Is this the man who snatched Maddie?

7 June 2009
Sunday Independent
Andrew Walker

This paedophile’s likeness to the sketch of a Maddie suspect is uncanny – and he admits being just an hour away on the day that she disappeared. He protests his innocence, but he has a horrifying past. David Jones reports.

Addressed to an internet agency which peddles stories to low-brow media outlets, the e-mail seemed absurdly far-fetched. During a road-trip through Pakistan a decade ago, the woman informant wrote, she and her husband had stumbled upon the secret lair of Osama bin Laden. When they tried to report their sensational discovery to US authorities, nobody would listen. Oh yes, she added almost as an afterthought, and while travelling through southern Portugal more recently, the couple had become friendly with a British man whom they later discovered to be a serial child sex attacker. They now suspected him to be the monster who abducted Madeleine McCann.

Quite whether the tipsters (a down-to-earth, middle-aged couple named Alan and Cindy Thompson, who spend their summers in East Anglia and their winters abroad in a camper van) really did have a close encounter with the al-Qaeda leader is open to question.

Extraordinarily-however, when their claims about the McCann case were closely checked, it turned out that they were telling the truth. Thus, a few days ago, began the latest twist in a seemingly interminable saga that never fails to astonish and perplex; and which, until then, seemed to be rapidly running out of steam, for all the best efforts of Madeleine’s parents Gerry and Kate McCann and their team.

It has shone an unwelcome torch on the activities of the man the Thompsons met on their trek through Portugal, 64-year-old Raymond Hewlett – a thoroughly vile character with a record of serious paedophile offences dating back to the 1970s. Despite the somewhat haphazard manner in which his name comes to be in the frame, detectives retained by the McCanns are taking his possible involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance seriously.

Two former British police officers, Dave Edgar and Arthur Crowley, attempted to interview him in a German hospital, where he is recovering from an operation to remove a tumour on his oesophagus. Looking haggard and screaming obscenities at waiting journalists, the wheelchair-bound Hewlett refused to be questioned by the McCann team.

“It looked at one stage like he might die,” Edgar, a former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer, explained. “The last thing we want is for the speculation to continue and for people to say he has taken the secret (of Madeleine’s abduction) to the grave.”

Later, Hewlett gave a sample of his DNA to police in Aachen, Germany, where he is being treated for throat cancer. Kate and Gerry McCann’s private detectives say they are still waiting for a “definitive response” from Hewlett on when he will speak to them in Germany.

Meanwhile, Hewlett’s emergence has prompted West Yorkshire police to seek leave from the German authorities to quiz him about an unsolved attack on an eight-year-old girl in 1975. Hewlett’s defiant response this week was to supply a DNA sample which, he insists, will clear him of that assault.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be of use in the Madeleine inquiry, for the Portuguese judicial police are not thought to have gathered any unidentified genetic material from the McCanns’ apartment, against which it might be matched.

In any case, the inept Portuguese police will not be joining the queue to interview Hewlett in hospital, for they are clearly uninterested in him, or any other new suspect, for that matter.

They have reportedly rebuffed several other new informants, informing them that they are wasting their time because the little girl is dead. Furthermore, it has reported that the Portuguese police have ignored clues passed to them by Edgar and Crowley, and when the private detectives visit Portugal they are tailed as if they were the criminals.

The question is, by failing to investigate Hewlett (who has served three prison sentences for sexual assaults on children, once rendering his victim unconscious by smothering her with a rag soaked in paint-thinner; a method which some surmise might have been used to subdue Madeleine), could they be missing an opportunity to solve the McCann mystery once and for all?

Understandably, given all the false dawns they have endured over the past two years, the McCann camp remain cautious when discussing Hewlett’s possible involvement. However, spokesman Clarence Mitchell speaks of the “eerie similarities” between the former Scots Guardsman and an artist’s sketch of the gaunt suspect with lank, shoulder-length hair, who was seen near the McCanns’ holiday apartment in Praia da Luz on and around May 3, 2007, when Madeleine was snatched from her bed.

Edgar says: “From the information I’ve seen, he wouldn’t be at the top of our list, but he is definitely of interest to us and we need to eliminate him.”

There are huge blanks in Hewlett’s story, but he seems to have started wandering during the early 1990s after being released from his last jail term, for abducting and assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Cheshire. After a period in Ireland (where he is suspected of attacking at least one other child), he journeyed overland through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

Home was a battered blue Dodge truck, which Hewlett, a dextrous mechanic, converted into a camper using parts he cannibalised from other vehicles. He shared it with his ponytailed German girlfriend, Marianne Schmuecker, who, at 33, is half his age.

Significantly, perhaps, sources say that he sold the Dodge to Portuguese travellers for 300 euros, not long after Madeleine vanished, and replaced it with a white Iveco model. If traced, his old camper could contain valuable forensic evidence.

Hewlett has four grown-up children from his first marriage – including a daughter named Gina, 41, to whom he wrote self-pitying letters from prison, and a son Wayne, 40, who this week described his father as a “monster” who beat him savagely when he was a boy. On the road, however, he sired six more offspring by Marianne, who, one friend recalls, “always seemed to be pregnant”. The oldest, David, was killed last December, apparently falling out of the van as the family drove through Spain en route to Germany. The Spanish authorities are investigating the incident and may charge Hewlett with negligence.

According to the friend, the family preferred the Costa del Sol to Portugal, but Hewlett grew tired of dodging Spain’s “social police”, who asked questions about the children’s welfare and wanted to know why the older ones didn’t go to school (Marianne taught them herself).

