Madeleine McCann’s parents lose challenge over Portuguese libel case

Couple sought redress from European court of human rights after libel case against detective was overturned

The parents of Madeleine McCann have lost their European court of human rights challenge to the Portuguese supreme court’s decision to throw out their libel case against a former detective who implicated them in their daughter’s disappearance.

Kate and Gerry McCann sued Gonçalo Amaral, who led the botched police search for Madeleine in 2007, over statements he made in a book, documentary and newspaper interview alleging that they were involved in Madeleine’s disappearance.

In 2015, a Lisbon court ordered Amaral, a former detective inspector, to pay €500,000 (£440,000) to Madeleine’s parents. But an appeal court overturned the decision the next year and, in 2017, the supreme court also found against the McCanns.

The couple went to the European court of human rights (ECHR) to seek redress, relying on the European convention on human rights – including articles conferring the right to a fair hearing (article 6) and the right to respect for private and family life (article 8) – to argue that Amaral’s statements damaged their reputation, their good name and their right to be presumed innocent.

But a chamber of seven judges unanimously decided that there had been no violation of article 8.

A press release issued by the ECHR said: “Even assuming that the applicants’ reputation had been damaged, this was not on account of the argument put forward by the book’s author but rather as a result of the suspicions expressed against them, which had led to their being placed under investigation in the course of the criminal investigation (the prosecutor’s office decided to take no further action in July 2008) and had led to intense media attention and much controversy.

“The information had thus been 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. 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 judges ruled the complaint under article 6 to be inadmissible because they said the Portuguese supreme court did not appear to have made comments implying guilt on the part of Madeleine’s parents or suspicion against them.

The McCanns now have three months to appeal against the decision. In a statement, they said they were “naturally disappointed” by the decision but much had changed since they started legal proceedings 13 years ago.

“We took action for one and only one reason: Mr Amaral’s unfounded claims were having a detrimental impact on the search for Madeleine,” they said.

“If the public believed that we were involved in her disappearance, then people would not be alert for possible clues and may not report relevant information to the relevant law enforcement agencies. The focus is now rightly on the search for Madeleine and her abductor(s).”

Madeleine was three when she went missing from her family’s holiday flat in Praia da Luz on 3 May 2007, while her parents dined at a nearby tapas restaurant, triggering a huge missing person investigation.

Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann went missing, aged three, in 2007. Photograph: PA

Amaral released his book, The Truth of the Lie, three days after the Portuguese attorney general decided to end the search for the toddler in 2008. He later took part in a documentary for Portuguese television.

In April this year, officials in Faro named a 44-year-old convicted German rapist, Christian Brückner, as an arguido, or formal suspect. It was the first time Portuguese authorities had officially identified a suspect in the case since Madeleine’s parents were declared as such in 2007.

German police said in June 2020 that Madeleine was assumed dead and that Brückner was probably responsible for her disappearance. However, British officers continue to treat it as a missing person case.


Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

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