What happened to Madeleine McCann? A timeline of events as investigation continues

24 May 2023, 12:25 | Updated: 24 May 2023, 12:49

Metropolitan police searching grass lands in Portugal alongside a picture of Madeleine McCann showing off her eye mark
Madeleine McCann first went missing in 2003 while on holiday with her family in Portugal. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Zoe Adams

Have they found Madeleine McCann? When did she go missing? Here's a full timeline of dates and the latest news as a new development happens in the investigation.

Madeleine McCann has been missing since 2007 following a holiday with family and friends in Praia da Luz, Portugal.

And now, 16 years on, a new development has risen and police have begun a thorough search of reservoir, Arade dam, which is over 31 miles from where the British toddler went missing from her apartment.

The latest search is in connection with German Christian Brueckner, the prime suspect in the case, who is believed to have been in the area at the time she was taken.

Police divers entered the water at the site on Tuesday 23rd May and have already removed multiple bags of possible evidence.

The Policia Judiciaria said in a statement it is co-ordinating the searches of the area at request of the German authorities (BKA) and in the presence of British officers.

Read more: 'We are never going to give up trying to find her': Madeleine McCann's parents issue birthday statement

Read more: Madeleine McCann detectives begin search of remote Portuguese reservoir German suspect Cristian Brueckner visited

So what exactly happened to Madeleine McCann? Here's a full timeline of events as the investigations continue in 2023.

Madeleine McCann's parents Kate and Gerry at a press conference in Portugal
Madeleine McCann's parents Kate and Gerry have said they will never give up the search. Picture: Getty

May 2007

On holiday with her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, plus her brother and sister Amelie and Sean, as well as family and friends, Madeleine was reported missing.

It was this night where her parents put them to bed and went for dinner with a group of friends in the hotel complex where they had devised a rota to keep checking on the children.

When it was Kate McCann's turn to check, she noticed her daughter was missing and alerted the police and hotel.

From this moment on, staff, guests and hundreds of volunteers searched Praia da Luz, where the family were staying in Portugal, in an attempt to find Madeleine. Border police and airport staff were also put on alert.

On the 12th, the McCann's issued a statement that said they "cannot describe the anguish and despair" they are feeling.

On the 26th, police issued a description of a man from the night of Madeleine's disappearance who was spotted possibly carrying a child.

June 2007

A Portuguese police chief officer has admitted that some important forensic clues may have been destroyed in the search for Madeleine McCann as the crime scene was not protected efficiently enough in the first few hours.

September 2007

Over 100 days since she went missing, the Portugese police interviewed Kate McCann as a witness and then the couple were named as suspects. Days later they returned to the UK with prosecutors saying there was no evidence to keep questioning them.

November 2007

Dad Gerry McCann released a video detailing how he believed his family was watched by a "predator" in the days before Madeleine's disappearance.

Kate and Gerry McCann searching for Madeleine McCann in Portugal as mum Kate holds her daughter's pink bear
Kate and Gerry McCann had become suspects in the Portugese investigations. Picture: Getty


  • January - The McCann's release sketches of a "creepy man" spotted at the resort by a British holiday maker as he becomes another suspect in the missing case.
  • May - On the one-year anniversary since missing Madeleine went missing, Kate made a public statement urging people to "pray like mad" for her little girl.
  • July - Portugese police say they have submitted their final report on the case which is then followed by the end of their investigations, officially lifting the suspect status on her parents.

November 2009

New images of Madeleine McCann are released showing what she might look like now.

The McCann's begin to say they are getting incredibly "frustrated" at the lack of looking for their daughter.

November 2010

Kate and Gerry McCann sign a book deal to write about Madeleine's disappearance.

May 2011

The McCann's officially publish their book, Madeleine.

Prime Minister David Cameron brings new attention to the missing child case as he asks the Metropolitan Police to help igniting a two-year review.

Images of Madeleine McCann are drawn up to display what she might look like now
Images of Madeleine McCann are drawn up to display what she might look like now. Picture: Getty

April 2012

The UK review Madeleine McCann's case hoping to bring "closure". New images of Madeleine are also released as they speculate what she might look like now, aged 9.

The Portugese authorities also confirm they will not be reopening the case.


  • May - UK detectives who have been reviewing the case say they have identified a number of persons of interest as new developments and witnesses are uncovered.
  • July - Based on the new discoveries, a formal investigation is opened.
  • October - 41 potential suspects are named and a BBC Crimewatch appeal reveals e-fit images of a man who was seen carrying a three year old on the night she went missing. Alongside Scotland Yard's new evidence, Portugal police reopen their investigation too.


  • January - British detectives fly to Portugal to continue their new line of investigation.
  • June - Extensive searches are carried out in Praia da Luz including scrubland around the complex she went missing.
  • July - four suspects are quizzed by the police but unfortunately no new developments as to where Madeleine McCann is happen.


  • September - the UK government has confirmed around £10million has been spent on the new line of investigations in the case.
  • October - The official Twitter account is closed down after it continued to get loads of abuse. Later this month the amount of police officers dedicated to the case is reduced to just four.


  • March - The Home Office gives another grant of £85,000 to continue looking for Madeleine McCann for a further six months. This takes the cost to over £11million.
  • April - The McCann's gear up for the 10th anniversary since Madeleine went missing. At the time, their official website read: "It's likely to be stressful and painful and more so given the rehashing of old 'stories', misinformation, half-truths and downright lies which will be doing the rounds in the newspapers, social media and 'special edition' TV programmes."


  • March - An eight-part Netflix series surrounding Madeleine's disappearance is released. Parents Kate and Gerry had no part in the process and were concerned it could harm police investigations.
  • June - The Home Office says it will continue to fund the investigation until at least March 2020.

German prosecutor confirms search is 'connected with Madeleine McCann proceedings'

Kate and Gerry McCann at a press conference wearing black and blue and yellow ribbons in her hair
Kate and Gerry McCann spoke at multiple events and press conferences in the years Madeleine McCann was missing. Picture: Alamy


A new prime suspect emerges in the form of 43-year old German prisoner Christian B, a German paedophile.

A spokesman for Kate and Gerry say it's "the most significant development in 13 years".

German prosecutors say they believe Madeleine is dead and treat her disappearance as murder.

It also emerges the prime suspect allegedly confessed to his part in Madeleine's disappearance to a man in a bar.

Christian B has previously been convicted of raping an elderly woman and has other convictions of child sex abuse.


May - On the 16th anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance the McCann's hold a vigil and say she is "still very much missed".

New developments in the case also emerge as police begin searching a reservoir for new evidence.