Key evidence in the Madeleine McCann case may have been destroyed when a van used by suspect Christian Brueckner was crushed by police.
The blue Bedford van, which the German paedophile used to sleep in on the beach near Praia da Luz, is understood to have been sold for scrap.
According to local media, he drove it just before the three-year-old’s disappearance in May 2007.
It is not clear when the vehicle was seized. Portuguese daily The Expresso reports that the vehicle was seized seven months after Maddie went missing.
However, court papers suggest it was confiscated in April 2006 before she vanished and was never returned to Brueckner.
It is not believed that the van was ever examined by forensic experts, as the German sex offender was not a suspect in the youngster’s disappearance at the time.
He used it with an Austrian friend in April 2006 to steal diesel from two lorries, court files dating from the time of his conviction show. The files say the vehicle was dismantled after being valued at just £90 by a court seeking payment of a fine linked to his conviction.
It ended up being crushed in 2009, The Expresso claims, raising questions over whether vital clues have been missed in the case.
This comes after it emerged that a number of girls’ swimsuits were among children’s clothing found in a separate Tiffin Allegro motorhome the suspect is thought to have driven between Portugal and Germany.
He is said to have been using a minivan matching its description in 2007, when Madeleine disappeared at age three.
Madeleine vanished on 3 May 2007 from a holiday apartment at a resort in Praia da Luz in Portugal.
Brueckner’s lawyer Friedrich Fulscher says he ‘denies any involvement’ in her disappearance.
German prosecutors believe she is dead and are treating their investigation as a murder case.