Sept. 20 (UPI) -- A European court on Tuesday ruled against the parents of Madeleine McCann, the three-year-old girl who vanished in Portugal years ago, in their legal challenge against a detective who says they had a hand in their daughter's disappearance.
McCann was last seen on May 3, 2007, while she was on vacation with her parents at a resort on the Portuguese coast. Authorities believe she was probably kidnapped.
The girl has never been found, but Kate and Gerry McCann later sued Portuguese police detective Goncalo Amaral, who wrote a book about the case and accused them of being involved in Madeleine's disappearance.
Years ago, a Lisbon court ordered Amaral to pay about $570,000 in libel damages, but the decision was later overturned by an appeals court and Portugal's Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously sided with Amaral, saying that it was well known that the McCann's were suspects before Amaral's book came out.
"The information had thus been brought to the public's attention in some detail even before the investigation file was made available to the media and the book in question was published," it said in its ruling.
"The court considered that, 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, which had led to their being placed under investigation in the course of the criminal investigation."
Police cleared McCann's parents about a year after her disappearance.
The McCanns insist that Amaral's accusation may also have hindered the search for Madeleine.
"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 said according to Sky News.
"The focus is now rightly on the search for Madeleine and her abductor(s)."
If she's alive, Madeleine McCann would now be 18 years old.