Plot to kidnap a child from Portuguese resort was hatched a week before Madeleine McCann was abducted there, British expat claims

A plot to kidnap a child from a Portuguese holiday resort was a week before Madeleine McCann was abducted there, a British expat has claimed.

Ken Ralphs said the main suspect in the McCann case, Christian Brueckner, tried to recruit a mutual friend to help find a youngster to sell to a childless couple.

Mr Ralphs said Brueckner made the offer to the man, who was penniless at the time and living in a tent in a remote part of Portugal’s Algarve coastal region, 20 miles from Praia da Luz – where Madeleine died on May 3, 2007 disappeared.

“One night after a meal we were sitting around the fire, we had a few beers and in the early hours my friend started crying,” the expat recounted Sky News. “I asked him what the matter was and finally he admitted to me that he was getting involved with Christian to steal a child from Praia da Luz from a rich family.”

Madeleine was on a family holiday when she disappeared. The case has never been solved and her fate remains unknown.

A plot to kidnap a child from a Portuguese holiday resort was a week before Madeleine McCann (pictured 3 May 2007) was abducted there, a British expat has claimed

A plot to kidnap a child from a Portuguese holiday resort was a week before Madeleine McCann (pictured 3 May 2007) was abducted there, a British expat has claimed

Brueckner was made a formal suspect by prosecutors in Portugal in 2022, although he was not charged in her disappearance.

He was previously identified as a suspect by German prosecutors in 2020, after which he was named only as German drifter ‘Christian B’.

Mr Ralphs – who is a former British political campaigner, Brueckner and their mutual friend – a foreigner who cannot be named, were all part of a nomadic group living an off-grid bohemian lifestyle in isolated locations across the south-west of Portugal is alive.

He took Sky News’ reporter to the place where he said his friend had stayed with his family in a tipi 17 years ago. Mr Ralphs said he and his wife would buy them food.

The 59-year-old said he urged his friend not to get involved in Brueckner’s scheme, calling it “ridiculous” and telling him he would end up in jail.

‘I said you can’t get involved in kidnapping a person for ransom, that’s ridiculous, then he explained – “no, it’s not like that.” Christian had a customer, a shopper standing in line, a German couple who couldn’t have children,’ Mr Ralphs told Sky News.

A week after their conversation, Madeline disappeared.

Mr Ralphs says he was back in the UK when he heard the news.

Three hours later, he told Sky News, he drove to a police station in Cumbria and reported what he knew about Brueckner and the kidnapping plot.

Mr Ralphs also said he gave police a ‘secret map’ which led them to the point in the bush where his friend lived in the tent with his family, and told them to take it to detectives in Portugal send so they can investigate.

He wrote a statement and repeated his story when he returned to the Algarve, but told Sky News police there said they knew nothing of his report. He also returned to the place where the teepee was, but found it burnt.

Mr Ralphs told Sky News he never saw Brueckner or his friend again but recognized the German when he became a suspect in 2020.

This again prompted him to contact the British police, and he sent his written statement to the German prosecutors. He was also interviewed by Portuguese detectives, but do not know if his statement was used in their investigation of Brueckner.

German prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters told Sky News he passed the statement to German investigators, the broadcaster reported.

“They told me someone contacted my friend abroad and he denied knowing me, but I have a dozen witnesses who will say he’s lying,” he added.

“I think he just didn’t want to be questioned by the police.”

Another friend of Brueckner who knew the tramp from his time in Portugal also said the German planned to steal a child.

“He (Brueckner) was always bragging about money and making money, especially from burglaries,” Michael Tatschl told author Jon Clarke in his book My Search For Madeleine. “He even talked about selling children, maybe to Morocco.”

The expat’s claim follows news that the German suspect is likely to remain silent during an upcoming trial for unrelated sex offenses in Germany, but has ‘nothing to hide’, according to his lawyer.

Brueckner will appear in court in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony on February 16, accused of five offenses between 2000 and 2017 in Portugal and is already serving a rape sentence.

Christian Brueckner will appear in court in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony on February 16, accused of five offenses between 2000 and 2017 in Portugal and is already serving a rape sentence

Christian Brueckner will appear in court in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony on February 16, accused of five offenses between 2000 and 2017 in Portugal and is already serving a rape sentence

Brueckner’s lawyer told the BBC in an email that he did not expect his client to make “substantive submissions” at the upcoming trial in Germany, which could last months.

Friedrich Fülscher, a public defender, said: ‘We will see whether the accused will defend himself in silence or make statements denying individual acts.

“At the moment I don’t assume there will be any substantive submissions.”

Brueckner’s lawyer said there were ‘no negative conclusions’ to be drawn as a result.

He added: ‘Whether an accused declares ‘I have nothing to do with it’, ‘I am innocent’ or the like, or whether he uses his right to remain silent, leads to the same result in criminal proceedings.

‘So this does not mean that there is anything to hide, but is simply due to the fact that it makes sense from a procedural point of view.’

Brueckner will still be required to confirm details such as his name and date of birth.

He was charged with five crimes that allegedly took place in Portugal between 2000 and 2017, including rape and sexual abuse of children.

The Braunschweig court in a subsequent ruling had no jurisdiction over the case, but this was later overruled.

Madeleine McCann was on a family holiday in Praia da Luz, Portugal when she disappeared on 3 May 2007.  Brueckner was made a formal suspect by prosecutors in Portugal in 2022.

Madeleine McCann was on a family holiday in Praia da Luz, Portugal when she disappeared on 3 May 2007. Brueckner was made a formal suspect by prosecutors in Portugal in 2022.

The charges include the rape of an unidentified woman aged between 70 and 80 at her holiday home in Portugal at some point between 2000 and 2006 and the rape of a girl believed to be at least 14 years old at his home in Praia da Luz at some point between 2000 and 2006.

He is also accused of raping a young woman after she entered her apartment in 2004, sexually assaulting a child on a beach in 2007, and sexually assaulting a child in a playground in 2017.

Brueckner is serving a seven-year sentence for a rape that took place in Portugal in 2005.

During the trial, which will begin next week, it will be decided whether Brueckner remains in prison at the end of this sentence.