Irish woman says an earlier assault by new McCann suspect is similar to that on her
An Irish rape victim has asked detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann to review her case, after learning that a new suspect in the British girl’s abduction was convicted of a sexual assault bearing a similarity to her own experience.
Hazel Behan was working in Praia da Rocha, Portugal, 30 minutes’ drive from where Madeleine was abducted, when she was viciously assaulted by a stranger in her apartment in 2004. The assailant was never caught.
Behan was alerted to the police appeal for new evidence in connection with Christian Brückner, named as a key suspect in Madeleine’s 2007 disappearance, when she discovered the 43-year-old German had recently been convicted of the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz in 2005.
“My mind was blown when I read how he had attacked a woman in 2005, both the tactics and the methods he used, the tools he had with him, how well he had planned it out,” she said. “I puked, to be honest with you, as reading about it took me right back to my experience.” Behan has waived her right to anonymity.
In 2004, she was working as a holiday representative at a resort in the coastal town of Praia da Rocha and was two weeks away from her 21st birthday when she was attacked in her apartment.
“I had gone to bed around 1am, and was awoken by someone calling my name. I turned on to my back and standing there was a masked man dressed in tights and what resembled a leotard, a machete around 12in long in his hand,” she said.
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The man, who she later told police spoke English with a German accent, was about 6ft 1in. He wore a mask that covered his whole head, she said, “but I could see he had blond eyebrows, and piercing blue eyes, even in the dark”.
She also recalled a distinctive mark on the top of his right thigh, “either a pull in the tights, a birthmark or a tattoo”. In descriptions of Brückner in the German media, he is said to have birthmarks on his upper right thigh.
Behan’s attacker, who removed his shoes at the door and set up a video camera in the room, told her not to scream. He dragged her into the living area and tied her to the countertop of the breakfast bar, before producing a bag of whips and chains. Using scissors to remove her clothes, he gagged her with cloth so she could not scream, and proceeded to beat and rape her.
She said: “It seemed to me he had worked everything out, he had a plan and was very deliberate. He consistently cleaned his hands, and repeatedly changed condoms. This went on, I guess, for around four or five hours. When he was finished, he took me down from the counter, but I could not stand up because of the ropes digging into the backs of my legs. He wanted me to perform a certain act on him which I just couldn’t, I was gagging.
“He got angry and ordered me into the bathroom and he picked up the machete. I was convinced he was going to kill me, and I threatened to scream and said I would not go in there. My hands were still tied behind my back and he leaned me over a small bench and put a sheet over my head. I thought that was it, my life was over. But underneath the sheet I watched as he backed out of the door, put on his shoes and ran away down the street.”
In the weeks running up to the attack, Behan said she had noticed that someone had been in her room. “At first I thought I was just being paranoid, but bits of money went missing, and things had been moved around. I now know my attacker had entered the room and been stalking me in the period leading up to the attack. I now wish I had followed my instinct and told someone in a position of responsibility.”
Once her attacker had fled, Behan ran down the corridor to call the police in the resort’s reception. She said about 30 policemen arrived soon after, taking her back to the room “where I was asked to strip off and stand in a star jump-like stance whilst they took pictures of me. That was one of the most humiliating aspects of the whole ordeal.”
Behan was taken to the local hospital where a gynaecologist examined her, but she does not know if any forensic evidence was taken. She says no attempt was made to examine her wounds for evidence. When she returned to the room several days later with her parents, “my Mam found a nail of mine on the bed which must have come off in the initial scuffle. So I am not very confident that they examined the room closely.”
Behan added: “I had little hope over the last 16 years that they would find the man who did this. I was told at the time that I should just be quiet, that if I talked about what had happened I would bring bad publicity to the resort and put off the tourists.
“Then I read about the poor American woman who was raped in September 2005 – who I would love to talk to – and the possible link that was being made between her attack and the person who abducted Madeleine McCann, and I was so full of anger, I knew in my gut it was the right thing to do to speak out.
“I think if the police had done their job investigating what happened to me, if this is indeed the same man that attacked the American and abducted Madeleine McCann, they might have prevented the attack on her, and Madeleine would now be at home with her parents.”
German police and London’s Metropolitan police are thought to have identified Brückner – whose name has not been released by the police but has emerged in the German media – as a key suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance. They have appealed to the public for any information and have received about 400 calls.
Behan, who lives in Ireland with her husband and two children, has given a statement to the Met, who informed her they were taking her case seriously and would be contacting Portuguese police. Behan said the Met had informed her that other people had contacted them independently about her attack.
“They offered everything they can do to help me,” she said. “It’s the first time in 16 years that I’ve been offered any help from an official. I live in hope of finally getting closure on an extremely difficult chapter in my life.” She added: “Speaking out about this is difficult, but in my gut I feel it is the right thing to do.”
The Met would not comment on Behan’s case but the force reiterated its appeal for “anyone with information to come forward and speak with us”. Portuguese police have not responded to a request for comment.