Kevin Halligen will break his silence in an exclusive Channel 5 interview for a documentary, The McCanns And The Conman. The 53-year-old set up Operation Omega after being commissioned by parents Kate and Gerry McCann to find Maddy, who vanished at the age of three while on holiday.
Halligan, a Surrey-based Irishman, promised to use his MI5, MI6 and CIA “contacts” to try to track down the girl. The security consultant signed a six-figure contract – but questions were later raised over exactly how the money was spent. Now Halligen, who also claimed to have FBI and White House connections, has agreed to tell his side of the story.
The documentary, due to be screened next week, reads like the plot of a spy movie. It is an extraordinary tale of covert surveillance, sting operations and the bugging of a key witness through the twists and turns of the hunt for a man who was then a prime suspect, code-named “George”. Halligen’s final report is said to contain significant leads that now form part of the current Scotland Yard investigation, including the crucial e-fits based on the so-called “Smith sighting”, which was aired on Crimewatch last October.
But it transpired that Halligen was an audacious conman, who led people into believing he was a spy. He was arrested in 2009 and jailed in the US for defrauding an unrelated client on a previous kidnap and ransom case. He has recently been released from prison. Channel 5’s Emma Westcott said: “This is the extraordinary story of one man’s audacious claims, and how he fooled the intelligence community.”
• The McCanns And The Conman, Channel 5, June 4, 9pm.
A CONMAN who allegedly used public donations designed to find Madeleine McCann to fund his extravagant lifestyle has spoken about his role in the search for the first time. Kevin Halligen led a £500,000 investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance after claiming to have contacts within MI5, the CIA and even the White House. But it is claimed he spent large amounts of the cash on his “high-roller lifestyle”, while neglecting to pay his “Operation Omega” team in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz.
Halligen, recently released from a four-year jail term for an unrelated crime, tells his story for the first time as part of a TV documentary to be screened next week, it emerged yesterday. A year after Madeleine’s disappearance in 2007, Kate and Gerry McCann hired Halligen as a private investigator. He reportedly spent much of the money on luxury hotels, restaurants and a chauffeur.
But despite neglecting his Operation Omega team, the new film claims the investigators made significant breakthroughs in the hunt for the missing child. The team’s final report in 2008 is said to have contained leads which are now forming part of the current Scotland Yard investigation, including a sighting by retired businessman Martin Smith which led to an e-fit shown on Crimewatch last year.
Halligen’s firm, Oakley International, had its contract terminated by the McCanns after questions were raised about the quality of its work. The Irishman was found guilty last year by an American court of defrauding Dutch firm Trafigura of £1.2 million, with his sentence backdated to his arrest in 2009.
Another of Halligen’s firms, Red Defence International, was hired as a consultant after two of Trafigura’s executives were taken hostage in the Ivory Coast. Halligen claimed to have racked up £1.2m in expenses during the rescue operation, but had actually spent the money on a home in Virginia.
Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are expected next week to begin searching on the ground in the Portuguese holiday resort where she went missing seven years ago. Officers from the British investigative team could begin examining areas in Praia da Luz as early as Monday once a number of technicalities are resolved, Portuguese police sources told the Guardian. Scotland Yard said earlier this month that it would begin a "substantial phase of activity on the ground" as part of the renewed investigation into Madeleine's disappearance.
"There are a number of details which still need to be ironed out before full approval of this request is granted," said a police source in Lisbon. "We asked for supplementary details from Scotland Yard and, while they have been received, police in Lisbon and Faro are still studying the information." The ground-level searches are expected to focus on three parts of the resort where Madeleine went missing on 3 May 2007 while her mother and father, Kate and Gerry McCann, were having dinner with friends at a tapas restaurant near their holiday apartment.
Playing down the idea that the operation was an “endgame or a breakthrough”, Mr Rowley said: “There is going to be a substantial phase of operational activity involving Portuguese police with British police in support. “In a major investigation with multiple lines of inquiry and hypotheses, you have to systematically work through them all.” The operation is believed to include inquiries into a paedophile who staged a series of sex attacks. Operation Grange detectives are linking 18 incidents when an intruder broke into British families’ holiday villas between 2004 and 2010 and sexually assaulted nine girls, with three near misses.
