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Parents of missing British girl lose libel case against detective 

The disappearance of 3-year-old Madeleine McCann while her family was on holiday in Portugal in 2007 sparked a worldwide media frenzy.

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — The parents of a 3-year-old British girl who disappeared in 2007 have lost a case before Europe’s top rights court against a Portuguese police detective who wrote a book alleging the family was involved.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that any damage to the reputation of Gerald McCann and Kate Healy was a result of being considered suspects by the police, not by the publication of the book. The ruling was only available in French.

Goncalo Amaral led the initial investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance after she was found missing from a rented apartment in Praia da Luz while her parents dined at a nearby restaurant. The couple were initially considered suspects, with Amaral claiming they had killed their daughter and hid her body, though they were ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. 

The 62-year-old officer retired in 2008 and published a book titled "The Truth of the Lie" in which he claimed the parents faked the abduction to cover up the murder. The book became a bestseller in Portugal and the couple have waged a 15-year legal battle against him and his publisher, arguing he ruined their reputation. 

Judges at the Strasbourg-based rights court decided on Tuesday that the reputational damage was done by the police considering McCann and Healy suspects, rather than Amaral’s book.

“The Court nevertheless considers that, even supposing that the reputation of the applicants had been harmed, it was not because of the argument put forward by [Amaral] but because of the suspicions which had been cast against them, which had led to their being placed under investigation in the course of the proceedings,” the seven-judge panel wrote. 

The ruling from the court's Fourth Section further pointed out that the family regularly conducted their own media appearances, which continued to keep them in the spotlight. The couple argued this was only to raise awareness about their daughter’s disappearance. 

“They made a documentary about the disappearance of their daughter and continued to give interviews to the international media,” the court wrote.

The judges were satisfied that McCann and Healy had a fair trial in the civil action they pursued against Amaral in Portugal. A court in Lisbon ordered the former detective to pay the parents 500,000 euros ($500,00) for libel in 2015 but that was overturned on appeal. Since this wasn’t a criminal case, the Strasbourg court found there was no violation of their human rights. 

The family can appeal the decision within the next three months. 

The court was created in 1959 by the European Convention of Human Rights and protects the political and civil rights of Europeans. 

In April this year, Portuguese officers named a convicted German rapist as a formal suspect in the case. Christian Brueckner is currently serving time in jail for another sexual assault and has denied he was involved in McCann’s disappearance. 

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