Nova Gente: Interview With Gonçalo Amaral
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For the first time, Gonçalo Amaral speaks about the case that destroyed
his career, his family and his health...
Condemned to pay 500 thousand euro to the parents of Maddie, the little English three-year-old girl that disappeared in Praia da Luz, in the Algarve, on the 3rd of May of 2007, the former inspector will fight until the last legal instance, because he is “a free man and citizen” with “the right to express opinions”.
What was your reaction when you found out that the verdict from the court was unfavourable to you in the defamation suit that the McCanns filed against you?
I found out about the verdict through a friend who called me telling me about the news on the radio. I immediately called my lawyer, but he hadn’t been notified and the verdict was not in the process. It’s sad, but my lawyer could only access the sentence, that afternoon, because a British journalist sent it to him by e-mail. There is no doubt that the couple’s lawyer has good connections at the court. My reaction was one of calm and a wish to read the full contents of the verdict as soon as it was available on the Citius website, which only happened the next day, but with the date of the previous day. Mysteries which the webs of justice weave.
Were you surprised?
I wasn’t surprised, it was one of the open possibilities, but after the decision about the matter of fact, which was favourable to me, I trusted that the verdict would come in the same direction.
Do you think there are errors in the process? Do you feel wronged?
Those are not mistakes, but value judgements and understandings that are contrary to mine and to that of many other jurists. As for feeling wronged… What do you think? I can only ask if those who, for more than five nights, left their three children, aged three and two, to their own devices in a house within an unknown space, subjecting them to a thousand dangers, while they were partying with friends – not to mention the amounts of alcohol that was ingested on those occasions -, still has the right to be compensated. They practiced a crime of exposing and abandoning defenceless children and they weren’t even accused of that fact. Looking at our criminal legislation, at the English child protection legislation and at cases that recently happened with British subjects in the Algarve, after drunken nights, all that I can say is that the McCann couple is primarily responsible for their daughter’s disappearance. She only disappeared because they neglected her guard and, as parents, they were obliged to it. It is a fact that they lost their daughter, but that doesn’t give them the right to sue anyone or to be compensated. They can’t escape their guilt, which is enough to rob them of their sleep, to provoke a lack of appetite and even rage, but against themselves and not against someone who only wrote down what happened during the first five months of the investigation, according to what is in the case files. If compensation takes place, all that I can do is warn you: be careful, there’s people who may turn this into a new business!
Don’t you feel revolted by this verdict?
I don’t feel revolt, but I do not conform to it, I still trust our country’s justice system, for which I have worked for over 25 years, and I still am a free citizen with all my rights. On the other hand, even the question that Maddie’s siblings, then aged two, may someday read my book and become traumatized doesn’t concern me. Those two children were also abandoned for over five nights in a row and surely they will understand that what is written there is the result of a criminal investigation.
There is a question that those two children will certainly ask when they grow up but that question will be directed at the parents: why were they abandoned, left to their own devices? Those children are free to think and to conclude that whatever happened to their daughter could have happened to one of them. The parents can only fear that their two children who did not disappear on that tragic night revolt against them.
The court says that you caused Maddie’s parents and siblings moral damages…
In my understanding, there are no damages that, objectively and factually, may have resulted from my writing. Which is to say, there is no causal nexus between the book or the documentary and any damages. On the other hand, what is spoken about, like the feelings of rage, it can hardly be considered a damage.
The couple demanded one million two hundred thousand euro. The court has sentenced you to pay 500 thousand euro – including interest since 2010 – over damages that were caused by the publication of the book Maddie: A Verdade da Mentira. Aren’t both the request and the damages awarded by the court exaggerated?
There is no defamation crime, I haven’t been tried over any crime, if at all I am being tried over an offence of opinion, something unthinkable 40 years after the revolution of April of 1974, which ended the [fascist] Estado Novo, censorship and all the means that oppressed Portuguese citizens from thinking, speaking and writing freely. On the other hand, what is in the book is in the process, those are not lies, that can be verified by comparing the case files with the book and this court has not put that truth at stake. Nonetheless, a compensation of that amount only clarifies that the McCann couple is worth more than any Portuguese citizen, dead or alive, and that they are above any god or divinity, which, according to politicians, Portuguese intellectuals and others from the so-called democratic world can be criticized, ridiculed and satirized. Look at the discussions about the terrorist attacks against French newspaper Charlie Hebdo… With my book I did not defame, nor did I have the intention to defame anyone, but merely to report what happened during the first five months of the investigation, thus replying to the attacks against my good name and my professional dignity. There is no, no can there be any, reserve duty that superimposes our right to react and to defend ourselves from defamation and injustice, putting the truth back when our fundamental rights are violated, even when the authors of such attacks are subjects of a powerful country, to which Portugal has always bowed, with a short interregnum when the Portuguese Republic was founded, largely a result of the English ultimatum.
Apart from the payment, the court decreed the prohibition of the sale of new editions of the book Maddie: A Verdade da Mentira. Nevertheless, the Appellate Court had decided to annul this prohibition back in 2010…
This court has not undone what had been decided by Lisbon’s Appellate Court within the injunction that was filed by the complainants. It should be clarified that the only decision that has, so far, become effective is that of Lisbon’s Appellate Court. That is the only one that is in force, the rest is still subject to appeal and it will take a few years to come into force, while I hope that our superior courts will see this differently from the lower court. This is just the judicial system working, therefore we need to remain calm.
