20 Mar 2014

McCann inquiry focuses on sex attacker

4:49 pm on 20 March 2014

British police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are looking for a man who sexually abused five girls in Portugal between 2004 and 2006.

Madeleine McCann aged three.

Madeleine McCann aged three. Photo: AFP

Madeleine was three years old when she disappeared from a holiday apartment in the Algarve in May 2007.

United Kingdom detectives are following new leads as part of a fresh investigation which was launched last July.

They're looking for an intruder suspected of sexually assaulting five girls aged between seven and 10 in their beds at holiday villas occupied by British families.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood says the man had an unhealthy interest in young, white female children and tracing him was a priority.

Police say while not identical, many aspects of the sexual assaults were similar.

In most of the cases, the intruder appeared in the early hours of the morning and there were no signs of forced entry to the properties.

Officers say the suspect may have been in the villa or looking around for some time before committing the offences or being disturbed, either by a parent coming in or the child waking up.

They say he remained calm even when disturbed.

The incidents had previously been discounted by Portuguese investigators because they were spread over a wide geographical area and there had been no apparent attempts at abduction.

There are 38 people classed as persons of interest linked with the inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance.