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Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007.
German public prosecutors investigating a German man on suspicion of murder have said they believe that Madeleine McCann, the British girl who disappeared in Portugal in 2007 aged three, is dead.

"The public prosecutor's office in Braunschweig is investigating a 43-year-old German national on suspicion of murder. From this you can see that we assume that the girl is dead," Braunschweig state prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said.

Madeleine disappeared from her bedroom on 3 May 2007 during a family holiday in the Algarve while her parents were dining with friends nearby in the resort of Praia da Luz.

The short statement was the first time officials in Germany had responded to what has been described as a crucial development in the search for the missing toddler after details were released last night by the Federal Criminal Police Office, the BKA, appearing prominently on the front of its website.

Wolters said the man in question was currently serving a prison sentence and had a history of criminal convictions, including for sexual offences, including the abuse of children.

He said he had lived in Portugal between 1995 and 2007, on the Algarve, including several years in a house between Lagos and Praia da Luz. "According to our information during this time period he had various casual jobs in the Lagos region, including in the hotel and catering industry. There is further evidence that the suspect boosted his income with criminal acts, including break-ins in hotels and holiday flats, as well as through drug dealing," Wolters said.

The man since has been identified by sources in Portugal as Christian Brückner.

Braunschweig prosecutors are involved in the investigation because the suspect's last address in Germany was in the city.

Walters appealed to the public to come forward with any information. "I can only implore everyone, as far as you're able, to react to this appeal and to help us," he said.

The focus of the investigation, according to the BKA, is on two vehicles, a Jaguar owned by the suspect and a VW van, the house where the suspect was living, and the identity of the person he spoke to around the time of Madeleine's disappearance.

Walters added: "Due to the ongoing nature of this investigation no more information can be given out as to the facts surrounding this case, in particular neither individual details about the concrete criminal charges nor to the results of the investigation so far."