WORDS: Michael Clifford
On 23 December 1996 the body of Sophie Toscan du Plantier was found about 200 yards from her holiday home in Schull, west Cork. She had been battered to death. The scene suggested that she had been running for her life from her home when the assailant attacked her in the most brutal manner.
Ian Bailey, an English journalist who had been living locally since 1991, was one of the first to report on the discovery. Pretty soon, he came under suspicion himself.
Since then Mr Bailey’s name has been inextricably linked to Ms du Plantier’s through a series of reports, inquiries and investigations. That has culminated with the forthcoming murder trial in Paris.
Bailey has always proclaimed his innocence. He has initiated a number of actions based on his entitlement to the presumption of innocence. Ms du Plantier’s family have been central to the campaign in France to bring Mr Bailey to trial. The French justice system is now doing so under an ancient law which allows for the prosecution of anyone in relation to the death of a French citizen.
No charges were ever brought against Ian Bailey in this jurisdiction in relation to Ms du Plantier’s death. Now the French are putting him on trial. Absolutely nothing has emerged to even suggest that the French prosecutorial authorities have uncovered more evidence than the gardai.
Sophie Toscan du Plantier with her son Pierre. Reproduced with kind permission of du Plantier family
The evidence gathered by the gardai against Ian Bailey was entirely circumstantial. He had cuts and bruises on his hands. He would say these were from killing turkeys for Christmas. He made admissions to some local people. The admissions were subsequently characterised as being sarcastic or attempts at dark humour.
Yet the gardai felt they had their man. They ascribed a sexual motive to the murder. Bailey had, they believed, gone to her house on the night in question looking for sex. When she rejected his advances, he killed her in a brutal manner. The problem for the gardai was finding evidence to flesh out the theory.
There were no witnesses. There was no forensic evidence. Bailey had an alibi. The guards drove on.
Crucially, a witness came forward. Marie Farrell initially made an anonymous call on 11 January 1997 but the gardai traced her. She gave a description of a man she claimed to have seen on the night in question at a bridge near the Du Plantier home. The description fitted Bailey, or so it seemed.
He was arrested in February 1997. That same month gardai wrote to the DPP that it was “of the utmost importance that Bailey be charged immediately with this murder as there is every possibility he will kill again.”
The DPP ruled that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to press charges. Bailey was arrested again in 1998. The DPP’s decision remained the same.
In the twenty-plus years since the initial garda investigation little new has emerged to further a case that Ian Bailey could be in any way responsible for the murder of Sophie. If anything subsequent events would further damage the garda presumption that they knew who the murderer was.
In 2001, an official in the DPP’s office compiled an excoriating analysis of the garda investigation. Robert Sheehan found that there was no case to prosecute Bailey and went further in some instances, pointing to his likely innocence.
He mentioned Bailey’s co-operation with the investigation.
“If Bailey had murdered Sophie, he would have known that there was a definite possibility of forensic evidence such as blood, fibres, hair or skin tissue being discovered at the scene. His voluntary provision of fingerprints and a specimen of his blood is objectively indicative of innocence,” Sheehan wrote.
The analysis attributed his “confessions” to “black humour”. It stated that the arrest of Bailey’s partner Jules Thomas was in all likelihood illegal.
In a prescient observation the official also questioned the reliability of Marie Farrell as a witness.
The critique was not published and would remain within the DPP’s office for nearly a decade. When it was completed it was sent to senior gardai. They in turn responded with a 33 page rebuttal of Mr Sheehan’s analysis.
In 2002, Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne appointed chief superintendent Austin McNally to review the original investigation. His report was never published but was believed to be critical of some aspects of the investigation.
Following the review a file was again submitted to the DPP. Again, the DPP ruled there was no enough evidence for a prosecution against Bailey.
In December 2003, Bailey started a libel action at Cork Circuit Court against eight newspapers. The trial heard evidence of serious violence perpetrated by Bailey against Jules Thomas.
“What kind of a person would hit a defenceless woman,” counsel for the newspapers, Paul Gallagher, asked Bailey.
“It was in the heat of the moment,” the witness replied.