A friend of Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, of Rothley, Leics, said: “They welcome the new phase of the investigation and hope it may lead them a step closer to finding out what happened to their daughter. “It will be a hugely emotional time but it is a scenario they know needs to happen. They will only go to Portugal if, God forbid, any remains matching her DNA were found.” Earlier this month Kate, 46, and Gerry, 45, marked Madeleine’s 11th birthday, saying: “It’s the toughest day of our year.”
The parents of Madeleine McCann will not return to the resort where they last saw their daughter next week when British police will start digging for clues. The significant new ground searches could begin as early as Monday, according to Portuguese sources. But Kate and Gerry McCann have “no intention” of being in Portugal’s Praia da Luz while the grim task is being undertaken, a close pal revealed yesterday.
A UK crack team – believed to include a forensic archaeologist, sniffer dogs and ground penetrating radar - will scour an area yards from the family’s flat in Praia da Luz. Scotland Yard are focussing on two more sites close by as they prepare for an operation lasting between four and six days. Portuguese officers will supervise the work and retain overall management of the search.
But Kate and Gerry McCann have decided to stay away, a close pal has revealed. The friend said: “They welcome the new phase of the investigation and hope it may lead them a step closer to finding out what happened to their daughter. They will be kept informed by Scotland Yard of any developments but they have no intention of going there. It is the last place they would want to be while digging takes place. “It will be a hugely emotional time for Madeleine’s parents but it is a scenario they know needs to happen. They will only go to Portugal, God forbid, if any remains matching her DNA were found.”
Search warrants permitting work to take place on the privately-owned land had already been issued, it has been reported. One plot is thought to be fenced-off waste land a two minute walk from Madeleine’s apartment which police hired a Portuguese air force helicopter to fly over earlier this month so they could take pictures. Diggers and other equipment are expected to be hired locally by the Met.
Praia da Luz will next week become the centre of the world’s focus as attention once again shifts to the village as police renew their quest to find missing British toddler Madeleine McCann.
“In principle, work on the ground should commence at the beginning of next week” a police source told The Portugal News on Thursday afternoon. “Work should last a few days” the source said, suggesting searches would probably not last into next weekend. “Permission has been granted in recent days for British police to join us in searches. There were some finer details in need of further clarification, which have since been received. Searches, at least from a legal standpoint are ready to begin”, the high-ranking police source continued, stressing however that no field operations would start before next Monday, at the earliest.
Nonetheless, detectives were spotted visiting the site where searches will be taking place on Wednesday and “we expect there might even be a few more visits before field operations begin in earnest”, it was explained. As reported previously in The Portugal News (see 17 May edition), Portuguese prosecutors have only given permission for searches on the ground to take place in one single area. “Scotland Yard have requested that work be done on two other sites, but no approval has yet been granted”, the source said.
The Attorney-General’s office in Lisbon on Thursday afternoon sent a statement to The Portugal News confirming it had received a new International Letter of Request from the Crown Prosecution Service “relating to the disappearance of the minor Madeleine McCann”. Portuguese police have since stressed that they would be assisting their British counterparts throughout the operation to the best of their abilities and would continue to do so should any future searches be approved.
In the meantime, a number of resources are expected to be used in the upcoming search, ranging from earth-penetrating radar equipment to the use of dogs. Police here also cautioned that they would immediately stop field operations should they feel their work was being restricted by the expected “media circus”.
PJ police in Lisbon said this week that “while we cannot expect the media to stay away, we ask that they allow police to do their work unhindered or leave us with no option but to call off the entire operation”. Meanwhile, Praia da Luz Mayor Vítor Mata told The Portugal News earlier this month that the “people of Luz are tired of this case”, but added that “searches like these are always worth it, so long as the authorities have concrete evidence to back them up”.
However, he added that council workers spend their time in the town on a daily basis and said they would be the first people to notice if something were out of place or if there was a site police should investigate. Police from the GNR in Lagos did not comment on the case when questioned on Wednesday, but seemed resigned to the fact that they will be on additional traffic duty for much of the coming week.