A week before Madeleine McCann disappeared there, a plot to kidnap a child was hatched at a Portuguese holiday resort, Sky News is told.
Expat Ken Ralphs said Christian B, the German drifter suspected of kidnapping Madeleine, tried to recruit a mutual friend to help find a child to sell to a childless couple.
Mr Ralphs, a former British political campaigner, said Christian B made the offer to the man who had no money and lived in a tent in a remote part of the Algarve coast.
Mr Ralphs, 59, said: “We were sitting around the fire one evening after a meal, having a few beers and in the early hours of the morning my friend started crying.
“I asked him what was going on and he finally confessed to me that he was involved with Christian to steal a child from Praia da Luz from a wealthy family.”
Mr Ralphs, Christian and their mutual friend, a foreigner who cannot be named for legal reasons, were all part of a nomadic, bohemian community that – for various reasons – lived off-grid in remote places in south-west Portugal.
After a short drive off-road, Mr. Ralphs took me along a path to a clearing in the forest about 20 miles from Praia da Luz, the beach village where Madeleine disappeared in May 2007.
“It’s now fenced and probably privately owned,” Mr. Ralphs explained as we stood in the shade of several towering eucalyptus trees.
“But seventeen years ago my boyfriend and his family lived here in a tepee and my wife and I brought them food.
“Christian knew the man was vulnerable and wanted to travel abroad, but he couldn’t leave because he couldn’t afford the plane tickets.”
Mr Ralphs said he told his friend not to get involved in the plot and offered to help him financially when he returned from a trip he was about to take to Britain.
“I said you can’t get involved in kidnapping someone for ransom, that’s ridiculous, and then he explained, ‘No, it’s not like that’. Christian had a customer, a buyer lined up, a German couple that couldn’t do that.” children.”
‘I showed the police secret card’
A week later, Mr Ralphs was back in Britain when he heard the news that Madeleine, aged three, had disappeared without a trace from her family’s rented holiday apartment.
He told me that within three hours he had driven from his father’s house to a police station in Workington, Cumbria, and reported what he knew.
‘I said to the police: here is the secret map of how to get to this point in the forest. I said it should be sent immediately to the Portuguese police.”
On his return to the Algarve, he went to the local police station and repeated his story, but said he had been told that the Portuguese detectives knew nothing about it.
He discovered that his friend was gone, his tepee tent was on fire, and there was no sign of Christian B. He never saw either of them again.
Mr. Ralphs added: “The GNR [local police] asked me: ‘Have you made your statement to the British police?’ I said yes and they said don’t worry, go home. If they need to contact you, they will.” And of course no one has contacted me over the years.”
In 2020, when Christian B was publicly identified as Madeleine’s suspect, Mr Ralphs recognized him from media photos and contacted police again.
Mr Ralphs was interviewed by Portuguese detectives, although he still does not know what role his evidence played in the investigation.
He said: “They told me that someone had made contact with my boyfriend abroad and that he had denied knowing me, but I have a dozen witnesses who will say he is lying. I think he just didn’t want to go through the police be questioned.”
Mr Ralphs has been in contact with Scotland Yard detectives and late last year sent a detailed statement to the German prosecutor who is now leading the Madeleine investigation.
The prosecutor, Hans Christian Wolters, told Sky News that he had passed the statement on to German investigators.
‘He normally parked in the bushes where he was hidden’
Christian B, who cannot be fully identified under German privacy laws, is still the main suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance but has not been charged. He denies any involvement.
He is currently serving a seven-year sentence in a German prison for the rape of an elderly American woman, a crime he committed in Praia da Luz in 2005.
Mr. Ralphs said he knew Christian in the months before Madeleine disappeared because they both parked their campers on Barranco beach, at the end of a long, rocky path.
Mr Ralphs and his wife had left Britain when police accidentally exposed him after he passed on information about a gang killing.
He successfully sued Greater Manchester Police, withdrew from a witness protection scheme and disappeared into an itinerant life in Portugal.
When German police appealed for information about the then-unnamed suspect in 2020, they released a photo of Christian B’s yellow and white camper parked on Barranco Beach near the eastern cliffs.
“I think Christian took that photo to show his friends in Germany, a tourist photo,” Mr. Ralphs told me as we wandered the beach on a windy January morning.
“He normally parked far from the sea, in the bushes where he was hidden and could sell drugs, which he was known for.”
I showed Mr. Ralph photos of Christian B from that time and more recent mugshots and asked if he was sure it was the same man.
“Of course, it’s definitely him,” he said. “I remember him clearly. He was good looking, spoke very good English and was polite, but not particularly friendly. A bit of a loner.”
Police recover items during a Portuguese search for reservoirs
Who is Christian B?
The German court drops the sex offense charges against the suspect
Mr. Ralphs’ evidence of a plan to steal a child is supported by Michael Tatschl, a close friend of Christian B at the time.
Tatschl told author Jon Clarke in his book My Search For Madeleine: “He (Christian B) always bragged about money and making money, especially through burglaries. He even talked about selling children, perhaps to Morocco.”
And Scotland Yard detectives have always believed that whatever her ultimate fate, Madeleine was kidnapped in a carefully planned operation.
Sky News has contacted Christian B’s lawyer and Scotland Yard for comment.