Friday 13 December 2019

'Stinking lie had chilling effect' on Bailey's life

The former journalist suing over alleged wrongful arrest for the murder of Sophie Toscan de Plantier told the High Court of how he was treated as a pariah

Ian Bailey
Ian Bailey
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

ON a January night in 2004, "vigilantes" gathered in the darkness in the fields around Ian Bailey's home outside the West Cork village of Schull.

He was inside the cottage with his partner, Jules Thomas, an artist. "Eight men with torches were calling for me to come out. I was going to go out. Jules wouldn't let me. She said 'You stay here'. She went out and she got rid of them. She told them to go to hell," he said.

There were other incidents too, he said. Paint was sprayed on walls, a rat was dropped in the letter box. He went into a local shop to try to sell his courgettes and the proprietor screamed at him to "get out".

Ian Bailey recounted these stories in the High Court last week to show how he has lived "as a pariah" in his rural West Cork community because of the "stinking lie" that he was involved in the murder of French woman, Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Ms Du Plantier, a film producer, was found beaten to death in the driveway of her holiday home outside Schull on December 23, 1996. Mr Bailey claims he was wrongly arrested on suspicion of her murder. He is suing the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney-General for damages. The State denies all claims and says there was a lawful basis for his arrest.

Mr Bailey, who used to be a journalist and now holds a masters degree in law, told the High Court that he came to Ireland for "a different life".

He was born in Manchester, the son of a craft butcher and a secretary, one of two children, and "an avid reader from an early age. I would probably have read thousands of books," he said. He was inspired by All the President's Men, a book by the journalists who broke the Watergate scandal in the US. He started "a mini news agency" while still at school, filing reports on rugby matches and school plays. At 17, he was taken on by a local news agency. He eventually ended up working in Cheltenham, filing stories for various London papers. When he was 23 he married another journalist, but it ended after four years.

He moved to Ireland in 1990 because he was "becoming disillusioned". His first stop was Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford. "My job was to rise with dawn, take a shotgun out into the field to stop the crows landing on the barley," he said.

His lawyer, Martin Giblin SC, suggested he was a "walking scarecrow" and he agreed. He wrote poems about the crows. Reading and writing was always important to him, he told the court. He tried to write songs but "they kept coming out as poems". In 1991, he moved to Schull and got a job as foreman in the fish factory. As a boy, he'd had a Saturday job working on a fish stall, so it wasn't that unusual, he said. That's where he first met Jules Thomas. She came looking for fish. He fetched some. "I thought it was black sole, she maintained it was plaice."

Ian Bailey told the court how he prepared for Christmas on December 22, 1996. He said he cut the Christmas tree and got welts on his arms. He killed three turkeys, two to sell, explaining how he got a scratch on his forehead in the process. He explained that "his way" of killing turkeys was to hang the turkeys from a noose made with twine, cut the heads, and drain and gut them. He said that one claw escaped from the noose and scratched his forehead.

On December 23, a journalist called him at 1.40pm and told him about the suspicious death of a woman in the area. He said that was the first he knew of it. The journalist asked him to go make inquiries. So he drove off with Jules, who had a camera, and found the laneway with "Garda activity." Jules took some photos and they went home. Later a photographer called Mike Browne picked him up from the cottage and they both went to the crime scene. Mr Bailey spoke to gardai. In the pub that night, Mr Bailey said people seemed to know that the woman had been bashed to death with a rock. "Everyone seemed to know the details of it. I didn't know."

Along with others in the community, he and Jules gave samples of their hair and fingerprints to gardai. But he soon realised he was a suspect. In January, Detective Superintendent Dermot Dwyer called to his home. Mr Bailey offered him coffee and mince pies. Mr Dywer asked if Mr Bailey played poker. "And when I said that I didn't, he said: 'Well, you should'." He claimed the Superintendent told him he was going to place him at Kealfadda Bridge, near Toormore, in the early hours of December 23, 1996. Mr Bailey said nonsense. The officer replied: "We'll see."

Mr Bailey was arrested a month later, On February 10, 1997. He claimed the driver of the patrol car, Garda Liam Hogan, told him: "If we can't pin this on you, you're finished in Ireland. You'll be found dead in a ditch with a bullet in the back of your head."

It was the beginning of AN 18-year ordeal that led him to "contemplate suicide" and which, he said was "still going on".

He was arrested for a second time; his partner, Jules was arrested; he was accused of intimidating a witness, Marie Farrell, who later recanted her evidence; newspapers described him as the "self-confessed prime suspect"; he sued and lost all but two cases; the French began their own investigation culminating in an attempt to extradite him to France.

He said he learnt of the European Arrest Warrant from a journalist. "I got a phone call from a French journalist around 7.30pm who said: 'Mr Bailey, you are about to be arrested on a French arrest warrant. Merci beaucoup. Au revoir.'"

The gardai arrived "very late at night. I didn't know who was coming down the drive. The front door doesn't open... I sent them around the back". There was around six or seven of them, he said, one local and the others were from the Dublin "extradition unit".

He was put into a cell in Mountjoy Prison ahead of a court appearance in Dublin. "It wasn't fit for a dog, let alone a human being." He spent 27 minutes in this "open sewer".

"They brought me a sandwich and I couldn't eat it for the stink of urine and shit."

He told the guard the cell wasn't fit for an animal. "He said to me: 'This is one of our best'."

The High Court ordered that Mr Bailey was to be extradited to France, but that ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court months later on appeal.

But the effect on the couple was "chilling". Jules wrote to the DPP begging for Mr Bailey to be prosecuted so at least he could receive a fair trial and end their "mental torture".

Mr Bailey was not extradited to France. If he had, he said he "would probably be rotting in some French hole".

He told the court that he still cannot leave the country, because of the European Arrest Warrant. His mother died and he couldn't travel to see her or to attend her funeral. "I haven't mourned her properly. I think that was the cruellest abuse of this whole thing," he said.

Mr Bailey said he has "experienced a deep case of despair" as a result of what happened. He and Jules were "isolated, cut off. We lost friends. I was suspicious of anyone who was expressing some sympathy. I would be very wary. I became very distrustful". A rash on his neck was a "physical manifestation". "Every time something happened, it seemed to flare up."

His sleep was affected and he lost weight. "My dreams became haunted. I had a recurrent dream of being hunted. I felt I was being hunted like an animal," he said.

Asked by his lawyer why he was taking these legal proceedings, he said: "To clear my name, ultimately to try to knock out this dirty, rotten, stinking lie that has been perpetuated by An Garda Siochana."

The case continues before Mr Justice John Hedigan and a jury on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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