One of the prosecutors investigating the prime suspect in the Madeleine McCann disappearance has claimed she died not long after she was abducted.
Hans Christian Wolters, who is leading the probe into a 43-year-old convicted child sex offender named in German media as Christian B, told The Times that the toddler was killed after being taken from her family’s apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007.
He told the paper: “My private opinion is that he relatively quickly killed the girl, possibly abused her and then killed her.
“We believe our suspect committed further crimes, especially sexual crimes, in Portugal possibly but also elsewhere like Germany.”
The paper goes on to say that Christian B discussed the kidnap, rape and killing of a girl with another paedophile in a graphic online conversation.
Christian B, 43, is reportedly serving a seven-year prison sentence for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in 2005 – a conviction he is appealing.
However, he could be released from jail if granted parole for serving two-thirds of a 21-month sentence for dealing drugs, according to Wolters.
He added to The Times: “The sooner we get evidence, the better for us to avoid the risk of him ever being released.”
Christian B is known to have lived on the Algarve coast and his Portuguese mobile phone received a half-hour phone call in Praia da Luz around an hour before Madeleine, then three, went missing.
German authorities have previously said they believe Madeleine is dead and are investigating the suspect on suspicion of murder.
Wolters said on Monday that investigators have some evidence that Madeleine is dead but did not have enough for a trial.
He told Sky News: "The hard evidence we don't have, we don't have the crucial evidence of Madeleine McCann's body.
"We expect that she is dead, but we don't have enough evidence that we can get a warrant for our suspect in Germany for the murder of Madeleine McCann.
"At the moment, we also don't have enough proof for a trial at court, but we have some evidence that the suspect has done the deed.
"That's why we need more information from people, especially places he has lived, so we can target these places especially and search there for Madeleine.”
Meanwhile, German prosecutors are reportedly examining any links to the disappearance of two other children, and Wolters said he believes there are victims of related sex crimes who have not come forward.
Madeleine vanished shortly before her fourth birthday while her parents were eating dinner with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant, and would have turned 17 last month.