The parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann have said they "welcome the news" that Portuguese authorities have declared a German man to be a "formal suspect" in her disappearance.

Kate and Gerry McCann said the announcement was a reflection of "progress in the investigation".

And added: "Even though the possibility may be slim, we have not given up hope that Madeleine is still alive and we will be reunited with her."

The 44-year-old man, Christian Brueckner, was identified as a murder suspect by German prosecutors in June 2020, but he has not been charged since then.

Investigators believe the convicted sex offender killed Madeleine, then aged three, after abducting her from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in May 2007.

The Portimao section of the Faro department of criminal investigation and prosecution said that a person was made an "arguido", which translates as "named suspect" or "formal suspect", on Wednesday.

The statement did not name the man, but said the person was made an "arguido" by German authorities at the request of Portugal's public prosecution service.

It said the investigation has been carried out with the cooperation of the English and German authorities.

The move by Portuguese authorities could allow Brueckner, who is in prison in Germany, to be transferred to the Algarve for formal questioning.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The German newspaper Bild reported that his lawyer said the Portuguese decision appeared to be a "procedural trick".

Reports suggested the move could be linked to the country's statute of limitations, which does not generally allow crimes that carry a maximum prison sentence to be prosecuted more than 15 years after they were committed.

This would mean that he could no longer be charged in Portugal after 3 May.

The apartment hotel building where Madeleine McCann disappeared in Praia da Luz

In Portuguese law, an arguido status can be a preliminary move ahead of an arrest being made or charges brought.

London's Metropolitan Police continue to treat Madeleine's disappearance as a missing person's inquiry.

Brueckner was found guilty in 2019 of the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz, and sentenced to seven years in jail, at a court in Brunswick, Lower Saxony.

A federal court in Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany, rejected an appeal against the conviction in November 2020.