Sunday Mirror: Maddie suspect Raymond Hewlett admits he doesn't have an alibi for night she disappeared
EXCLUSIVE from Simon Wright [firstname.lastname@example.org] in Aachen, Germany 14/06/2009
Broken, frail, with only weeks to live, Raymond Hewlett is the man the McCanns fear could take the secrets of their daughter’s disappearance to the grave.
The convicted child rapist – who has been catapulted into the frame over the hunt for Madeleine – sits hunched up in a squalid German flat, gasping for breath as he finally breaks his silence.
“It’s obvious why they’re interested in me,” croaks Hewlett, 64. “But they can all think what they like. I didn’t kill the McCann girl. It’s the truth and it’s never going to change.”
The man jailed three times for sex attacks on girls today speaks out for the first time in a bid to clear his name amid the mountain of circumstantial evidence against him.
Hewlett, who has been in hiding ever since he was named in connection with the case, admits he was in the Algarve at the time Madeleine was snatched and, as our pictures show, that he looks strikingly similar to a sketch of a suspect with a pock-marked face seen lurking around the apartment.
And five weeks after she disappeared, he left Portugal for Morocco for a two-month-long “business trip”.
There, he told Peter Verran, a tourist he had befriended, that he’d become obsessed with the case and he admitted being outside the McCanns’ holiday flat in Praia da Luz “many times” and parking his van close to the complex.
What’s more he is refusing to give an alibi for the night Madeleine, three, vanished.
“I have an alibi but why should I share it?” he says, struggling for air with each syllable.
“There is a person who can say where I was that day, but why should I bring them into this? I’ve done nothing wrong. Why should I have to prove it?
“My life’s been made a misery for something I know nothing about and a crime I’ve not committed.
“I’d take a lie-detector test. I’ll take any test you like. The only time I’ve seen Madeleine McCann is on missing posters. And I saw her on TV in a bar once. But I’ve never seen her in real life. Yes I’ve been to Praia da Luz, but not since 2002.”
But those claims contradict what former Scots Guard Mr Verran, 46, says Hewlett told him – that he was in and around Praia da Luz at the time Madeleine disappeared in May 2007.
The McCanns’ private detectives first became aware of father-of-six Hewlett in February this year when his name was given to them during local door-to-door inquiries.
His distinctive live-in Dodge truck, large family and bizarre nomad lifestyle singled him out.
Further checks into his past revealed his previous convictions in Britain, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl he lured into his car and then drugged with paint stripper, an attempted rape of a 14-year-old girl he snatched from a fair and threatened with a fake gun and the abduction of a 14-year-old newspaper delivery girl.
The McCanns’ investigators began searching for him, keen to eliminate him from inquiries.
Portuguese detectives told UK officers they were unaware of his existence until the McCann team uncovered his name.
But bizarrely, Hewlett tells the Sunday Mirror he was visited twice by Portuguese police over the Maddie case and gave detectives a DNA swab and fingerprints, although he was never arrested or quizzed.
The McCanns’ investigators are unsure whether to believe him or the detectives in Portugal. Hewlett says that Portuguese police, acting on unknown information, swooped on his truck while he was had throat cancer treatment across the border in Spain in August 2008.
He also says that local police helping in the search for Maddie visited him, wife Mariana and their children in the summer of 2007.
He says: “They checked that all the children living with us were ours. Our youngest girl looks a bit like her. But they saw everything was OK and they left.
“The police came again in August last year and told Mariana it was about the McCann girl. They asked for me and Mariana told them I was in hospital. They came to see me and asked permission to take DNA and fingerprints. I was very sick and barely able to speak to them. They asked where we parked in the Algarve in the first half of 2007.
“I told them, ‘You know where we’ve been because you know us round there.’
“I knew why they were asking, because I’d seen the TV and newspapers. By then, that McCann kid’s photo was in every shop and supermarket you went in to. I’ve got previous convictions for child-sex crimes so my heart sank. I thought, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’
"I was miles from the UK but it didn’t make any difference. I’d tried hard to build a new life. But the reality for me is that my past convictions will never go away.
"I have to put up with it because it’s always going to be this way. I gave them their DNA and fingerprints. I knew they were just doing their job but I was angry. I had enough to cope with. I had cancer and no money.”
