(BBC) — Police are appealing for the public’s help in solving the Madeleine McCann case, after they announced a child sex offender was the new suspect.
The 43-year-old German man, who has not been named, is currently in prison.
He is believed to have been in the area where Madeleine was last seen, when she disappeared in Portugal 13 years ago.
Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, felt the latest development was “potentially very significant”, the family’s spokesman said.
Clarence Mitchell, who has represented the family since the three-year-old’s disappearance, said that in 13 years he couldn’t “recall an instance when the police had been so specific about an individual”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “Of all the thousands of leads and potential suspects that have been mentioned in the past, there has never been something as clear cut as that from not just one, but three, police forces.”
The Met Police, who are working with German and Portuguese police, said the case remained a “missing persons” investigation because it does not have “definitive evidence” as to whether Madeleine is alive or not.
However, German investigators have classed it as a murder inquiry.
“There is reason to assume that there are other persons, apart from the suspect, who have concrete knowledge of the course of the crime and maybe also of the place where the body was left,” said German police.
The suspect, who is not being named because of German court privacy rules, has been described as white with short blond hair and about 6ft (1.8m) tall with a slim build at the time.
Police have also released photos of two vehicles – a VW camper van and a Jaguar car – which are believed to be linked to the man, as well as a house in Portugal.
The day after Madeleine vanished in 2007, the suspect transferred the Jaguar to someone else’s name.
On Wednesday, Germany’s federal criminal police office (BKA) – which is leading this stage of the case – said the man was serving a jail sentence in Germany for a sex crime.
He has “numerous” previous convictions for “sexual abuse of children”, the office added.
Madeleine went missing shortly before her fourth birthday from an apartment in Praia da Luz on the evening of 3 May 2007, while her parents were with friends at a nearby tapas bar.
Her disappearance sparked a huge and costly police hunt across much of Europe – the most recent Metropolitan Police investigation, which began in 2011, has cost more than £11m.
Det Ch Insp Mark Cranwell, who is in charge of the Met investigation, said the suspect, then aged 30, frequented the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, staying for “days upon end” in his camper van and living a “transient lifestyle”.
He was in the Praia de Luz area where the McCann family was staying when she disappeared and received a phone call at 7.32pm, which ended at 8.02pm. Madeleine is believed to have disappeared between 9.10pm and 10pm that evening.
Police have released details of the suspect’s phone number (+351 912 730 680) and the number which dialled him (+351 916 510 683), and said any information about these numbers could be “critical”.
Det Ch Insp Cranwell said the caller was a “key witness” and should get in touch.
And appealing to the public for details about the suspect, he added: “Some people will know the man we are describing today, the suspect in our investigation. I’m appealing to you directly.
“You may know, you may be aware of some of the things he has done. He may have confided in you about the disappearance of Madeleine.
“More than 13 years have passed and your loyalties may have changed.
“This individual is in prison and we are conscious that some people may have been concerned about contacting police in the past. Now is the time to come forward.”
German police said the suspect is thought to have worked jobs including as a waiter, but also committed burglaries in hotels and holiday resorts and dealt drugs.
Christian Hoppe, from the German police, said the suspect may have broken into an apartment before spontaneously kidnapping Madeleine.
The joint appeal from the British, German and Portuguese police includes a £20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible of Madeleine’s disappearance.