Irish woman gives evidence of brutal rape 20 years ago allegedly by chief suspect in Madeleine McCann disappearance

Hazel Behan, from Mullingar, testified on Wednesday at trial of German man Christian Brückner (47) on rape and indecent assault charges in Portugal between 2000 and 2017

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A Mullingar woman has told a German court how she “shut off” her feelings during a brutal knifepoint rape 20 years ago in a resort in Portugal.

Hazel Behan was giving evidence through an interpreter at the trial of Christian Brückner, chief suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

The 47-year-old German is on trial in Braunschweig on unrelated charges: three counts of rape and two of indecent assault in Portugal between December 2000 and June 2017, involving girls and women ranging in age from 10 to 80.

Ms Behan (40) explained how she worked as a tour guide and lived in Portugal’s Praia da Rocha in June 2004 when, after a row with her then-boyfriend, she returned to her flat one evening and fell asleep in her clothes.


She woke a short time later when someone called her name and assumed it was her boyfriend. She then saw a black-clad man and “felt a fear that I could never have thought possible”.

“It felt as if all the blood in my body went to my feet,” she said. “The first thing he did was put his knee into my back and a hand over my mouth.”

She remembers him telling her, in English: “‘Don’t f***ing scream or I will kill you’, so I didn’t – it was all very quick.”

As the attacker stripped her, pulling her hair, she told him she was pregnant.

“I suppose I thought maybe he won’t go near a pregnant woman, but I was absolutely not pregnant,” she said. “It didn’t work.”

She realised the man, who filmed the attack on a video camera, was “aroused by this power and control” and that he “didn’t like me”. At one point, Ms Behan said she feared she would be beheaded after her attacker forced her to kneel on the floor with her head on a bench.

The four-hour assault ended in her bathroom, where the attacker covered Ms Behan with a sheet. Through a crack she watched her attacker fumble with a rucksack then step out, barefoot, on to the balcony, where he put on his shoes and vanished. “I waited and waited and, when I realised he was gone, I got out from under the sheet.”

The apartment was a 30-minute drive from Praia de Luz, the scene of Madeleine McCann’s 2007 disappearance.

Ms Behan approached British police in 2019 to offer testimony about her attack, after hearing of Brückner’s conviction for the rape of a 72-year-old American tourist in Portugal in 2005. He is serving his prison sentence in Oldenburg and is set for release next year. Brückner denies all the sexual assault charges he faces in the Braunschweig courtroom and, at present, faces no charges in the McCann case.

Brückner was first questioned by German police in 2013 as part of their investigation into the missing English girl and, in 2020, named as a chief suspect. His defence team have filed repeated petitions for the charges to be dismissed.

On Wednesday, they said Ms Behan’s original testimony to German police should be dismissed as the officer who conducted the English-language interview was not qualified to do so. This was dismissed by the court, as were their previous claims that Brückner cannot expect a fair trial in Germany due to the publicity around the McCann case.

Ms Behan told police her attacker had blond hair, piercing blue eyes and spoke with a German accent. She also said he had a tattoo and a scar or birthmark on his upper leg. Ms Behan’s testimony continues on Thursday and the Brückner trial is scheduled to last until October at least.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin