The parents of British toddler Madeleine McCann, who disappeared from a holiday resort in Portugal in 2007, have been dealt a devastating blow in the fight against lingering accusations about their involvement in the case.
Kate and Gerry McCann had at first successfully sued the lead Portuguese detective in the case whose inflammatory best-selling book blatantly accused them of involvement in their daughter’s death.
Detective Gonçalo Amaral was ordered by a Portuguese court to pay a half a million dollars to the McCann’s and remove his book from publication in 2015—but an appellate court in Portugal overturned the decision in favor of the McCanns, which was also signed off on by Portugal’s Supreme Court, in 2017.
The move prompted the McCanns to petition the European Court of Human Rights, which on Tuesday sided with the Portuguese court decisions, meaning Amaral’s accusations will remain part of the public record.
The young girl was sleeping in a hotel room in Portugal’s Algarve region with her younger twin siblings while her parents dined at a tapas bar nearby. The adults in the group took turns checking on the children at regular intervals when she disappeared. Several witnesses say they saw a man carrying a child out of the resort that night, but officials in Portugal initially focused on the McCanns as primary suspects, potentially allowing the real kidnapper to get away.
The McCanns can appeal the European court decision within three months.
Amaral was removed from the case after British police complained about his accusations of their meddling. Amaral was responsible for initially placing the McCanns under investigation and naming them as suspects. They were cleared in July 2008, but Amaral went on to write a book explaining why he thought the couple—both doctors—were guilty.
Since that time, millions of euros has been spent in the search for the missing toddler. Tens of thousands of pounds have also been invested by the British government to sift through reams of Portuguese investigative papers. Dozens of people have been investigated since McCann went missing in 2007.
In May of this year, officials in Germany said that convicted pedophile and rapist Christian Brueckner, currently in a German prison for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in the village where McCann disappeared, is the primary suspect in McCann’s disappearance.
Brueckner worked as a handyman in the resort where the young Briton disappeared, and little girl swimsuits were found in his possession along with child pornography videos when he was arrested for the rape. The garden where he was last known to live in Germany was dug up in search of McCann.
A representative for the McCann family said they would not comment on the European court decision.