McCanns sue paper over claims parents killed Madeleine

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The parents of Madeleine McCann have launched a libel action against a Portuguese newspaper that claimed local police believed they killed their daughter.

A front-page article in the Tal & Qual on 24 August said Madeleine had died because she was a "victim of an excess of drugs", suggesting her parents had accidentally given her an overdose of sedatives. The front page carried the headline "PJ believe that the parents killed Maddie", while the fuller report inside was headlined "PJ believes in the fault of the parents". The PJ are the Policia Judiciaria, the Portuguese criminal investigation department.

The action is being brought against Emidio Fernando, director of Tal & Qual, and Catarina Vaz, a journalist. The McCanns, who are doctors, "strongly refuted" last week's report, saying that they would never use sedatives on any of their three children.

The Portuguese police, who have been heavily criticised by the British press for their handling of the case, have repeatedly said that the couple, from Rothley in Leicestershire, are not suspects.

But the McCanns have received intense scrutiny from several sections of the Portuguese media, much of it implying doubt over their version of events leading to their daughter's disappearance. Yesterday's decision to launch defamation proceedings signals the final breakdown in the fraught relationship between the McCanns and the Portuguese press.

"Kate and I have been deeply hurt by the report in Tal &Qual. It was without truth or evidence," said Gerry McCann, Madeleine's father. "We firmly believe that the report was speculative, defamatory and published despite official statements to the contrary, which is why we have instructed lawyers. We hope this action will encourage responsible reporting in the future."

Madeleine McCann went missing on 3 May. She vanished from an apartment where she was sleeping with her two-year-old twin siblings in Praia da Luz on Portugal's southern Algarve coast. She was due to start at Bishop Ellis Catholic Primary School in Leicestershire on Thursday. "Our daughter Madeleine was snatched from her bed on 3 May. She is still missing. The police have said time and time again we are not suspects," said Mr McCann. "These are the facts. Everything else is at best speculation and in some cases downright lies."

A family spokesman said: "The McCanns feel the newspaper allegations are very serious and damaging to their professional and personal reputations."

Several Portuguese papers have run smear campaigns against the family. The daily Diario de Noticias suggested within days of Madeleine's disappearance that her parents may be culpable. It also publicised "police concerns" about alleged inconsistencies in the statements given by the McCanns.

Another paper, 24 Horas, claimed on 7 August that friends of the McCanns who had been holidaying with them were "under surveillance" in the UK. Police had been speaking to them as part of their investigation.

On Tuesday, Mr McCann walked out of a television interview with Spain's Telecinco TV station after being asked if he thought he was the last person to see Madeleine alive.

The case against Tal & Qual will be heard in Oporto. The McCanns have no plans to attend proceedings. Cases can take several years to come to court.