Late last year we said it didn’t matter much anymore what people, including us, claimed about the McCann case in the media or the net since, at last, a new chapter in the affair is open in which events are no longer a matter of opinion and public debate but are now being determined as matters of fact within the judicial process.
We have to wait for any criminal case concerning the child to reach the courts. The civil case, though, is nearly complete and, thank God, pretty transparent: for the first time the claims of Kate and Gerry McCann, in this instance covering the period 2008-2009, have been examined properly and in great detail, and judged.
The libel action, which began in squalid and near-medieval secrecy, is ending in a hearteningly transparent manner except for one, temporary, problem. While the judge’s conclusions form part of and determine the final judgement to come they are not, of course, the final judgement itself. As such, under Portuguese law the words of the judge on January 21 may not be published verbatim at this stage. The significant findings, however, can be given in the public interest by third parties.
Over time, naturally, the picture will be filled in without any breach of the law – since more and more details can be released as being significant – but in the meantime it presents a couple of the usual McCann Case problems of verifiability. As we know, representatives of the McCanns immediately chose to release a version of proceedings to the Lusa news agency which has now been widely accepted – most obviously in retractions and corrections in the Portuguese media – as spun, i.e. false. Readers will judge for themselves why they did so.
Equally this legal requirement preventing the exact words of the judge being quoted provides grounds for supporters of the couple – or neutrals – to claim bias in the internet reports, as they did about the earlier Anne Guedes court reports. It doesn’t matter: the truth will out. Readers will remember that very much the same thing happened in 2008 when the McCanns – through Clarence Mitchell that time, not lawyers, Link communications and Lusa – put out the deliberately dishonest first version of the archiving summary in Britain’s Associated Newspapers. But the words are now there, unspun, for everyone to see.
There is plenty to chew over and much in the judge’s findings to discuss, including the interesting question of whether the judicial examination of the McCann claims of 2008/9 gives us a clue as to the likely veracity of their claims in 2007. In the meantime it is now possible to compare results so far with what the McCanns went after in their libel claim.
The McCanns’ Libel Writ
On July 12 2009 Team McCann, as we know, provided the Mirror newspaper with the Portuguese libel writ for PR purposes. The details can be found in the McCann Files. In amongst the shocking personal abuse of Amaral the Mirror listed the seven claims at the heart of their case for large scale damages and the silencing of Goncalo Amaral. Here they are, with progress to date.
1. Amaral’s “false accusations”, had left them totally destroyed and damaged them irreparably.
Court finding (12): the McCanns failed to establish this claim.
2. The writ adds that the couple also suffer from "permanent anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite, irritability and an indefinable fear" from the same accusations and that Kate McCann is "steeped in a deep and serious depression".
Court finding (13): the claim is established. The judge adds an apparently contradictory rider about the conditions being “pre-existent”. Court finding (16) apparently excludes the “serious depression” element.
3. "Madeleine has been deprived of the possibility of a fair and adequate investigation into her disappearance, putting her moral and physical integrity at serious risk."
Court finding (11): the McCanns failed to establish this claim.
4. Amaral accused them of accidentally killing their three-year-old daughter and then covering up her death.
Court finding: None required - the claim was false and withdrawn
5. Amaral… has repeatedly claimed Madeleine died in the holiday apartment on the Algarve and the parents hid her body.
Court finding: none required. The Lisbon court of appeal had already ruled on the validity of the claim.
6. Amaral made a million pounds (1.25 million euros) from the book and documentary and the claimants are suing for that entire amount.
Court finding (3) /(4): Amaral actually received some 360 000 euros.
7. The lawsuit also highlights their fears for four-year-old twins Sean and Amelie when they start school later this year and begin to hear rumours that Madeleine is dead.
Court finding (15/17): It is established that the twins have not yet found out about the thesis that the child is dead and that the couple feel the need to keep them from finding out about it.
Make Up Your Own Mind
Such were the McCanns claims, about which their lawyer Duarte, summing up, said in the piece: "Somebody has to stop him and shut him up. He is a rich man now, earning millions from the distress of this family. We believe he has made up to 1.2million euros (£1million) from the book and the video. We want the court to punish him by taking at least that much from him."
Readers will judge whether any of M/s Duarte’s aims have been accomplished.
After six years of legal action against Goncalo Amaral five of these seven claims have now been rejected by the courts, leaving just two for which damages could be awarded. One, concerning psychological impact, has been established with ambiguous reservations, the significance of which will not be known until any damages award is made; the other (15/17) makes no mention of potential liability.