Thursday 30 October 2014

Locked room filled with secrets, lies and hidden tapes

Maeve Sheehan looks at the case of Ian Bailey, the secret tapings and why they may prove so damaging for the gardai accused of fingering him as their prime suspect for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, at her west Cork holiday home 18 years ago

Published 06/04/2014 | 02:30

Jules Thomas and partner Ian Bailey. (Photo: Collins Court).
Jules Thomas and partner Ian Bailey. (Photo: Collins Court).
Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder...Undated handout photo of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, who was murdered in Ireland 14 years ago. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 24, 2010. Ian Bailey will appear at the High Court in Dublin today in connection with the death in west Cork of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 39. See PA story IRISH France. Photo credit should read: Handout/PA Wire ...A
Sophie Toscan du Plantier
MURDER SCENE: West Cork

IAN Bailey was a freelance journalist who had moved to Schull in west Cork from England and was living there with his partner, Jules Thomas, a painter, at the time Sophie Toscan du Plantier was murdered. Her body was discovered two days before Christmas, 200 yards from her house. She had been beaten with a concrete block, her body sustained 50 wounds and was scratched by briars.

Ian Bailey was one of the first reporters on the scene. Gardai claimed that he had inside knowledge that a French woman had been murdered before the facts, such as her nationality, were generally known. They accused him of being untruthful and evasive about whether he knew Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Bailey had scratches on his face and hands, which he said came from cutting a Christmas tree and killing turkeys, but which they said were caused by the briars that entangled her as she struggled against her killer. They attributed a sexual motive: he had gone to her house in the early hours of the morning, she rejected his advances so he killed her.

Gardai also believed his manner was incriminating. Several local people claimed that in the weeks and months afterwards, Ian Bailey had confessed to the murder at different times and gave interviews acknowledging he was the prime suspect, and was accused of enjoying the limelight.

NO. The evidence was circumstantial. No traces of hair, blood, skin or clothing fibres were identified from the crime scene. A bloodstain on Ms du Plantier's back door was never identified either.

NO witnesses to Sophie Toscan du Plantier's murder ever came forward. But gardai claimed to have found a key witness in a shopkeeper called Marie Farrell who put Ian Bailey close to the crime scene on the night of the murder.

She had been out driving with a former lover in the early hours of the morning and said she saw a man walking by in a long black coat. She made three anonymous calls to gardai using the alias Fiona, but detectives later tracked her down. She later claimed that she was pressured into identifying Ian Bailey in several garda statements.

Another witness, Martin Graham, a former soldier who lived in Schull, claimed he was offered cash and drugs by gardai to get information out of Ian Bailey. He didn't know Bailey well but claimed he was asked to get to know him. Gardai denied his claims, but later an internal review of the case found substance to them.

BRUNO Carbonnet was a former lover of Ms du Plantier's and had visited her in west Cork. He was interviewed by French authorities in the presence of gardai in January 1997. He was at an art auction in the south of France on the day that Sophie was murdered.

There were others suspects, based on local sightings of strangers in the area and at least one local man who was later arrested for theft. However, gardai made it clear that Ian Bailey was their prime suspect.

In correspondence with the Director of Public Prosecutions in February 1997, two months after Sophie's death, they wrote that it was "of the utmost importance that Bailey be charged immediately with this murder as there is every possibility that he will kill again". The report said the only way to prevent further attack or killing was to take Ian Bailey into custody on a charge of murder.

In February 1997 and again in 1998, Ian Bailey was arrested but released without charge.

THE Director of Public Prosecutions, who at that time was Eamon Barnes, found no evidence to warrant it. And concerns began to form about the garda investigation. After Ian Bailey was arrested for the second time in 1998, gardai asked Malachy Boohig, the state solicitor for Cork at the time, to come to a meeting at Bandon Garda Station. There, gardai urged him to persuade the DPP to charge Ian Bailey with murder.

One of them reminded him that as he had been at college with the Minister for Justice, he should use that connection to "see if something could be done". Malachy Boohig reported straight back to Eamon Barnes, who took it as "forewarning" that "pressure" might be brought to bear on him to prosecute Bailey.

NO. Eamon Barnes decided not to and he retired the following year. But in 2001, a senior official in his office, Robert Sheehan, wrote a 44-page critique of the garda investigation, demolishing the main planks of the circumstantial evidence.

It noted that Ian Bailey willingly volunteered a blood sample. which was "indicative" of his innocence. It questioned the credibility of witnesses, such as Marie Farrell, long before she admitted that her evidence was untruthful.

It attributed his confessions to "black humour". For instance, Yvonne Ungerer told gardai that when she asked Ian Bailey why he had been arrested, he said some witnesses had come forward who had seen him down by the water. She asked what was he doing down there. He said: "Oh, I suppose I was washing the blood off my clothes." She felt he'd said it in a half-joking way. It wasn't necessarily an admission, but a "sarcastic retort".

The critique said Jules Thomas had been unlawfully arrested and noted that gardai were spreading hysteria about the murder. Once Ian Bailey was believed locally to have been responsible, "the fear engendered was bound to create a climate in which witnesses became suggestible".

YES. Austin McNally, a chief superintendent, and another senior garda were sent to west Cork with a team of detectives to review the case. His report was never published. But it is understood to have highlighted similar concerns as the DPP, about the reliability of certain witnesses such as Marie Farrell.

His report also highlighted unexplained loose ends, such as a bottle of expensive French wine that was found in a ditch close to Sophie Toscan du Plantier's house months after her murder. The bottle was unopened but had lain in the ditch for some time.

Detectives found that no local off-licences stocked it, but it was for sale in airport duty free shops for around £60 to £70. But the significance or otherwise of this expensive bottle of wine was never established.

