Monday 16 September 2019

After 20 years in the frame, where is the evidence against Ian Bailey?

The hunt for Sophie Toscan du Plantier's killer has long focused on one suspect, but little links him to the crime, writes Gene Kerrigan

Ian Bailey leaving court in Dublin last week. His biggest mistake may have been seeking refuge in black humour Photo: Collins Courts
Ian Bailey leaving court in Dublin last week. His biggest mistake may have been seeking refuge in black humour Photo: Collins Courts
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

To spare his blushes, we'll call the man Paddy Murphy, though that's not his name. On February 20, 1997, he and his partner and their three-year old son approached Kealfadda Bridge, in West Cork.

Paddy was playing detective.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier had been murdered almost two months earlier, on December 23, 1996. The killing left many in the region shocked, but the gardai believed they'd cracked the case.

Over Christmas and into the New Year, they increasingly focused on a 39-year old English man living locally, Ian Bailey, who worked as a freelance journalist. He had a history of domestic violence.

Gossip spread widely. There were leaks from the police. Soon, many took it as a fact that the gardai could prove he'd done it.

On February 10, 1997, Bailey was arrested for questioning about the murder. After denying that he had anything to do with the killing, he was released - but the police belief in his guilt remained strong.

Bailey, without hesitation, agreed to give samples of hair, blood and DNA. It suggested he had nothing to hide, and it indeed turned out there was no forensic link between Bailey and the murder. But that didn't affect the Garda view. They informed both the DPP and locals of their belief that Bailey would "kill again".

Word of the arrest was leaked, cementing the belief that the cops had their man.

It was 10 days after the arrest that Paddy Murphy and his family approached the bridge, to check out where the murderer was seen on the fatal night.

There appeared from a nearby field the last person on earth Paddy wanted to see: the infamous Ian Bailey himself - the murderer was approaching them.

Paddy and his partner seemed to be seized with blind panic. Paddy took the three-year old under one arm and they ran. They reached Toormore Beach and ran along a lane, out onto the roadway to Goleen.

The first car that came their way was driven by a woman. When she saw the child clutched under the man's arm, the adults screaming as they ran in front of her car, she thought the toddler must be ill.

She lowered the car window and the two adults screamed that the murderer Ian Bailey was up there by Kealfadda Bridge. The two, she thought, seemed in fear of their lives. She drove them to Goleen and rang the police.

Ian Bailey was nowhere near the place. It was a local farmer they'd seen.

The story of Paddy Murphy and his panic at the farmer he mistook for Bailey is significant. It shows the level of hysteria that pervaded West Cork in the weeks after the murder.

When someone comes to be seen as a murderer, their every word or action is examined in a new light. And people now saw significance in every remark of Bailey's they recalled, no matter how casual or sarcastic.

Under constant suspicion, sometimes confronted openly as a killer, aware of whispers everywhere he went, Bailey seems to have sought refuge in black humour. Big mistake.

Even today, 20 years on, there are people who can recite the evidence of Bailey's guilt like it's the lyric of a favourite song.

He denied getting up in the night, then admitted it.

The gardai tried to tie threads of fact into evidence that Bailey knew murder victim Sophie Toscan du Plantier, that he went to see her, that they had a row and he killed her
The gardai tried to tie threads of fact into evidence that Bailey knew murder victim Sophie Toscan du Plantier, that he went to see her, that they had a row and he killed her

He was seen at Kealfadda Bridge in the middle of the night.

His arms and hands were scratched, just as Sophie was scratched by the briars where she was murdered.

He'd been arrested for beating up his partner, Jules Thomas.

And, most damning of all, he repeatedly confessed to the murder.

And it's true he said he slept through the night. And he later said he got up to write a piece to meet a deadline.

It's evidence of nothing.

Ian Bailey was not seen at Kealfadda Bridge in the middle of the night.

A woman named Marie Farrell said that while driving she caught a glimpse of a figure, for a second, at dead of night, in the dark countryside near the bridge. She said she saw the same person in town another day (it's known he was elsewhere at that time). She later identified that person as Bailey.

The person she saw at Kealfadda she first described as 5'8" and thin. Bailey is at least six inches taller and stocky.

