Sinéad O’Connor joined a sozzled Ian Bailey over lunch to hear what he had to say about Sophie Toscan du Plantier and her killer
No lawyer I ever hired would put me in a witness box. If anyone knows about being the worst witness for one’s self, it’s me. Truly. So, I’m fascinated by other people who are terrible witnesses for themselves — and Ian Bailey wins a prize in that category. Perhaps he comes second to a drug-fuelled James Brown, interviewed on CNN after his televised police car chase across Georgia and South Carolina.
I’ve often wondered if Bailey’s not-exactly-man-of-the-year persona, coupled with his colossal selfishness and immeasurable arrogance, his daily habit of telling little lies and the point he’s nasty when drunk, has made it easy for him to be painted a murderer for the past 25 years.
He denies killing Sophie Toscan du Plantier and tweets about avoiding “Froggies” while in Bantry market. He gives an interview — clearly designed to disrespect his ex, Jules Thomas — about many “ladies with big bosoms” contacting him now he’s single.
It makes me wonder: does this geezer have an undiagnosed condition? Is he a metaphorical kamikaze of Trumpian proportions? Or, like Trump, is his behaviour just too stupid not to be clever?
I decide I’m going to West Cork to interview him — see if I can answer some of those questions for myself by spending time with him, just to get a sense of the man, the human being.
His number is on the internet, so I call him and we arrange to meet at the Perrin Inn, Glengarriff, one of the few places he says will host him. I drive down there on Monday to get prepared for our interview, which is arranged for the Wednesday.
By Tuesday night, I’ve been warned by someone at the inn that Bailey likes to talk a lot — and I’d better stay in control of the interview. I text him to say that if either of us goes off on tangents tomorrow, I’ll keep pulling us back to focus.
I want to see how he reacts to my expressed intention to be in control of the conversation. I hear nothing for over an hour. I sense he’s not pleased. Usually, he’s a quick texter-back.
Then he calls. Lets me know in no uncertain words, and tone, that he intends to be fully in control of the conversation and he will silence me if and when necessary.
His intimidating intent and demeanour during this call were chilling. My impression was that he’s an expert in the use of his voice as a weapon. Perhaps he should have been a singer.
But the elderly gentleman I meet at lunchtime on the terrace of the inn next day seems to be what teenagers might call “real”.
Human. Intelligent. Empathic. Soft-voiced. Thoughtful.
His kind, brown eyes even fill with tears at one point while recounting in his gentlest voice the tale of a loved one who was recently the subject of a violent assault.
In all the research I’ve done on Bailey, I’ve never seen him cry over anyone’s plight — not even his own.
He drinks profusely at lunch. Lager and Guinness. And with each drink and each question, the sweet old gentleman vanishes some more to be replaced by a brooding, angry giant whose eyes become a darker brown and are tormented.
During the meal, I tell him I don’t think he’s been a great witness for himself, and I ask him: How much does he actually care that people think he murdered Sophie?
He posted a tweet last month saying he prays “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” will come out. He also claimed he would welcome a new investigation. But most of the time his behaviour can make him come across as if he doesn’t care at all.
“No one thinks I killed her any more,” he tells me, “because of the [Jim] Sheridan documentary.”
When I ask him if he thinks he could do with some help when it comes to behaving believably, he angrily tells me he doesn’t feel any need to have his name cleared, despite his advancing years, nor to adapt his maladaptive behaviour, nor to focus on finding out who the real killer is.
I find all this astonishing, not least because if he didn’t do it, then Sophie’s family deserve that his innocence is proven, and because there could be a real killer out there who may have been facilitated in remaining active for 25 years by Bailey’s wrist-flicking lack of interest in proving his own innocence.
After lunch, we move to the back of the car park at the Perrin, where there’s an open and empty garage set up with a table and some chairs. With his full agreement, I record the interview on my iPhone.
I ask him to describe himself, and he says he’s “a human being with a heart full of love, but most of all I’m a poet”.
Q: “Were you always heterosexual or did you ever explore the other side?”
A: “I always liked girls and I didn’t have any inclination, as some young men do, to members of their own sex. Having said that, what I did find is that I did have advances from other men, males. I did my best to fend them off.”
