Former missing persons detective ‘very surprised’ if Madeleine McCann probe gets funding next year

Scotland Yard has spent more than £13 million on the hunt for missing girl over 17 years

Barney Davis
Friday 29 December 2023 07:43
Sniffer dogs search Portuguese reservoir as Madeleine McCann investigation continues

A former Metropolitan Police detective specialising in finding missing children has said she would be “very surprised” if the force’s hunt for Madeleine McCann receives more funding next year.

Scotland Yard has spent more than £13 million on the girl’s case so far, with 2024 marking the 17th anniversary of her disappearance in May 2007. The Met was granted a further £110,000 by the Home Office this May, significantly less than the £300,000 awarded the previous year.

German investigators carried out a search of a reservoir in the Algarve in the same month, but while they recovered a number of items, detectives said no compelling evidence in the case was found. Next May will also be Madeleine’s 21st birthday but the mystery of her disappearance appears to be no closer to being solved.

Madeleine McCann who disappeared in Praia da Luz, Portugal on May 3, 2007

Shabnam Chaudhri, a former detective with 30 years’ experience and who led searches for missing Londoners before retiring in 2019, told The Independent she is not expecting a major financial boost.

“I would be surprised if they get any more funding after next year,” she said. “The fact that they scaled it right down, I think if they get funding it will be a very, very small amount. If there is any new information then they will review it.

“When you look at the number of people that go missing, 80 per cent are found in 24-48 hours.

“When you get to anniversaries it generates a whole load of inquiries, emails and leads for the investigating team,” she continued. “It generates a lot of anger as well a lot of people do not understand why this case gets funding year after year.

“The reason funding comes from the UK is because the Portuguese authorities will not spend every hour of every week looking for her. At this stage, they will treat it like any other investigation.”

A police search team walk on the shore of the Arade dam near Silves, Portugal

German police became involved in the case due to convicted sex offender Christian Brueckner, who came to the attention of the authorities in 2017 and was first named as an arguido, or formal suspect, in Madeleine’s disappearance in April 2022.

He had reportedly been using a yellow and white VW T3 Westfalia campervan in and around Praia da Luz – near the resort where the McCanns were holidaying at the time Madeleine vanished.

Brueckner, now in his late forties, is a German drifter with a long criminal history, including sexual offences against children. He remains in prison, after being convicted in 2019 of the rape of a 72-year-old woman.

However, Ms Chaudri said the lack of charges in the case suggests the police have “nothing concrete” against him. Brueckner’s lawyer Friedrich Fulscher previously told Panorama his client faced trial by media, arguing the evidence against him was flimsy. Brueckner has denied any role in Madeleine’s abduction.

Former Dept Supt Chaudri led missing persons cases across east London

Julian Peribañez, part of a private investigation firm hired by the McCann family to explore leads that weren’t being considered by police in Portugal, is also sceptical about the German police’s investigation.

“What Operation Grange shouldn’t do is continue the path that the German prosecutors are following because it is proving inefficient,” he said.

“Obviously, they [the Met] haven’t found any relevant leads for what we know. Maybe it is time to think out of the box and try something different.

“Someone in Portugal has to know something. I can say that I’m still trying, with my limited resources, to follow two leads that I hope will take me to something positive. I will keep on looking for personal reasons, it’s a case that got deep on me for several reasons.”

A Scotland Yard spokesman said the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine in Praia da Luz on 3 May 2007 “remains ongoing” but declined to address the question of funding.

Christian Brueckner

“Operation Grange, looked at over 600 people who we considered potentially significant, and at various stages individuals were considered suspects,” the spokesperson said. “As with any person who comes into the investigation we work towards proving or disproving their involvement. The MPS has not publicly named any suspect.”

The Home Office said the status of Operation Grange is an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police Service and is approved on an annual basis.

But despite the case’s apparent lack of progress, Ms Chaudri is not surprised Madeleine’s parents are still pursuing the answers they need nearly two decades on.

“You can’t say to any parent whose child hasn’t been found to ever stop looking”, she said. “Even if an investigation is going down never give up hope.

“If any more intelligence or new information comes through I would be very confident the police would do everything they could to renew the inquiry. They want to recover somebody safely.

“The likelihood is she is not alive but there will be something to say as to what happened to her - so don’t ever give up.”

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