A rape survivor has asked detectives working on Madeleine McCann’s disappearance to look into her case after noticing a new suspect has been convicted of an assault similar to her own.
Hazel Behan, from Ireland, was viciously assaulted in 2004, when a stranger entered the apartment she was living in while working in Praia da Rocha, Portugal, just 30 minutes’ drive from where Madeleine disappeared in 2007.
Detectives working Madeleine’s case appeared to have a breakthrough recently as they announced a new suspect, a 43-year-old German man, and appealed for evidence connecting him to Madeleine. The suspect has not been named by police, but has been identified in German media.
Behan, who waived her right to anonymity, was made aware of the suspect through the appeal, and learned he had previously been convicted of the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz in 2005.
Behan’s attacker was never caught, but after hearing about the suspect’s conviction she retold her story and urged London’s Metropolitan police to investigate further.
Speaking to The Guardian, Behan said:
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. I puked, to be honest with you, as reading about it took me right back to my experience.
Behan was working as a holiday representative at a resort in Praia da Rocha and was two weeks away from her 21st birthday when she was attacked by a man who spoke English with a German accent, and was about 6ft 1in.
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The attacker wore a mask, but she could see he had ‘blonde eyebrows, and piercing blue eyes.’ She remembered noticing a distinctive mark on the top of his right thigh, which she identified as ‘either a pull in the tights, a birthmark or a tattoo’.
Photos of the new suspect show he has blonde eyebrows and blue eyes, and in descriptions of him in German media he is said to have birthmarks on his upper right thigh.
Behan’s attacker dragged her into the living room and tied her to the countertop, before gagging her with a cloth and proceeding to beat and rape her. He had previously set up a video camera in the room.
Behan, who now lives in Ireland, 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.
The attacker threatened Behan with a machete before putting a sheet over her head. She believed she was going to die, but her attacker used the time to escape.
Anyone affected by sexual assault, or any other crime, can contact us for free & confidential support: https://t.co/msHyw5BzZO
— Victim Support (@VictimSupport) April 21, 2016
The young woman called the police, who told her to ‘strip off and stand in a star jump-like stance whilst they took pictures’. She was then examined by a gynecologist at a local hospital, but she doesn’t know whether forensic evidence was taken.
When Behan returned to the apartment with her mother a few days later, they found one of her nails that she believes must have come off in the ‘initial scuffle’. The finding left Behan feeling that police didn’t examine the scene very closely.
Discussing what happened in the years after her attack, Behan said:
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.
Hazel Behan – so brave to tell Irish people the hidden truth about rape. pic.twitter.com/kY2JvZbKSc
— Declan Varley (@declanvarley) January 23, 2015
If Behan’s attacker is the same man who attacked the American woman and abducted Madeleine, Behan believes the latter crimes could have been avoided if police had ‘done their job investigating’ what happened to her.
According to court documents for the case of the 72-year-old American woman’s attack, cited by The Guardian, the new suspect in Madeleine’s case dragged the woman through the house before tying her down, beating and raping her.
The attacker was only sentenced last year, after a former accomplice of his discovered a video tape apparently showing the rape and took it to police. The attacker was given seven years in prison.
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— RAINN (@RAINN) June 8, 2020
After hearing about the new suspect’s conviction, Behan has given a statement to the Met police, who informed her they were taking her case seriously and would be contacting Portuguese police.
They offered everything they can do to help me. 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. Speaking out about this is difficult, but in my gut I feel it is the right thing to do.
You can make a difference. As we move from Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month to Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s remember the TALK method for responding to a survivor when they disclose. How you react can help greatly in the healing process. pic.twitter.com/JsM6nt8NXr
— RAINN (@RAINN) May 2, 2020
The Met police have not commented on Behan’s case, but continue to appeal to the public for information.
The new suspect in the Madeleine McCann case is currently in prison in the northern German city of Kiel, serving an unrelated sentence for drug trafficking. His conviction for the rape of the American woman is under review after defence lawyers argued he had been extradited from Italy on another charge, and therefore cannot be tried for a different crime.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas.
Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on their website or on their free helpline 0808 800 5005, open 9am–5pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 8am–8pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10am – 2pm Saturdays.