Portugal’s Supreme Court has ruled that the parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann may have covered-up her death to protect an elite pedophile ring operation.
The court ruled on Tuesday that Gerry and Kate McCann cannot sue for libel a former Portuguese detective who published a book claiming that Maddy’s parents were directly involved in their daughter’s disappearance.
Judges decided that Goncalo Amaral’s “right to freedom of expression” was worthy of greater protection under Portuguese law than the “right to honour” of the McCanns.
The judges ruled Goncalo Amaral’s “exercise of his freedom of expression was not considered abusive” and “was within admissible limits in a democratic and open society, which excludes the illegality of possible damage to the honour of the McCanns.”
The decision is a major milestone in Gerry and Kate McCann’s eight-year fight over a book written by Amaral, who led the initial hunt when then-three-year-old Madeleine vanished from their Algarve holiday apartment in May 2007.
Kate and Gerry axed PR expert Clarence Mitchell after nine years last year as they faced uncertainty over the future of the £12 million British police investigation – codenamed Operation Grange – into the disappearance of their daughter.
Amaral was ordered to pay Kate and Gerry 500,000 euros (£430,000) plus interest in damages after losing round one of their libel battle in April 2015 over his book ‘The Truth of the Lie.’
Appeal judges reversed the initial ruling by a court in Lisbon in April last year, siding with the former police chief and overturning a ban on his book.
The decision sparked a fresh appeal by the McCanns to the country’s highest law court, which was lodged last May but heard today.
The McCanns’ Portuguese lawyer Isabel Duarte was “out of her office” and not immediately available this afternoon to comment.
Speaking ahead of today’s hearing, a source close to the case said: “The Supreme Court judges can either confirm the first court’s decision that ruled in the McCanns’ favour or the Lisbon appeal court judgement that went in Goncalo Amaral’s favour.
“The ruling itself will take at least four or five days to come out officially but it’s possible there’ll be some unofficial guidance by the end of the day on what the ruling is.”
“My feeling is that Amaral cannot make another appeal if this goes against him as there is only the European courts and that’s too expensive and if it’s a decision based on the law and not the facts it’s difficult to go to the European court.
“The same would probably be true if the McCanns lost the case.”
Criticising the ruling in favour of the ex-police chief last year, which a friend of the McCanns said had left them “seething,” Isabel Duarte said: “This decision was an appreciation of the law and not the facts.
“We can appeal to the Supreme Court which we will do as we have instructions from our clients.”
The judge who ruled in the McCanns’ favour in April 2015 said Amaral’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression were conditioned by the fact he had been in charge of the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance until shortly before the publication of his book.
She concluded he played on his status as a long-serving police officer to present personal opinions and claims about the high-profile case as fact.
The appeal judges said Amaral’s right to express his opinions overruled any duty of confidentiality he had as an ex-police chief heading the Madeleine McCann investigation once the case files, made available on the Internet by Portuguese authorities, were put into the public domain.
Amaral is understood to have earned 400,000 euros (£344,000) from his book before it was banned and a subsequent TV documentary.
He claimed in the book Madeleine had died in their holiday flat and they had faked her abduction to cover up the tragedy.
The book was released just three days after Gerry and Kate were told their status as arguidos or persons of interest had been lifted on July 21 2008.
The McCanns told the Lisbon court staging the Amaral libel trial in the summer of 2014 they were left “devastated and crushed” by his allegations.
Kate, 48, from Rothley, Leics, said Madeleine’s twin siblings Sean and Amelie, now 12, knew about Amaral’s allegations.
She told the court in July 2014 after applying to make a statement: “I believe that’s what’s in Mr Amaral’s book and the documentary is very distressing to adults. To a child it could be very damaging.”
Asked by the judge how she felt after reading the book, she said: “I was devastated. It made me feel quite desperate because of the injustice I felt towards my daughter and our family as a whole.
“It was very painful to read and I felt sad for Madeleine. I also felt anxious and fearful because of the damage I felt it was doing in Portugal.”
She went on to accuse Amaral of “consistently smearing” her and Gerry and claimed they feared the book may have stopped people coming forward with information about their daughter’s whereabouts.
The ex-police chief, removed as head of the investigation into Madeleine’s May 3 2007 disappearance after criticising British detectives, has always denied defamation and insisted what he wrote was based on case files which had already been made public.
Amaral’s lawyer Miguel Cruz Rodrigues claimed in court the McCanns had taken legal action against his client “to rid themselves of guilt for their negligent conduct” in leaving Madeleine and her siblings alone while they ate tapas with friends nearby.
He also claimed their lack of cooperation with the Portuguese police authorities had led to the archiving of the investigation in 2008.
Portuguese prosecutors reopened their probe into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in May 2014, and are now working in close coordination with Scotland Yard’s scaled-down Operation Grange probe into the youngster’s fate.
Last year Kate and Gerry revealed they had told their twins “everything” about Madeleine’s disappearance and said the youngsters still remember her and talk about her often.