A Lisbon court on Friday postponed the start of a libel action brought by the parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann against a former Portuguese detective. The lawyer for the defendant Goncalo Amaral did not turn up at the trial's scheduled opening session for health reasons, and the judge ordered a postponement to January 12, a court clerk said, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with departmental rules.
Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, flew to Lisbon to attend the trial. They are seeking euro1.2 million (US$1.8 million) in damages from Amaral over a book he published about Madeleine's disappearance during a family vacation in southern Portugal more than two years ago.
The book, which the McCanns also want the court to ban, alleges the child is dead. The McCanns contend the book defames them by questioning their version of events on the night Madeleine vanished. A judge in September granted the parents an injunction, which forced the book to be withdrawn from sale.
Gerry McCann said the book "has damaged the search for Madeleine" because it encourages people to believe Madeleine is dead and stop looking for her.
"If people read it and believe she is dead then they will not keep looking for her and may not come forward with information they may have," he told reporters.
Amaral was assigned to the case early in the investigation but was later removed after publicly criticizing British police who were involved in the effort to find Madeleine. Among his planned witnesses at the trial are other detectives who worked on the case. Amaral defended his right to give his opinion in his book. "There is freedom of expression in Portugal," he said outside the court.
There has been no reliable indication of what might have happened to Madeleine, who disappeared a few days before her fourth birthday, despite her parents' far-reaching international campaign and numerous reported sightings from around the world.