Thursday, June 20, 2024

Woman accusing Christian Brückner of rape says his eyes ‘bored into my skull’

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A woman who alleges she was raped at knifepoint by the main suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann has told a court she would never forget the eyes of her attacker, which “bored into my skull”.

Giving evidence in the trial of Christian Brückner, who stands accused of five sexual assaults in Portugal of women aged between 10 and 80 between 2000 and 2017, Hazel Behan, 40, who was raped in June 2004, told the court: “I believe that this man was my attacker.”

She was sitting just metres away from Brückner, who looked on impassively. Behan, an administrator and mother of three from Ireland, told the court on the second and final day of testimony, delivered over 10 hours, that she still bears the scars of the attack, which took place in Praia da Rocha, in the Algarve, where she was working as a holiday representative.

Brückner, 47, who was named by German police in 2020 as the main suspect in the disappearance of the British toddler Madeleine McCann – not the focus of the trial – was at one point asked by the judge, Uta Engemann, to approach the bench so that she could examine his eyes, after Behan said she would “never forget” the eyes of her attacker.

“When you spend time in a situation like that with a person and there’s nothing else you can see on this human except their eyes, it’s the only thing you can remember. They bored into my skull. I’ll never forget it,” she said. She added that she thought the effect of her attacker’s eyes was intensified by the fact that otherwise he was completely dressed in black.

“They were just so blue … everything so dark … they were like lights, they were so bright. I just know them,” she said.

She said she suffered from recurring post-traumatic stress disorder and frequent panic attacks as a result of the assault. The court was shown pictures of scars on the backs of her legs that remain to this day, from where she was tied with rope to a breakfast bar during the prolonged attack at the flat where she lived.

She also said she still bled from wounds received during the violent attack.

Her attacker had been masked and was covered head to toe in a leotard-style body suit of about 60-denier thickness, and wore leather, or fake leather, gloves, she said, adding that only his eyes had been visible.

He spoke to her in English, in what she said was a German accent. Behan’s testimony has come at what prosecutors have described as a crucial moment in the trial, which began in February and is expected to last into the autumn, hearing from about 40 witnesses and a range of experts. Brückner is serving a seven-year sentence for the 2005 rape of an American tourist in the Algarve.

He is due for release from the end of next year.

Behan described how she had come forward to offer the account of her ordeal to British police in 2020 in response to an appeal by the Metropolitan police, working on the McCann case. The appeal included an official police identity photo of Brückner, requesting eye witnesses to contact them.

The sight of the picture and the physical description of him had made her feel nauseous, and later caused her to vomit, she said. She subsequently learned of Brückner’s conviction in 2019 of the rape of an elderly American tourist, and shared with Irish, British and German police the striking similarities in the modus operandi of the attacker in the woman’s case and hers.

Over two days, Behan told the court in graphic detail how she was repeatedly raped, whipped and tied up in her apartment, the attacker filming the ordeal on a camera he had set up on top of the television in her room. The attacker threatened her, saying: “If you scream, I’ll kill you.” At one point she said she feared she would be beheaded after he wielded a knife at her.

Brückner, who denies the sexual assault charges and also denies involvement in the disappearance of McCann, sat metres away from Behan. Wearing a grey linen jacket with elbow pads and a white shirt, he leaned back in his chair for much of the testimony, often holding his chin in his left hand but appearing to show no emotion.

The trial continues.

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