A childminder who looked after Madeleine McCann several times before the little girl went missing has spoken for the first time about that harrowing night nearly ten years ago.
Speaking exclusively to The Mirror, the unnamed woman revealed she had been warned not to go out alone at the Mark Warner resort in Praia da Luz where the McCanns were holidaying and had even been told to carry a rape whistle.
She said: “I just got the feeling the locals didn’t want us there.”
Recalling the night that the three-year-old, whom she described as “a real cutie and a real sweetheart” disappeared, the former nanny said she was alerted to a disturbance at the resort and arrived at the apartment to find Kate McCann weeping.
She said: “She was crying but almost in a catatonic state and Gerry was very distressed. That’s the one thing I really remember from him, looking under the cars. I can’t forget that.”
The young woman joined the search for the missing toddler, recalling: “We were told to start looking in bins in case her body was in there. It was at that point we realised this was serious.”
She was also critical of the Portuguese police, claiming they took 90 minutes to arrive at the resort and that people were going in and out of the apartment continually – potentially contaminating any evidence.
Madeleine vanished from the family’s holiday apartment as her parents dined with friends at a tapas bar nearby.
The McCanns have spoken of their bitter regret about leaving her and then two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie alone. The missing girl would now be a teenager and the family have never given up the search and remain hopeful she is alive.
The couple has endured a series of attacks for leaving their children that night and have even been accused of being involved in their daughter’s disappearance.
The nanny is adamant there is “not a chance” the McCanns had anything to do with the incident – a view backed by former Detective Inspector Dave Edgar, who has privately investigated the case.
Edgar is certain the little girl was taken by a lone kidnapper or gang, that the motive was sexual and that it was a meticulously planned abduction.
As the 10 anniversary of the abduction approaches, Edgar is pushing for a Europe-wide appeal, believing whoever is responsible will have shared their secret.
He said: “They can’t keep it to themselves and research has shown they always confide in someone else.
Portuguese and British detectives are now united in probing fresh tips that Madeleine was spirited away by traffickers and the current investigation is reportedly on human traffickers who may have snatched her and sold her “to order.”
The Home Office has granted officers £85,000 to cover “operational costs” to continue the search.
Private investigators hired by the McCanns in 2007 reported the presence of men watching children at the beach with binoculars and taking pictures of them.
The McCanns believe images of their daughter may have been shared with traffickers who then selected her.
Officers are currently hunting a former Ocean Club worker who was at the resort when she vanished almost ten years ago.
While there is no suggestion the employee, who is said to be a Portuguese man who speaks some English, was involved directly in Madeleine’s disappearance, it is thought he may have information.
A British re-investigation into case was launched in 2011 after the initial one by the Portuguese authorities was deemed insufficient.