“Does that mean you are a person who loses control? Are there any other occasions in life when you lost control and hurt someone like this?”
Bailey replied that he had hurt Ms Thomas on another occasion.
Marie Farrell gave evidence at the trial. A plain clothes garda accompanied her in the courthouse.
The judge ruled in Bailey’s favour in two of the eight actions. In his ruling, Judge Patrick Moran referred to an interview Bailey had given to RTE following his first arrest.
It appeared, the judge said, “that Mr Bailey is a man who likes a certain amount of notoriety, that he likes perhaps to be in the limelight, that he likes a bit of self publicity.”
Following the completion of the trial the DPP once again reviewed the file on Ian Bailey. Once again the DPP came to the conclusion that there was no case to prosecute him for murder.
An appeal of the libel action in 2007 was settled after three days hearing. The newspapers involved stated that they never intended to suggest that Bailey was responsible for the murder.
In 2005, Marie Farrell wrote to Bailey’s solicitor Frank Buttimer, claiming she had been coerced by the gardai into making false statements. Her statements had been a central plank to the garda case against Bailey.
As seen above that case was considered by the DPP to be fatally flawed.
Now the main witness was declaring that she had provided false statements under alleged duress. She had also given evidence in a libel trial in which she had expanded on these statements. Her change of heart retrospectively rendered her evidence in the libel trial as false.
The DPP analysis in 2001 had cast doubt on her reliability. This admission on her part effectively torpedoed any credibility she may have had as a witness.
Frank Buttimer contacted the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell with this information. As a result Assistant Commissioner Ray McAndrew was appointed to carry out a review of the garda investigation. The McAndrew team interviewed 90 witnesses including fifty serving or retired gardai. The review has never been published.
Among the issues examined by McAndrew was allegations that the gardai had provided drugs to one individual who knew Bailey, in order to induce him to get the suspect to confess.
Following its completion in 2008, a file was sent to the DPP, this time about the garda handling of the investigation rather than the murder itself. The DPP recommended no prosecution. Soon after that the garda commissioner directed that the file on the murder be made available to the French authorities.
Bailey, on foot of Marie Farrell’s volte face, launched a civil action against the state for wrongful arrest.
Meanwhile, in France, the family of Sophie Toscan du Plantier were increasingly frustrated at the failure to hold anybody to account for the death of their loved one. They formed a group and lobbied for French intervention.
In 2008, Judge Patrick Gachon was appointed to examine the case. He ordered the exhumation of her body for further tests. He used the garda file on the case as a roadmap for his investigation.
The following year two gardai who had been involved in the initial investigation travelled to Paris to be interview by the judge. As a result of his investigation the judge applies for the extradition of Bailey under a European Arrest Warrant.
On 24 April 2010 Bailey was arrested at his home in Schull for the third time in connection with the murder. He was held overnight and released on bail. The process of having him extradited to France was underway.
In this, the government supported the French application. Such a move may, on one hand, be expected of a fellow EU state. However, this state also had an interest in being shot of Bailey. If he were to depart to France there was a high likelihood he wouldn’t be back. In such an instance, his civil action against the state would die.
On 18 March 2011, the High Court approved Bailey’s extradition but allowed leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. Later that year, a team of French detectives arrived in the country to carry out further investigations. They interviewed thirty people, including Marie Farrell, and were assisted at every turn by An Garda Siochana.
Then, an old file resurfaced. The long retired DPP Eamon Barnes made his former office aware of the analysis that had been conducted into the garda investigation in 1991. Reportedly, he felt this should be included in any appeal to the Supreme Court on the matter of Bailey’s extradition.
As it was to turn out, the Supreme Court ruled in Bailey’s favour on points of law. Once again, it looked as if the pursuit of the Englishman had run into a brick wall.
In his ruling, the late Judge Adrian Hardiman touched on some of the background to the case.
“Mr Bailey has been very thoroughly investigated in Ireland in connection with the death of Madame du Plantier. There was certainly, as will be seen, no lack of enthusiasm to prosecute him if the facts suggested that there was evidence against him.
