MADELEINE McCann’s parents have been rocked by another setback in their long-running battle to silence a former cop who claims their daughter is dead.
Anguished Kate and Gerry must now wait until spring to find out if the highest court in the land finally allows their legal appeal to go ahead or throws it out.
The couple had been due to be told by the end of last year but now face an agonising wait in their civil action which has been “dragging on” for nearly 12 years.
If they lose their right to appeal they will be ordered to pay Goncalo Amaral’s court costs and possible damages which could wipe out the entire Find Maddie Fund.
A spokesperson for the European Court of Human Rights told The Sun Online today: “A judge is due to rule of the admissibility of their application over the coming months.
“It is still under consideration and it is expected to be notified to the Portuguese Government by the end of April.”
A close pal of Kate and Gerry said: “It drags on and on. They go one step forward then two two back. It’s caused them so much anguish over the years and they just want to draw a line under it.
“It’s never been about seeking damages but simply trying to stop false and malicious accusations being spouted. They still have no idea if their appeal in their fight for justice will be granted, or not.”
The latest legal hiccup comes as the McCanns vowed in a New Year message to carry on searching for their daughter as they revealed the coronavirus crisis had been hampering progress in the case.
If the couple win the next stage in their bitter feud they will be able to continue their ‘fight for justice’ against the state of Portugal which ruled against them in a shock Supreme Court hearing in Lisbon four years ago.
It is based on their civil feud with former Portuguese police chief Amaral, who claimed in his best seller book that Maddie’s parents had accidentally killed their daughter and disposed of her body.
In ensuing claims and appeals, Mr Amaral was cleared of any wrongdoing which led to the McCanns’ latest action being filed against the country’s top court rather than the ex officer.
The ECHR spokesperson added: “The appeal is still under consideration. There will be a preliminary examination by the court regarding the admissibility of the application.
“If the appeal is ruled inadmissible, the applicants will not be able to challenge the decision. The court will close the case and the file will be destroyed.
“If however the court decides the appeal is admissible, on further examination it would make a judgment that either there has been no violation of the Convention or a person’s rights have been violated.
“The appeal had been expected to he heard by the end of 2020 but time scales vary depending on many factors and the court takes into account the importance and urgency of the issues.”
Under the application – one of almost 57,000 pending – titled McCann and Healy v Portugal (Maddie’s dad’s name and mum’s maiden name) the current state of proceedings simply states: ‘Application awaiting first judicial decision.’
Retired detective Mr Amaral, 64 – branded by Maddie’s mum as “a thorn in our side” – won the latest round in a fierce feud which the couple, after careful consideration, decided to challenge.
The McCanns had won their first round but lost on appeal before finally lodging an application with the ECHR in Strasbourg, France, in July 2017.
Three-year-old Maddie vanished from a holiday apartment in Portugal’s Praia da Luz in Portugal nearly 14 years ago in May 2007.
She had been left sleeping alone with her younger twin siblings while her parents were dining in a nearby tapas restaurant with pals.
Heart doctor Gerry and ex GP turned medical worker Kate, both 52, of Rothley, Leicestershire, cling onto a glimmer of hope that their daughter could still be alive. She would now be aged 17.
If they lose their right to appeal they will be ordered to pay Mr Amaral’s court costs and possible compensation for damages against his reputation.
It could wipe out the entire Find Maddie Fund – which now stands at around £750,000 – set up with public donations to continue the search privately once the Met Police hunt is finally shelved.
The McCann source said: “If this happened it would be a bitter blow but Kate and Gerry would keep their heads up and carry on searching.
“It has been there fight for justice but there can be no more appeals by either side. This one is the final challenge.”
Kate and Gerry first issued a writ against Mr Amaral for libel in June 2009 after he claimed in his 2008 book ‘The Truth of the Lie’ that Maddie had died accidentally and they had faked her abduction.
In 2015 Mr Amaral, who led the initial bungled hunt for Maddie before being thrown off the case, was ordered by the court to pay the couple £360,000 in damages with interest of at least £76,000 for his alleged slurs which the McCanns described as “false, malicious, defamatory and hurtful.”
They also said his accusations could hamper the worldwide hunt for Maddie because if people believed she was dead they would stop searching.
But Mr Amaral successfully appealed the decision before any money exchanged hands.
The country’s Supreme Court found against the McCanns in January 2017, stating in their 76-page ruling that they had not “successfully proved their innocence”.
The devastated couple lodged an appeal six months later with the ECHR.
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In June last year German Police sensationally named jailed sex offender Christian B – who cannot be fully named due to German privacy laws – as a new key suspect in her abduction.
Prosecutors recently said they were “very confident” of charging him and said the public “would reach the same conclusion if they knew the evidence we had.”
German national Christian B is currently behind bars for drug offences and raping an American pensioner in the same resort the Brit youngster was snatched from.
He has not yet been quizzed over Maddie’s disappearance and maintains through his lawyer he had no involvement.