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Bailey and the French connection

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Ian Bailey and Jules Thomas arrive at the Four Courts. Photo: Courtpix.

Ian Bailey and Jules Thomas arrive at the Four Courts. Photo: Courtpix.

Ian Bailey claimed he was given a black and tan shirt to wear

Ian Bailey claimed he was given a black and tan shirt to wear

Sophie Toscan Du Plantier and her husband Daniel

Sophie Toscan Du Plantier and her husband Daniel

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Ian Bailey and Jules Thomas arrive at the Four Courts. Photo: Courtpix.

AFTER Sophie Toscan du Plantier was murdered at her West Cork holiday home, Ian Bailey began filing stories to newspapers about the crime he was later arrested for.

The French film producer's murder was the "biggest story to hit Schull", the High Court was told last week. Her body was found, beaten to death, on the laneway of her remote cottage on December 23, 1996.

Mr Bailey went to the crime scene, after the Examiner newspaper rang and asked him to make inquiries. After spells working on a fish farm, on the dole and on a community employment scheme, he had returned to what he felt he did best - journalism.

"The story happened and I started to report it," he told the High Court during his lengthy cross-examination in week two of his legal action against the State.

Mr Bailey is suing the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General for damages for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and conspiracy. The State denies the claims and says that Mr Bailey was lawfully arrested.

Under questioning from Luan O'Braonain, SC, counsel for the State, Mr Bailey said he'd had a "growing feeling" that he was being considered a suspect. He first noticed it on December 26 or 27 when he went into the local Spar shop and noticed two gardai "scrutinising" him.

"When I look back in retrospect, I believe that was the moment Bart O'Leary, who I think described himself as 'Cracker', thought he'd found the killer," Mr Bailey said last week.

He didn't tell the newspapers he was filing to about this "growing feeling" he had. The news editor of the Sunday Tribune, Helen Callanan, heard the rumours and asked him.

Luan O'Braonain said Helen Callanan will testify about her phone call with Ian Bailey in which she said:

"It's been said that you did the murder."

To which Mr Bailey said words to the effect of: "Yes, of course I killed her to resurrect my career as a journalist."

Mr Bailey said this was subsequently referred to as "black humour" by the Director of Public Prosecutions. But Mr O'Braonain put it to him that it was still an admission of murder that gave rise to reasonable suspicion.

"It was obviously very foolish of me to have even gone there," said Ian Bailey.

Over four intense days last week, Luan O'Braonain cross- examined Ian Bailey in detail about the "reasonable suspicions" that led to his being arrested for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Another reason, Mr O'Braonain suggested, was the assault on his partner, Jules Thomas, the artist with whom he lived in the Prairie cottage outside Schull. It occured in May 1996, when he and Ms Thomas were driving home after a night out. They had both been drinking.

"We were in the car. She struck me"

"So you ascribe some blame to Ms Thomas then?"

"No", he said. "That's how it started."

Mr O'Braonain presented him with photographs, but he declined to describe what he saw, so Mr O'Braonain did: a closed right eye and a "substantial amount of hair" pulled out from her head.

"It was appalling", said Mr Bailey. He had told the court that it was "common knowledge that in the past, that when I drank spirits I was involved in domestic abuse," to his "eternal shame."

Mr O'Braonain questioned him on a second assault on Jules Thomas in 2001, when he hit her with a crutch. Mr Bailey said he'd pleaded guilty to it. It wasn't premeditated and it had been "spur of the moment". He had been asleep in the lounge, with his left leg in plaster, and she told him to find somewhere else to sleep.

Mr O'Braonain talked about the scratches on his arms. Mr Bailey had said he got them on December 22, the day before Ms Du Plantier's murder, cutting a Christmas tree and killing turkeys, and had described in detail how they had happened.

Mr O'Braonain said two witnesses had told gardai that they saw him playing the bodhran in a pub in Schull on December 22, and hadn't noticed any scratches on his arms. (However, Mr O'Braonain later clarified that one of the witnesses subsequently altered his statement after Mr Bailey was arrested, to say that he had noticed the scratches.) "They were mistaken," said Mr Bailey.

He had also given different accounts of his movements on December 21. Mr Bailey had said he'd gone home, but later clarified that he'd stayed with a friend.

Mr O'Braonain summed it up: "We have the scratches, we have the violence towards Jules, and now he have the different accounts given by you about your movements," he said. "These matters together give rise to a suspicion," he said.

"Yes," Mr Bailey replied.

"... a reasonable suspicion", Mr O'Braonain said, with which Mr Bailey disagreed.

Over several days, Mr O'Braonain questioned him about the stories he had filed to newspapers in the weeks after Ms Du Plantier's death, questioning their content, and how he had come by the information. Mr O'Braonain put it to him several times that he appeared to be pointing the finger of suspicion at France and away from Ireland.

The many articles he was cross examined about included one he co-wrote, which said that Daniel Du Plantier, Sophie's husband, had not travelled to Ireland to identify her body because he was too busy with business commitments.

Mr O'Braonain read it aloud for the jury. "Yes, that was shocking...," said Mr Bailey..." He's too busy, too many business commitments," he said, adding "it's very, very strange."

Mr O'Braonain asked was he suggesting that Daniel Du Plantier was somehow involved. He replied "draw your own conclusions".

"That sounds like smoke and mirrors," replied Mr O'Braonain, to which Ian Bailey said: "I'll talk to you about smoke and mirrors."

He claimed that Sophie was Daniel Du Plantier's third trophy wife, that she was leaving him and going to live in West Cork. She had had a fight with his mistress whom she met at her husband's Christmas party in France days before she came to Ireland.

Mr O'Braonain accused Ian Bailey of having an interest in writing about the French connection. "I believe to this day there is a French connection," said Mr Bailey.

The case resumes before a jury in the High Court on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent