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The parents of Madeleine McCann, a three-year-old British girl who disappeared while on a family holiday in 2007, have lost their privacy case at Europe's top rights court against a Portuguese police inspector.
Her disappearance sparked a Europe-wide search and several police investigations, which led last year to a convicted sex offender in Germany.
Police initially suspected that the child, known as Maddie, might have died accidentally and that her parents, Gerry McCann and Kate Healy, hid the body and staged an abduction.
In 2008, those claims were reiterated in a book by the Portuguese police inspector who initially led the case, Goncalo Amaral, prompting the parents to sue for libel.
They won their case but it was later struck down by Portugal's supreme court, so the parents filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, eastern France.
The couple -- both medical doctors -- said that Amaral's accusations had damaged their reputation and violated their right to private and family life, and that the supreme court's acquittal had violated their right to presumption of innocence.
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But in its ruling handed down on Tuesday, the ECHR said Amaral's claims had already been made in official police reports, to which the media had been given access.
It also noted that Maddie's parents had been placed under investigation before being cleared and that the book was published only after prosecutors closed the case.
"Even assuming that the applicants' reputation had been damaged, this was not on account of the argument put forward by the book's author but rather as a result of the suspicions expressed against them," the court said.
It added that with regards to Amaral's acquittal, "it did not appear that... the supreme court had made comments implying any guilt on the part of the applicants or even suggesting suspicions against them".
Kate and Gerry McCann said in response that they were "naturally disappointed" with the court's decision.
But they said on their website findmadeleine.com that "much has changed" in the 13 years since they started legal action against Amaral.
"We took action for one and only one reason: Mr Amaral's unfounded claims were having a detrimental impact on the search for Madeleine," they wrote.
"If the public believed that we were involved in her disappearance, then people would not be alert for possible clues and may not report relevant information to the relevant law enforcement agencies."
They added: "The focus is now rightly on the search for Madeleine and her abductor(s). We are grateful for the ongoing work by the British, German and Portuguese police."
After the case went cold for years, German police announced in June 2021 that they had a new prime suspect, a child sex offender who is currently in prison.
In May, prosecutors said they had discovered "new evidence" against the suspect identified as "Christian B."
He is serving a seven-year sentence in Germany for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American tourist in Praia da Luz -- the same seaside resort from where Maddie vanished.
But so far, no charges have been brought against Christian B. in connection with Maddie's disappearance.
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