THE DPP's critique and the concerns in that office over the garda investigation were not disclosed at the libel action. Newspapers defended the articles, relying largely on the witnesses in the garda investigation.

Marie Farrell gave what the judge called a compelling account of harassment and intimidation after reporting that she saw him on the night of Sophie du Plantier's murder. Other witnesses recounted Bailey's alleged confessions.

The court heard how he had freely given interviews in which he had admitted he was the chief suspect and there was graphic evidence about a string of violent assaults on his partner, Jules Thomas. He lost six of the eight libel actions.

IN 2005, Marie Farrell retracted her evidence against Ian Bailey. She claimed she confessed after gardai told her that she would testify again in another civil action, this time in a case taken by Sophie Toscan du Plantier's family against Ian Bailey.

She later said she couldn't go through with lying in court again. She contacted Ian Bailey's solicitor, Frank Buttimer, and told him she had made false statements incriminating Ian Bailey under duress from gardai.

MS Farrell said that she did see someone in a long coat at 3am around the time of Sophie Toscan du Plantier's murder, but that gardai put her under pressure to say identify this person as Ian Bailey. In an interview three years ago, she said she "panicked" because her husband didn't know whom she was out with that night.

"I just thought the guards know what they're talking about, there's no way they'd say it was Ian Bailey if it wasn't. And I just thought, I'll do what they're saying and that's the end of it for me."

She claims she made numerous false statements over the years afterwards, claiming that Ian Bailey had been harassing her, but that none of it was true.

GARDAI set up an internal review headed by Ray McAndrew, an assistant commissioner. Marie Farrell told the review team that she had made up her evidence. Martin Graham was also interviewed about his claims that he was offered hash and cash in return for getting incriminating evidence out of Bailey. Other witnesses were also interviewed, as were members of the garda investigation team.

A report was submitted to the Garda Commissioner, who forwarded it to the Director of Public Prosecutions. No prosecutions followed, even though Marie Farrell had admitted to perjury. McAndrews' findings were never made public.

HE and Jules Thomas started a legal action against the gardai for wrongful arrest, armed with Marie Farrell's retraction of her evidence. But Bailey found himself under scrutiny from the French authorities, who – in frustration at the lack of progress in Ireland –launched their own investigation into du Plantier's murder. They were assisted by the gardai, who handed over the file on du Plantier's murder in December 2008.

In April 2010, the French authorities issued an arrest warrant for Ian Bailey and sought his extradition. In March 2011, the High Court ruled that he should be extradited to France. At this stage, Eamon Barnes, who had long since retired as Director of Public Prosecutions, decided it was time to intervene "as a matter of ordinary justice", as he put it.

While Ian Bailey appealed his extradition to the Supreme Court, Barnes sent an email to his old colleagues, informing them of his view that the garda investigation into du Plantier's murder was "thoroughly flawed and prejudiced" and disclosed the "grossly improper" attempt by gardai to bring political pressure to bear on him to prosecute Bailey.

YES. Days before his Supreme Court appeal was to be heard, the Chief State Solicitor sent copies of Barnes' email, corroborating memos from Boohig and the highly critical review of evidence from 2001 to Ian Bailey's lawyers "in the interests of natural justice".

The Supreme Court overturned his extradition on points of law rather than on the quality of the garda investigation. But the Supreme Court judges gravely noted the gardai's alleged attempt to influence the DPP.

Armed with the new information, Ian Bailey's legal team returned to the High Court, looking for discovery of anything else lurking in state offices relevant to the civil actions for wrongful arrest.

LAST autumn, a garda was dispatched from headquarters to Bandon to search for material relevant to Ian Bailey's case. He found a locked room, in which were hundreds of boxes of tapes, logged and documented. Many of them were marked Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation. The garda secured the room and reported back to Garda Headquarters.

The tapes were old and decrepit, and dated back to the late Nineties and required specialist recording equipment and time to transcribe. Last November, the High Court extended the deadline for releasing them to Ian Bailey's lawyers to March 25.

The discovery was regarded as so important that the then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, informed Maire Whelan, the Attorney General, and asked for legal advice on whether they should be disclosed. He also set up a "working group" to examine how widespread was the taping practice in garda stations.

ON February 28, when transcripts of the Ian Bailey tapes were circulated to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell and other officials. The content of the tapes were discussed at two meetings, on March 10 and March 11.

The commissioner also disclosed that secret telephone recordings were widespread, and disclosed an inventory of 4,485 tapes from 23 garda stations. The Garda Commissioner notified the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, in a letter about these issues on March 10 but he didn't read it until two weeks later.

GARDAI discussing the murder investigation with each other, with journalists and with witnesses, throughout 1997 and 1998.

The first tranche were released two weeks ago and include recorded conversations with Marie Farrell and gardai in 1997, and eight conversations that the gardai are understood to have knowingly recorded with Martin Graham.

Last Monday, Ian Bailey's legal team received an index of the recordings made by Chief Superintendent Thomas Hayes, of Bandon. The document disclosed there are 133 tapes that are still being transcribed; 18 are of conversations between Detective Garda Jim Fitzgerald and Martin Graham; 36 are of conversations between Detective Garda Jim Fitzgerald and Marie Farrell; 37 are of gardai in Bandon discussing the case internally, including one conference call with senior officers in Dublin; and 42 are recordings of calls from journalists to Bandon Garda Station.

According to Brian Purcell, the content is "explosive" while the Garda Commissioner alluded to the implications they will have for the State, which is challenging Ian Bailey's case that he and his partner, Jules Thomas, were wrongfully arrested for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Sunday Independent

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