By 2006, the family had decamped to the Algarve, basing themselves in a car park beside a supermarket in Tavira, a fishing town between Faro and the Spanish border. It was one of the few places where they weren’t chased away by the authorities. They were allowed to wash in the supermarket toilets.

Since Hewlett and Marianne had so many blonde, blue-eyed children, their circle of bohemian friends were keen to help them, and one English woman gave them hundreds of pounds to buy their new mobile home. In return for such favours, Hewlett would mend their vehicles while Marianne would don a pink bunny suit and play the flute on the town’s Roman bridge, instructing her children to collect money from tourists.

But Hewlett was no easygoing hippy. Friends recall him as an overbearing “control freak” who never let Marianne and the children out of his sight. He was also furtive and “never let one hand know what the other was doing”.

Nor did he socialise much, preferring to chain-smoke cigarettes, and sometimes cannabis. One friend says his children were “immaculately” turned out and well-behaved. But another says they were “cowed and mute”, and now fears Hewlett may have abused them, too.

None of his circle in Tavira had any idea about his sordid past – nor that he was wanted by police in England. Rumours began to circulate only last summer, when he sneaked back to Britain because he needed documents to obtain free overseas hospital treatment and claim his old-age pension, due next year. One source says: “He was driven by a friend and the police must have learned he was in Britain, because they raided the house he was staying in during the night.”

It is unclear whether the police arrived too late and Hewlett had fled, or whether they let him go. But he hastily returned to Portugal. The friend he’d driven with to Britain typed Hewlett’s name into Google and learned the truth about his past.

The news then reached Alan and Cindy Thompson, who had met Hewlett a few months before Madeleine’s abduction and remained loosely in touch after returning to East Anglia. Their internet searches would have revealed that his name came up in November 2007 during a landmark trial in which Ronald Castree was convicted of the frenzied sex murder of 11-year-old schoolgirl Lesley Molseed, more than 30 years ago. After the murder in 1975, loner Stefan Kiszko was wrongfully convicted. He had served 16 years for murder before his conviction was overturned, and modern DNA testing techniques proved that Castree’s semen was on Lesley’s underwear.

However, Castree’s barrister maintained he did not kill her. He said there was “overwhelming evidence” that Hewlett – whose car was allegedly parked close to the murder scene in the Pennines – was the “probable” culprit.

Marianne apparently knew nothing of Hewlett’s past convictions until this week, and discovered the truth only when the McCann detectives descended on Aachen, where she and Hewlett have settled with their five surviving children in a council flat. “She is absolutely beside herself,” one friend says. Gullibly, one might think, this friend believes Hewlett and remains convinced he had nothing to do with Madeleine’s disappearance.

So what is the evidence?

We know Hewlett was within easy driving distance of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, for he admits to being on the Algarve on that date, and nowhere on the coast is more than 90 minutes drive from the McCanns’ resort.

We know he looks like the “hairy man” with a zapata moustache in the sketch. We know, too, that he frequently took the sea crossing from Spain to Morocco, where there have been reported sightings of a girl resembling Madeleine and where some fear she has been sold to paedophiles.

Moreover, according to one source, Hewlett was adept at smuggling his children aboard the ferry to Tangier. And as the source remarked: “Would one more little girl have made that much difference?”

Others among Hewlett’s old travelling circle have also emerged to incriminate him. The most compelling of these is Cornwall-based antiques dealer Peter Ferran, 46, (Note: mispelled name in article - this is Peter Verran) who recalls meeting him in a Morocco campsite just after Madeleine was snatched. He says Hewlett told him he was worried that people might think one of his daughters was Madeleine, because she bore such a strong resemblance to her, and added: “Madeleine’s not in Morocco.” Hewlett had readily admitted having been in Praia da Luz “many times”. He said he knew the layout of the Ocean Club, where the McCanns stayed, and was adamant Madeleine couldn’t have been taken without her parents seeing.

Yet there are clues that point to Hewlett’s innocence.

He maintains he has an alibi for May 3, 2007 – he and his family were trading at a flea market. Hewlett must have been mistaken – or lying – because the Fuzeta market is held only on the first Sunday of each month, and Madeleine was taken on a Thursday. However, there is also a sale at this site on the first Thursday of the month, though it usually attracts only gypsies. Whatever the truth, he does seem to have been at the market three days after the abduction.

An English expat who keeps a detailed daily diary says he logged the fact that he parked his camper near Hewlett’s blue Dodge on Sunday, May 6, 2007. He also noted a meeting with Hewlett and his family at another market at Mertola, 48km along the coast, on May 18, 2007.

These diary entries don’t account for his movements on May 3, of course, and certainly not between 9pm and 10pm that evening, when the abductor is believed to have struck.

Yet as the source – who did not much like Hewlett and is no apologist for him – asks: “Is it really possible that he drove into a small, off-season resort like Praia da Luz in a big blue truck that stood out like a sore thumb without being seen? “If he did go there, maybe in another vehicle, could he have taken Madeleine without his family knowing? Marianne may be devoted to him, but I can’t believe that if she did know he had done something so terrible she wouldn’t have told someone.”

Any number of experts would question this bold assertion, for the evidence suggests that serial child molesters such as Hewlett rarely change their spots.

That doesn’t make him guilty, of course, just as it doesn’t prove the culpability of the 38 other convicted child sex attackers now known to be lurking in the Algarve, many of whom must have been there when this terrible crime was perpetrated.

2 Responses to "Is this the man who snatched Maddie?"
IRONSIDE said...

Photograph of the Thompsons..With thanks to Pamalam.

Feb 16, 2010, 10:41:00 PM
IRONSIDE said...

Peter and Nisrine Verran (Peters wife)

Verran and Hewlett both ex ScotsGuards

Feb 16, 2010, 10:46:00 PM
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