Almost a year to the day that former PJ coordinator Gonçalo Amaral learnt that the parents of missing Madeleine McCann had successfully sued him over his book “The Truth of the Lie”, three appeal court judges have ruled that there is essentially no case to answer.
Ferreira de Almeida, Catarina Manso and Alexandrina Branquinho have unanimously overturned the ruling of a lower court, freeing Amaral from a €500,000 bill for damages and another €106,000 in legal costs.
The McCanns, who were originally suing Amaral for €1.2 million, are “almost certain” to appeal. But the fact that the judges were united over their 16-page decision speaks volumes.
The question, they explained, centres on “appreciating an alleged illegality”.
Amaral’s thesis – that Madeleine “was not abducted, but had died accidentally” and that her parents, knowing this, had “covered up” the facts using “the theory of kidnap to elude” was nothing new.
It came from evidence contained in police files on the case, and it was the basis for the couple being made “arguidos” in the original investigation.
The judges thus accepted Amaral’s contention that he wrote “Truth of the Lie” “to expose his vision of the facts”, saying that it followed that “publication of the said book has to be considered a legitimate exercise of the right to an opinion”.
But even more, the panel stated that it was the McCanns who “multiplied themselves in interviews and interventions in national and international media” to the point that “one must conclude that it was they who voluntarily limited their rights to reservation and the intimacy of private life”.
In very stilted legal jargon, the bottom line is that the judges basically rated Amaral’s right to an opinion on the same level as anyone else’s.
Picking up the story, the Daily Mail managed to speak to McCann defence lawyer Isabel Duarte who said both she and her clients were “obviously disappointed”.
Duarte added however that she was not surprised, as “one of the judges ruled in favour of a previous appeal overturning a ban on the book”.
Indeed, McCann lawyers tried to remove this judge (Catarina Manso), altogether. A legal source has calculated that the shenanigans “cost some two months of time, which explains why this decision took so long”.
As Público explains, copies of the “Truth of the Lie” can now once again go on sale (which television reports suggest will happen next week), as can the DVD film documentary, the property of Valentim de Carvalho Filmes and television station TVI.
The panel’s decision, Duarte told the Mail, was “an appreciation of the law and not the facts”.
“We can appeal to the Supreme Court which we will do as soon as we have instructions from our clients,” she said. “We obviously hope the appeal will succeed. The McCanns never received any compensation money after the original decision, although the money was deposited at the court.”
This is something Amaral will very likely be addressing with his own lawyers, as he has had his assets frozen since the McCanns launched their civil action seven years ago.
Day-to-day life for the former cop has not been easy in the interim, but he has been buoyed by support – much of it coming from the UK – which last year saw over £50,000 raised towards his legal costs via an appeal launched by a budding British criminology student.
Amaral’s stance throughout the ordeal has been to insist on his right to freedom of expression – though he has intimated that ‘when all this is over’, he may well be filing civil charges of his own.
Speaking to Nova Gente magazine last year, he said: “Each thing in its own time.”
It won’t only be the McCanns he plans to sue, “but their group of friends and other people and entities”, he said, stressing “there is an illicit action that was indeed performed, the neglect in guarding their children which caused direct damages to many people, not only myself”.
Members of the Ocean Club staff were fired, he said, “many of them unjustly, passing from mere employees and heads of their families to suspects in a criminal investigation when they had nothing to do with the matter”.
Coincidentally, Tuesday’s ‘news of the appeal result in Portugal’ came as papers in UK were highlighting remarks made by “the detective in charge of the search for Madeleine”, Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Duthie – a new name in the British-led inquiry – who said police “still believe Madeleine could be found alive”.
Glossing over the fact that British press has given the long-running probe by the Metropolitan Police until October before funding is pulled altogether (click here), Duthie told reporters that Operation Grange (so far costing British taxpayers in excess of £12 million) could be extended by additional funding, as there is “always a possibility that we will find Madeleine”.
Nevertheless, this week is one for the Amaral camp.
The former detective said Tuesday’s news was “a tremendous and important victory for the right to opinion, freedom of expression and democracy”.
He also said he was “fully aware” that the victory was only possible thanks to the support he has received, “from Portuguese citizens and other nationalities but principally from British subjects, including British police colleagues” – all of whom he thanks “from the bottom of my heart”.
“The victory belongs to those who believe in truth, honesty and the realisation of justice,” he concluded.
But, with social media buzzing and articles throughout the world’s press, there is no getting away from the fact that Tuesday’s news came just weeks before the ninth anniversary of three-year-old Madeleine’s baffling disappearance.
Despite all the millions spent, all the agony of lawsuits and strife, all the pain of all those involved, no one seems any closer to the hidden nugget that will finally lift the lid of this extraordinary mystery.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
UPDATE WEDNESDAY: Expresso has revealed that Amaral’s legal team does indeed intend to press ahead with a counter-suit against the McCanns.
“We are going to advance with a compensation claim against the McCanns”, lawyer Miguel Cruz Rodrigues has told the paper. “My client has suffered years of prejudice and losses.”
Amaral will be seeking “damages for what have been years of financial losses” in which his “good name has been called into question,” said the lawyer.