In a more practical manner, I can say that the claimants, the McCanns, haven’t won anything yet, they only lost, namely with the decision from Lisbon’s Appellate Court, which is very clear in stating that the rights that have been violated were mine, that I, within the exercise of freedom of speech, could write the book and practiced no illicit action.
With this prohibition, are you forbidden from emitting an opinion about the case or about the McCann couple?
I am a free man, and like any other citizen in this country, I have the right to express my opinions. I was a Criminal Investigation coordinator, a policeman, and there is no reserve duty, a functional or merely instrumental thing, from the exercise of a profession, that superimposes a fundamental right and freedom of expression. To state that the duty of reserve limits freedom of expression for life, or even during the exercise of the profession of policeman, is to elevate that duty, which is merely administrative, above freedom of expression and fundamental rights, consecrated in the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on the European Convention of Human Rights.
When you wrote the book, did it ever occur to you that you could be committing an offence?
I wrote the book because I, those who worked with me and the institution of the Judiciary Police were being put at stake. My good name and professional honour were severely attacked. In a first phase, I started by writing to the Judiciary Police’s national director, asking him to allow me to defend myself publicly or to come out to defend us, and I obtained no reply. Today, after all these years, I know that Dr. Alípio Ribeiro never received my letter, which was simply set aside by someone hierarchically below him.
Faced with the inertia and the silence from the institution that I belonged to, which, in my opinion, had the duty and the obligation to come out and defend the men and women who, with their work and great sacrifice, tried to protect it by performing an investigation at the level of any minimally developed country, I decided to ask for my retirement, and to report the criminal investigation that had been carried out and the conclusions that were reached up to the moment that I coordinated said investigation. At that time we already knew that the case was going to be shelved and the investigation abruptly ended. Everything was being prepared in that sense with the agreement, at least tacit, from the parents of the missing child, with the case files being delivered to journalists by the Public Ministry, which in itself question the duty of reserve to which, according to some experts, the policemen were subject to.
The book was a way to reply to the humiliation and the offences that I have been targeted with. Deep down, that was it: they say we are incompetent, they say we are a third world police force, drunkards, fat, lazy, etc., etc., and the Judiciary Police does not set out to defend us. Therefore I turned to writing, reporting the investigation that had been carried out, so people could draw their own conclusions. What happened next is known.
Do you feel abandoned by the intellectuals and the writers of this country?
Since I left the Judiciary Police, I am part of no institution, I have no political party, nor am I a member of any sports, recreational, cultural or social association, I do not belong to any congregation or obedience. I wrote three books (Maddie: A Verdade da Mentira; A Mordaça Inglesa; Vidas Sem Defesa), but I do not consider myself a writer. I’m an outsider.
Is freedom of expression not compromised by this type of verdict?
What is happening to me, since 2009, is an attack against freedom of expression and a trial over an offence of opinion. The intellectuals of this country, in general, have reacted with indifference. I am not part of their group, and to make things worse I’m an ex-policeman, something that is reproved by many. As far as I remember, only Dr. Francisco Teixeira da Mota, when the Appeals Court’s decision came out, wrote about the matter, saying that the decision had been correct, as the Portuguese State risked being condemned by the European Court for Human Rights… Someone asked me why the Portuguese Authors’ Society had not come out to defend freedom of expression and to denounce the attack that is underway. I replied I was not a member, which may explain the silence.
Are you still dedicated to writing?
I continue to write, but I have yet to decide when to publish. At the moment, I am writing my memoirs about the profession of criminal investigator.
Why are you economically suffocated? Your house in Tavira went to the bank, your consultancy firm had to close, one third of your pension is arrested…
To all of those questions I only reply that my life is gone. If I am alive, it’s due to the heart that I have.
Have you never considered suing the McCanns over the damages that they caused to your family?
Each thing in its own time, it won’t be only the McCanns, but their group of friends, and other people and entities that will be sued. There is an illicit action that was indeed performed, the neglect in guarding their children, which caused direct damages to many people, not only to myself, but for example to the Ocean Club workers, who were fired and saw their lives change, many of them unjustly passing from mere employees and heads of family to suspects in a criminal investigation, while they had nothing to do with the matter.
Is there a project that you would like to realise some day?
I would like to channel all the support that I have been receiving into the creation of an institution to support children and teenagers at risk, in a perspective of educating them for life, escaping the benefits perspective, promoting and building life projects with them, helping them to escape marginalization and the labeling process.
With so many problems, do you still have time to dream?
Dreaming is a part of free men, it costs no money, it can’t be bought, and we just live and feel it.
What remains unexplained in this case?
I don’t answer that question. Faced with what was said by the couple, after the verdict was known, that they felt stronger, I just feel like saying that only vampires become stronger with their victims’ blood. Like Zeca Afonso [Portuguese songwriter and singer] sang, “they eat everything”…
Text: Alexandra Ferreira (email@example.com);
Photos: Lusa, Paula Alveno and IMPALA
in: Nova Gente, 15.05.2015, paper edition
Photos: Lusa, Paula Alveno and IMPALA
in: Nova Gente, 15.05.2015, paper edition