The Mick Clifford Podcast: Ian Bailey’s poetic justice

The Mick Clifford Podcast: Ian Bailey’s poetic justice
Ian Bailey

Ian Bailey still lives under the shadow of a crime he has never stood trial for here, but was found guilty of in absentia in France. He now writes verse to battle a fear of extradition he tells Michael Clifford.

The fear comes at Ian Bailey in waves. It lodges in the pit of his stomach. He can become consumed with the prospect of a knock on the door, a piece of paper waved in his face, conveyance to a French prison for the rest of his life.

The fear comes and goes. Sometimes he can manage for hours without even contemplating the break up of the home he shares with his partner in deepest West Cork.

Other times he feels it hard. One tactic he uses to deal with the fear is to write a poem.

“I’m very much at peace with myself,” he says.

“This year I’ve been more creative than ever. But I’ve got this fear thing. I have to live with the possibility of being extradited. It’s there all the time.”

On 21 June last, the French judiciary dispatched to the Irish government a request for the execution of a European Arrest Warrant to extradite the 62-year-old Englishman.

This followed his conviction on May 31 in a Paris court for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in December 1996. The sentence handed down for the crime was twenty-five years imprisonment.

He was convicted in absentia. He didn’t travel to Paris, he says, because he had absolutely no confidence that the court would deal with the matter impartially.

He stayed at home, where he received dispatches, often hourly, about how things were going in the Palais de Justice.

“Jim Sheridan is making a documentary on this whole thing and his film crew were in Paris and I was hearing back (from them) what was happening,” he says.

I had a news blackout, didn’t watch TV news or read papers but I was getting a general picture relayed back to me. I wrote several poems during that time.

He does his writing in a den, a converted shed at the back of the house he shares with his partner Jules Thomas. There is a scattering of books in the den, a tall table that could nearly be an easel, wood carvings that he has fashioned.

On one of the carvings is a shortened version of the serenity prayer, most often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

He works out here while Jules, an artist, has a studio attached the main house. It is in many ways a rural idyll, yet the past is still not past for Ian Bailey.

The trial was the latest attempt by the French to bring him to account him for the murder of Ms Du Plantier. In 2010 and 2016, an investigating magistrate had issued arrest warrants to the Irish authorities. On both occasions the Irish courts rejected the application.

The main legal plank for the rejection is that the Irish director of public prosecutions had repeatedly ruled that there is not sufficient evidence to charge Bailey in connection with Ms Du Plantier’s death.

Despite mumblings from the French, and the usual “no smoke without fire” rhetoric about Bailey, the DPP’s decision is grounded in common sense and sound legal principles.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier

Now, however, the French believe that things are different. Now, he is, in their eyes, a convicted murderer and Ireland is a friend and neighbour, a fellow member of the EU.

It’s five months since the request was made to the Irish authorities yet he has not been arrested. There has been no application to the courts by the Irish government for Bailey’s extradition.

The Department of Justice will not comment on the case, but one possibility for the delay is that there is protracted internal debate as to whether the Irish courts would deal with this application any differently than the previous ones.

Or, to put it plainly, would the Irish court recognise the legitimacy of Bailey’s conviction in a French court?

While such matters may occupy legal minds, the man at the centre of the issue has been busy excavating his creativity. He has published a collection of poems entitled A John Wayne State Of Mind.

IAN BAILEY TRIAL COVERAGE

This is his second collection, and deals to a large extent with his life since he first came under suspicion for Ms Du Plantier’s murder within days of the discovery of the Frenchwoman’s badly beaten body near her holiday home in west Cork. He touches on the Paris trial in his introduction to the collection.

“I was bonfired on a pyre of lies. I am anticipating a third and imminent arrest under a European Arrest Warrant. Somebody once said that every cloud has a silver lining. All I know is from a creative perspective the events of my life are a bottomless ocean of source material which, if not creating inspiration, may be making for perspiration.”

One poem was written as he was receiving word of the progress of the trial. It is entitled ‘I Remain Calm In The Eye Of The Hurricane’.

“There is a full force hurricane, storming, circulating, swirling, angry, aggressive and vengeful, around the outside of my head.”

This and all the other poems are accompanied with explanatory notes, which provide something of a fragmented narrative of his travails in recent years.

