Friday 19 January 2018

Gardai, Bailey and mystery 'man in car'

Gardai accused of failing to follow up vital leads

Quizzed: Retired gardai Noel Smith (left) and Michael Kelleher (right) appeared in court
Quizzed: Retired gardai Noel Smith (left) and Michael Kelleher (right) appeared in court
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Was it a sleeveless coat, asked Tom Creed. "I don't remember that," replied Michael Kelleher, a retired garda.

Did anyone ever wonder how a person in a long black coat in sleeves could get briar marks on his arms?

"You could be wearing a long black coat at Cealfadda Bridge and no coat at the murder scene," said Mr Kelleher.

After a bit more questioning, he added: "I don't know what he wore at the scene."

"Course you don't," said Mr Creed.

It was day 39 of Ian Bailey's legal action against the State, and his barrister, Mr Creed, was questioning the evidence that led Mr Bailey to be regarded as the main suspect for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

The body of the French film producer was found in the laneway of her holiday home near Schull in West Cork on December 23, 1996. Her clothes were embedded with briars, the court has heard.

Mr Bailey had scratches on his hands and arms. He claimed he got them from cutting Christmas trees and killing turkeys but those marks were among the reasons he was arrested for the crime in February 1997.

Then there was the coat. A local shopkeeper, Marie Farrell, claimed she saw Mr Bailey in a long dark coat at Cealfadda Bridge, not far from Ms du Plantier's holiday home, on the night of the murder. She later retracted that evidence but at the time, her alleged sighting of him was another reason for his arrest, the court has heard.

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 and that there were reasonable grounds to suspect him. In the past two weeks several gardai have been called to testify to this, prompting some robust questioning from Mr Bailey's legal team.

Mr Kelleher was the garda inspector in charge of the incident room for the murder investigation, the court heard. He had also interviewed Mr Bailey for an hour-and-a-half after he was arrested but he denied Mr Bailey's claim that he shoved his crotch in his face during the interrogation.

Mr Creed cross-examined Mr Kelleher on various aspects of the investigation, from lack of identity parades to witness statements allegedly not followed up. According to Mr Creed, a local restaurant owner reported to gardai that he noticed a stranger on the road to Goleen on 21 December, two days before Ms du Plantier's body was found.

He was in his late twenties or thirties, and had short brown hair. He wore a long brown coat and had fair skin. "Why wasn't that followed up," Mr Creed asked Mr Kelleher.

"I can't remember if it was or not, I'm sure it was followed up," he replied.

Another witness reported seeing a woman who fitted Ms du Plantier's description come to his garage to buy petrol, Mr Creed said. This man said the woman and a male passenger drove into his premises in Skibbereen on the Friday before Christmas, in a Ford Fiesta, blue or grey.

He knew it was a hire car because the hubcaps were missing. She had "gold blonde hair", was in her thirties or forties, and was attractive. The man was tall and wore a jacket with the collar turned up. She said: "Full please" and the gentleman paid a "tenner" for the petrol. Was that followed up, Mr Creed asked.

It was "something to consider" Mr Kelleher said, but from conversations with the housekeeper and family members, there was no reason to think that Ms du Plantier was in company or travelling with anyone, he said, and it was never established that the car was hers.

Mr Creed suggested neither statement was followed up with "any great relish" because they did not accord with the theory that Mr Bailey was the man, which Mr Kelleher denied.

Noel Smith, a retired assistant commissioner, was chief superintendent in West Cork at the time of Ms du Plantier's murder. He agreed he did not have an active role in the investigation, more of an "overseeing" one. He attended garda conferences, at which he gave "a short pep talk" to the investigation team about the seriousness of the crime".

He said he did not get involved in the nitty gritty of the investigation. He had not been told, the court heard, for instance, that Ms Farrell had "lied through her teeth".

"You weren't regularly at conferences so you wouldn't be familiar with the nitty gritty, is that it?" "That's it," said Mr Smith.

Mr Creed read from a statement that Mr Smith gave in 2006 to an internal garda inquiry: "I took an active part in the investigation of this murder and chaired most of the murder conferences."

Mr Smith told the court: his "recollection now" was that he attended "many" not "most" conferences.

The case resumes on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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