Sophie Toscan du Plantier: 20 years on - Bailey blames his ‘dry humour’ for admissions which cost him dearly

French police and members of the forensic team in 2011 as they investigate the Sophie Toscan du Plantier case. Picture: Dan Linehan

Backgrounder: Ian Baliey has blamed his ‘dry humour’ for informal admissions in the murder of French socialite, Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

That attitude cost him dearly.

He has spent 20 years clearing his name despite not being charged, in this country, with any offence relating to the senseless Christmastime murder of the documentary film-maker.

Twice, he was arrested and questioned by gardaí and released without charge.

He has been forced to protest his innocence.

In the eyes of the law, he is a completely innocent man.

And, twice, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions firmly rejected 2,000-page garda files seeking a prosecution.

Mr Bailey launched defamation proceedings in the Circuit Court, sought damages in the High Court for wrongful arrest and alleged garda conspiracy, and has also been to the Supreme Court to challenge extradition proceedings by the French authorities.

In the words of a senior counsel Tom Creed, the now former journalist will “always be a pariah”.

Mr Bailey remains a “person of interest” in the murder investigation and will do so for the rest of his life.

“That is his life, he cannot leave the country.

“He is now a prisoner in our green and pleasant land.”

Married at 23 and divorced in his early-30s, Mr Bailey quit Britain in the late 1980s.

“I became quite disillusioned with the way journalism and newspapers were going,‘they were becoming more and more frivolous,” he said.

“A lot of my friends in England were Irish and when I came to Ireland, I fell in love with West Cork.”

Around the early 1990s, Ms Toscan du Plantier, married to one of France’s best-known film producers, also fell in love with the Mizen peninsula where Mr Bailey had settled.

The 38-year-old mother-of-one enjoyed a glamorous and party-type lifestyle in Paris but sought refuge, to concentrate on her own work, and a converted farmhouse with Atlantic views provided the perfect retreat.

Ms Du Plantier’s family have repeatedly said: “She was so much in love with this place.”

They also spoke of her natural beauty which was matched with an inner beauty.

She loved the Irish way of life, its people and for those that knew her, she was warmly accepted in the greater Schull area.

Ian Bailey had worked with a local environmental group Earthwatch on his arrival in West Cork and also in a fish processing company where he met his now long-term partner Jules Thomas.

He was in the process of resurrecting a career in journalism and reported on the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier for several daily and Sunday newspapers.

A further refocus led to Mr Bailey being a mature student at University College Cork where he was awarded a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL Hons) degree and, later, a Masters of Law.

The thesis for his masters in 2008 was 25,000 words on police accountability where he compared the former Garda complaints board with the then new Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

In the year ahead, Mr Bailey, as his counsel indicated, will remain a person of interest as he prepares to fight a second extradition request by the French. Last July, in Paris, a magistrate charged Mr Bailey, in absentia, with voluntary manslaughter. The authorities there are adamant a trial will proceed in the near future.

Meantime, Mr Bailey’s next public hearing is the Court of Appeal where his failed High Court civil action against the gardaí and the State is listed for March.

Suing the State: Counting the cost of ‘David and Goliath’ legal battle

After 65 days in court, a jury failed to find in favour of Ian Bailey, who had sued the State and Garda commissioner

In what senior counsel described as a ‘David and Goliath’ battle with “the forces of law and order”, Ian Bailey sued the justice minister and Garda commissioner for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, conspiracy, assault, battery, trespass to the person, harassment, intimidation, and breach of his constitutional rights.

The November 2014-March 2015 hearing, which involved 65 days in court, was the longest running civil trial in the history of the State.

In the end, the two issues to be resolved before a High Court were narrowed down to Garda conspiracy and wrongful arrest.

And the jury did not find favour with Mr Bailey.

But before he discharged the jury on March 30, Mr Justice John Hedigan said he had a final thing to say about a long and difficult case.

He asserted that murder victim Sophie Toscan du Plantier should not be forgotten. “There has always been the shadow of Madam Sophie Toscan du Plantier and her tragic and senseless death in this case,” he said.

Sophie on a boating holiday in Sicily. Taken from the book ‘Death in December: The Story of Sophie Toscan Du Plantier’.
Sophie on a boating holiday in Sicily. Taken from the book ‘Death in December: The Story of Sophie Toscan Du Plantier’.

Addressing the court after the five-month trial, Judge Hedigan said it was a source of dismay and anguish in both Ireland and France that her killer had not been brought to justice.

“A beloved mother, wife, and daughter, I do not want it thought that her life was forgotten here in this court,” he said.

