7 con­spir­acy the­o­ries on Mad­die McCann

As her 15th birth­day ap­proaches, we look at the seven con­spir­acy the­o­ries be­hind Madeleine’s dis­ap­pear­ance, but…

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When Madeleine McCann van­ished from her fam­ily’s Por­tuguese hol­i­day apart­ment on 3 May 2007, she was just three years old. On 12 May this year, Mad­die will turn 15 – but, de­spite sev­eral po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions, cost­ing around £12 mil­lion, and thou­sands of al­leged sight­ings, no trace of her has ever been found. It’s one of the great­est mys­ter­ies of our time. But, af­ter so many years, will we ever know the truth about the lit­tle girl’s dis­ap­pear­ance and if she is still alive? Mad­die’s par­ents, Kate, now 50, and Gerry, 49, in­sist she is, and wel­comed a re­cent £150,000 cash in­jec­tion from

the Home Of­fice to al­low Scot­land Yard’s Oper­a­tion Grange to pur­sue a vi­tal ‘fi­nal’ line of in­quiry for an­other six months.

But, even if Mad­die was found now, it’s prob­a­ble she would have grown up in an­other coun­try and no longer speaks English.

Mad­die’s dis­ap­pear­ance from the apart­ment where she was sleep­ing with her younger brother and sis­ter, twins Sean and Amelie, while Kate and Gerry ate tapas with friends 50 yards away, sparked one of the big­gest miss­ing per­son hunts in his­tory. Ru­mours, spec­u­la­tion and con­spir­acy the­o­ries about what hap­pened on that night are still rife.

The most sen­sa­tional and out­landish the­ory was that was that Mad­die died in the fam­ily’s apart­ment in Praia da Luz and her par­ents cov­ered up her death and dis­posed of her body. This is what the first se­nior de­tec­tive on the case, Goncalo Amaral, be­lieved. When Bri­tish snif­fer dogs re­acted in the McCann’s apart­ment and in a car hired by Gerry and Kate three weeks af­ter Mad­die dis­ap­peared, Amaral even made them of­fi­cial sus­pects, but they were ruled out when the case in Por­tu­gal was closed, un­solved, af­ter 15 months.

The McCanns have al­ways de­nied any part in their daugh­ter’s dis­ap­pear­ance, and two Por­tuguese in­ves­ti­ga­tions and a Scot­land Yard in­quiry have found no ev­i­dence to sug­gest oth­er­wise.

An­other the­ory is that Mad­die was snatched af­ter wak­ing up and dis­turb­ing intruders. When Scot­land Yard launched its re­view of the case in 2011, of­fi­cers found that there had been a four­fold in­crease in the num­ber of bur­glar­ies across the Al­garve, in­clud­ing in Praia da Luz, in the months run­ning up to Mad­die’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

On the night of 3 May, the McCanns’ pa­tio doors had been left un­locked (to al­low the par­ents easy ac­cess to check on the kids), so op­por­tunis­tic thieves could have struck.

Scot­land Yard ques­tioned four lo­cal sus­pects whose mo­bile phones were used nearby at the time, but they were later ruled out.

Bri­tish de­tec­tives are still pur­su­ing this gen­eral the­ory. In 2013, Scot­land Yard said that in­ves­ti­ga­tors were look­ing into the ac­tiv­i­ties of a group of bo­gus char­ity col­lec­tors who wit­nesses had seen knock­ing on doors in Praia da Luz around the time Mad­die went miss­ing.

Pre­tend­ing to col­lect money for or­phans, they were re­ally scop­ing out apart­ments to bur­gle – but, de­spite e-fit images of two men fea­tur­ing on a BBC Crime­watch ap­peal, noth­ing ever came of the lead.

With no ev­i­dence to sug­gest Mad­die is dead, it’s long been sug­gested that she may have been stolen to or­der by crim­i­nals act­ing on be­half of a wealthy child­less cou­ple. Wit­nesses claimed to have seen sus­pi­cious char­ac­ters – in­clud­ing two blond men on the bal­cony of an apart­ment just two doors down from where the McCanns were stay­ing – around the re­sort in the days be­fore her dis­ap­pear­ance, who could have been act­ing as spot­ters.

For­mer Scot­land Yard de­tec­tive Colin Sut­ton, who re­cently de­scribed find­ing Mad­die as a ‘thank­less task’, be­lieves the ‘most likely and cred­i­ble sce­nario’ for her dis­ap­pear­ance is a tar­geted kid­nap, pos­si­bly to re­place some griev­ing par­ents’ own dead child. Yet, no ar­rests have ever been made.

Pae­dophile and child­traf­fick­ing gangs have also been mooted as a pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for Mad­die’s dis­ap­pear­ance. In the three years be­fore she went miss­ing, po­lice iden­ti­fied nine sex­ual as­saults and three ‘near misses’ on Bri­tish girls aged be­tween six and 12 along the Al­garve coast.

In one 2005 case, a 10-year-old girl was as­saulted in an apart­ment in Praia da Luz. The prime sus­pect po­lice had for these crimes, Eu­clides Mon­teiro, was later cleared by DNA ev­i­dence, mean­ing a preda­tor was still at large when Mad­die dis­ap­peared.

So per­haps it’s even stranger that more wasn’t done to fol­low up the claims made by an Ir­ish fam­ily hol­i­day­ing in Praia da Luz, who say they saw a man car­ry­ing a child around Mad­die’s age to­wards the beach at around 10pm on the night she dis­ap­peared.

Be­ing tar­geted by peo­ple smug­glers and sold into slav­ery is an­other pop­u­lar the­ory. In just 90 min­utes, the lit­tle girl could have been driven to the Span­ish bor­der or put on a boat in nearby La­gos ma­rina and taken to Morocco even be­fore po­lice sus­pected an ab­duc­tion.

This the­ory was ex­plored by Por­tuguese in­ves­ti­ga­tors af­ter a re­port that Mad­die had been pho­tographed on the beach by a stranger just days be­fore she van­ished. Morocco and neigh­bour­ing North African coun­tries re­main key ar­eas of in­ter­est in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

There re­mains one the­ory that many, in­clud­ing veteran in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists Danny Collins and Mark Williams-Thomas, be­lieve is the only log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion – that Mad­die ex­ited the apart­ment by her­self to find her par­ents and was ei­ther ab­ducted or had an ac­ci­dent.

Did she wan­der down the hill and fall into a road­works pit, which was filled in the next day with­out work­ers notic­ing her? Was she hit by a car driver, who then pan­icked and dis­posed of her body? Did she fall into one of the 600 old wells in Praia da Luz? Collins be­lieves she wan­dered off, be­fore be­ing sold to gyp­sies.

With so many the­o­ries, it looks like it will be a long time be­fore we find out what re­ally hap­pened to Mad­die. We hope, for her fam­ily’s sake, that will be sooner rather than later.

Madeleine McCann was just three when she dis­ap­peared from a Por­tuguese hol­i­day apart­ment in 2007 The age­pro­gressed im­age of how Mad­die could have looked aged nine

The Al­garve apart­ments Mad­die van­ished from Tar­geted kid­nap: for­mer Scot­land Yard of­fi­cer Colin Sut­ton Kate and Gerry McCann are con­vinced that their daugh­ter is alive De­tec­tive Goncalo Amaral be­lieved Mad­die’s par­ents dis­posed of her body

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