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But despite more than 8,000 potential sightings and a multi-million pound operation to locate her, no one has yet been able to find the missing British girl. Maddie disappeared from the family’s flat on the ground floor of the Ocean Club Complex in Praia da Luz, Portugal, just days before her fourth birthday Her parents Gerry and Kate had joined other couples for dinner at a tapas bar just 150 metres away, but left Maddie and her twin siblings Sean and Amelie sleeping inside.
When Kate returned to check on the children around 10pm, she found Maddie was not in her bed and was missing.
The sensational apparent kidnap made global headlines and triggered a police investigation that remains unsolved to this day.
GP Kate and heart surgeon Gerry from Rothley, Leics., were left only with Maddie’s treasured “Cuddle Cat” as a reminder of their daughter as the world’s media descended on the holiday resort.
A month after her disappearance and with no progress in finding her abductors, devout Catholics Kate and Gerry had a private audience with Pope Benedict in Rome, who blessed a picture of their missing daughter.
The couple wore green and yellow ribbons as a symbol of hope while they released two pictures of their daughter in the belief it might jog someone’s memory.
The photographs of Maddie in a pink hat clutching tennis balls and one with her dressed in an Everton football shirt became iconic images of the search.
Just months after her disappearance, Portuguese police named Kate and Gerry arguidos, or suspects, in the case, but a year later they were cleared by investigators.
It was one of a catalogue of blunders during their handling of the case, which included issuing the wrong description of a man seen near the McCanns’ holiday flat soon after she vanished. The height of the man given by police was 170cm (5ft 7in), but it mistakenly appeared as 5ft 10in in the English version.
The couple have since dedicated their lives to finding their daughter, who would now be 17.
Madeleine’s Fund – Leaving No Stone Unturned – was set up to finance the search, support her family and bring her abductors to justice.
Alongside that Operation Grange, the Scotland Yard probe into Maddie’s disappearance, has continued but despite £12 million being spent on the probe it has so far failed to unearth any culprits.
Dozens of conspiracy theories have circulated as to how and why Maddie was able to be so easily snatched from a busy holiday resort and under the noses of her parents.
Some think Maddie let herself out of the apartment in search of her parents but became disoriented and was snatched by opportunists and sold.
But the most likely – and credible explanation – according to experts is that she was stolen by child sex traffickers or a paedophile gang, or taken during a bungled burglary.
The hunt for the suspect, or gang, behind the most famous missing person case in the world has taken investigators to Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Bosnia, Holland, Belgium and India where sightings have been made.
Another theory said Maddie could have been taken to Lagos Marina, five miles from Praia da Luz, and smuggled on a boat into Morocco.
There have been numerous reports of girls fitting her description around the time of her disappearance in North Africa.
Exactly one year ago Portuguese police revealed they were hunting an English-speaking sex monster who wears a surgical mask in relation to Maddie’s suspected kidnapping.
An explosive documentary claimed that in a previous case he broke into a British family’s home and leaned over a sleeping seven-year-old girl who woke up and said, “Is that you Daddy?” to which he replied, “Yes” in a foreign accent.
Timeline of events:
May 3, 2007 – Kate and Gerry McCann leave their three children asleep in their Praia da Luz holiday apartment while they eat eat a nearby restaurant. At 10pm Kate finds Madeleine missing.
September 7, 2007 – Kate and Gerry McCann are made arguidos, or suspects in her disappearance
September 9, 2007- Kate and Gerry return to England with Maddie’s two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie.
July 21, 2009 – Portuguese police shelve the investigation.
July 24, 2009 – Portuguese detective Goncalo Amaral sensationally claims there was no abduction and the McCanns had hidden her body. The McCanns sue for libel.
May 12, 2011 – On Madeleine’s eighth birthday Kate publishes a book about her disappearance. Scotland Yard launches a review of the case after a request from Home Secretary Theresa May.
April 25, 2012 – Scotland Yard says it believes Madeleine is still alive and they call on the Portuguese authorities to reopen the case.
July 4, 2013 – Scotland Yard launches its own investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance after claiming to have “genuinely new” lines of inquiry and identify 38 persons of interest, including 12 Britons.
June 11, 2014 – Portuguese police begin their search of an area between Praia da Luz and Lagos behind a water treatment plant – but nothing is found.
July 27, 2015 – A child’s remains were found in a suitcase in Australia confirmed not to be Madeleine.
October 28, 2015 – Scotland Yard reduces the number of officers working on Operation Grange from 29 to four.
March 27, 2018 – Police confirm they have been granted more funding from the Home Office to continue their search.
November 2018 – UK police re-examine possibility Madeleine left her apartment to search for her parents.
June 2020 – Scotland Yard issue an appeal for information around a new German suspect.
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