“He has been subjected to arrest and detention for the purpose of questioning. He has voluntarily provided, at the request of the gardaí, forensic samples which have failed to yield incriminating evidence. The fruit of the investigation have been considered not once, but several times by the DPP who has concluded and reiterated that there is no evidence to warrant a prosecution against him.”
The outcome of the failed French attempt to extradite him was that Bailey was effectively confined to these shores. Travel to any other country that had an extradition arrangement with France would incur the danger of not returning home. In 2013 his mother in the UK became ill and was close to death for a period of weeks. He was unable to attend at her bedside or to travel to the subsequent funeral.
In 2016, the French issued another European Arrest Warrant. This time they said they wanted their man for “voluntary homicide”. Once again, the application was supported by the Irish government.
High Court judge Tony Hunt refused the request to extradite. He dismissed the application for a number of reasons, including “abuse of process”.
He also ruled that the underlying theme of the application was that there was “a conviction that the majority of the Supreme Court were in error” in ruling on the previous application.
A few years previously, in late 2013, the state solicitor’s office made a startling discovery. In the process of providing information for the forthcoming High Court action by Bailey, secret recordings were discovered in Bandon garda station.
Dominos began to fall. It turned out that there were dozens of stations around the country that had made secret recordings of telephone conversations going back decades. By late March 2014, this information came to the attorney general and the Taoiseach.
At the same time, the Maurice McCabe case was rocking both garda management and the government. Now this. The outcome was the resignation of the garda commissioner Martin Callinan. Retired judge Niall Fennelly was appointed to chair a tribunal into the recordings.
The recording from Bandon were subsequently played during the High Court action but didn’t yield any bombshells.
On 4 November 2014 Ian Bailey’s High Court action against the state opened. It was expected to run for six weeks.
The hearing was in front on a jury. The option had been open to Bailey to opt for a judge only. A decade earlier, he had brought his libel action to the Circuit Court in front of a judge only, where the limit to any award was €38,000. If he had brought that action to the High Court, and won, he could have received damages of many multiples of what was available in the Circuit court. But back then little had emerged about the garda investigation. The DPP analysis was not known publicly. Marie Farrell’s credibility as a witness was not questioned.
Now all had changed. Now, Bailey quite obviously hoped that public sympathy in some quarters for his case might be reflected in a jury room.
The six week schedule turned out to be very wide of the mark. The hearing ran for 64 days over five months – one of the longest in the history of the state – and involving 90 witness.
On 30 March 2015 the jury delivered its verdict. It found against Bailey on the two conspiracy allegations they were asked to consider – whether gardai had conspired to implicate him in the murder of Ms Du Plantier and whether there was a garda conspiracy to obtain false statements from Marie Farrell.
The jury was not asked to consider any wrongful arrest because it had taken place outside a specified legal period.
A report into complaints about garda conduct made to GSOC by Ian Bailey, Jules Thomas and Marie Farrell was published on 2 August 2018.
GSOC found that the gardai had “a reasonable belief” when arresting Bailey and Thomas in 1997 that they may have been suspects in the killing.
“There is no evidence to suggest that Ian Bailey was ‘framed’ for the murder or that evidence was falsified, forged or fabricated by members of the Garda Siochana,” the report stated.
It found no evidence to support Marie Farrell’s claim that she had been intimidated into making false statements about Bailey.
There was no definitive outcome into Jules Thomas complaint because of the failure of a number of gardai or former gardai to co-operate.
Apart from that GSOC found some disturbing elements to the garda investigation. A catalogue of items of evidence, including 139 original witness statements had gone missing or could not be located.
Among the items missing was a blood splattered gate.
Speaking on RTE at the time, Frank Buttimer said, “one might wonder how does one lose a gate.”
In the round the report made disturbing reading from the point of view of a garda investigation into a high profile murder. But it did not uphold any specific complaint of garda wrongdoing.
Next week the most serious judicial investigation into Ms Du Plantier’s death takes place in Paris. Ian Bailey will not be present for his trial. All the indications are that the case will conclude next Friday with a verdict. After 23 years, a raft of inquiries, and many turns on the road, the murder trial will be down and dusted within five days.
English journalist, Ian Bailey, relocates to Ireland, lives in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford for a short time before moving to West Cork.
