What happened to Madeleine McCann, what's the latest in the investigation and what are the theories on her disappearance?

MADELEINE McCann vanished from her family's Portuguese holiday flat 12 years ago – triggering a global search which has failed to find the missing child.

The three-year-old tot's whereabouts – or whether she's dead or alive – remains a mystery, despite a £12million police probe.

When did Madeleine McCann disappear?

Madeleine vanished 12 years ago on May 3, 2007, when her family, from Leicestershire, were holidaying in Praia da Luz, in the Algarve, Portugal.

Parents Gerry and Kate left their three children – including toddler twins Sean and Amelie – sleeping in their apartment while they dined at a tapas bar – 120 metres away.

When Kate returned to check on the kids at around 10pm that evening, she discovered that Maddie was not in her bed and was missing.

In September of that year, Gerry and Kate, both doctors, were sensationally named as ‘arguidos’ by Portuguese police.

The following summer the McCanns were cleared by investigators in Portugal who declared they had exhausted all avenues in the case.

What theories are there about Maddie's disappearance?

  • Investigative journalist and ex-police officer Mark Williams-Thomas believes Maddie left the apartment in search of her parents.
  • Ex-police chief Goncalo Amaral has claimed MI5 helped cover-up Madeleine McCann’s body after her parents accidentally killed her.
  • Veteran investigative journalist Danny Collins believes the toddler could not have been snatched from the room. He is convinced she left the apartment in Praia da Luz looking for her parents before being abducted and possibly sold to gypsies.
  • Former Scotland Yard detective Colin Sutton says the most “most likely and credible scenario” for Maddie’s disappearance is a targeted kidnap by child traffickers – possibly to replace some grieving parents’ own dead child.
  • In the Netflix documentary The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, investigators point out that the coastal resort of Praia da Luz would make it easier for traffickers to escape on a boat and travel to North Africa.
  • The resort is also only 90 minutes drive from the border with Spain.
  • A local resident in the Netflix film pointed out that the Algarve has many wells, some of which are 100ft deep. They suggested Maddie could have wandered out of the apartment and fallen to her death.
  • Parents Gerry and Kate have since been forced to confront rumours around their daughter's disappearance, with the couple vowing to fight "tooth and nail" if they are ever prosecuted over leaving their children alone. 
  • In July, 2017, Maddie parents failed in their latest bid to silence his slurs.
  • Another theory is that Maddie was taken as part of a bungled burglary in which an intruder panicked and snatched her after she woke up. While Scotland Yard looked into this theory it has always been dismissed by cops in Portugal since nothing else was taken from the apartment.
  • US think tank The Rutherford Institute said Maddie could have been taken by a sex trafficking gang after studying how kids are abducted and abuse in the sex industry. The institute's John Whitehead also believes these gangs could be aided by "predator cops" – although there is no evidence suggesting Portuguese police were involved in assisting with Maddie's kidnapping.
  • Portuguese police are now said to think Maddie was kidnapped by a surgical-mask wearing man who is known to the cops, after a tip off from Scotland Yard.

How old would Madeleine McCann be now?

Maddie would have turned 16 on on May 12, 2019.

In April 2012, UK cops released a computer generated image of Maddie showing what she would look like aged nine.

However, parents have said new images of Maddie's age progression are bogus. 

Kate and Gerry are warning the new fake images were neither "commissioned nor endorsed" by them or Scotland Yard’s Operation Grange team.

A number of potential leads have emerged since the little girl vanished, but none amounted to anything and no arrests have ever been made.

In May 2018, witness Jane Tanner said Gerry had played tennis with a man wrongly identified as her abductor on the day she went missing.

She said she spent up to half an hour watching Gerry McCann and Dr Julian Totman, 46, play on May 3, 2007.

Less than three hours later, she saw a man carrying a child in pyjamas near the McCanns’ apartment in Praia da Luz.

But she did not recognise Dr Totman and cops pursued the lead for four years, despite the GP saying it was probably him.

What are the key dates in Maddie's disappearance?

