Madeleine McCann’s parents have lost a court case based on allegations in a best-selling book by a former detective that they were involved in their daughter’s disappearance.
Kate and Gerry McCann’s lawyers argued that the Portuguese authorities violated their right to a private and family life by handling their libel claims against Goncalo Amaral in court.
The case had been raging for years, but it finally came to a head on Tuesday at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled that there had been no violation.
The McCanns stated that they were “naturally disappointed” with the ruling, but that they brought the case over Mr Amaral’s claims because they feared it would impede the search for Madeleine.
Mr Amaral was the lead detective in the investigation into her disappearance in 2007, but he was fired after criticizing British police.
Maddie: The Truth About The Lie, his 2008 book, implicated the McCanns in their daughter’s abduction and accused them of concealing her body.
The family was on vacation in Praia da Luz, Portugal’s Algarve region, when Madeleine, who was three at the time, went missing from their vacation apartment.
The ECHR stated that even if the McCanns’ reputation had been harmed, it was “not as a result of the argument advanced by the book’s author.”
Instead, this was “as a result of the suspicions expressed against them, which had led to their being placed under investigation” and had resulted in intense media attention and controversy.
“The information was thus brought to the public’s attention in some detail even before the investigation file was made available to the media and the book in question was published,” the court added.
“It followed that the national authorities had not failed in their positive obligation to protect the applicants’ right to respect for their private life.”
The McCanns have three months to file an appeal against the ruling.
A Lisbon court ordered Mr. Amaral to pay the McCanns €500,000 in libel damages in 2015, but the decision was overturned and then thrown out by the Portuguese Supreme Court in 2017.
The McCanns expressed their disappointment in a statement following the ruling, but added, “Much has changed since we began legal proceedings 13 years ago against Mr Amaral, his publisher and broadcaster.”
“We took action for one and only one reason: Mr Amaral’s false claims were hampering the search for Madeleine.”
“If the public believed that we were involved in her disappearance, people would be less likely to look for possible clues and would be less likely to report relevant information to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
“The focus is now, rightly, on the search for Madeleine and her abductor(s).”
Since her disappearance 15 years ago, there has been no trace of Madeleine, though her parents remain hopeful that she will be found alive.
Christian B, a convicted child abuser, was named an official suspect – a “arguido” – in her disappearance in April of this year.
He declared he had an alibi less than two weeks later, insisting he was many miles away from the scene having sex with a young woman who would back him up.
According to the Metropolitan Police, Portuguese authorities are still in charge of the investigation, and the Met is assisting them.