Monday, 26 Oct 2020

Madeleine McCann’s disappearance: A timeline

By Connor Sephton, news reporter

28 April 2007 The McCanns go on holiday

Kate and Gerry McCann and their three children – Madeleine, Amelie and Sean – arrive in Portugal for a holiday at the Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz.

In the evenings that follow, the couple join other adults in dining at the resort’s tapas restaurant roughly 50m away from where the McCanns’ children are sleeping.

3 May 2007 The day of Madeleine's disappearance

7.30am: Over breakfast, Madeleine asks her parents why they had not been in the apartment when she woke up and cried the night before. Kate and Gerry make a “mental note” to constantly check their children are settled when they go out for a meal that evening.

After spending time around the swimming pool, the children go to a kids club while Gerry and Kate have a tennis lesson.

5pm to 6pm: The family return to the apartment. Kate gets the children ready for bed while Gerry goes to play tennis again.

7pm: Gerry returns, and Madeleine is read a bedtime story. The twins are put in a travel cot next to Madeleine’s bed and the children fall asleep. The shutters outside the ground-floor bedroom are down, and the window is closed. Kate and Gerry leave the door ajar.

8.30pm: Kate and Gerry leave their apartment and go to the tapas restaurant to eat with seven other people.

9.05pm: Gerry returns to the apartment and notices the position of the bedroom door is different to how they left it. He walks into the room and sees all three of his children sound asleep.

Gerry heads back to the restaurant but stops for a conversation with someone along the way.

9.15pm: Another parent in the group, Jane Tanner, walks past the McCanns’ apartment as she goes to check on her own children.

She sees a man carrying a child – and after Madeleine disappears, he becomes the police’s main suspect.

Six years later, the Metropolitan Police concludes the man Jane saw was an innocent British holidaymaker carrying his daughter home from a creche.

9.30pm: A friend at the dinner table offers to check up on the McCanns’ children as he checks on his own kids in the apartment next door. Matthew Oldfield returns and says everything is fine and quiet.

10pm: Kate McCann finishes eating and goes back to the apartment. She notices that the children’s bedroom door is quite open – but as she goes to close it slightly, a breeze slams it shut.

She goes into the room, realises Madeleine is missing, and notices that the window is open and the shutters are up. The alarm is raised.

2007 The search for Madeleine begins

4 May: As Portuguese police start their investigation, the McCanns make an impassioned appeal for information – with Kate holding Madeleine’s favourite toy, Cuddle Cat.

Gerry says: “Words cannot describe the anguish and despair that we are feeling as the parents of our beautiful daughter Madeleine.

“We request that anyone who may have information relating to Madeleine’s disappearance, no matter how trivial, contact the Portuguese police and help us get her back safely.

“Please, if you have Madeleine, let her come home to her mummy, daddy, brother and sister.”

5 May: Portuguese police reveal they believe Madeleine was abducted but is still alive and in Portugal.

14 May: Detectives take Anglo-Portuguese man Robert Murat in for questioning and make him an “arguido”, or official suspect.

30 May: Kate and Gerry McCann meet the Pope in Rome in the first of a series of trips around Europe and beyond to highlight the search for their daughter.

6 August: A Portuguese newspaper reports that British sniffer dogs have found traces of blood on a wall in the McCanns’ holiday apartment.

11 August: Exactly 100 days after Madeleine disappeared, investigating officers publicly acknowledge for the first time that she could be dead.

7 September: During further questioning of Mr and Mrs McCann, detectives make them both “arguidos” in their daughter’s disappearance.

9 September: The McCanns fly back to England with their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.

2 October: Goncalo Amaral, the detective in charge of the inquiry, is removed from the case after criticising the British police in a Portuguese newspaper interview.

2008 Portugal shelves investigation

19 March: Kate and Gerry McCann accept £550,000 libel damages and front-page apologies from Express Newspapers over allegations they were responsible for Madeleine’s death.

7 April: Three Portuguese detectives, led by Paulo Rebelo, fly to Britain to re-interview the seven friends on holiday with the McCanns when Madeleine vanished.

17 July: Mr Murat receives £600,000 in libel damages from four newspaper groups over “seriously defamatory” articles connecting him with the child’s disappearance.

21 July: The Portuguese authorities shelve their investigation and lift the “arguido” status of the McCanns and Mr Murat.

4 August: Thousands of pages of evidence from the Portuguese police files in the exhaustive investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance are made public.

