Teacher ‘who saw Madeleine McCann in 2017 also spotted suspect’s VW camper van’

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A former teacher who claims she spotted missing Madeleine McCann at an Algarve supermarket in 2017 says she also remembers seeing suspect Christian Brueckner’s distinctive VW camper van nearby.

The German-speaking Portuguese woman, known only as Maria, went to police recently to tell them a girl she was “sure” was Maddie – because of the unique blemish in her right eye – had been beside her at Apolonia Supermarket in Gale near Albufeira.

She went public with her sighting on Friday night on an investigative TV programme called Sexta as 9, which was shown by Portuguese state broadcaster RTP.

As well as telling reporter and presenter Sandra Felgueiras she was “certain” she had seen the missing Brit youngster talking to another girl in German before they vanished, she said she remembered seeing the VW camper van which featured in a police appeal about the German paedophile Brueckner’s vehicles.

She said: “I perfectly remember seeing it somewhere, in a side street or in the area where they used to park which is now West Gale car park, long before it was handed over as part of a concession and there were a lot of camper vans there.

“I recall that van being parked somewhere near the Apolonia supermarket.

“It was the white and yellow two-toned van. I can’t remember exactly when I saw it but I recall seeing it.”

She also revealed she had phoned the McCanns’ Portuguese lawyer Rogerio Alves after calling the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria (PJ) police force which is involved in the hunt for Maddie.

Maria, who spoke with a strong northern Portuguese accent and was described as a regular long-time holidaymaker in the Algarve area, said she was dissuaded from her family from going to police after “spotting Madeleine three to four years ago”.

She contacted the authorities after the recent police appeal about Brueckner and reports he could be linked to a November 2007 burglary at a house near the supermarket where a family’s £91,000 savings were taken.

Sandra Felgueiras made the link to Brueckner on a previous programme, saying the paedophile had been working with a female accomplice who tipped him off so he could break into properties in the Algarve in copycat raids to the one investigators believe resulted in Maddie’s abduction.

Maria told Sexta as 9 she was in the dark about whether the police were investigating her information because after her calls to Mr Alves and the PJ, she has had “no more contact with anyone up until today.”

Speaking with her voice distorted to mask her identity, she said: “It was three to four years ago, I can’t be sure exactly when, at Apolonia Supermarket in Gale.

“There was a girl to my right speaking with another in German. When I looked at her eyes, I was sure about what I saw.

“They were light-coloured eyes with the same blemish Maddie has. The blemish was in her right eye. I’m sure about what I saw.”

She added: “The girl I saw was about 13 to 14. Unfortunately it was only a few seconds after they had left the supermarket that I realised who that face belonged to.

“I made the link but sadly it was too late.

“I spent a few moments looking to see if they were in one of the aisles and I spent some time waiting to see if they were alone or with someone by the tills but I didn’t see them again.

“I don’t know if they were with someone or if they were alone. They weren’t carrying anything in their hands, I remember that well.”

Praia da Gale is a 45-minute drive east of Praia da Luz, where the three-year-old British girl was last seen alive on the night of May 3, 2007.

The supermarket at the centre of the new sighting is understood to erase its CCTV footage every so often and no images from the time exist.

Child psychologist Ana Vasconcelos told the programme children snatched from their parents at a young age can “consciously switch off” the trauma and get used to living in captivity.

Madeleine, from Rothley, Leicestershire, has a rare eye condition known as a coloboma. It is a gap in part of the eye’s structure, normally towards the bottom of the eye.

It can affect one or both eyes. It only occurs in one in 10,000 births. Maddie’s mark is thought to affect as few as seven out of one million people.

German prosecutors have said they have evidence that Maddie is dead and they are investigating Brueckner, 43, for murder.

The drifter is currently serving a 21-month drug sentence in prison in the German city of Kiel for drugs offences which expires next January.

He is appealing a conviction late last year for the rape of an American pensioner in Praia da Luz in September 2005 following a break-in.

His lawyer Friedrich Fulscher went to the Court of Justice of Luxembourg earlier this month to demand he be freed from jail on a technicality over his rape conviction.

An interim decision has been earmarked for August 6 and a final judgement is expected between two and six months later.

Bruckner was twice extradited from Portugal to Germany after international arrest warrants were issued for him.

The second time was in 2017 after it was discovered he was wanted for child sex abuse and possession of child pornography.

Portuguese police nabbed him after arresting him on suspicion of exposing himself to young children at a playground in Sao Bartolomeu de Messines a 40-minute drive from Praia de Luz.

He was never prosecuted and the criminal probe was mothballed despite protests from the youngsters’ angry parents.

On July 9 police and firefighters searched three wells for Madeleine’s body but failed to find any trace of her.

The abandoned wells are a 15 minute drive from Brueckner’s rented cottage on the outskirts of Praia de Luz, on a narrow road leading down to a beach where the paedophile used to park his VW camper van.

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