European court rules against parents of missing Madeleine McCann

Kate and Gerry McCann attend a service to mark the 11th anniversary of the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine from a holiday apartment in Portugal, near their home in Rothley, Britain, May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

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PARIS, Sept 20 (Reuters) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled against the parents of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann on Tuesday, saying Portugal gave them a fair trial in their fight to defame a former Portuguese police officer.

Police officer Goncalo Amaral, who was working to investigate Madeleine’s disappearance while on a family vacation in Portugal in 2007, suggested in a book he authored, The Truth of the Lie, that the boy’s parents were involved.

Kate and Gerry McCann sued Amaral for defamation. In 2015, a Portuguese court ruled in their favor and ordered Amaral to pay damages. Two years later, the verdict was overturned by Portugal’s highest court.

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The parents then appealed to the European Court of Justice, arguing that their right to a fair trial, the right to private family life and freedom of expression had not been respected by Portugal.

The ECtHR ruling said that the Portuguese judiciary had failed in its duty to protect the McCanns’ rights and that their arguments regarding the presumption of innocence were unfounded.

“Even assuming that the applicants’ reputations were damaged, this was not due to the reasoning of the author of the book, but to the suspicions raised against them,” the ECtHR ruled.

Amaral told Reuters the decision was “a victory for the judiciary and the Portuguese judicial system and for everyone fighting for freedom of speech and expression”.

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Kate and Gerry McCann said in a statement from attorney Ricardo Correia Afonso that they were “disappointed” with the decision, but added that “a lot has changed” since they started the process. The attorney said they would not appeal.

“We took action for one reason and only one: Mr Amaral’s unsubstantiated claims adversely impacted the search for Madeleine,” the statement said.

“The focus right now is on the search for Madeleine and her captors. We are grateful for the continued work of the British, German and Portuguese police.”

Madeleine McCann was three years old when she disappeared from her bedroom in the Algarve apartment where her family lived in May 2007. read more

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The parents were questioned by police in the fall as formal suspects. The following July, the Portuguese police dropped their investigation due to lack of evidence and acquitted them of any involvement.

They have fought tirelessly to raise awareness of their daughter’s disappearance and British public figures, from business tycoons to authors and football stars, have appealed for information.

In May, the German prosecutor, who has been investigating the case since 2020, said new evidence had been found potentially incriminating a convicted child molester jailed for raping a woman in the same area when Madeleine went missing.

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Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro and Patricia Rua Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Lough, Alison Williams, Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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