Police flatten area of woodland and dig holes in Madeleine McCann searches

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Police have flattened a concentrated area of woodland and dug a number of holes near a remote reservoir in Portugal as part of their three-day hunt for evidence in the Madeleine McCann case.

Huge piles of soil and broken rock were left next to the 160 sq ft area close to the banks of the Barragem do Arade, where officers were seen with shovels for a number of hours on Wednesday afternoon.

The surrounding woodland showed pathways had been cut by heavy machinery, with large branches lining the routes towards the area of focus.

The small section of woodland was clearly marked out by officers over the course of their three-day search in Portugal.

The cordon around the site, which had been in place since Tuesday morning to allow officers to scour the area with rakes, pickaxes and sniffer dogs, has since been lifted.

Police were given the go-ahead to search the area after German prosecutors received “certain tips” about the case.

A few kilometres away from the search, blue tents had been erected for briefings to take place.

Personnel at Barragem do Arade reservoir in Portugal, as searches continue as part of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann
Personnel at Barragem do Arade reservoir in Portugal (Yui Mok/PA)

The operation was carried out at the request of German investigators who believe their prime suspect, convicted sex offender Christian Brueckner, 45, kidnapped and murdered the youngster.

He is in prison in Germany for the rape of a woman in Praia da Luz in 2005, and is suspected of further rapes and child sexual abuse committed in the area between 2000 and 2017.

German authorities have not revealed what triggered the latest search operation, but the prosecutor for the city of Braunschweig, Christian Wolters, said they were acting on the basis of “certain tips”.

He told German public broadcaster NDR the new information had not come from the suspect and they did not have a confession or “any indication from the suspect of where it would make sense to search”.

The area around Barragem do Arade reservoir in Portugal
The area around Barragem do Arade reservoir (Yui Mok/PA)

He has reportedly denied any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance.

Madeleine was three when she vanished while on holiday with her parents in Praia da Luz, after they left her and her younger twin siblings asleep in their apartment while they went out to dinner with friends.

Portuguese lawyer Marcos Aragao Correia previously claimed that criminal contacts had told him that Madeleine’s body was in the reservoir, and in 2008 he raised funds for unsuccessful private searches of the water.

British officers from the Metropolitan Police were also present while the work was carried out in order to inform Madeleine’s parents of any developments.

Portuguese daily Expresso said that the first day ended with no significant results, and that police had collected some objects including fabrics and garments.

Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann (PA)

A no-fly zone was also imposed over the reservoir for the first two days.

The new searches come as the Home Office granted an extra £110,000 in funding this financial year for the Metropolitan Police to assist with finding Madeleine, down from just over £300,000 last year.

The total funding given to Operation Grange has been just under £13.1 million since 2011.

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