Later, after Garda questioning, Farrell adjusted the description to more closely match Bailey.

Later, she withdrew her evidence, claiming gardai improperly pushed her into supporting their case against Bailey. There was a Garda inquiry into this claim - years later its conclusions remain secret. The gardai involved are entitled to the presumption of innocence. But Farrell's evidence is worthless.

The wonder is that a description, gained from an alleged "glimpse", at dead of night, of someone who looked significantly different from the person fingered for the crime, an 'identification' by someone proven unreliable, was taken as evidence of anything.

Bailey was violent to Jules Thomas. Domestic violence is as reprehensible as any other, but it's a different crime. There is no evidence - and the police looked hard - of Bailey stalking or attacking a woman he didn't know.

Weren't Bailey's hands scratched?

Yes, it was Christmas and the day before the murder he killed three turkeys. He also cut a Christmas tree by climbing 20 feet up a tree with a bow saw and cutting off the top of the tree, and dragging it down to ground level. This was witnessed.

Such normal seasonal activities left light scratches on Bailey's hands and forearms.

They did not resemble the injuries that would be created by razor-sharp briars from where Sophie was found.

The Bailey that Marie Farrell - and the police - claimed was at Kealfadda Bridge wore a coat. How then would the briars make any marks on his arms? There was no damage to Bailey's clothes.

The 'confessions' he supposedly made? Here's two of them.

When a Dublin journalist told him she'd been warned he was the killer Bailey demanded to know who said that. When she refused to tell him he said of course he'd done it, to enhance his freelance career by selling stories on the murder to Dublin papers.

A DPP review of the evidence said this reeked of sarcasm, not truth. The Dublin journalist took it as a confession.

On February 4, in a period when daily rumours whirled around Bailey, he gave a 14-year-old boy a lift.

How's it going, Ian?

Oh, said Bailey, it was going well until I went up there and smashed her head in with a rock.

It was foolish of Bailey to use a bitter, sarcastic remark to a boy. However, the boy went home, mentioned getting the lift, didn't mention the remark. His mother said later he didn't seem upset by anything Bailey said.

Next day, gardai went to his school and spoke to the boy. He told them what Bailey said, they took it as evidence of murder and when the boy got home, his mother found he was now shaken by Bailey's supposed confession.

The police took a statement from the boy and arrested Bailey four days later - the same day the Dublin journalist gave a statement on Bailey's 'confession'.

The police tried to tie threads of fact into evidence that Bailey knew Sophie, that he went to see her, that they had a row and he killed her - but it was all 'what if'. The police never proved that Bailey ever met Sophie, much less killed her.

For 20 years, there have been persistent - and utterly failed - efforts to link Bailey to the killing. There was a stream of leaks to media. It became one of those things that 'everyone knows'.

A 2001 review, by the DPP's office, methodically shredded the supposed case against Bailey. The DPP wouldn't put him on trial because there was no case against him.

The Supreme Court rejected a French effort to extradite him for what Bailey terms - reasonably enough - a "show trial".

Last week, the High Court rejected an effort to get around the Supreme Court decision to refuse extradition. The High Court found that in seeking to export Bailey to France, the State was involved in an abuse of judicial process. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan claims he had no option but to seek enforcement of the warrant. Presumably, should the French lawyers get further extradition warrants, over and over, the State will repeatedly abuse process.

We know from the Fennelly Report that gardai discussed using indefensible behaviour, aimed at getting Bailey, then dropped the idea. There happened to be recordings of them. We don't know what other discussions there were, unrecorded, and what might have been done.

Two senior gardai tried to get a state solicitor to pressure the DPP to prosecute Bailey. One garda, aware that the state solicitor went to college with the then justice minister, John O'Donoghue, tried to use the connection to put pressure on the DPP. The lawyer refused.

Bailey's intimate diaries were examined, details leaked; every fact that could possibly discredit him was dug up and spread around. His life was destroyed. And after 20 years of intense focus on one man there remains a total - total - absence of hard evidence against him.

We believe in evidence or we believe in public hysteria and Garda gut feelings.

It's almost as though this stopped long ago being about Sophie; and became about proving right the original theory of the case.

Sunday Independent

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