Saturday 20 January 2018

Garda: 'If I didn't arrest Bailey, I'd have failed victim'

Ian Bailey
Ian Bailey
Garda Culligan (background) and Garda Harrington
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

"You can't be serious . . . You can't do this to me."

Ian Bailey was in shock, according to Detective Garda Paul Culligan.

Mr Bailey had just been arrested on suspicion of murdering Sophie Toscan du Plantier by the detective who was sent down from Cork city to investigate the crime.

There were 54 suspects for the murder, the High Court was told last week, and Det Gda Culligan and his partner Detective Garda Denis Harrington - now both retired - had been detailed to look at Mr Bailey.

Six weeks after the French film producer's body was found beaten to death in the laneway of her holiday home near Schull, Co Cork on December 23, 1996, Mr Culligan told the court he "made up his own mind" to arrest Mr Bailey in connection with the murder.

The arrest happened in the studio near the house Mr Bailey shared with his long-term partner, Jules Thomas. It was the morning of February 10, 1997. Mr Culligan asked Mr Bailey if he wanted to clean himself up, to wash his face.

"He expressed a wish to see Jules Thomas and I granted it to him," he said.

The detectives drove Mr Thomas back to the main house to see her. Mr Bailey was handcuffed, which Mr Harrington said was normal procedure, but which he said he thought "unnecessary".

As they drove away, said Mr Culligan, "Jules put her hand in the window. 'Remember they have nothing on you . . . I love you and I'll say that in court.'"

Mr Bailey is suing the Garda Commissioner and the State for damages arising from the investigation into the murder of Ms Toscan Du Plantier. The State denies the allegations, and contends that Mr Bailey's arrest was lawful.

After 21 witnesses, testifying over almost 10 weeks, his legal team finished presenting his case to the jury last Wednesday.

Retired gardai Mr Culligan and Mr Harrington were the first witnesses to be called by the State, brought through their evidence by senior counsels Paul O'Higgins and Luan O'Braonain.

The detectives were sent from Cork city to join the murder investigation. They arrived on St Stephen's Day, three days after the victim's body was found.

Mr Harrington at first said Ms Du Plantier's body was still at the crime scene. "The body was dressed in a towel dressing gown. It would appear she had tried to get away from her assailant as best she could," he told Ronan Munro, counsel for Mr Bailey.

Her dressing gown was embroiled in briars. "She had actually tried to climb in through the briars," he said.

On reflection overnight, he said he was wrong, that her body wasn't there and that he must have seen photographs of the body. He had visited the scene, however.

He noticed the briars in the ditch where she was found, the court heard. They were big heavy briars, he said, with spikes "as thick as your finger, anyway". Mr Munro asked if he had sketched them. He hadn't.

"With hindsight do you not think it would have been a good idea," he asked. Mr Harrington agreed.

Mr Bailey's name was put forward by a local garda, in a note that was read to the court: "I nominate him as a good suspect from what I know about him."

Both detectives gave evidence about calling to Mr Bailey for the first time on December 31. Mr Harrington said he observed scratches on Mr Bailey's hands and asked how he had got them. With that, said Mr Harrington, Mr Bailey rolled up his sleeves and showed the scratches on both his arms.

Mr Bailey said he had been cutting Christmas trees, said Mr Harrington. "To me, they looked like briar cuts." Mr Harrington said he was "born and raised in the country", and had had "several altercations with briars" as a young man.

Mr Culligan said he asked Mr Bailey about his movements, took notes, and read them back to him. Mr Bailey agreed to provide palm and finger prints.

According to Mr Culligan and Mr Harrington, there were around four more meetings with Mr Bailey, with some of the meetings at the request of the journalist. Mr Bailey wanted to discuss the case in general and "the happenings" in France, according to Mr Harrington, and "how powerful Mr Du Plantier was." The detectives also brought Dermot Dwyer, a retired chief superintendent who was then superintendent, to see him.

Besides Mr Bailey, the court heard that Mr Culligan and his partner had "three or four" other suspects. One was arrested on suspicion of larceny.

"He was a man who came into the system because of suspicion that he was visiting people's houses particularly when they were at Mass . . ." Mr Culligan told the court. He was allegedly taking things such as gas cylinders and car batteries.

Mr Munro pressed the detective for more details. Local people were talking about him, said Mr Culligan. "If he was going around houses, he would have to be on the suspect list, wouldn't he?"

He told the court he spoke to the man, didn't find him particularly co-operative, and later arrested him. He was released without charge. Mr Culligan said he eliminated the man from his inquiries. He was "an old bachelor farmer living in poor circumstances," he said. "He wasn't a murder suspect, he was just a poor farmer who had taken stuff."

Mr Culligan told the court five reasons for arresting Mr Bailey for the murder: His accounts of his movements in the period of the murder were "not correct"; there were scratches on his arms; he had been seen at Cealfadda Bridge by the shopkeeper, Marie Farrell; he had been violent towards his partner, Jules Thomas; and he had told people not only that he had committed the murder but how he had done it.

Mr Munro pressed the detective on the steps they took to corroborate Mr Bailey's account. Mr Bailey said he got scratches while cutting down Christmas trees with Jules' daughter Saffron. Both detectives said they hadn't interviewed her but believed others had.

Why was a formal garda statement not taken from her until February 10, 1997 - the day of Ian Bailey's arrest, Mr Munro asked Mr Culligan.

"I don't know," he said, he wasn't dealing with Saffron Thomas.

Was it that he "didn't bother his barney" to question her before arresting Mr Bailey?

"I didn't get the job to interview her," Mr Culligan said.

Later he was asked, "was it a shortcoming in the investigation?" "It was probably an oversight," Mr Culligan answered.

Mr Munro suggested that he didn't have a "blind bit of interest" in anything that was going to corroborate Mr Bailey's innocence. "I'm a professional policeman. Of course I have an interest,"Mr Culligan replied.

"If I didn't arrest Ian Bailey, I would have been failing the victim, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, I would have been failing myself, I would have been failing the people of West Cork," he said.

The case continues in the High Court on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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