavily-accented Portuguese: “I bought this house at a very good price.
“I don’t know any more than what I’ve heard on the TV. The previous owner was a German woman but I never met her.”
The unnamed man also told Correio da Manha he was living in the nearby town of Monchique when Madeleine disappeared.
He said: “I wasn’t living in Praia da Luz when Madeleine disappeared. I lived in Monchique till 2011 and I have lived in Portugal since 2002.”
Today German police said they assumed Madeleine McCann was dead.
They released details of the suspect who had a string of convictions including burglary and drug dealing.
He was branded a “sexual predator” by police.
“We assume that the girl is dead,” Braunschweig state prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said.
“The public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig is investigating a 43-year-old German national on suspicion of murder.”
The German man lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007 and burgled hotels and holiday flats as well as trading drugs, German police said. He is currently in detention over a different matter.
British and German police appealed for information about the man and released photographs of vehicles – a Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar – which he used at the time.
German police said earlier that the suspect, who lived near Praia da Luz, has been sentenced on numerous occasions to prison terms for sexual abuse of children in the past.
They said they were treating the case as a suspected murder and had determined the method used to kill Madeleine McCann.
No body has ever been found.
Madeleine vanished from her bedroom on May 3 during a family holiday in the Algarve while her parents were dining with friends in the resort of Praia da Luz.
Her disappearance sparked an international search, with missing posters of the little girl’s face papered across the world and celebrity appeals for information that could help track her down and bring her abductors to justice.
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann, said in a statement issued before the German prosecutor spoke: “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.”
Police said they wanted to speak to a thus-far unidentified second person who spoke with the German suspect from a Portuguese phone number on May 3, 2007 at the time of McCann’s disappearance.
Herr Wolters said at the press conference today: “The suspect is a sexual predator who has been convicted several times for sexual abuse against little girls and he’s already serving a long sentence.
“He’s in prison on a different matter.
“Between 1995-2007 he spent time regularly in Algarve.
“As far as we know during that time he had several casual jobs amongst others in catering. The suspect has admitted burglaries in resorts and holiday flats and also with drug dealing.”
• Additional reporting by Gerard Couzens.