He laughs at this and bangs the table. Then he says he has “always found it strange that a man would want to touch me in the way that I might want a lady to touch me”.
Q: “Do you like yourself?”
A: “Do I like myself? What a question to ask anybody. No comment.”
I press him, and he suggests he’s beginning to like himself more these days.
“With what’s going on at the moment and the lifting of a big, big, horrible, horrible dark thing, maybe little by little. Time will tell,” he says.
He has brought more beer, and guzzles it from plastic cup after plastic cup until he’s obviously sozzled. When I ask him if he has self-destructive tendencies, he laughs at the idea while filling his cup again with the kind of liquid he says causes him to “behave badly”.
I ask if he was the ideal suspect when the gardaí needed to find the killer, and he agrees. He suggests his misuse of alcohol was one of the things that led the arresting detectives to his door. “On a previous occasion, unfortunately under the influence of drink, I had a fight with Jules and hurt her.”
When I ask him what he thinks should happen to Sophie’s killer, he becomes angry. He doesn’t want to answer. I press him. He tells me that he teaches journalism and feels the need to let me know I’m not doing my job properly.
I’ve been mansplained to by the very best in my time, and he’s right up there. A journalist should never annoy their interviewee, he tells me, so never ask a question more than once.
I ask again: “What do you think should happen to whoever did this to Sophie?” He declines to answer, considers the question ridiculous.
Finally, after I ask for a third time, he says nothing should happen to the real murderer, “because I have forgiven them”. It’s as if he feels his forgiveness has absolved them. Nothing should be their punishment.
As Neil Young would say, that’s very innerestin’.
Gobsmacked, I go on to ask him what he would say to the real killer if they were sitting in front of him. Another ridiculous question, he thinks. He’s not going to answer it. When I push him, he repeats he has no need to say anything to them because he has forgiven them. “They are absolved.”
When I ask him how it was he changed his story like socks on the point of where he spent the night of the murder, he repeats his beloved mantra: “Do I need an alibi?” Surely the stupidest question ever asked.
I tell him yes, Ian, you do, because everyone thinks you killed someone. He says he doesn’t care.
He keeps repeating that Sophie’s murderer “is probably dead”. When I put it to him that the killer could be at large still, he finds the idea ridiculous and says there is “no point” looking for any killer now.
Looking into his eyes, I ask how he can be so sure there’s no point. He rises from his seat and his large frame towers over me. Hands on hips, he announces loudly: “You’d better stand down, lady.” He utters the word “lady” as if it were a term of abuse.
I inform him, calmly, that I’m no lady — and keep going with my questions.
He says he wants a break, but I decide I’m going to finish my questions while he’s out of his comfort zone — and then get out of Dodge.
I’m glad I packed my car the night before so I could get away quick if my questions made him lose control of his narrative. This is a man who is all about control.
Again, he’s being the very worst witness he could possibly be for himself, and he’s being foolish enough to let Sinéad O’Connor film him. Maybe he is actually just plain stupid? Or did he just not google me?
I ask if he would like to make an appeal in this interview for the real killer to come forward. He throws his eyes up to heaven. He doesn’t want to do it.
I tell him it could help him. He flicks his wrist again, looks away from the camera and reluctantly makes the appeal in that “OK, fine, are you happy now?” tone that misogynists use when they want to shut a woman up.
What would he say to Sophie, I ask, if he could say anything?
“Nothing,” he answers, again contemptuous of the question.
Nothing at all?
Then he looks at me and says, with sad eyes: “But I do pray for her.”
I have one last question. What knot did he use when killing one of the famous three turkeys — the one that scratched his hairline on the night before Sophie’s murder? He waves me away in anger. He’s not talking any more.
We have arranged to meet for dinner at eight, but I’m not sticking around, so I get in my car and bugger off home.
Once he realises I’ve fled, he calls The Star newspaper at 7.15pm, looking to take control of the narrative around our interview.
He makes the front page by falsely telling them he and I have merely been discussing the idea of him having his poems put to music, but he has met his match in terms of media prowess and that falsehood has now been corrected.
The following day, he tells another newspaper reporter that if anyone else had asked him the same annoying questions he would have upped and left the interview.
Maybe he should have. But, like I said, he doesn’t help himself.