Tuesday 19 September 2017

Bailey's black-humoured 'confession' was not so funny

Gardai deny asking witness to implicate former journalist but 'delayed' motoring fines

Ian Bailey
Ian Bailey
Helen Callanan
Martin Malone
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Billy O'Regan was working in the creamery shop in Schull on Christmas Eve, 1996, when Ian Bailey walked in. He carried a yellow bow saw and made straight for the newspaper stand.

It was the day after Sophie Toscan du Plantier was found beaten to death outside her holiday home, her clothes entangled in briars.

"He picked up the Examiner on the stand and he looked at it," said Mr O'Regan, who was testifying for the State at Mr Bailey's civil action.

"After a while, he put it back. He said: 'I have a bow saw that's cutting crooked. Could I have the blade changed on it?'"

"I examined the blade and it seemed quite good. Nevertheless, I took out the blade and replaced it," Mr O'Regan told the court.

Mr Bailey returned later to collect the saw. "He picked up a bottle of bleach which he took to the counter. He paid for what he got and he left," said Mr O'Regan.

Tom Creed, Mr Bailey's senior counsel, wanted to know more about the blade.

"Yes, I did feel it was in very good shape," said Mr O'Regan.

But he still changed it? "The customer is always right," said Mr O'Regan.

It was so good it went back on the shelf, said Mr Creed.

The court erupted in laughter.

"It did go back on the shelf and it was sold," said Mr O'Regan.

More laughter. The State's barrister, Paul O'Higgins, rose to his feet. Had Mr O'Regan received any complaints about the re-sold blade?

"No complaints," said Mr O'Regan, smiling broadly.

It was a brief moment of levity in the tense atmosphere of the High Court where Mr Bailey's civil action against the State has been running for three months.

Mr Bailey (58) is suing the Garda Commissioner and the State for damages arising from the garda investigation into the murder of the French film producer. He was arrested twice and released without charge. The State denies the allegations, and contends that Mr Bailey's arrest was lawful and that there were reasonable grounds to suspect him.

A former freelance journalist, he moved to West Cork from England, and lived with his partner, Jules Thomas, outside Schull. He had been filing reports on the murder when he became a suspect.

The court has heard that the grounds for his arrest included scratches on his hands and arms - which he said he got from cutting Christmas trees and killing turkeys; his violent assaults on Jules Thomas; alleged admissions he made to people; and Marie Farrell's now discredited sighting of him close to Ms Toscan du Plantier's house hours before her body was found.

Ms Farrell, who had a shop in Schull, has previously told the court she saw a man in a long coat three times in the days before Ms du Plantier's body was found. Once outside her shop, once on the road the next day and at Cealfadda Bridge on the night of the murder, when she was with a male friend, unbeknownst to her husband.

She has claimed that gardai put pressure on her to identify the man in the long coat as Mr Bailey.

Last week, retired sergeant Frank Looney told how he called to Ms Farrell's shop on January 17 to fill in a questionnaire. She told him about a man in a long coat she had seen outside her shop and on the road the next day. While they were in the shop, Ms Farrell noticed a man pass outside and she said that was him. They followed him down to Brosnan's supermarket.

"She went in. She came out. Then the man came out. She said that's him. I said OK," said Mr Looney. She didn't name him, but Mr Looney said he knew the man to be Mr Bailey.

Ms Farrell previously told the court that Garda Kevin Kelleher had showed her a video of Mr Bailey in the garda's house. She claimed that he offered her inducements to say that this was the man she saw at the bridge.

A retired garda, Jim Slattery, was there for part of that meeting at Mr Kelleher's house on January 28. But he denied that she was asked to name Mr Bailey, and he said he didn't see any video. Under cross-examination, he said by the time he got to Mr Kelleher's house the television was switched on but was "paused".

Ted Murphy, a retired chief superintendent, described Marie Farrell as a "key witness" when he went to the District Court in 1998 to request a warrant to arrest Mr Bailey for a second time, the court heard.

Under cross-examination, he said he knew by then that she had lied to them about the identity of her male companion the night she was at Cealfadda Bridge, and that the DPP regarded her evidence as unreliable. But Mr Murphy said that she was still an important witness because there was still the possibility of getting the truth out of her.

Ms Farrell had previously told the court that gardai had quashed fines for her. On Friday, JP Twomey, a retired superintendent, testified that he was asked by a superior to delay enforcing fines for motoring offences against Ms Farrell because it was felt she was a "good witness".

Now retired, Martin Malone was a garda on duty at the crime scene on the day Ms du Plantier's body was found. He told the court Mr Bailey turned up there at 2.20pm. He felt Bailey was "acting" at being a reporter. He nominated Mr Bailey as a suspect four days later.

Mr Bailey filed some stories on the murder to the Sunday Tribune and to other newspapers.

Helen Callanan, who was deputy editor and news editor at the Tribune, told the court she was "flabbergasted" to learn he was a suspect.

She phoned to put this to him. She said he replied: "Who's saying that?"

According to Ms Callanan, he went on to say: "It was me. I did it. I killed her. I did it to resurrect my career."

"My reaction to it was quite clearly this was the single biggest fiasco I had encountered . . . that the reporter on the story was the suspect. It was inappropriate in so many ways," said Ms Callanan.

She treated it as a "confession" and told gardai.

Jim Duggan, Mr Bailey's junior counsel, questioned her, in a tense exchange.

"You're trying to blacken him," he said at one stage.

"I'm not trying to blacken him," she said.

The murder was shocking, said Mr Duggan, the whole country was talking about it, "yet here he was making full admissions to you". No one could take what he said as anything other than black humour, he contended.

"I am telling you I did not take it as black humour. I did not find it humorous and we were not having a conversation that was jocular," she said.

The case continues this week.

Sunday Independent

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