Judge says jury have two key issues to decide in Bailey case

Sophie Toscan du Plantier: Murdered near home in West Cork

A verdict is expected on Monday in the long-running civil action for damages by Ian Bailey over the conduct of the Garda investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Mr Justice John Hedigan yesterday told the High Court jury they have to decide two key issues on the balance of probabilities.

The first is whether three gardaí — Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald, Det Garda Jim Slattery and Garda Kevin Kelleher, or any combination of them — conspired together to implicate Mr Bailey in the murder of Ms du Plantier by obtaining statements from Marie Farrell, by threats, inducement or intimidation, which purportedly identified him as the man she saw near the scene of the murder at Kealfada Bridge in the early hours of the morning of December 23, 1996, when they knew they were false.

The second question was did Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald and Det Sgt Maurice Walsh conspire by threats, inducements or intimidation to get statements from Marie Farrell that Ian Bailey had intimidated her when they knew they were false?

If the jury answer yes to either question, they must decide if Mr Bailey suffered damage and, if so, how much compensatory damages he should get and if he is entitled to exemplary damages.

Mr Bailey, 59, and from Schull in Co Cork, had sued for damages over his treatment during the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork in 1996.

The case began on November 4 last and the jury heard from around 90 witnesses over 59 sitting days.

The jury heard closing speeches from both sides yesterday and will be charged by Mr Justice John Hedigan on Monday before retiring to consider their verdict.

Closing the case for the Garda Commissioner and State, Paul O’Higgins SC told the jury Ms Farrell was the “lynchpin” of Mr Bailey’s case, but evidence suggested she was “more than a conventional witness”, including evidence she told a woman she expected to get money from the action.

Ms Farrell had given dramatically different accounts of matters over the years and the jury should prefer the more consistent evidence of the gardaí, counsel said. Ms Farrell had in court denied Mr Bailey came into her shop showing her details of her problems with social welfare in England and when the jury saw a recorded interview where she discussed those matters with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, she had said sometimes it was hard to distinguish “fact from fiction”.

If the matters alleged by Mr Bailey happened, which the State denied, the jury must consider if he suffered any damage when he was never charged with the murder. There was reasonable suspicion grounding his two arrests and Mr Bailey himself told people various things, including he was a suspect. Mr Bailey said “a lot of things in a small community”, was a man guilty of very serious violence to his partner and, even before his arrests, was “not particularly loved”.

In his closing arguments, Mr O’Higgins said a “sensational” allegation by Ms Farrell that Sergeant Maurice Walsh exposed himself to her in the ladies toilets of Schull golf club while asking if fitting up Mr Bailey was a turn on was made to discredit Sgt Walsh so he would have to “shut his mouth”.

The jury should disbelieve that claim and another claim by Ms Farrell that Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald stripped naked in a holiday home and asked her for sex, he said.

Ms Farrell did not seem to have a “conventional attitude” to life and there were many things concerning her that did not suggest “complete straightforwardness”. Her accounts of events had changed dramatically over the years and she had an “unconvincing mantra” when confronted with any difficulty concerning her statements that she was told what to say by Det Fitzgerald.

Det Fitzgerald’s conversations were “not of the choirboy tenor” but their substance indicated someone “trying to humour a witness” and that Ms Farrell was generally “the one in control”, he said.

“If every detective was Fr Dougal, you might not solve many crimes but one might prefer a little less of the language of Fr Jack,” he said. Ms Farrell had “never once”, in recorded conversations, alleged Det Fitzgerald had put her up to make statements, he said.

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