The parents of Madeleine McCann, a three-year-old British girl whose disappearance was horrified 15 years ago, have lost their privacy case against a Portuguese police inspector in the European Higher Rights Court.
The child, known as Maddie, went missing during a family vacation in Portugal in 2007 and her body has never been found despite several investigations, which led to a convicted sex offender in Germany last year.
Police initially suspected that Maddie had died accidentally and that her parents, Gerald McCann and Kate Healy, had hidden the body and staged a kidnapping.
In 2008, those claims were echoed in a book by the Portuguese police inspector who initially led the case, Goncalo Amaral, and incited the parents to sue for libel.
They won their case, but it was later struck down by the Supreme Court of Portugal, so the parents filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, eastern France.
They said Amaral’s charges had damaged their reputation and violated their right to private and family life, and that the Supreme Court’s acquittal violated their right to presumption of innocence.
But in its ruling on Tuesday, the ECtHR said Amaral’s claims had already been made in official police reports, to which the media had been given access.
It also noted that Maddie’s parents had been placed under investigation before they were acquitted and that the book was not published until after prosecutors closed the case.
“Even assuming that the applicants’ reputations had been damaged, this was not because of the book’s author’s argument, but rather because of the suspicions leveled against them,” the court said.
It added that regarding Amaral’s acquittal, “it did not appear that … the Supreme Court had made any comments implying any guilt on the part of the applicants or even suggesting suspicions against them”.
After the case went cold for years, German police announced in June 2021 that they had a new prime suspect, a child sex offender who is currently in prison.
In May, prosecutors said they had found “new evidence” against the suspect identified as “Christian B”. He is serving a seven-year prison sentence in Germany for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American tourist in Praia da Luz, the same beach town where Maddie disappeared.
But so far no charges have been filed against Christian B. in connection with Maddie’s disappearance.
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