Dr Martin Roberts analyses the recent Portuguese court ruling.
By Dr Martin Roberts
01 May 2015
WATCH THAT SPACE
By now, thanks to the hurried efforts of Dona Isabel Duarte, the entire Western world has been given the news of the McCanns' successful litigation against Dr. Goncalo Amaral. What will not have been fully explained to the media of course is that the judge in this instance had virtually to invent a reason for awarding them anything at all, much less the astronomical sum announced.
£375,000 may represent the extent of the McCanns' demands with respect to themselves, but it far and away exceeds any comparable award so far by a Portuguese court to a Portuguese. In addition, the arguments advanced as a justification are not merely weak, they are in error. It's as though, if the good lady judge were a mathematician she would be in the habit of reading graphs upside down!
The decision to award the sum demanded was based, not on the evidence heard, but an essay in Jurisprudence, researched by the arbitrator herself, in which Goncalo Amaral is portrayed as a public servant subject to restriction, as though he had signed the Portuguese equivalent of the Official Secrets Act. For balance, courts too are obliged to observe the presumption of innocence in any statement they might make concerning suspects under investigation, so as not to prejudice or jeopardize any prosecution.
In the event that a public official is not sworn to secrecy, exactly how long must they be 'out of office' before they are allowed to comment upon anything contentious? The final decision of this court was supposed to have been given in private, so no blame could be attached to any official statement emanating from it. But what about evidence given at previous hearings? Might not the (publicly reported) statements of such as PJ Inspector Ricardo Paiva be viewed as 'prejudicial to the presumption of innocence'? No castigation offered in that direction though, eh?
In sum, and based upon legal precedent, apparently, we have the duty of a public servant (and others) toward a suspect under investigation, levied against a man no longer in public office, and on behalf of two people who are not suspects, not being investigated, and in no imminent danger of standing trial for anything at all. Does that make any sense?
There are two very clear (and opposing) schools of thought concerning the relationship or otherwise between Operation Grange and the McCann/Amaral stand-off being progressed through the civil courts. This latest decision, evaluated in complete isolation, is nigh-on inexplicable – except when viewed in a context of suitability.
Monetarily, the McCanns benefit, and beyond what should have been their wildest expectations in the wake of the evidence previously heard by this court. But it was never about the money, so they say. There is also the glaring anomaly of the judge, hearing a case for damages, suddenly and inexplicably making a pronouncement concerning Goncalo Amaral's book, quite beyond her judicial remit, taking it upon herself to reverse the earlier decision of a higher court and citing her own research as justification!
Again the McCanns benefit, but they are not alone.
Imagine the difficulty facing the decision makers behind Operation Grange, should the damages awarded the McCanns have genuinely reflected the evidence heard and assessed in Lisbon. How does one justify closing down a review/investigation that has just eaten up four years and £10 million, having identified neither abductor nor evidence of abduction, if the bottom line, as last defined in Portugal, was that the McCanns' claims were worth 'tuppence' and The Truth of the Lie is not only legitimate, but accurate!
As far as the case is concerned, the McCanns did not win the argument. The result however is very much 'against the run of play'. It not only supports, albeit tenuously, their claims of victory, but extends to promote the conclusion that Goncalo Amaral's published remarks, and by implication the concomitant (and troublesome) observations made by the original (Portuguese) process, are in error.
Suddenly, and with fiscal testimony to the illegitimacy of Amaral's reasoning (and by implication the PJ's original position) the counterweight to the McCanns' claims of abduction has been lifted once more. Hence Scotland Yard can relax in the understanding that their investigating a case of abduction was appropriate all along.
Whether Goncalo Amaral appeals the decision at this stage is secondary and largely irrelevant, given the time delay involved. The fact remains that the Grange curtain can be brought down now, courtesy of a judge who has seen fit to portray the McCanns as injured parties, not on account of the evidence, but in spite of it.
DCI Redwood has retired, just as he was on the verge of cracking the biggest abduction case since the Lindbergh baby, DCI Nicola Wall has been brought in to answer the 'phone, and the McCanns, with their eyes focussed on another big pay day, propose to continue where Operation Grange is shortly to leave off (according to Clarence Mitchell at least, and he should know).
If a UK diplomat can influence the direction of a police investigation conducted on foreign soil, there is no reason whatever to believe that 'sweet nothings' cannot be whispered into the ear of a foreign judge, even after a case hearing is concluded, allowing the McCanns to continue searching for their daughter in the same fashion as Hercules, who stubbornly insisted on looking for his dead chum Hylas, whose body lay buried beneath the shattered bronze remains of a Titan (according to Ray Harryhausen at least). We don't yet know what Madeleine is buried under.