Madeleine McCann investigators clear undergrowth to search suspect’s ‘little paradise’

Police lead dogs across the recently cleared ground - Yui Mok/PA Wire

Police lead dogs across the recently cleared ground – Yui Mok/PA Wire

Police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have cleared a large swathe of undergrowth as they extend the search at a reservoir in the Algarve.

On the second day of the investigation at the remote Arade dam in southern Portugal, officers used powerful strimmers to cut back dense shrubs.

Teams of sniffer dogs were then led slowly across the peninsula, believed to have been the “little paradise” of Christian Brueckner, the prime suspect, where he stayed during regular visits to the country.

German police are understood to have found numerous pictures that Brueckner took of himself by the waterside of Barragem do Arade, suggesting he regularly visited the area.

It is believed the images were found on a USB stick and laptop both seized from a derelict factory that the convicted paedophile owns in his native Germany.

Brueckner, currently in a German prison for a separate sex offence, is believed to have stayed at the reservoir in his campervan, and told friends that the isolated spot was his “little paradise”.

Portuguese police, currently conducting the search with their German counterparts, are believed to be looking for any traces of the presence of Madeleine’s body, as well as hoping to find items of her clothing, including her pyjamas. It is believed that any recovered materials will be taken to Germany for analysis.

The three-year-old went missing about 30 miles away in Praia da Luz while her family was on holiday there in May 2007. This week’s search is the first in nine years.

Police have combed the banks of the reservoir, focusing on a peninsula where they have set up tents and used sniffer dogs, rakes and pickaxes.

Some items, including pieces of clothing, were believed to have been bagged and removed by officers. However, none have been identified as potentially linked to the missing girl.

Police vehicle and dinghy by the reservoir - Yui Mok/PA

Police vehicle and dinghy by the reservoir – Yui Mok/PA

Emergency services and officials from Portugal, Germany and the UK have been seen holding briefings near blue police tents.

A track leading to the search area was cordoned off with police tape and marked vehicles from Portugal’s National Republican Guard have been patrolling the entrance. A no-fly zone was put in place and airspace is only open to police drones.

The search began on Tuesday morning, but a powerful thunder and lightning storm with torrential rain forced officers to suspend their work early that evening.

On Wednesday, search teams returned at about 8.30am. Three police cars arrived with officers carrying powerful strimmers. For about two hours, the sound of the diesel powered devices echoed across the valley. Plumes of smoke could also be seen rising above the wooded area where they were working.

Shortly before 11.30am, a group of four officers followed a sniffer dog around the manmade banks leading down into the reservoir. Then, officers carrying rakes made their way to another spot on the peninsula.

The vast dam is in an agricultural region of rolling hills, the lower of which farmers have cultivated into orange groves.

A few derelict buildings dotted around the hills that make up the dam are covered in graffiti and strewn with discarded beer bottles after being used as dens by youngsters who sometimes camp overnight.

The Metropolitan Police said its officers will be at the dam in order to inform Madeleine’s family if there are any developments.

Earlier, the prosecutor’s office in the German city of Braunschweig confirmed the search, but refused to expand on why the peninsula at the dam had been singled out.

Hans Christian Wolters, Braunschweig’s lead prosecutor - Jeff Gilbert for The Telegraph

Hans Christian Wolters, Braunschweig’s lead prosecutor – Jeff Gilbert for The Telegraph

Hans Christian Wolters, Braunschweig’s lead prosecutor, said that investigators were acting on the basis of “certain tips” but would not give further details.

It has been reported that Brueckner, 45, spent time in the area between 2000 and 2017.

Investigators believe he killed Madeleine after abducting her from a holiday apartment.

Brueckner, who has denied any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance, was first identified as a suspect by German investigators.

He is facing charges in Germany over a number of separate sex offences allegedly committed in Portugal during that time. But it is not the first time that the reservoir has been searched.

In 2008, Portuguese lawyer Marcos Aragao Correia paid for specialist divers to search it after he claimed to have been tipped off by criminal contacts that Madeleine’s body was there.

The most recent search in Portugal in relation to her disappearance was in 2014, when British police were given permission to examine scrubland near where she vanished.

Madeleine - Metropolitan Police/AFP via Getty Images

Madeleine – Metropolitan Police/AFP via Getty Images

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.”

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