Garda didn’t know calls were being recorded

Ex-assistant commissioner tells Bailey case he only found out on his retirement that it had happened

A former Garda assistant commissioner has told the High Court he did not know phonecalls to and from Bandon Garda Station, including calls concerning the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, were being recorded in 1997.

Noel Smith, who had also been a chief superintendent in 1997 overseeing the murder investigation in terms of the allocation of resources, said that had he been asked, he would not personally have approved of the recording of people’s private calls without their knowledge.

His attitude depended on the use to be made of the recorded material, he added. He did not regard the recording as something done “behind his back” but would have liked to know the recording was happening, he said.

Mr Smith said he only learned on his retirement that calls to and from Bandon in 1997 were being recorded. He also learned calls to and from other stations were routinely recorded.

Mr Smith said he did not know anything about a Garda mobile phone being given to a witness and would not have approved, if it was done.

He could not and would not approve of drugs being given to a witness, Martin Graham, if that had happened, he also said.

If that was true and he found out about it, he would have taken action accordingly. The giving of cash and clothes to Mr Graham would also be “highly irregular”, if that had happened, and he would not have approved.

Each chief superintendent has a “secret service” fund from which small amounts of cash may be given to persons in certain circumstances, but the superintendent had to approve. Evidence from gardaí on these matters had yet to be heard and there should be “no rush to judgment”.

The former senior garda also said he was not made aware by other gardaí that a “very important” witness had “lied through her teeth”. Had he known that, it may have given him “cause to pause” about certain statements of Marie Farrell, Mr Smith agreed.

He was not told Ms Farrell had lied to gardaí about the identity of her male companion whom she said she was with in a car on the night of December 22/23, 1996, when she alleged she saw another man near Schull just hours before Ms du Plantier’s body was discovered.

He agreed the identity of the companion was “very important” and agreed, had he known Ms Farrell had lied about it, it would have given him “cause to pause” concerning her other statements relating to Ian Bailey and her sightings of a man in and near Schull between December 21 and 23, 1996.

He agreed Ms Farrell was a very important witness but did not consider there was anything “sinister” in his not being told by other gardaí she had lied about her companion’s identity.

In general, as he was kept informed of matters, he said that might have been an “oversight” and there was no “pattern” of not telling him important things. He was “mildly surprised” he had not been told about the lie by Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald, his “conduit” to the investigation team.

Also yesterday, Sgt Des Prendergast denied that gardaí took clothing, without authorisation, from Mr Bailey during his detention six weeks after the murder of Ms du Plantier solely to put “psychological pressure” on him.

Sgt Prendergast denied a suggestion by Tom Creed, for Mr Bailey, that he was “handpicked” to be member in charge of Bandon Garda Station during both arrests of Mr Bailey in February 1997 and January 1998 because he would “not demur from anything”, including alleged unauthorised taking by another garda of clothing from Mr Bailey for forensic testing.

He denied there could be no forensic reason for taking from Mr Bailey clothes he was wearing in detention on February 10, 1997, when Ms du Plantier’s body had been found six weeks earlier.

There were briars at the murder scene and some clothing could have got caught in them and the intention was to see if this clothing was damaged, he said.

When counsel asked was this a “random selection” of clothing in the hope gardaí might “get lucky” six weeks later, the witness denied that. He could not recall what powers the clothing had been seized under.

Earlier, Sgt Prendergast said he was told that, among the reasons for the second arrest of Mr Bailey in January 1998, was that he had told a man he had killed Ms du Plantier. Sgt Prendergast considered there were reasonable grounds to detain Mr Bailey on both occasions of his arrest.

Both witnesses were giving evidence in the continuing action by Mr Bailey against the Garda Commissioner and State over the conduct of the probe into the murder of Ms du Plantier, whose body was found at Toormore, Schull, on December 23, 1996. The defendants deny all of Mr Bailey’s claims, including wrongful arrest and conspiracy.

Asked had he concerns about the evidence of Marie Farrell, Mr Smith told the court : “One would have to be concerned about Marie Farrell’s evidence, full stop”, and said he meant her evidence in this court case.

Asked whether he had concerns in 1997 about her evidence of sightings of a man at Schull, he said the perception of height might depend on the angle from which a person was being viewed.

The case continues.

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