A witness claimed to have spotted Madeleine McCann getting into a German-owned VW van with a man just weeks after her disappearance, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
A police file unearthed by this paper details how the witness saw Madeleine emerging from a restaurant in the Spanish seaside town of Alcossebre before climbing into the van with an unidentified man.
The sighting, one of dozens in the early weeks of the investigation, has taken on new significance since German paedophile Christian Brueckner was identified last week as a key suspect in the case.
A witness claimed to see Madeline McCann (pictured) with an ‘unidentified man’ in a German-owned VW van just weeks after her disappearance
British detectives believe the 43-year-old was living out of a battered VW T3 Westerfalia campervan in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.
According to the witness, Madeleine was seen at 11am on May 28, 2007 – three weeks after she vanished – coming out of popular local restaurant Tunnels in Alcossebre, some 600 miles from Praia da Luz.
At the time, Leicestershire Police Detective Constable John Hughes issued an international Interpol alert with a ‘risk to life missing person’ warning demanding that Spanish and German police investigate.
He urged Spanish police to check the location for CCTV and witnesses and asked for the German vehicle keeper details. It is unclear what checks were made.
The police report, issued as part of Operation Task, says: ‘A caller has reported a possible sighting of Madeleine McCann, 11am, 28th May 2007.
Detectives believe Christian Brueckner, the latest main suspect in the McCann case, was living out of a German campervan in 2007
‘Location given as a restaurant called Tunnels, in an old castle at an area called Cap Y Corp, Alcossebre, Spain. She was seen to leave with a man in a Volkswagen van.
‘We request the Spanish police check the location for any CCTV or witnesses. We request German vehicle details. Can the vehicle be circulated for a stop and check to be carried out if seen.’
It emerged last week that Brueckner was living just two miles from the holiday apartment where Madeleine vanished in May 2007. Former neighbours said he often slept in his van, which had a distinctive white upper body and yellow skirting.
German police said there were indications that he could have used either the van or a Jaguar model XJR 6 with a German number plate to commit the crime and appealed for help tracking where they were parked.
Detectives say that the day after Madeleine’s disappearance, Brueckner re-registered the Jaguar in the name of Alexander Bischof, who lives in Augsburg, Germany, despite the vehicle never having left Portugal.
It also emerged that Brueckner sold the VW van for £5,000 in 2015 to a German compatriot running an unofficial scrapyard in the Silves area of the Algarve. Portuguese police officers seized the vehicle in 2019.
The owner of the yard said: ‘The police said they needed the van as part of the investigation. It was all very sudden – there had been nothing on the TV or in the papers about the case at that time.
‘I’m not sure I’d ever get it back, but if it turns out Christian had something to do with Madeleine’s disappearance, then I don’t want it back. It wouldn’t be right.’
Scotland Yard said Brueckner’s Volkswagen van had a Portuguese registration plate. It is not known whether he changed the registration plate at any time.
As part of the appeal for information, the Met Police said in a statement that the suspect had ‘access to this van from at least April 2007 until sometime after May 2007’.
A witness said they saw Madeleine McCann with the unidentifiable man at Tunnels restaurant (pictured) in Alcossebre, some 600 miles from Praia da Luz on May 28 2007
It added: ‘We believe he was living in this van for days, possibly weeks, and may have been using it on 3 May 2007.
‘We are appealing for anyone who may have seen it in or around Praia da Luz on 3 May, the night Madeleine went missing, the days before, or weeks following the disappearance.’
Last night, The Mail on Sunday asked Scotland Yard whether the van’s registration was the same as the one identified in the 2007 sighting, but the force said it was not revealing those details.