He later sets up home in Liscaha, Toormore near Schull with Welsh artist, Jules Thomas, and her three daughters.
Paris-based French film producer, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, buys a holiday home near Toormore between Schull and Goleen.
December 20: Ms Toscan du Plantier flies into Cork Airport from Paris for a brief holiday alone in West Cork. She is due to fly back to Paris three days later.
December 23: Her battered body is found around 10.30am by a neighbour, at the entrance to a laneway leading to her holiday home. Gardaí launch a murder investigation.
January 11: From a public phone box in Cork city, Marie Farrell uses the alias ‘Fiona’ and phones Bandon Garda Station. She says she saw a man by Kealfadda Bridge around 3am on the night of the murder.
January 20: Gardaí issue an appeal on Crimeline asking ‘Fiona’ to contact them.
January 21: From a phone box in Leap, Ms Farrell uses the alias ‘Fiona’ to again phone Bandon Garda Station.
January 24: She phones gardaí again using the same alias - the call is traced to the Farrell home in Schull.
February 4: Schoolboy, Malachi Reid gives a statement to gardaí that when giving him a lift home, Ian Bailey told him that he killed Ms Toscan du Plantier, saying that he “went up there with a rock and bashed her fucking brains out”.
February 10: Mr Bailey is arrested at home in connection with the murder. Ms Thomas is also arrested for questioning. Both are later released without charge.
April 17: A preliminary inquest into Ms du Plantier’s death is told she died from multiple injuries, including a fracture of the skull, caused by a blunt instrument.
September 29: A 2,000-page garda murder file is sent to the DPP but after queries from the DPP’s office in October, no charges are brought.
December 18: Justice Minister John O’Donoghue denies claims in the Dáil that requests by Ms du Plantier’s family for information on the murder file have been ignored.
January 27: Mr Bailey is arrested and questioned again, and released without charge.
March 9: State Solicitor for West Cork Malachy Boohig says he was approached by Det Chief Supt Sean Camon who asked him to press a Justice Minister to get the DPP to charge Mr Bailey.
July 7: Daniel Toscan du Plantier visits West Cork for the first time since the murder and is briefed by gardai in Bandon for two hours. He said: “There is an incredible difference in law between Irish law and French law - Irish law offers more protection to individuals. But when you are on the side of the victim it is more difficult to accept but obviously I accept Irish law.”
September 22: Ms Thomas is arrested a second time, and one of her daughters is also arrested. Both are released without charge.
August 18: Mr Bailey assaults Ms Thomas at their home. He later gets a three-month suspended sentence, and admits it was his third time assaulting her.
November: In a scathing report, Robert Sheehan, a solicitor in the DPP’s office, criticises the garda investigation of the case, and says the evidence does not warrant a prosecution.
January: The analysis prompts a garda review of the investigation. The review is carried out by Chief Supt Austin McNally.
December 19: Ms du Plantier’s parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol and her son, Pierre Louis Baudey, launch a civil action against Mr Bailey for her wrongful death.
March: In the wake of the McNally review, a new file on the case is submitted to the DPP James Hamilton who directs no prosecution.
December: Mr Bailey begins a libel action against eight newspapers, losing six cases and winning two.
March: It emerges that Ms Farrell has lied in a complaint to gardaí about Mr Bailey threatening her in Schull. Mr Bailey’s solicitor, Frank Buttimer, says his client was actually in his office at a time of the alleged threat.
April: Ms Farrell withdraws her statement placing Mr Bailey near the scene of the murder and says she was coerced into making the statement. This triggers another garda review into the investigation. It is led by Assistant Commissioner Ray McAndrew which was not published.
April: The civil action brought by Ms du Plantier’s family against Mr Bailey is withdrawn.
May 1: Mr Bailey launches a High Court action against the Justice Minister and the Garda Commissioner for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
November: Ms du Plantier’s family and friends launch The Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH) to campaign for justice for her.
June: As part of a French investigation into the murder, a French magistrate orders the exhumation of Ms du Plantier’s body.
July: Following the completion of the McAndrew Inquiry, the DPP recommends no prosecution. The garda file on the case is made available to the French authorities.
