Sunday, 19 December 2010

The forthcoming libel trial: Is Amaral playing Russian Roulette?

By Honestbroker.

Not necessarily. But Amaral’s options in defending the action are strictly limited. One crazy and bizarre idea floated is that an on-line site which bears Gerry’s name, gerrymccannsblog, might actually be something to do with the McCanns. The site itself carries a disclaimer making plain that isn’t true. So what else? Unequivocal statements in the text are hedged with prefaces of equivocation, which might be cited as turning what is written into ‘opinion’ and thus saving it from being libelous. If Amaral is relying on this, then, as someone (we are told) himself legally trained, he should know better.

A statement such as: Gerry probably hid Madeleine’s body on the beach mixes opinion with (at least assertion) of fact, and unless the person who made that statement can prove that Gerry hid Madeleine’s body on the beach (no one can!) the statement is libelous.

There is a defence of opinion in libel. But the legal definition of ‘opinion’ is widely misunderstood. In law, a statement stripped of testable fact is opinion. Straight insult would be ‘opinion’. No court could objectively test the extent of a person’s ‘idiocy’, so to call someone an ‘idiot’ would be opinion, not libel. Prefaces such as ‘in my opinion’ or ‘I think that’ do not turn libelous statements into non-libelous ones.

In the wake of these wikileak releases, Amaral has taken to discussing publicly the Gaspar statements, and their subject, a man I shall continue not to name. Amaral appears to think that the Gaspar statements are an example of the way in which the British police ‘developed’ the case.

Could Amaral be insinuating that he will introduce such considerations into the libel trial? On the face of it, he would be insane to try. True that the most effective defence to a charge of libel is ‘justification’ (the assertion that what you say is true and therefore cannot be libelous). But in Britain certainly, probably in Portugal too, it is also the most dangerous because, if a judge finds that a statement thus defended is, indeed, libelous, he will punish the defendant all the more severely for compounding the libel.

Let’s be clear. What the Gaspars said was not libelous because they never shared it with anyone other than Leicestershire police. But if they had published what they shared, to a newspaper, or even on an internet messageboard or blog, it assuredly would have been libelous – and all those, including and especially, Goncalo Amaral – who have published or salaciously interpreted Mrs Gaspar’s statement in particular, are guilty of libel. Of course, Amaral has put his thoughts into a book, sold in several countries of Europe.

I have brushed on the point in an earlier piece, but will expand here. Amaral described the Gaspars’ (individual) statements as ‘joint’. I don’t think he should be allowed to get away with pleading mere incompetence or ignorance, here. As, formerly, a senior inspector and coordinator of the Portuguese police force (the PJ) Amaral will know that the standard practice of the PJ is to take individual statements. Each statement taken before the McCanns were declared arguidos was individual. The McCanns’ arguido interviews were taken individually. Martin Smith and his son, Peter, and daughter, Aoife, were all interviewed individually about the sighting of the man they saw. The UK police, like the Portuguese, take individual statements. Indeed, I dare say that police forces around the world take individual statements. The point is crucial because Mrs Gaspar’s statement and her husband’s could scarcely be more different. While hers casts this man in a very pejorative light, his, in parts, could almost be a favourable character-reference.

But while Mrs Gaspar’s statement is largely conjectural and, on details of times, places and what was said, vague, speculative and indistinct, Amaral says this in his book:

It is all the more surprising that [name deleted], who had planned the trip to Majorca - of whom it was known that his behaviour towards the children was, to say the least, questionable...

That is Amaral’s accusation and his alone. His purpose is surely plain. He wants to sully the name of this man by fraudulently misrepresenting individual statements as ‘joint’. That is beneath contempt.

So will Amaral play Russian Roulette by introducing libel to a libel trial? On the face of it, you might think not, and we must hope he doesn’t. But closer analysis needn’t rule out the prospect that he will try. As Vee has expertly dissected in an earlier piece, Amaral is deep in debt. The McCanns can seize the proceeds from the sale of the book frozen in the bank account and assets such as the Jaguar car, which can be converted to cash. All those are for the taking and assured after the McCanns (as they will!) have won the libel trial. But you can’t take from a person what he hasn’t got. The judges will have no flexibility to punish him any harder than to award the McCanns the proceeds and assets of Amaral’s ill-gotten gains from the book and the video. So Amaral might well view it that, with nothing to lose that is not already lost in a ‘cause’ (the libel trial) the McCanns are sure to win, the vendetta he began against the McCanns from roughly the time he ignored the wiser counsel of Stuart Prior that the forensic evidence in the case was not incriminating, and continued with his book and interviews insinuating that the McCanns were responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance and for orchestrating a cover-up, is worth continuing, right up to the point of the libel trial itself.

The other hope is that if Amaral tries to pull such a stunt, the judges will rule the ‘evidence’ inadmissible.

But Amaral is a scheming, calculating, vindictive and vengeful man who, seemingly, will stop at nothing to get back at those who challenge or confront him, even over something as essential and vital as a missing little girl whose best chances of being found alive he might, actually, have squandered.

In defence of his ‘honour’, Amaral will descend to any extreme to hit back at anyone he considers (however erroneously) to have besmirched it.

By Honestbroker.