A former Northern Ireland detective, who has played a central role in the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann 13 years ago, is urging people who were in Portugal around that time to revisit their holiday photos with “fresh eyes” to help bring closure to her family.
London and German police have identified an unnamed suspect who was in the Praia da Luz resort on the Algarve coast at the time the three-year-old vanished on May 3 2007.
Jim Gamble said the latest developments in the case bring him such hope that he believes an end could finally be in sight.
“This is the most hopeful I’ve been since the very early days of Madeleine’s disappearance,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Mr Gamble was the senior child protection officer in the UK’s first investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine.
The Bangor man is one of the UK’s most experienced and outspoken experts on the safeguarding of children online.
He now runs the Belfast-based INEQE Group which continues to spearhead the battle to make the online world safer for children.
German police said the suspect has numerous convictions for child abuse and drugs and is currently in jail. He made money burgling holiday makers' apartments. They believe he may have taken Madeleine while breaking into the McCann’s accommodation.
He came to their attention after discussing the case in an internet chat room. Two properties, near where the McCann’s were staying have become central to the investigation.
“The reason I’m more positive and optimistic is that when you take a step back and look at the circumstantial evidence that the police are sharing with us, it’s strong stuff,” Mr Gamble added.
“So you know you have a suspect with a proven history of sex offending, child abuse and burglary.
“When you take that information and place it in context, you can now see evidence that his phone was in proximity to the scene in or around the time of the crime.
“Then you consider the subsequent conduct - what they had done afterwards that would make you think those are signs of a guilty person.
“We are told that a number plate of a car is changed the day after so when you bring all of that together, it makes him a very, very significant person of interest,” he added.
The former head of RUC Special Branch was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2008.
After his 2010 review into the case, commissioned by former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, Mr Gamble said it was “critical” the expertise of the Metropolitan Police was brought on board.
He said evidence was not collated together and mobile phone analysis may not have been examined.
Some leads he claimed may have slipped through the net.
Mr Gamble continued: “There had been gaps in the investigation and that’s not criticism of the Portuguese police. It is a reflection on that the fact that these crimes are very rare and when they take place outside of areas where there are very experienced detectives, there is limited expertise at hand.
“You need that breakthrough that allows you to go back to all those pots of evidence that were preserved back in the day and then begin trawling through it with more laser like vision.
“Once you have a name you begin to look at how you can link that person to those places.
“What we are seeing now is the outcome from long hard hours put in from detectives.”
Mr Gamble says the timing of the latest developments, coming as they do during lockdown, could also prove significant.
“I would urge people who may have holidayed in Praia da Luz around that time in May 2007 to cast their minds back and look through the lens that they have with this additional information.
“Look at your holiday photos with fresh eyes for a man who fits the suspect’s description - a 30-year-old blonde German - or for his jaguar, or his camper van.”
He added: “The jigsaw is coming together but there are some pieces missing.
“If the public are now prompted or if someone who has held something back suddenly realises how important the little piece of information they have is, come forward because they might bring those last pieces together.”