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Irish woman says she will ‘never forget’ eyes of alleged rapist and chief suspect in Madeleine McCann case

Mullingar woman Hazel Behan has told a German court she will “never forget” the blue eyes of Christian Brückner, whom she accuses of leaving her with lasting injuries after an attack in June 2004 in Portugal.

The 40 year-old told Braunschweig regional court she feared for her life during the “hateful, aggressive” assault over four hours.

She was speaking during her second day of testimony at Braunschweig regional court at the trial of Brückner, a 47 year-old German national facing three cases of rape and two cases of indecent assault.

Brückner has been named as chief suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the toddler who went missing from her family’s Algarve holiday apartment in 2007.

In four hours of tense testimony, Ms Behan recalled working as a 20 year-old holiday rep in the Clube Praia da Rocha resort in June 2004 when she was raped in her ground floor room by a black-clad, masked man. Throughout the rape, she told the court, the only part of the person she could see were his eyes.

Asked repeatedly how she could identify Brückner from his eyes, Ms Behan said that the extreme nature of the situation made his eyes the only thing to focus on and remember.

“It is bored into my skull I will never forget it,” she said. “Everything he had on was so dark, it was like they were just lights, so bright that I just never … I just know them.”

Ms Behan explained the day of the attack in detail. She had two sessions supervising the hotel children’s camp until 5.30pm and a mini-disco from 8.30pm until 10pm.

After that she was in a local bar where her boyfriend, Jason Coates, worked.

She went back to her apartment and fell asleep but was awoken around 3am by someone calling her name. She then saw a man dressed completely in black, including heavy women’s tights and a mask.

She said he gestured with a knife, stuffed a cloth into her mouth and told her: “If you scream I’ll kill you.”

He pulled her up off the bed by her hair, cut off her clothes during the initial struggle and she lost at least one fingernail. He set up a video camera and filmed himself raping and whipping her.

Brückner, wearing a crumbled blue jacket, remained impassive throughout the hearing, occasionally raising his right index finger to his chin or lower lip.

Ms Behan said after the attack she went to the hotel reception and was hospitalised for four days.

Judge Ute Engelmann quoted an email to the court from Mr Coates, Behan’s former boyfriend. She asked if Ms Behan knew “why Jason now says that what happened to you is not true”.

“I have no reason I don’t know why he would say that,” said Ms Behan.

She remained with Mr Coates after the attack, became pregnant but had low self-esteem, particularly after he made clear he did not want to be a father and “didn’t like how I looked pregnant”.

When she was six months pregnant, she said he packed her bags and left her “in the middle of the street”.

She said: “Jason told me that he would spend the rest of his life talking bad about me to make people hate me.”

On Thursday morning she faced close questioning in detail about her previous court testimony and possible contradictions in statements given to police in Portugal, Ireland and Germany.

She said Portuguese police did not provide an official translator, she had to ask a friend to assist, in front of whom she didn’t want to explain all details.

She became aware of Brückner in June 2020 when her brother sent her a link to a story about how he admitted raping another women in Portugal in 2005.

He is currently serving jail time for that attack and is set to be released next year.

Questioned about why she went public with her story, Ms Behan said she was inspired by hearing someone else talk on Irish radio about turning a different, difficult experience into something positive.

“I wanted other women to feel there was a safe place they could contact,” she said. “I had nowhere, that was the reason why.”

She kept the details of the attack out of the radio interview but the response – in particular calls to the Rape Crisis Centre – was so strong that Ms Behan agreed to a second, television interview on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show.

In her second four-hour bloc of testimony, with further defence questions in the afternoon, Ms Behan became emotional at one point and asked for a brief break.

Following proceedings – and speaking – through a translator, Ms Behan was asked if she noticed anything unusual or not normal about her attacker.

“Everything he did, really, was not normal,” she said. “I found him very aggressive, hateful,” she said. “I had the feeling he thought: I am the man; I have the control.”

* The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour free helpline can be contacted at 1800 77 8888

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