The jury, within two hours of deliberations, dismissed Mr Bailey’s claim for damages.

The seven men and four women decided gardaí had not conspired to falsely implicate Mr Bailey in the murder, or that they had induced a witness into making a false complaint of harassment against him.

After 60 days of evidence, all the other matters in the claim were struck down by Mr Justice Hedigan after accepting a defence application the other issues were outside the six-year statute of limitations.

He ruled Mr Bailey’s claims for wrongful arrest had been lodged too late and that his claims for damage to his reputation could only be made in a defamation case.

The judge later noted gardaí would have been in dereliction of their duty if they had not arrested and questioned Mr Bailey. He had been arrested twice and questioned at Bandon Garda Station on suspicion of involvement, but was never charged and continually denies any involvement in the unsolved killing.

Although he failed in the High Court conspiracy case, the decision was appealed and the matter is listed for March before the Court of Appeal.

The High Court case commenced on November 4, 2014, seven years after papers were first lodged.

Senior counsel Tom Creed stated the civil action was about showing “once and for all” that Mr Bailey had nothing to do with the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier and that he had been the victim of a continuing conspiracy going on, at that time, for more than 18 years.

Mr Bailey, he noted, remained a “person of interest” in the murder investigation and will do so for the rest of his life. “That is his life, he cannot leave the country... he is now a prisoner in our green and pleasant land,” said Mr Creed.

Mr Bailey “will always be a pariah”, the jury heard.

The jury was initially told to expect a six-week trial but proceedings continued for 64 days over five months. A total of 93 witnesses were called.

During the hearing, Mr Bailey said he had contemplated suicide due to “a deep sense of despair and hopelessness” and “collapse of normality” after being twice arrested. He had been aware after the murder of talk he had something to do with it and said that was a “dreadful, rotten, stinking lie”.

He said it was to his “eternal shame” that he was involved in domestic violence in the past against his partner, Jules Thomas, but said: “I wasn’t the only person in West Cork who engaged in domestic violence when drink was involved.”

Ian Bailey’s partner Jules Thomas arrives at the High Court on November 11, 2014, for the hearing. Picture: Courtpix
Ian Bailey’s partner Jules Thomas arrives at the High Court on November 11, 2014, for the hearing. Picture: Courtpix

Early in the case, during cross-examination, he admitted making a “regrettable black joke” to the effect he killed Ms Toscan du Plantier to resurrect his career as a journalist.

He told Luán O Braonáin SC his comments to a journalist were “very foolish of me” and “very unwise”.

Furthermore, he said his informal comments to other people related to the killing were examples of “my dry and black humour” and not intended as admissions.

In the end, the focus was on the millions of euro in costs facing both sides.

In May 2015, Mr Justice Hedigan decided Mr Bailey should pay all the legal costs, estimated between €2m and €5m. Mr Bailey, it emerged, had no known means of income to pay the costs.

Counsel for Mr Bailey proposed the State and Garda commissioner should pay half of the costs as the defence had applied on day 60 of a 64-day trial to have various claims, including wrongful arrest, not go before the jury on grounds they were brought outside the six-year statute of limitations.

Mr Justice Hedigan dismissed the suggestion as unreal. He said it was incorrect to have claimed most of the case had been withdrawn.

The judge said the cornerstone of Mr Bailey’s claim was that gardaí had conspired to frame him by threatening or coercing a witness, Marie Farrell, into making false statements.

Marie Farrell leaving the High Court on December 17, 2014, after completing her evidence at the hearing. Picture: Courtpix
Marie Farrell leaving the High Court on December 17, 2014, after completing her evidence at the hearing. Picture: Courtpix

The jury ruled against Mr Bailey on that issue.

Mr Justice Hedigan said while it was unfortunate the case took so long, he was satisfied it was necessary, not just in the interest of gardaí but the public, to have a full ventilation of the grave and very serious allegations made by Mr Bailey and for gardaí to have a full opportunity to answer those.

Mr Bailey had wanted his case heard in open court and there would have been an outcry if it was closed down earlier on a technicality, said the judge.

He noted it was clear gardaí came forward to vigorously deny the claims made against them and that they were entitled to their day in court.

Due to the grave allegations made, the court had ordered the fullest disclosure of materials for the hearing, including discovery of recordings of phone conversations made to and from Bandon Garda Station.

Even if the State made the application under the statute of limitations earlier, he would have been conscious this was a case that required to be fully heard such was the depth and breadth of the allegations. The public interest “deserved nothing less”, he said.

