German public prosecutors believe Madeleine McCann is dead and police are treating her disappearance as murder.
The development comes as a new prime suspect was identified as Christian Brueckner.
The Telegraph reported the naming of Brueckner, citing sources in Portugal. The suspect has also been partially named by German newspaper Der Spiegel.
He is the subject of a joint appeal for information by British and German police.
Hans Christian Wolters, a spokesman for the Braunschweig Public Prosecutor’s Office, said: “In connection with the disappearance of the three-year-old British girl Madeleine McCann on May 3, 2007, from an apartment complex in Praia da Luz, in Portugal, the Braunschweig prosecution is investigating against a 43-year-old German on suspicion of murder.
“We are assuming that the girl is dead.
“With the suspect, we are talking about a sexual predator who has already been convicted of crimes against little girls and he’s already serving a long sentence” he added.
Wolters said the suspect was regularly living in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, where he worked jobs in the gastronomy business, but funded his lifestyle by committing crimes, including thefts in hotel complexes and apartments, as well as drug dealing.
It was announced on Wednesday police are focusing their investigations on a 43-year-old German man, who is described as white with short blond hair, possibly fair, and about 6ft tall with a slim build.
Madeleine’s parents – Kate and Gerry, who is originally from Glasgow – believe the identification of a German suspect is “the most significant development in 13 years”.
Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for Madeleine’s parents, told Sky News the couple have never given up hope that she is still alive as “they simply want to know what happened” to their daughter.
He said: “From everything police are saying and doing, this would appear to be the most significant lead that they are trying to close down in the 13 years since Madeleine disappeared.”
The suspect is known to have been in and around Praia da Luz on the Algarve coast at the time Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007, on holiday with her parents and her twin siblings Sean and Amelie.
Now aged 43 and currently in prison, he may have looked between 25 and early 30s in 2007.
Christian Hoppe, from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), told the country’s ZDF television channel the 43-year-old is serving a prison sentence for a sex crime and has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls”.
A half-hour phone call was made to his Portuguese mobile phone around an hour before Madeleine is believed to have gone missing.
The suspect has been linked to an early 1980s camper van – with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal – which was pictured in the Algarve in 2007.
Scotland Yard said he was driving the vehicle in the Praia da Luz area in the days before Madeleine’s disappearance and is believed to have been living in it for days or weeks before and after May 3.
He has also been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007.
The day after Madeleine went missing, the suspect got the car re-registered in Germany under someone else’s name, although it is believed the vehicle was still in Portugal.
Both vehicles have been seized by German police.
Scotland Yard is launching a joint appeal with the BKA and the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria (PJ), including a £20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible of Madeleine’s disappearance.
The Met’s investigation has identified more than 600 people as being potentially significant and were tipped off about the German national, already known to detectives, following a 2017 appeal ten years after she went missing.
‘All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice.’Madeleine McCann’s parents
She vanished shortly before her fourth birthday and would have turned 17 last month.
German police are treating her disappearance as a murder investigation but the Met’s Operation Grange, launched in 2013, has always considered the case a missing person inquiry.
A statement from Madeleine’s parents, read by det chief insp Mark Cranwell said: “We welcome the appeal today regarding the disappearance of our daughter Madeleine.
“We would like to thank the police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine.
“All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice.
“We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive, but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace.”
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country