Journalists ask AG for copies of the Bailey tapes amid defamation fears
A number of journalists who reported on the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier have written to the Attorney-General demanding transcripts of taped garda station phone calls amid fears their release to Ian Bailey could trigger future defamation proceedings.
More than 40 calls between detectives and journalists were taped in June and July 1997 at Bandon garda station in west Cork.
They form part of a total of 133 different tapes compiled at the station in relation to the probe into the murder of 39-year-old Ms Toscan du Plantier.
The 40 conversations involving journalists took place just months after Mr Bailey, 56, was arrested and questioned about the killing.
The Manchester-born journalist was released without charge after repeatedly protesting his innocence.
He has since claimed that attempts were made to frame him for the crime.
Mr Bailey was arrested for a second time in 1998 and once again released without charge.
The garda station tapes came to light as part of a High Court discovery order sought by Mr Bailey, who is now suing the State for wrongful arrest.
He has also lodged a complaint with the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) in relation to his treatment.
To date, Mr Bailey has only obtained partial transcripts of taped conversations involving gardai and two potential witnesses in the case, Marie Farrell and Martin Graham.
Mr Bailey has not obtained the bulk of the transcripts, which include garda to garda calls and conversations between officers and journalists.
The the 40 taped garda to journalist calls involve both Cork and Dublin-based reporters, all with national newspapers.
Four gardai successfully applied to the High Court last week for transcripts of conversations including them before they are released to Mr Bailey.
The gardai – retired Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald, Garda Michael Coughlan, Garda William Byrne and Supt Liam Hogan – secured a direction from Mr Justice John Hedigan that they should be allowed inspect the transcripts before their release.
The Sunday Independent has learned that a number of journalists are seeking similar directions from the High Court. One has already written to the Attorney General warning that no transcript of any conversation involving them is to be released without the journalist being allowed to inspect it.
The journalist told the Sunday Independent: "I don't remember exactly what I said last July let alone July 1997. I want to know what is in the transcript before it is released for obvious reasons."
Three other journalists are taking legal advice amid fears that the release of the transcripts could leave them open to potential defamation proceedings at a later date.
No defamation action can result from the transcripts being issued as part of court proceedings as they are protected by privilege.
However, defamation actions could follow if they are published or repeated outside of the court proceedings.
The potential for proceedings being triggered if the transcripts are released in full is expected to be brought before the High Court.
Journalists whose conversations are believed to have been taped were only notified last week of the State's proposal to release the transcripts.
A number of journalists are identified on the tapes.
However, at least two only gave first names and their identity has not been positively confirmed.
The names of those journalists whose calls are believed to have been taped at Bandon Garda Station have already been submitted to Mr Bailey and his legal team as part of the State's discovery schedule.
The High Court will discuss the transcript issue again on Wednesday with Mr Justice Hedigan already signalling that he had to consider issues of privacy in relation to the transcripts.
Mr Justice Hedigan acknowledged that a number of unusual issues were being raised by the case.
But Mr Bailey's legal team are concerned at the increasing potential for major delays in the case.
"[Mr Bailey is] becoming increasingly alarmed," Martin Giblin SC, for Mr Bailey, warned the High Court.
He said his client was concerned that the proceedings could become mired in paperwork and significantly delayed as a result.
Mr Bailey's solicitor, Frank Buttimer, said that potentially important Constitutional issues may yet arise as part of the proceedings.