There were no special circumstances requiring the court to depart from the normal rule that costs go to the winning side, said the judge.

He made a full order for costs against Mr Bailey, including all reserved costs, costs of discovery and half the costs of a juror’s cancelled holiday, the State having previously agreed to pay the other half of those particular costs.

Mr Creed, for Mr Bailey, had argued some 23 days of the hearing related to the matters that were ultimately determined by the jury.

Had the statute point been made earlier, much time and costs could have been saved; Mr Bailey was entitled to about half his costs against the State on that ground, counsel argued.

Mr O Braonáin, for the State, argued it was entitled to raise the statute point at any stage and Mr Bailey knew from the outset the point was pleaded in the defence.

It was in the public interest, he said, to publicly cross-examine witnesses about Mr Bailey’s serious and wholesale allegations against gardaí, which included claims of assault and corruption as well as allegations of a sexual nature.

The cornerstone of the case, said Mr O Braonáin, was the claim Ms Farrell had been threatened, coerced, or suborned to give false evidence against Mr Bailey.

That matter had been left to the jury to decide and it did not rule in favour of Mr Bailey, noted Mr O Braonáin.

After the hearing, solicitor Frank Buttimer said his client, Mr Bailey, was disappointed with the outcome. Senior gardaí welcomed the verdict in the case.

John Redmond, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, said: “The fact the jury found there was no conspiracy, that’s important for the reputation of the Garda organisation.”

He said there were no winners in the case as it centred on a murder that remained unsolved.

“The members work very, very hard to bring perpetrators to justice and to gather evidence where they can and that will continue in this case,” he said. “They will still aim to solve that case. It’s not going to stop, this won’t go away.

“There needs to be closure for the family. The professional police officers of Ireland are going to work very hard to bring that closure.”

Picture reproduced by permission from the book ‘Death in December: The Story of Sophie Toscan Du Plantier’, by Michael Sheridan. ‘The Radiant bride: A stunning Sophie on her wedding day in 1980.’
Picture reproduced by permission from the book ‘Death in December: The Story of Sophie Toscan Du Plantier’, by Michael Sheridan. ‘The Radiant bride: A stunning Sophie on her wedding day in 1980.’

French authorities launch fresh bid to prosecute Bailey after nine-year probe

- Eoin English

The French authorities have launched a fresh bid to prosecute Ian Bailey, 20 years after the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

The move, triggered in July, marked the conclusion of a nine-year investigation overseen by French magistrates into the 1996 killing of the French national in West Cork.

The French first gave consideration to investigating the killing in 1997 but they awaited the outcome of a garda investigation.

When it failed to result in a prosecution and, on foot of pressure from Ms Toscan du Plantier’s family, a French magistrate Judge Patrick Gachon was appointed in 2008 to investigate the case.

Teams of investigators have made several trips to West Cork to interview several key witnesses but Judge Gachon’s work was interrupted when the Department of Justice here suspended all co-operation with the French authorities, pending the outcome of Ian Bailey’s civil action against the State for wrongful arrest. The suspension was eventually lifted after Mr Bailey lost this case.

His appeal of that decision is due to be heard in March.

The French probe resulted in a request in 2011 for Mr Bailey’s extradition on foot of a European arrest warrant.

Despite the High Court here upholding the request, the Supreme Court upheld Mr Bailey’s appeal against it and rejected the extradition request, four judges to one, on March 1, 2012.

But because French law allows suspects to be sent forward for trial in absentia, the French investigation into the killing continued under Judge Gachon.

Members of the French forensic team investigating the location around Ms du Plantier’s house in Toormore, Goleen, West Cork, in 2011. Picture: Dan Linehan
Members of the French forensic team investigating the location around Ms du Plantier’s house in Toormore, Goleen, West Cork, in 2011. Picture: Dan Linehan

The magistrate returned to West Cork again and spent just over a week interviewing more witnesses and visiting the crime scene.

However, just as he was close to finalising his seven-year investigation, he secured a judicial promotion, forcing the French authorities to appoint another magistrate, Judge Natalie Turquey, to complete the investigation.

It resulted last July in her decision to charge Mr Bailey before the High Court of Criminal Justice in Paris — the Court d’Assize — with voluntary manslaughter and issue a second European arrest warrant against him.

The extradition request must first be considered by the Department of Justice and, if deemed valid, then be forwarded to the High Court for review and an ex-parte decision on whether to grant the warrant or not.

Mr Bailey and his solicitor Frank Buttimer confirmed they have had no contact from the French authorities in relation to this latest development.

