A key witness who has given crucial evidence in the Madeleine McCann investigation is dying from cancer, a court has been told.

It could set back investigators who have struggled for several years to find enough evidence to charge the main suspect, German drifter Christian B.

He is currently on trial for unrelated sex crimes – three rapes and two sex assaults – which he denies.

A former friend Helge Busching triggered police focus on Christian B seven years ago when he told Scotland Yard his pal had “confessed” to Madeleine’s abduction by revealing “she didn’t cry when I took her”.

Christian B in court. Pic: Reuters

Mr Busching, a convicted criminal, gave evidence in the current trial two days ago and was asked about his role in the Madeleine investigation, revealing that British detectives flew to meet him and spent three days interviewing him.

But on Friday, another acquaintance giving evidence said Mr Busching had recently been diagnosed with intestinal cancer and didn’t have long to live.

Michael Tatschl, an Austrian carpenter, told the court in Germany: “When we spoke four days ago on the phone, we discussed general things including his cancer. It’s pretty bad. He got his diagnosis just a couple of months ago.”

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This week Mr Busching, 53, told the sex crimes trial how getting involved in the Madeleine investigation had affected his life. He said: “I didn’t expect the consequences. I’ve lost my job, my flat and I have no friends. My life has changed negatively.”

In his other evidence to the sex crimes trial, Mr Tatschl said Christian B had boasted of breaking into Portuguese tourist apartments when holidaymakers were asleep.

He said Christian B told him he had once burgled a property naked when a girl woke up and screamed.

Mr Tatschl was a striking figure in court, with tattoos, piercings and a blond Mohican haircut.

Michael Tatschl
Michael Tatschl

The witness, 50, said he met the German drifter 20 years ago on Portugal’s Algarve coast and shared an interest in vehicles, both driving camper vans at times.

He said they were jailed in 2006 for stealing diesel fuel and spent time together in prison where Christian B told him about his lifestyle.

“We were friends and partners in crime,” Mr Tatschl told a court in Braunschweig, Germany, where Christian B is on trial for sex offences.

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Christian B arrives at court

Christian B, who can’t be fully identified under privacy laws, denies the sex crimes, all allegedly committed in Portugal between 2000 and 2017.

Mr Tatschl said that in early 2006 he often stayed at Christian B’s rented house in Praia da Luz, the village from where Madeleine vanished from a holiday apartment a year later.

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Madeleine McCann. Pic: Handout/ PA
Madeleine McCann. Pic: Handout/PA

Mr Tatschl said that other friends of Christian B had told him about a video they found in the house that allegedly showed him raping an elderly woman. He didn’t see the video himself.

He also told the court he had seen sex toys such as whips and handcuffs lying around the house and secret stashes in which Christian B kept stolen goods, including 500 passports.

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The hearing was delayed at the start after the defence demanded to see statements made by the witness to police in 2019 when he was questioned as part of the McCann investigation. He has reportedly denied any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance.

The British girl vanished in May 2007 while on holiday with her parents in Praia da Luz, after they left the then three-year-old and her younger twin siblings asleep in their apartment while they went out to dinner with friends.

Christian B’s hearing continues next week.