Sunday, May 19, 2024

Woman raped at knifepoint in Portugal gives evidence in Christian Brückner trial

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A woman who was raped at knifepoint by a masked man in Portugal 20 years ago has told a German court trying the main suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann how she had feared for her life and had to shut down her emotions to deal with the ordeal.

Hazel Behan, 40, described how a man dressed in black had entered her holiday apartment in Praia da Rocha in the Algarve at 3am on 16 June 2004, stood over her bed and called her name before starting the hours-long attack. Delivering a harrowing and graphic account through an interpreter for more than 80 minutes, Behan had to pause several times as she became emotional, describing the incident, which occurred when she was 20 and working as a holiday representative.

She was giving evidence at the trial in Braunschweig, northern Germany, of Christian Brückner, 47, who is accused of three rapes and two indecent assaults in incidents all alleged to have taken place in Portugal between December 2000 and June 2017. The incidents involve five women and girls aged between 10 and 80 years old.

Behan came forward to offer the account of her ordeal to British police in 2020 after learning of Brückner’s conviction in 2019 for the rape of an elderly American tourist after noticing striking similarities in the method of the attack.

A year later German authorities declared Brückner the main suspect in the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine. “I felt a fear that I could never have thought possible,” she told the court, describing the moment she realised she was being attacked.

“The blood rushed from my body. I felt it would last for ever. I was just trying to figure, how am I going to get out of this?”

She described how she was repeatedly raped, whipped and tied up in her apartment, with the attacker filming her on a camera he had set up on the television in her room. “I thought: why would you want a video of this?”

She coped with the ordeal by trying to close down her feelings, she said. “There are moments where you have to completely shut off and that was the moment in which I shut off,” she said.

After she was dragged to a bathroom, she watched from under a sheet as her attacker retreated backwards out of the apartment through the balcony door, slipped into his shoes, which he had left there, and fled.

Behan was due to continue giving evidence on Wednesday afternoon.

Brückner, who denies the sexual assault charges and also denies involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance, sat metres away from Behan, wearing the same grey linen jacket with elbow pads and open necked shirt he has worn throughout the trial. He appeared to listen to her account, his chin resting on the fingers of his left hand for the majority of it, but showed no reaction.

Brückner is currently in prison for the rape of the American tourist and is due for release next year.

German police first began focusing on Brückner in 2013, asking him to speak with them in relation to the disappearance of Madeleine. Although he was named as their main suspect in her disappearance, they have not been explicit as to their reasons for saying so. They have continued to pursue the case, going so far as to say they did not believe Madeleine was alive any more.

Wednesday’s hearing was delayed for more than an hour after Brückner’s defence lawyer, Friedrich Fülscher, lodged an objection to the official translation of Behan’s 2020 interview with Germany’s criminal police, the BKA. He claimed that the police officer who had interviewed her had not been qualified to do so, thus rendering the interview null and void.

The judge, Uta Engemann, rejected the objection, paving the way for Behan to give her evidence. More than 40 witnesses are due to take the stand in the case, which is expected to run until October.

German prosecutors have rejected protestations from Brückner’s lawyers that he will not get a fair trial because of the connection prosecutors have long since made between him and the McCann case.

The court case is being overseen by a judge and two lay judges, but no jury is involved.

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