LONDON Mar. 19, 2014 -- In another development in the ongoing search for Madeleine McCann, Scotland Yard said today it is appealing to the public for information on what they say is a male intruder who they suspect is a local who "gained access to mainly holiday villas occupied by U.K. families on holiday" in Portugal.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said they are looking at four cases dating between 2004 and 2006 -- before Madeleine disappeared -- involving a the man described as being tanned with dark hair.
Witnesses said he spoke in English with a foreign accent, his voice described as slow or possibly slurred, authorities said.
Scotland Yard said the man "was sometimes bare chested, some describe him as having a pot belly, and three victims said that he had a noticeable odor."
According to investigators, he "sexually assaulted five white girls, aged between 7 and 10 years, whilst in their beds. On one of these occasions, he assaulted two girls in the same villa.’ Scotland yard’s priority now is to establish the identity of this man, saying these offenses are very serious and no one has been charged in connection with them. We also need to eliminate this man from our inquiries and ascertain whether these offenses are linked to Madeleine's disappearance."
Madeleine was just days away from her 4th birthday when she vanished from her hotel room in 2007 as her parents dined at a nearby restaurant during a family vacation in Portugal.
Her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were immediately named suspects by Portuguese police, but later cleared.
In January, London police said they were poised to make an arrest in the child's disappearance, announcing that a trio of alleged burglars were responsible. However, today's announcement appears to signal that authorities are looking elsewhere.
For the past seven years, the McCanns, never giving up hope, campaigned to keep her name and picture in the news -- most recently making a heartfelt plea to anyone who has any information on her disappearance on Britain’s version of America’s most wanted late last year.
The show featured a re-enactment of the most detailed sequence of events the night she went missing, generating more than 300 phone calls and 170 emails with specific lines of inquiry relating to Maddie's case.
Last July, when Scotland Yard decided to move from a review to an investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Redwood, said he believed there is a possibility she is alive.
"There is no clear, definitive proof that Madeleine McCann is dead, so on that basis I still genuinely believe that there is a possibility that she is alive," he said.