Who Is Robert Murat And How Is He Involved In The Madeleine McCann Case?

The British-Portuguese real estate consultant's eagerness to help in the case put him on the police's radar, but they turned up no evidence that he was involved. 

By Eric Shorey

A British family's sunny beach vacation in Portugal turned into a nightmare when their young daughter vanished from their rented apartment — never to be seen again. This true horror story is the subject of the new Netflix docu-series "The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann," which explores the infamous case of the missing 3-year-old. 

Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, had put their three kids to bed on the night of May 3, 2007 and went out to dinner with friends at a restaurant just a short walk from the apartment, which was located on the outskirts of Mark Warner's Ocean Club resort in the town of Praia da Luz. The group of seven friends dining that night would take turns jetting back to the rental units to check on their kids, but at around 10 p.m. Kate McCann entered their apartment through the unlocked patio door and discovered Madeleine was missing. 

That started a furious search for the girl, with police struggling in the early days of the investigation to identify possible suspects because of a seeming lack of witnesses. One of the McCann's friends, Jane Tanner, who'd been at the restaurant with them, would later tell police she saw a man walking on the street near the McCann's apartment at around 9:15 carrying what she thought was a sleeping, pajama-clad child, but she didn't get a close look at the child or the man's face.

Out of the quickly growing media frenzy emerged Robert Murat, a British-Portuguese real estate consultant who lived in the town. Murat at first volunteered his services as an interpreter translating witness statements for the police, as he spoke both English and Portuguese fluently. He had expressed his sympathy for the McCann family, noting that he also had a small daughter about the same age as Madeleine. But, as the docu-series' second episode explores, people who interacted with Murat considered him strange and it wouldn't take long for him to fall under suspicion.

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Twelve days after Madeleine vanished, police officially named Murat an "arguido" (loosely translated as suspect) after a journalist told police he'd been notably curious about the case, according to The Guardian.

Adding to the suspicion was the fact that the man Tanner claims to have seen that night had been walking in the general direction of the home Murat shared with his mother, which was just several blocks from the McCanns' apartment. Murat claimed he had been at home with his mother at the time Madeleine's parents noticed she was gone.

Police raided Murat's home searching for forensic evidence using sniffer dogs on May 15, according to the BBC. They also searched nearby properties of family members and associates of Murat, but turned up no evidence linking him to the crime. Murat denied any involvement in Madeleine's disappearance.

In the Netflix docu-series, Murat describes a long and intense interrogation by police aimed at getting him to confess.

"I actually felt I was being set up. I felt like they would do anything and everything to make it me," Murat says.

Despite a lack of evidence and the fact that he hadn't been arrested, Murat became the target of the town's ire. An associate of his even had his car set on fire and vandalized with the Portuguese word for "speak" written in spray paint, according to The Evening Standard.

And because he'd been linked to a case that attracted global media attention, Murat was the subject of considerable scrutiny, speculation, and sometimes outright lies in the press.


 Watch  Out Of Sight: The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann   Friday, March 29 at 9/8c, only on Oxygen


At the time, Murat described the feeling of being chased by the media, police, and angry vigilantes as “like a fox being pursued by a pack of hounds … [caught] between a Kafka novel and the Will Smith movie Enemy of the State,” according to The Guardian.

With absolutely nothing linking him to the disappearance, Murat's status as a suspect was lifted on July 21,  2008. Murat would go on to sue several newspapers for linking him to the crime and implying he had participated in a pedophile ring. In 2008, he received more than £600,000 in damages from 11 British newspapers, which were also forced to apologize to him, according to Algarve Daily News. 

Murat was again interviewed by both British and Portuguese police in 2014, but as a witness and not a suspect, according to The Guardian. The British had reopened their investigation into the case in 2011 under the name Operation Grange.

Except for his interviews in "The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann," Murat has stayed out of the public eye since.

[Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images]

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