Former friends of the prime suspect in the Madeleine McCann case fear he will never be charged over her disappearance.
German paedophile Christian Brueckner, 44, was named 12 months ago as the man police are focused on.
They believe he snatched and killed the British girl, who was three in 2007 when she vanished from her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz on the Algarve in Portugal.
German prosecutors claim to have evidence Madeleine is dead. They said they had identified their main suspect, but Brueckner has not been charged or questioned over her disappearance.
The German probe has been slammed for moving slowly.
Brueckner, who is in jail in Germany for raping a pensioner in Portugal, has vowed to never talk to police.
People he knew on the Algarve fear he will walk free without facing trial for Madeleine’s disappearance.
One former friend, who is too afraid to be named, said: “I can’t believe it’s been a year and nothing seems to have happened.
“For those of us who were close to him here in Portugal, our lives were torn apart when he was named as a suspect.
“The more we remembered about him and read about his past, the more we believed he was the man responsible for taking Madeleine.
“It’s crazy the German cops haven’t been to see Chris in prison or interviewed him. We’re scared he’ll never face justice and will have to be freed and could then come back here.
“I think if the Germans have evidence Madeleine is dead, they need to come out and say what it is.”
Peter Kirkham, a former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector, said he suspects the investigation into Brueckner is “rapidly drying up”.
He added: “A year ago we heard Brueckner had become a person of great interest to the McCann investigation.
“But since then, nothing. To the public, this seems odd and it seems the police are dragging their feet. Identifying and interviewing a suspect is a very long way from having enough to charge, let alone convict, them …
“This investigation has run longer than most – I suspect in part because no politician wants to be associated with saying ‘stop’.
“But I think the time has come for someone to do so. A senior officer should gather together those with knowledge of the case and decide whether to continue.
“Having seemingly got nowhere in a year, I suspect this line of inquiry is rapidly drying up.”
German officials never publicly named Brueckner due to privacy rules, but his name quickly emerged. The public prosecutor’s office in the city of Braunschweig has maintained it has “strong evidence” he is guilty.
But investigators have refused to say what this is, other than to say it has no forensic evidence. Criminal analyst Mark T Hoffman said it was unprofessional of prosecutors to make their claims public.
He added: “To go in front of the cameras and say ‘we know who it is’, but then not to provide any evidence, is an unusual strategy.”
Hans-Christian Wolters, chief prosecutor in Braunschweig, rejected the criticism.
He said Brueckner remaining under suspicion for a year despite no charges being filed “cannot be avoided”.
German authorities are treating the case as a murder inquiry.
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry said: “We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive.”
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Police released photos of Brueckner’s early 80s VW camper van and Jaguar XJR-6, which were both in Praia da Luz in 2007. They also revealed his phone was in the resort on the night Madeleine vanished.
He was convicted in Germany in 1994 of abusing a six-year-old girl in a playground and exposing himself to another youngster.
Brueckner, then 17, was handed a two-year juvenile sentence.
He later fled to Portugal where he set up home in the coastal town of Lagos and kept his past secret.
Brueckner lived in a ramshackle farmhouse on the edge of Praia da Luz but moved out in 2006 after being jailed for petrol theft.
He was fresh out of prison in May 2007 and living in a camper van in the Algarve when Madeleine vanished. His name was on a list of 600 people considered potentially significant to the case which was handed to British detectives.
But he only became a suspect in 2017 when a caller rang officers with new information – claiming Brueckner told them he knew what happened to Madeleine.
Brueckner’s pals in Portugal said he portrayed himself as a Victorian gent, wooing women with good manners.
But his British ex-girlfriend told our sister paper the Mirror about his dark side.
He terrorised her when they dated in 2004 and 2005. Brueckner broke into her Lagos apartment and lay in wait for her under her bed hours after attacking her in a jealous rage.
She thinks he was waiting to see if she would bring a man back to the flat – and would have assaulted her again if she had.
Brueckner was a suspect in a sex crime in an Algarve playground as recently as 2017. He was held on suspicion of exposing himself to children. Police discovered Brueckner was wanted in Germany so did not prosecute him for the alleged crime, but they reopened the case last year.
It was reported last year Portuguese police searched wells in Vila do Bispo as part of the hunt for Madeleine.
German authorities also asked local police to investigate Brueckner’s possible connection to a sex crime in the Algarve in April 2007.
Brueckner is in Wolfenbuttel prison. He was reportedly moved there this year from Kiel jail where he was serving time for a drugs offence.
Prosecutor Wolters admitted in December that without new clues Brueckner will not be quizzed about Madeleine. But this week he said they hope to interview Brueckner at the end of their investigation.
Brueckner’s lawyer Friedrich Fulscher said the pervert had nothing to do with the disappearance.
He added: “The accused is exercising his right to remain silent.”