Inside the sex trafficking theory linked to Madeleine McCann's disappearance.


It has been 12 years since Madeleine McCann went missing.

Since then, her disappearance from her family’s holiday villa in Portugal has never been far from the news cycle. Suspects, theories, fresh pleas for information – everyone in the world knows what Madeleine McCann looked like when she was three years old. She’s the most famous missing person of the modern era.

And now a documentary has dropped on Netflix: The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, so the story continues. Everyone, once again wants to know: what happened to Maddie?

The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann official trailer. Post continues after video.

Video by Netflix

The documentary focuses most heavily on the theory the little girl was the victim of a sex trafficking ring.

It explains that Portugal, with its easy and quick access to numerous countries either by land or sea, is the ‘perfect’ place to abduct from.

Private investigator Julian Peribanez speculates in the series, if she was abducted and sold into trafficking, she would probably still be alive because she is a young, middle class white British girl.

“The value that Madeleine had was really high, if they took her it’s because they were going to get a lot of money,” he said.


Senior child protection officer Jim Gamble also thinks Maddie is alive, telling the series there is no proof the girl is dead.

“There’s huge hope to be had with the advances in technology. Year on year DNA is getting better. Year on year other techniques including facial recognition are getting better,” he said.

Ernie Allen, the head of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the US helped the McCanns create an aged image of a 15-year-old Maddie and has hope she is still alive.

“There are many, many cases we can point to in which children have been found, have come home alive, after months, after years,” he says in the series.

Since 2007, there have been 8000 reported ‘sightings’ of Maddie. There have also been 40 detectives working on the case over the years. They’ve interviewed 1,338 people, had 60 suspects, and collected more than 1000 exhibits. It’s cost more than $15 million.

The abduction line of enquiry wasn’t prioritised by Portuguese police at the beginning however, as they instead devoted their time on investigating Maddie’s parents Kate and Gerry as their main suspects.

But the documentary dismisses this theory, citing unreliable evidence.

The Portuguese police even at the time, were criticised for their secretive and slow response to the whole investigation. The officer leading the probe was sacked in October 2007.

disappearance of madeleine mccann
Maddie was three when she vanished in 2007.

The human trafficking theory has re-emerged in various forms over the past 12 years, with different theories placing her in locations from Belgium to Africa.

In 2008, it was reported police were examining claims Madeleine was taken on the orders of a Belgium based paedophile ring that had placed an order for a 'young girl.'

An informant to Scotland Yard claimed a photo was taken of Maddie while she was on holiday, and passed to a 'purchaser' a few days before she vanished. After an extensive investigation the tip-off was ruled to have a 'lack of credibility.' The source of the information was anonymous and therefore the reliability is unclear.

There was a claimed sighting of Madeleine in 2007 in Tongeren, a town on the Dutch border, but it was ruled out.


Other theories suggested she had been taken to Lagos marina, five miles from the beach side town she went missing from, and put on a boat to Morocco.

There were reports at the time of girls fitting Madeleine's description, and the McCanns visited the country to launch an appeal.

It was also suggested that Morocco is on the trafficking route to the Saharan desert country of Mauritania. It was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, outlawing the practice in 1981.

There are however, still believed to be significant numbers of slaves there, and it's known that gangs operate out of the country to steal children to give to rich Middle Eastern families.

There were actually four 'sightings' in Morocco, with one tourist claiming to have seen a blonde toddler with a North African woman wearing a headscarf in the remote northern town of Zaio. Another saw a child wrapped in a blanket bundled into a car in Silves.

Colin Sutton, an ex-Scotland Yard detective, told the Mirror just last month: “The Mauritania line is certainly a possibility and needs to be looked at.

“If someone wanted to get a three-year-old child into Africa it’s the obvious route. The infrastructure and contacts for people smuggling are clearly there.”

In 2017, a tourist claimed to have seen Madeleine at a petrol station near an Ibis hotel in Marrakesh in Morocco while visiting in 2007.

The tourist said they'd seen a blonde girl on Avenue Abdel Krim Khattabi, a main route through the city and from the port. It's claimed to be used by trafficking gangs. CCTV footage from the area was deleted before detectives could look.


Jim Gamble was the child protection police officer in the UK's first Maddie investigation. Speaking in the Netflix documentary he said: “I absolutely believe that in my lifetime we will find out what has happened to Madeleine McCann.

Kate and Gerry McCann didn't take part in the documentary as they think it "won't help" the search, and could in fact hinder the police investigation.

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