June: French Judges Patrick Gachon and Nathalie Dutartre visit the murder scene and meet gardaí who investigated the case.
February 19: Judge Gachon issues a European arrest warrant for Mr Bailey.
April 23: Mr Bailey is arrested at home and brought before the High Court, where he is granted bail pending a hearing of the extradition case.
December: Mr Bailey graduates from UCC with a law degree.
March 18: The High Court orders Mr Bailey’s surrender to the French authorities on foot of the arrest warrant, but grants him leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. He appeals.
October: A team of French police investigators and forensic experts visit Ireland, and interview up to 30 witnesses.
March 1: The Supreme Court rules in Mr Bailey’s favour, blocking any extradition. He subsequently makes a formal complaint to GSOC.
Sept: Lawyers for the Bouniols lodge a formal complaint against Ireland at the European Commission over the decision not to extradite Mr Bailey to France.
October: The Bouniols’s lawyers, Alain Spilliaert and ASSOPH’s lawyer in Ireland, James MacGuill, write to the Garda Commissioner Martin Callanan seeking a cold case review. Meanwhile, Mr Bailey complains that his phone has been illegally tapped for the past 16 years and Judge Carroll Moran is appointed to investigate.
May 10: The High Court orders the State to hand over documents to Mr Bailey in his civil action for damages.
April: It emerges that phone calls at Bandon Garda Station were recorded, and the Government says this will form part of the Fennelly inquiry.
October: The High Court orders GSOC to share material it has gathered during its investigation into Mr Bailey’s complaints against gardaí.
November 4: Mr Bailey’s High Court action for damages against the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner begins. It is expected to take six weeks. It runs for five months - hearing evidence from more than 90 witnesses over 64 days.
March 30: Mr Bailey loses the civil action. The jury finds against him on the two garda conspiracy charges they were asked to consider - whether gardaí conspired to implicate him in the murder of Ms du Plantier, and whether there was a garda conspiracy to obtain false statements from Marie Farrell. The jury was not asked to consider any wrongful arrest issue, because it was not taken within a specified legal period
July 27: French judge Nathalie Turquey orders a fresh arrest warrant for Mr Bailey.
August: Mr Bailey writes to the DPP Claire Loftus asking her to consider the French investigation file and review the DPP decision not to charge him.
He writes again in September and December asking for an update.
December 23: Sophie’s family have private ceremony in Paris to mark the 20th anniversary.
August 3: The policing watchdog has voiced “serious concerns” over the deliberate tampering with key documents held by gardaí relating to the investigation into the 1996 murder in West Cork of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
In a report the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) found no evidence of any high-level corruption by gardaí, as alleged by journalist Ian Bailey, his partner Jules Thomas, and witness Marie Farrell.
February 26: Ian Bailey has said that it seems "inevitable" that he will be found guilty of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier — however, he has reaffirmed his insistence that he is an innocent man.
Speaking to Virgin Media News in an interview aired yesterday evening, Mr Bailey said that he expects to be convicted at his French trial in May.
“I’m greatly, greatly imperiled here,” he said.
“I know that I had nothing to do with this and I’m going to finish up a convicted murderer.
“I’m actually an innocent man and what will happen in France is that they will probably celebrate the fact that I’ve been convicted and believe me to be the killer,” he claimed, adding: “All they’ll have succeeded in doing is convicting an innocent man.”
May 20: It is time to bring an end to a crime that is “neither a mystery nor a legend”.
Appealing to locals in West Cork to travel to Paris to testify at the forthcoming trial of English journalist Ian Bailey, the son of murdered French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier said it was time to find peace.
Pierre-Louis Baudey Vignaud travelled to Goleen, West Cork, with his uncle Betrand for a Mass in memory of his mother.
He told Mass-goers that his idyllic childhood had been blighted by the violent killing of his mother in West Cork in 1996.
His solicitor, Frank Buttimer, described it as “a show trial for the purpose of satisfying certain persons in relation to their own beliefs in relation to the matter”.
Mr Buttimer said that Mr Bailey was in a “living nightmare”. He had been subjected to “this sort of situation” for almost 23 years.