Matthew Wright 7am - 10am
German Madeleine McCann suspect 'tried to recruit man to kidnap child' in Portugal a week before she vanished
8 February 2024, 07:23
Madeleine McCann suspect Christian Brueckner tried to recruit a man to find a child to sell to a rich family one week before she went missing, an expat has claimed.
Listen to this article
Ken Ralphs was living in a nomadic community in southwest Portugal when a friend told him about the alleged plot.
The friend, who has not been named, was living in a teepee in the woods some 20 miles outside of Praia da Luz, the seaside resort Madeleine disappeared from in May 2007.
"We were sitting around the fire one night after a meal, we had a few beers and during the early hours of the morning my friend began to cry," Mr Ralphs, a former political campaigner, said.
"I asked him what the matter was and, eventually, he confessed to me he was getting involved with Christian to steal a child from Praia da Luz from a rich family."
Mr Ralphs was in Portugal after after mistakenly being exposed when he informed about a gang murder in the UK.
He told Sky News: "17 years ago my friend and his family were living in a teepee here and me and my wife used to bring them food.
"Christian knew the guy was vulnerable and wanted to travel abroad, but he couldn't leave because he couldn't afford the air tickets."
The 59-year-old said he warned his friend not to get involved and said he could help with money after he returned from a trip to the UK.
"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 buyer lined up, a German couple who couldn't have children," he said.
Mr Ralphs said he had returned to the UK when he heard of Madeleine's disappearance, and he drove from his father's home in Workington to tell police what he knew.
When he arrived back in the Algarve, he found the friend had gone, the teepee was burned and Brueckner was nowhere to be found. He did not see either again.
He spoke to Portuguese police but they did not make contact until he went back to them in 2020, after seeing Brueckner's identification as the suspect.
A detailed statement has been sent to German prosecutors, which has been passed on to investigators.
Brueckner, 46, who is in jail in Germany for raping an elderly American woman in Praia da Luz in 2005, denies involvement in Madeleine's disappearance and he has not been charged in relation to her.
She was three years old when she vanished. British police consider her case to still be a missing person investigation.
Brueckner is about to go on trial charged with three rapes and two sexual assaults against children between December 2000 and June 2017 in Portugal.