An Englishman suing the Irish state for wrongful arrest in connection with the murder of a French film-maker was told he would be shot dead if he could not be framed, a court has heard.
Ian Bailey (aged 57) a former freelance journalist born in Manchester, was arrested twice over the killing of Sophie Toscan du Plantier outside her holiday home on a remote west Cork hillside on the morning of December 23, 1996.
The killer of the 39-year-old producer has never been found.
Mr Bailey was never prosecuted and almost 20 years since the murder, his lawsuit has begun in the High Court in Dublin for wrongful arrest and mistreatment by the Garda.
At the opening of the hugely anticipated case, his senior counsel Tom Creed claimed an officer made a death threat in the back of a Garda car minutes after the first arrest on February 10, 1997.
“He said: 'Even if we don’t pin this on you, you are finished in Ireland. You will be found dead in a ditch with a bullet in the back of the head',” the lawyer told the court.
A packed number three court in the Four Courts heard that by December 27 1996 - four days after the murder – certain gardaí had decided Mr Bailey was “the man” and set about “straight away, zoning in”.
Mr Creed explained: “Information was fed to the press on a constant basis so that everyone in the community felt under threat, everyone in the community was paranoid, everyone in the community was in fear.”
Mr Bailey’s name and photo was up in lights, the court heard.
The journalist, who moved to Ireland after becoming disillusioned with the media business in 1990, is suing for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery, trespass of the person, intentional infliction of emotional and psychological harm, harassment and intimidation, terrorising and oppressive behaviour and a breach of his constitutional rights.
The jury of eight men and four women were told the State denies all claims.
In his opening statement to the jury, Mr Bailey's barrister said the evidence in the case would be extraordinary and involve allegations of corruption, bogus and concocted suspicions and outrageous behaviour by investigating officers.
Among the claims Mr Creed set out is that the Garda tried to get the DPP’s office to take a prosecution by putting pressure on the State Solicitor for Cork to approach the Minister for Justice at the time, John O’Donoghue, who he went to college with.
The court heard the stress from the Garda investigation became so intense that Mr Bailey’s partner Jules Thomas wrote to DPP James Hamilton in 2011 asking him to put her partner on trial in order to clear his name – 15 years after the murder.
She had been arrested on the day Mr Bailey was first detained and told he had confessed to the killing, the court was told.
Mr Creed also said that it appeared that Mme du Plantier had fought ferociously against her killer in a frenzied attack.
Mr Bailey offered fingerprints and DNA samples from the outset of the investigations, the jury was told.
The jury was told there will be evidence that Mr Bailey’s movements were being tracked by specialist Garda monitoring as recently as two years ago.
Mr Bailey briefly took to the witness box to outline his background and how he ended up in Ireland, aged 34, after being raised from the age of nine in Gloucestershire and enjoying a relatively successful freelance career in the media throughout his 20s.
He said he was charmed by the area on a trip to interview a retired journalist in the late 1980s.
Mr Bailey moved to Ireland in 1991 and worked as a floor manager in a fish processing plant after initially settling in Kilmacthomas, Waterford, where he had been employed on a tillage farm keeping crows off barley.
The court heard his farm job was essentially “a walking scarecrow”.
Mr Bailey told the jury he separated from his first wife after four years of marriage in 1983 and met his current partner Ms Thomas, an artist from west Cork, when he was working in the fish factory.
Mr Bailey is suing the Garda Commissioner, Ireland’s Minister for Justice and the Attorney General.
Mr Creed said they bear responsibility for overseeing how the rule of law is implemented in Ireland and claimed the civil action was Mr Bailey’s only hope for vindication and the truth.
“This has been a blight on Mr Bailey’s life for the last 18 years. It is worse than a life sentence. If he had committed this offence and put his hands up to it and been convicted 18 years ago he would probably be living in the community now and have served his sentence,” Mr Creed said.
“He is living in a situation where he was targeted 18 years ago and he is living under a constant shadow.”
Among the many claims is that a key Garda witness Marie Farrell, a shopkeeper, was coerced into making statements putting Mr Bailey at Kealfadda bridge at 3am on the morning Mme du Plantier was found dead. She later retracted the statements.
Mr Bailey’s lawyer borrowed a well-worn phrase from Irish public life to describe the media frenzy around Mr Bailey’s first arrest – 'Gubu', grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented.
Mr Creed said his client was subjected to constant media reports including a suggestion by gardaí “that the suspect will kill again”.
He said: “Everyone knew who the suspect was. The suspect was up in lights. The same line was peddled by gardaí to the Director of Public Prosecutions – if you don’t prosecute he will kill again.”
The jury was told Mr Bailey’s life had been destroyed by the arrests and he was seeking compensation for 18 years of his life being blighted by the allegations.
“We are talking about deliberate behaviour, deliberate corrupt behaviour,” Mr Creed said.
The High Court hearing is expected to last at least six weeks.