16 October: “The Tapas Seven” win £375,000 in libel damages from Express Newspapers after articles were published suggesting they had lied about Madeleine’s abduction.

2009 Fresh appeal launches in Algarve

13 January: Gerry McCann returns to Portugal for the first time since coming back to the UK without his daughter.

24 March: The McCanns launch a localised new appeal for information focused on the area in the Algarve where Madeleine disappeared.

4 April: Gerry helps film a reconstruction of events on the night his daughter vanished.

22 April: The McCanns fly to the US to record an interview with chat show host Oprah Winfrey to mark two years since Madeleine’s disappearance.

14 June: Dying paedophile Raymond Hewlett says he was in the Algarve when Madeleine disappeared and has an alibi – but has no plans to reveal it.

6 August: Private detectives say they are hunting a “Victoria Beckham lookalike” with an Australian or New Zealand accent, reportedly seen in Barcelona three days after the little girl went missing.


18 February: Kate and Gerry McCann say they are “pleased and relieved” at a judge’s decision to uphold a ban on a book by former detective Goncalo Amaral. Five years later, he will be ordered to pay the McCanns €500,000 in libel damages.

3 March: A newly released file from Portuguese police on possible sightings is called “gold dust” and could lead to a breakthrough, says a spokesman for the McCanns.

1 May: Kate McCann reveals she had thoughts about being “wiped out” in a motorway crash to end the pain of losing Madeleine – but vows never to give up.

10 November: Madeleine’s parents launch an online petition to help force a UK and Portuguese joint review of all evidence in the case.

15 November: The McCanns sign a deal to write a book about their daughter’s disappearance.


13 May: Then prime minister David Cameron asks London’s Metropolitan Police to help investigate the case.

Kate and Gerry McCann give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry

23 November: Kate and Gerry McCann appear at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics.

They tell how media pressure affected their family life and accuse newspaper editors of hampering the search for their missing daughter.

Kate McCann says she felt “violated” when her diary was published without her permission.

5 December: Scotland Yard detectives spend time in Barcelona as part of their re-examination of the case.


9 March: Portuguese police in Porto launch a review of the original investigation.

26 April: Scotland Yard says Madeleine McCann may still be alive and release an artist’s impression of what she may look like as a nine-year-old.

6 July: British detectives examine a claim that the little girl’s body is buried near the apartment from where she vanished. It comes after a self-styled investigator sends police radar scans he claims show a burial site.


11 February: Gerry McCann calls for politicians to implement the conclusions of the Leveson Inquiry in full, backed by legislation.

13 February: Police say the results of DNA tests on a girl in New Zealand who was mistaken for Madeleine reveal that she is not the missing British girl.

21 February: Retired solicitor Tony Bennett who published claims that Madeleine McCann’s parents caused her death is given a suspended jail sentence.

2 May: Madeleine McCann’s parents tell Sky News a police review into their daughter’s disappearance is making “excellent progress” as they mark the sixth anniversary since she went missing.

17 May: Scotland Yard say they have identified a number of “people of interest” they want to speak to. Officers believe they have found enough evidence to reopen the case, but the Portuguese authorities are still resistant.

15 June: The Home Office agrees to fund a full-scale investigation by the Metropolitan Police.

13 October: UK detectives reviewing the case say key details in the timeline of her disappearance have “significantly changed”.

14 October: A fresh appeal is launched in a bid to find a suspect detectives say is of “vital importance”, with two new separate e-fits – thought to be of the same man seen on the night Madeleine went missing – released by police.

17 October: Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the Scotland Yard team, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, and Mr and Mrs McCann meet officers in Lisbon to be briefed on the Portuguese case.

23 October: Britain’s most senior police officer, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, defends the way the Portuguese dealt with the initial investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, saying it would have been “very difficult” to immediately know if they were dealing with a serious crime.

24 October: Detectives in Portugal reopen the investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance after an internal review uncovers new lines of inquiry and witnesses who were never questioned during the original Portuguese investigation.


3 January: A family source says Kate and Gerry McCann have been denied permission to give evidence at a Portuguese libel trial over a book about the case by former local police chief Goncalo Amaral.

13 January: British police investigate three burglars who were in the area when Madeleine disappeared, and whose phones were apparently “red hot” after she went missing. A letter is sent to Portuguese police asking for help to track them down.

29 January: Scotland Yard officers, including the detective leading the case, fly to Portugal to meet police there and discuss the latest developments.

