A FAMILY holidaying in Portugal when Madeleine McCann vanished probably walked right past a man carrying the toddler moments after he snatched her, a US expert claims.
Criminal profiler Pat Brown believes the mystery man seen with a small motionless girl in his arms is the key to solving the case.
The dark-haired man was spotted by the Smith family, from Ireland, at around 10pm on May 3, 2007 – the night Madeleine disappeared from an apartment in Praia da Luz, Algarve.
Speaking on an episode of Maddie, a Nine.com.au podcast investigation exploring the case, Brown said: “This is the number one issue about the whole case, and I’ve stuck by this for years, and I stand by it today.”
The Smiths saw a man carrying a girl down a dark street about 150 metres from the beach.
On the same night, Jane Tanner, a friend of Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry, also saw a dark-haired man wearing a brown jacket, dark shoes and tan trousers carrying a child in pink and white pyjamas.
Jane’s sighting happened 45 minutes before the Smiths’. She claimed she saw the man carrying a girl away from the direction of Madeleine’s bedroom at the Ocean Club Resort.
In the podcast episode, both sightings are broken down in detail.
Brown said: “What makes the Smith sighting very interesting is that Jane Tanner is a friend, and the Smith sighting is a bunch of people that have no clue who the McCanns are. These are not their friends.
“I believe the Smith sighting occurred. I believe they saw a man carrying a little girl down that road, which is towards the beach.”
Jane was one of the so-called Tapas Seven — the friends and family members dining with the McCanns at the time Maddie disappeared.
She was on her way to check on her kids at 9.15pm when she saw the man near Kate and Gerry’s apartment.
Gerry was nearby with pal Jeremy Wilkins having just looked in on Maddie and her younger twin siblings Sean and Amelie.
Kate then discovered their eldest child was missing when she went to check again at 10pm.
Jane later defied police orders to not comment publicly on what she saw.
She said: “I think it’s important that people know what I saw because I believe Madeleine was abducted.’’
Cops spent four years probing Jane’s sighting – despite a GP saying the man in question was probably him.
Julian Totman walked near the McCanns’ apartment holding his two-year-old girl after getting her from a creche at the resort.
He was interviewed by the Guarda Nacional Republicana soon after Maddie, three, vanished in May 2007, but his wife Rachel said: “My husband had told the local police it could be him but we didn’t hear anything for years.”