At the time Madeleine vanished, Hewlett and his family were moving between three towns in the Algarve – Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Fuzeta and Tavira – all within 60 miles of Praia da Luz. They scraped money together by picking up unwanted jumble and old car parts, then selling it on.
Hewlett, originally from Todmorden, West Yorks, and Mariana first arrived in Portugal from her native Germany in the summer of 2002. They had been together five years after meeting in Italy. He was a mechanic on a tourist boat and Mariana worked as a cleaner for the boat’s owners on the Mediterranean island of Elba.
They embarked on a tour of Europe in the converted Dodge truck. He had installed beds for their children, a sink, cooker and shower.
At that point the couple had four children – David, 10, who died when he fell from their moving truck in December last year, Michael, nine, Anya, eight, and Jobe, seven, who were all born in Germany. Yanina, six, and Paul, three, were born during their travels across the Algarve, and the youngest Daniel, now six-and-a-half months, was born in Spain.
“We’d stop in various places and decide whether to hang around there,” he says. “It would depend on the weather and how easy it was to make money. I used to busk on the street, playing guitar. I can’t really play but people would give me money anyway.”
Hewlett says he was 60 miles away – in Vila Real de Santo Antonio – when Maddie was taken. Crucially, he says he cannot specifically remember being there that day.
“May 3 was a Thursday and I was always in Vila Real Santo Antonio on Thursdays,” he says. “My routine never altered. That’s 100km from Praia da Luz.
“If you asked people there if we were there on that day, I don’t know what they’d say. Maybe they can’t remember. If you ask them if we were normally there, they’d say yes. If it wasn’t for the fact that we were living the way we were, I wouldn’t be able to say so clearly that that was where I was.
“It’s only because of the way we live that I can say it. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have to prove anything.
“Our truck was our only vehicle. I didn’t have another vehicle to go anywhere in. It’s a high-profile vehicle. Once you see it, you never forget it. It was like that purposefully because I wanted people to see us. I didn’t want to be hiding.”
But he claims that a female friend who shot a home video of him and his family on May 5 – two days after Maddie vanished – could vouch for his whereabouts on May 3.
The 30-minute video – seen by the Sunday Mirror – shows Hewlett, Mariana and their seven children laughing at the camera and playing games with each other at a market they regularly attended in the Portuguese town of Fuzeta every Sunday, less than 40 miles from Praia da Luz.
His youngest daughter Yanina bears a striking resemblance to missing Maddie.
He says: “The friend who made the video would remember where I was two days earlier. She could tell anyone where I was. But I haven’t asked her and I don’t intend to.
“Why should I ask her? I don’t think I should involve anybody. Why should I keep dragging people in to this. I don’t like being in it, so why should I keep putting people’s names forward so that they get bothered with it too?
“I could ask her, but if she says no, then sorry, the answer is no. Then people will just have to carry on speculating.”
A month later, on June 10, Hewlett left Portugal and took his family to Morocco.
He said: “A friend gave me a broken old Mercedes and I stripped it down into parts.
“I knew they were worth a fortune in Morocco because I’d been there for a couple of months in 2005. You can even get good money for Mercedes nuts and bolts there.
“I knew people on the docks at Faro and I got the captain of a ferry to take us over for free. We stayed in Morocco for two months and came back in the August. I made 300 euros from the car parts.”
His voice so weak it is at times barely audible, today Hewlett is holed up in his cramped, sparce apartment, with Mariana, 33, and six young children.
The family arrived there six weeks ago as his health deteriorated, and Mariana is able to get state benefits.
Hewlett was last month tracked down by the McCanns’ detectives to a hospital in Aachen, Germany, where he was undergoing treatment. The detectives had hoped to put a series of questions to him but he refused to see them and they were forced to return to the UK empty-handed.
This week, they travelled there for a second time but he was deemed too ill to undergo intensive questioning.
Today as he wastes away on the fourth floor of a tower block, Hewlett is close to death. Doctors discharged him from hospital, telling him there is nothing more they can do for him, and his weight has plummeted to just 45kg. Instead of expressing sympathy for Kate and Gerry McCann, he insists people should feel sorry for him.
“I would say to the McCanns that I know what it’s like to lose a child because it’s happened to me recently,” he says.
“I’ve been through hell and now I’ve got another hell which I don’t deserve. I know for a fact that I didn’t do anything wrong, but if people aren’t listening, what can you do?”
Shaking with pain, he repeats: “I didn’t kill the McCann girl.”