  • May 3, 2007 – Kate and Gerry McCann leave their children asleep in their holiday apartments while they eat eat a nearby Tapas restaurant. At 10pm Kate finds Madeleine missing.
  • May 14, 2007 – Property developer Robert Murat is quizzed by cops and named an 'arguido' or formal suspect.
  • August 31, 2007 – The McCanns launch libel action against Tal e Qual – a newspaper that claimed the couple killed Maddie.
  • September 7, 2007 – Kate and Gerry McCann are made 'arguidos'.
  • September 9, 2007– Maddie's parents return to England with their two-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie.
  • October 2, 2007– Lead detective Goncalo Amaral is taken off the case after criticising British police in a newspaper interview.
  • July 21, 2009 – Portuguese police lift the 'arguido' status of  both Robert Murat and the McCanns, and shelve the investigation.
  • July 24, 2009 – Detective Goncalo Amaral alleges that Maddie died in her family's holiday flat the day she went missing in a book called The Truth Of The Lie. In a documentary for Portuguese television he claims there was no abduction and the McCanns had hidden her body.
  • May 12, 2011 – On Madeleine's eighth birthday, Mrs McCann publishes a book about her disappearance. Scotland Yard launches a review into the case after a request from Home Secretary Theresa May, supported by Prime Minister David Cameron.
  • April 25, 2012 – Scotland Yard officers say they believe Madeleine McCann is still alive. A new picture is released, showing what she might look like as a 9-year-old, and they call on the Portuguese authorities to reopen the case, but Portuguese police say they have found no new material.
  • July 4, 2013 – Two years into a review of the case, Scotland Yard launch its own investigation into Madeleine's disappearance. They claim to have "genuinely new" lines of inquiry and identify 38 people of interest including 12 Britons.
  • October 24, 2013– Portuguese police reopen their case after new lines of inquiry are found.
  • November 27, 2013 – Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe called for British and Portuguese police to work together.
  • April 28, 2015 – Detective Goncalo Amaral is ordered to pay Kate and Gerry McCann £209,000 each in damages by a court in Lisbon over claims made in The Truth Of The Lie and bans further sales of the book.
  • October 28, 2015 – Scotland Yard reduces the number of officers working on Maddie's disappearance from 29 to four.
  • January 31, 2017 – Portugal's Supreme Court rules against Kate and Gerry McCann's £418,000 libel claim. The court claims freedom of expression laws protect Detective Goncalo Amaral's claims in the book.
  • March 11, 2017  – The Home Office grants Operation Grange an extra £85,000 to continue from April until September.
  • September 28, 2017 –  British police are granted £154,000 to keep the probe alive until March 2018.
  • March 2018 – Another round of funding, thought to be in the region of £150,000 is granted
  • September 2018 – An extra six months of funding is requested from the Home Office amid fears the cash will run out by the end of the month.
  • November 2018 – More funding, thought to be in the region of £150,000 is granted
  • November 2018 – Former detective David Edgar, who once helped search for Maddie, says she could still be alive and imprisoned, with "no idea who she is". He believes she is being kept against her identity in a "lair" and could even still be in Portugal.
  • November 2018 – UK police are re-examining a theory Madeleine left the apartment to look for her parents. They are also looking at whether her disappearance was the result of a kidnapping or burglary gone wrong.
  • June 2019 – Another round of funding, believed to be £300,000 of government cash is granted

What are the latest developments in the hunt for Maddie?

There have been more than 8,000 potential sightings of the Brit three-year-old since her disappearance, but police have so far failed to locate her.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said there are "significant investigative avenues" that are of "great interest" to both the UK and Portuguese teams pursuing the case.

Met cops believe she was stolen by child traffickers or sex fiends, or during a burglary gone wrong.

Meanwhile, cops are now hunting a "person of significance" in a shock new development.

A source close to Scotland Yard's search Operation Grange said the person is now a "critical line of inquiry" in the £12million investigation, according to The Times.

And a former Met police chief has called for a fresh interview with Maddie's parents and the Tapas Seven – who have never been quizzed by British cops.

Cops moved the search to Bulgaria as they tried to find a "woman in purple" they wanted to speak to.

On May 3, 2019, it emerged that Portuguese police were hunting a sex fiend who speaks English and wears a surgical mask in relation to Maddie's suspected kidnapping.

In one of his previous cases, he broke into a British family's home and loomed over a seven-year-old girl who woke up and asked "Is that you Daddy?" and he replied "Yes" in a foreign accent, author Anthony Summers said in the Netflix doc.

Detectives have discovered a creep carried out nearly 30 attacks within a 40-mile radius of the holiday apartment in Praia da Luz where Maddie vanished from 12 years ago.

He crept into Algarve properties rented by families and many victims were British.

And a judicial source is reported to have confirmed the unnamed man was definitely in Portugal at the time the three-year-old suddenly disappeared.

And the insider also alleged he was known to local cops and had previously been investigated on suspicion of involvement in paedophile cases.

A chilling reconstruction features in the final episode of Netflix's recently released eight-part documentary The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann.

A German paedophile Martin Ney, 48, emerged as a key suspect in May 2019.

He was jailed for life in 2012 for abducting and murdering three children and sexually abusing dozens more.

It is believed he was in Portugal when Maddie went missing.

Goncalo Amaral, the Portuguese cop who first led the hunt for Madeleine, revealed that police were probing a “German paedophile who is in prison”.

Ney was working for an evangelical church on a project for the homeless in Portugal when Madeleine disappeared, it's claimed.

Ney also looks like a photofit of a man, who was seen acting suspiciously before Madeleine vanished from her Portuguese holiday apartment 12 years ago.

How much longer will the police investigation last?

Funding for the search was due to expire in October 2017.

But on September 28, 2017, it was confirmed investigators have received £154,000 to keep the probe alive until March 2018.

Then more funding – said to be around £150,000 was granted in March 2018.

The extra cash for Operation Grange is being used to investigate "significant" leads, which Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley described as "very worthwhile".

Kate and and Gerry are “extremely thankful to both the Home Office and Scotland Yard for the continued funding,” their spokesman Clarence Mitchell said.

The Home Office announced it was ploughing more money into Operation Grange, the official investigation, at the latest request of Met Police.

In February 2018 it was confirmed that the Metropolitan Police were asking the Home Office for more funding to continue the work of Operation Grange.

Scotland Yard's investigation has been ongoing since 2011.

During that time the number of detectives working on the case has been cut from 29 to four in 2015.

On June 5, it was believed another £300,000 of funding was given to the probe.

Those still involved with the investigation are now said to spend a lot of their time eliminating known sex offenders and chasing down potential witnesses.

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