A REMOTE reservoir in Portugal is on lockdown this morning after cops hunting for Madeleine McCann were reportedly led there by the discovery of shocking footage of top suspect Christian B.
Police are preparing to comb the area under a no-fly zone covering the whole desolate site in the first major search for Maddie in nine years.
The reservoir is 45 minutes from the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz where Maddie vanished in 2007 – that prime suspect Christian B called his "little paradise".
A ring of steel around the site means journalists and curious onlookers are being kept more than a mile back from where two white tents have been put up.
The airspace above the water and land where today’s search will focus is open to police drones only, while roads leading to the man-made Arade Dam were sealed off yesterday.
Sources close to the investigation said they had evidence the clearing in the trees was the spot Christian B used to spend time at after parking up his camper van nearby.
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A local who asked not to be named, but knows the area well, said: “It’s pretty well-hidden by the trees and you don’t realise it’s there until you’re almost upon it.
“People wild camp there overnight from time to time which is why you’ll find the remains of fires inside small walls of stone.
“It’s got old sun loungers in it and makeshift benches that visitors use to rest on.
“It’s very out-of-the-way and very peaceful but at the same time it’s got a slightly eerie feel about it.”
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Local Portuguese reports, partly confirmed by police sources, claimed the searches were requested and authorised after German police obtained videos and photos of Christian B by the planned dig site.
They are thought to have been found buried in the paedophile’s “secret lair” in a dilapidated factory site in the German village of Neuwegersleben 65 miles south-east of Hanover.
Police raided the site in February 2016 in search of the body of missing five-year-old Inga Gehricke, who vanished while on a family outing in Saxony-Anhalt in May 2015 and has been dubbed the ‘German Maddie.’
Reports at the time said German detectives had discovered more than 8,000 images and videos on USB sticks and hard drives filled with child abuse images.
They were said to have been buried under the body of Christian B’s dead dog.
The area being searched today is around 30 miles from the Ocean Club apartment where the three-year-old disappeared from while on holiday with her parents Kate and Gerry.
Arade Dam can only be accessed by a dirt road and has been linked to the Maddie case before and was searched in 2008.
It was the location of a sighting days after she vanished with a woman handing a child matching her description to a mystery man.
A well-placed police source said: “Policia Judiciaria officers are going to be divided into four teams who will focus on a land search. It will be very meticulous and exhaustive.
“Forget the idea of big trucks and large machinery. A lot of the work that’s going to be done here today will be done by hand with backup technology.”
The insider said there was no plan to bring in sniffer dogs today and did not comment on local reports boats with sonar equipment would comb certain stretches of the water.
High-tech equipment used to detect human remains buried under the earth, as well as underwater if required, is expected to be used.
No heavy machinery was taken to the area yesterday and council officials were spotted carrying a “lorryload” of wheelbarrows to the zone by the hidden leisure area clearing, suggesting police will rake and dig it by hand using the likes of pickaxes rather than excavate earth with diggers in an attempt to preserve any evidence they find.
Portugal’s Policia Judiciaria force, whose officers are doing most of the dig work today, has confirmed the searches were requested by their German counterparts the BKA.
The request was made via an international letter of request sent to Portugal’s Attorney General’s office and passed on to prosecutors in Portimao.
'METICULOUS & EXHAUSTIVE' SEARCH
Portuguese officials have not yet said when it was received but it is believed to have been about two months ago.
Although this week’s operation has been initiated by German police, Portuguese detectives are showing with the manpower and logistical support they are providing that they are fully on board.
Carlos Farinha, the PJ’s deputy director, travelled from Lisbon yesterday to the reservoir to view the preparation work ahead of the start of the searches and meet German counterparts.
He is believed to have attended a briefing meeting with German police, who arrived at the scene around 6.30pm local time in four vehicles including three VW people carriers and left two hours later.
Today Algarve PJ chief Fernando Jordao who is normally based in Faro and Helena Monteiro, tasked with an ongoing Portuguese police ‘cold case’ review from the northern city of Porto, are due to spend time at the search area in another show of the importance attached to this week’s operation by the Portuguese force’s upper hierarchy.
Operational coordination will be in the hands of a chief inspector who has not yet been named.
Scotland Yard representatives will be in the area for what has been described as a “watching brief.”
The search is set to last for at least two days and beyond that if anything of relevance is found.
Although divers are expected to participate in an underwater search, local reports are claiming around “80 per cent” of the searches will be land searches and the rest underwater ones.
The reservoir was searched twice in February and March 2008 by divers hired by a Portuguese lawyer.
Marcos Aragao Correia organised the privately-funded operation after claimed he received an "underworld" tip.
He claimed he had been tipped off by underworld contacts that Madeleine had been murdered and her body thrown into the reservoir within 48 hours of her disappearance.
Two bags containing small bones were found during the second search after divers had earlier recovered several lengths of cord, some plastic tape and a single white cotton sock.
Portuguese police were alerted following the discovery but subsequently ruled out the possibility the bones were human because of their size.
Madeleine’s parents Gerry and Kate McCann had previously dismissed Mr Correia as a self-publicist and said there was no evidence suggesting any link between their daughter and the reservoir.
It is not thought to have been searched since March 2008 as part of the ongoing investigation into her disappearance.
German police have had a long-running probe into Christian B – and despite slow progress just last month vowed "nothing had changed".
Christian B's lawyers have been defiant and have long insisted his innocence.
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The sex offender is known to have been living near Praia da Luz – engaging in petty crime such as stealing from hotel rooms when Maddie vanished.
Kate and Gerry are expected to be kept informed of any developments as a result of the new search through Scotland Yard liaison officers.
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