19 March: Officers from Operation Grange launch a search for a man who sexually assaulted five British girls in the Algarve between 2004 and 2006.

23 April: Detectives identify five new cases where a lone intruder abused young British girls in holiday apartments in the Algarve.

1 May: Kate and Gerry McCann give an interview to Sky News and say they are desperate to find out what happened to Madeleine, even if it is the “worst case scenario”, as they back calls for a Child Rescue Alert service similar to the Amber Alert system in the US.

6 May: Scotland Yard plans to dig for evidence in three locations in Praia da Luz, with officers set to use ground penetrating radar.

8 May: British Officers reportedly use a military helicopter to photograph potential excavation sites and hold a four-hour meeting with Portuguese colleagues to agree a timetable for new searches.

22 May: Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley says the investigation will enter a “substantial phase of operational activity” in Portugal in the coming weeks.

2 June: Portuguese police seal off an area of scrubland to the west of Praia da Luz as they prepare to examine the potential excavation site.

11 June: Police begin to search an area between Praia da Luz and the town of Lagos behind a water treatment plant. The search of the scrubland site is later wound down – and the McCanns say the fact that nothing was found reinforces their belief she could still be alive.

8 July: The McCanns attend the trial of Goncalo Amaral, the former police chief they are suing for libel over claims he made in a book.

The court hears of their “devastation, desperation, anxiety and pain” after he accused them of faking their daughter’s abduction and hiding her body.

9 December: Police question 11 potential witnesses in Portugal, including British expat Robert Murat and staff who used to work at the Ocean Club complex where Madeleine was staying.


28 April: Goncalo Amaral is ordered to pay damages of £433,000 to the McCanns as the libel trial comes to an end – with a judge prohibiting any more sales of his book.

27 July: Scotland Yard contacts Australian authorities after a child’s remains are found in a suitcase near Adelaide. Two days later, officers confirm the girl is not Madeleine.

5 October: The official Twitter account associated with the search for Madeleine is shut down because of the “continued abuse” from other users.

28 October: The number of police officers devoted to the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance is reduced from 29 to four.


3 April: Theresa May, then home secretary, grants Scotland Yard £95,000 in extra funding to continue the search for Madeleine.

18 April: Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Duthie tells the Evening Standard: “There is always a possibility that we will find Madeleine and we hope that we will find her alive.”

19 April: An appeals court in Portugal overturns the libel conviction of Goncalo Amaral. The McCanns say they are “disappointed” and vow to appeal at the country’s Supreme Court.

25 December: The McCanns mark their tenth Christmas without Madeleine, and describe it as one “inevitably tinged with pain and longing”.


31 January: Kate and Gerry McCann say they are “disappointed” after Portugal’s Supreme Court dismisses their libel case against Goncalo Amaral, with judges concluding that his allegations were protected by freedom of expression laws.

12 March: The Home Office gives police £85,000 to extend the search for Madeleine – known as Operation Grange – for a further six months. It takes the total spent on the investigation to beyond £11m.

24 April: The McCanns say they are “bracing themselves” for the tenth anniversary of their daughter’s disappearance – and describe it as a “horrible marker of stolen time“.

On the official website for their appeal, they write: “It’s likely to be stressful and painful and more so given the rehashing of old ‘stories’, misinformation, half-truths and downright lies which will be doing the rounds in the newspapers, social media and ‘special edition’ TV programmes.”

27 April: As the only four official suspects investigated by the Metropolitan Police are ruled out of the investigation, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley says they are pursuing a “significant line of inquiry”.

30 April: The McCanns reveal that they still buy Christmas and birthday presents for Madeleine every year – and say the “real progress being made” by the police gives them hope that their daughter will be found.

2 May: A secret Home Office reports reveals Gerry and Kate McCann claimed they were treated badly by Portuguese police from the start of the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance – and they fell out with UK authorities too and later did not share with police information gathered by their own private investigators.


13 November: Funding for a further six months investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance is approved by the Home Office.


15 March: An eight-part Netflix series is released about Madeleine’s disappearance.

Her parents chose not to be involved in the film, and in a statement released before it airs say they are worried it could hinder the police investigation.

5 June: The Home Office say they will continue to fund Operation Grange, the Met Police investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance, until at least March 2020.


3 June: It is revealed that a German paedophile, currently in prison, has been identified as a key suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.

A spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, tells Sky News his identification appears to be “the most significant development in 13 years”.

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