Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ian Bailey trial: Former Garda Assistant Commissioner unaware calls were being recorded, he tells court

Ian Bailey arriving at the High Court. Photo: Courtpix
Ian Bailey arriving at the High Court. Photo: Courtpix

A former Garda Assistant Commissioner has told the High Court he did not know that phone calls to and from Bandon Garda Station, including calls concerning the investigation into the late 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, were being recorded in 1997.

Noel Smith, a retired Assistant Commissioner who was a Chief Supt in 1997 overseeing the du Plantier investigation in terms of allocation of resources, said, had he been asked, he would not personally have approved of the recording of people's private calls without their knowledge.

His attitude depended on the use to be made of the recorded material, he added. He did not regard the recording as something done "behind his back".

He would have liked to know that the recording was happening, he also said.

Mr Smith said he only learned on his retirement that calls to and from Bandon in 1997 were being recorded.  He also learned then that calls to and from other stations were routinely recorded, he said.

He did not know anything about a Garda mobile phone being given to a witness and would not have approved of that if it was done, he said.

He could and would not approve of drugs being given to a witness, Martin Graham, if that had happened, he said. If that was true and he found out about it, he would have taken action accordingly. The giving of cash and clothes to Mr Graham would also be "highly irregular", if that had happened, and he would not have approved of it.

The evidence from the relevant gardai on these matters had yet to be heard and there should be "no rush to judgment", he added. 

Mr Smith is giving evidence in the continuing action by Mr Bailey against the Garda Commissioner and State over the conduct of the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, whose body was found at Toormore, Schull, on the morning of December 23rd 1996.

The defendants deny all of Mr Bailey's claims, including of wrongful arrest and conspiracy.

Today, Mr Smith said he had not named Mr Bailey in interviews with journalists following Mr Bailey's arrest on February 10th 1997 in connection with the murder.

He had not given a "press conference" that night but had spoken to reporters outside the station after being asked by other gardai to do so in the hope the media would then go away.

It would be "outrageous" for gardai to tell reporters of Mr Bailey's arrest prior to that but he could not rule out gardai may have tipped off the media, he said.

He had confirmed to a RTE journalist on February 10th 1997 a "person" had been arrested under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984, he said.

The following day he saw his name and Mr Bailey's name in an article in The Sun newspaper in which he, Mr Smith, was named as the source of the information. He was very annoyed about this and contacted the journalist involved who accepted Mr Smith had not used Mr Bailey's name, had said the error arose in the newspaper's London office, and an apology and "retraction of sorts" was published.

He believed he gave two statements to the Garda McAndrew investigation into complaints by Mr Bailey concerning the conduct of the du Plantier investigation.

He said Marie Farrell had phoned him to say Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald was putting pressure on her to give a statement concerning who she was with on the night of December 22nd 1996. Ms Farrell had said she did not wish to make a statement and the person in question would deny even knowing her, he said.

From the tenor of her voice, she "did not seem under pressure to me," he said. He had mentioned it to Det Fitzgerald and told him to "go easy" on her but also asked him to continue pursuing the matter because it was very important to the investigation.

He told Tom Creed SC, for Mr Bailey, Chief Supt Sean Camon had a "major portfolio" and was in charge of the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and he and Det Sgt Ted Murphy both had a role in the du Plantier investigation. Det Supt Dermot Dwyer, based in Cork city, was seconded to the investigation and a senior investigating officer.

His own role in the du Plantier investigation was an overseeing one and to report to Garda HQ on its progress.

When Ms Farrell first rang gardai on January 11th 1997, she was calling herself Fiona, he said. He did not take that call but learned of it between January 11th and 20th 1997 and he went on Crimeline to appeal to Fiona to come forward with any information she had.

When counsel said the Garda who took that call did not make a statement about it until August 13th 1997, Mr Smith said would not see anything wrong with that as the caller was anonymous and he was sure the Garda who took the call would have told the investigation team about it. The making of the call had to be on file but he did not think the delay in making the statement made much difference.

He agreed he did not know for sure what actually happened relating to how the call from "Fiona" was dealt with.

He had no contact with Ms Farrell after March 19th 1997 but he did see her at Mr Bailey's libel actions in 2003. He was not aware if there was a statement from her when Mr Bailey was arrested.

Mr Creed said it appeared the recording of phone calls into and from Bandon Garda Station began in March 1997 when Mr Smith was a Chief Superintendent.

Mr Smith said he did not know anything about the recording of calls and when they began but it was possible they began then. He would not look at it as something being done behind his back, he had checked since with fellow officers and they also knew nothing of it.

He later found out this was being done in other stations and recording of calls was not unique to Bandon.

He was concerned about the level of publicity attaching to the du Plantier investigation and told reporters he did not like the "kind of lurid detail" being published. What he said did not make the "slightest bit of difference".

He believed the media had contacts within the gardai and "further afield" but did not know where the media was getting its information. He could not say whether certain information in the media came from within his division. Any Garda who knew about the arrest of Mr Bailey could have told another Garda anywhere in the country.

He did not know about an alleged close relationship between a particular Garda Supt and a particular journalist. Counsel said that alleged relationship was referred to in recordings of conversations in May and June 1997 between gardai in Bandon.

He kept his daily journals for a number of years and, after he retired, contacted Garda HQ concerning them but they had "no interest" in them. He kept one journal from 2000 as a "keepsake" and put into that torn out pages from his 1997 journal. The other journals were shredded.

The case continues.

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