Apart from the Paris trial, he was at the centre of a civil action in 2015 in which he sued the state for wrongful arrest in the aftermath of the murder.

Ian Bailey and his partner Jules Thomas
Ian Bailey and his partner Jules Thomas

Following a hearing of 64 days a jury threw out his case. He was subsequently ruled liable for the costs, estimated to be at least €2million. Nobody has come knocking on his door to recoup that debt.

“I haven’t heard anything about it,” he says. “What can I do but send them a book of poetry?”

His collection includes reference to this action and a few poems that express a jaundiced view of the legal business.

He knows a thing or two about the law himself, having studied in UCC for three different law degrees. His scrolls take pride of place on a shelf in the den.

Would he ever consider practicing?

“I’d consider doing the Bar exams but having had first-hand experience of law and justice here, I’d run a hundred miles from it.”

While Bailey considers that he has been persecuted relentlessly, Ms Du Plantier’s bereaved family are of the belief that he has got away with murder.

In fact, the Paris trial could be viewed as an attempt by the French authorities to provide solace to the family under the guise of a murder trial.

At the hearing, Ms du Plantier’s son Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud spoke movingly and with dignity of his loss. He was 15 when his mother was taken from him.

How does Bailey feel about the burden they carry, that they are still seeking closure this far down the line?

“I can’t do anything to change their attitude to me,” he says.

“I know they were assured that the gardaí knew who it was and that was me. They were sold a false narrative early on. All I know is that their legal process convicted an innocent man. I’ve always been sympathetic to them. I understand how they have come to believe in a false narrative.”

Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud.
Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud.

Bailey never considered moving out of west Cork following the fall-out from Ms Du Plantier’s murder.

Since 2010, when the French first came after him, he had little choice but to stay put. Three years ago his mother died in England and he couldn’t attend the funeral for fear of being arrested and extradited.

The aftermath of the murder, arrests and suspicion was traumatic for many people, but Ian Bailey doesn’t believe he is feared or despised in west Cork.

“You’d have to talk to them (local people) to see what they think of me. I know our neighbours and everybody was visited and told that ‘he’s a murderer.

“That was backed up by the DPP’s critique. A lot of the media certainly bought into the false narrative. I forget those who trespass against me. I try to get on reasonably with everybody. I feel very much at home (here). I’ve got a lot of friends, a lot of support.”

The DPP critique he references is a crucial exhibit in his defence. In 2001, an official in the DPP’s office examined the garda investigation of Bailey and was excoriating in its criticism.

In places the critique even suggested he was innocent of the crime, which went a lot further than merely assessing whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.

In 2011 the then retired DPP Eamon Barnes brought the critique into the public domain when he forwarded it to the Supreme Court which was examining whether to extradite Bailey.

The document sets out precisely why the idea of charging Bailey would be wrong.

The French, of course, take a different view. Living with the dark cloud following him all the way into his sixties has not been easy but a suspicion lingers that Bailey is not adverse to the publicity, or even notoriety, that the whole saga has bestowed on him.

Locals have noted that the stall from which he sells his vegetables and poetry in towns in west Cork on Saturdays often attracts tourists curious about the tall Englishman.

His life remains simple. He does not drink as he once did. In a 2003 libel trial, he claimed that alcohol was culpable for the attacks he had made on his partner, described in vicious detail by another witness.

He gave up the booze for a while, but today he says he drinks moderately.

“The thing was largely to do with spirits, whiskey and maybe vodka,” he says.

I went to AA, did 120 meetings in 90 days. I came away from there knowing the serenity prayer. I stopped drinking, the serenity prayer guided me.

“I have an odd pint and I take a drop of wine with food. Very moderate. Measured.”

On one level his life could also be described in those terms. He has the space and time to excavate his creativity, living modestly yet apparently in great harmony with his surrounds. The outside world is as removed as he wants it to be.

Yet that cloud still hovers. He awaits the knock on the door.

The fear is always there and will in all likelihood remain so unless and until a resolution is arrived at that allows the sky over his west Cork home to brighten into blue.

I’m In ‘A John Wayne State Of Mind’ is available in bookshops in west Cork and on Amazon.

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