However, given the fact the first extradition request from the French was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court, the French expect this request to be rejected too.

It is expected the Court d’Assize, composed of three judges, will go on to hold a trial in absentia.

The Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH), the lobby group set up in Paris to campaign for justice in the case, described Judge Turquey’s July decision as a landmark step in their campaign.

And they said the judge has presented her findings in a reasoned and very precise manner and that it “amplifies” their “perseverance and determination” that would not exist without the loyal support of their members and donors.

“The order is a concluding document of a 20-year investigation period, developed from the findings and statements collected by the Irish Garda and the French police,” they said.

“She (the judge) thus abandons the initial qualification of murder for lack of sufficient evidence justifying a premeditated crime, and redefines the crime as ‘voluntary manslaughter’.

“She also waives the charge of subordination of witness ‘in the absence of any evidence to determine whether the facts involved are punished by the laws of Ireland’.

“She finds no conclusive evidence in favour of the suspect, in particular the absence of traces of the suspect at the scene of the crime.

“This does not mean that he was not present since nothing only the DNA of Sophie was found.

“The absence of a valid alibi for the suspect during the night of the crime is taken into account.”

She says among the evidence Mr Bailey will have to explain is:

  • The presence of thorn scratches on his hands and a cut on his forehead that weren’t present on the Sunday evening before Sophie’s death and were present on Monday, December 23, 1996;
  • The absence of an alibi on the night of December 22 to 23. His statements about his activities and his whereabouts being confused, contradictory and variable, and contradicted by credible witness statements;
  • His knowledge of details of the crime scene before any other person except the investigators, his very rapid presence on the premises or nearby being strongly affirmed by several witnesses;
  • Inaccuracies and contradictions about his movements before and after the crime;
  • And repeated confessions before third parties.

“This formal charge is an important step on the way to the truth,” ASSOPH said. “Our struggle changes its nature with this perspective of a case in absentia, unless Ireland decides to honour its European commitments on judicial co-operation and makes an immediate transfer of the suspect to the French authorities.

“We have already had a glimpse of what lies ahead by reading interviews of the suspect or advice from his Irish or French lawyers.

French diplomat EricBattestioutside Bandon Garda Station as French police investigated the du Plantier case.
French diplomat Eric Battesti outside Bandon Garda Station as French police investigated the du Plantier case.

“The French judiciary and the family of the victim are clearly being insulted.

“Of course the suspect is presumed innocent until final judgment. The debate in court is contradictory and the defence is free to contradict any part of the accusations.”

Two scenarios are now possible ahead of an expected trial in absentia in Paris — either Mr Bailey is represented by counsel and a full hearing will take place with questioning of witnesses and no questioning of the suspect, or if he is not represented, a hearing will take place and will be reduced to a reading of the accusations, the arguments of the plaintiffs and the prosecution charge.

A sentence of up to 30 years in prison is possible upon conviction.

Mr Buttimer said he and his client learned about the charge, and the extradition request, from media reports.

“On foot of media reports, I wrote to the Department of Justice seeking information on the status of this intended prosecution and about any application for Mr Bailey’s removal from this jurisdiction, and was refused any information,” he said.

Libel trial: Eight days of incredible evidence

Eight newspapers from seven publishers launched a full-bloodied defence of a libel action taken by Ian Bailey in December 2003.

The public packed out Cork Circuit Court for a civil action that had all the hallmarks of a murder trial.

Mr Bailey had claimed his life had been destroyed by “monstrous defamations” in the press, that offers of work in his resurgent career as a journalist had dried up, and that he had been ostracised by the local community in West Cork.

Ian Bailey leaving Cork Circuit Court during his libel trial in 2003. Pictures: Maurice O’Mahony
Ian Bailey leaving Cork Circuit Court during his libel trial in 2003. Pictures: Maurice O’Mahony

Throughout the trial, Judge Patrick J Moran had to remind the newspapers’ defence team it was “not a court of inquiry into the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier”.

The defence had noted that among the remarkable facts that created an unprecedented level of public interest in a libel case was “a journalist covering articles on the murder became a suspect”.

But Mr Bailey’s counsel James Duggan asserted the plaintiff had been “subjected to trial by media”, explaining the defamation action taken against Irish and British publishers: Independent Star Ltd, Irish Mirror Group Ltd, Independent Newspapers Ltd, Independent Newspapers UK Ltd, Times Newspapers Ltd, Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd and Telegraph Group Ltd.

The plaintiff, it had been stated by Mr Duggan, “had been shunned by society arising out of slanted and biased reportage and he took the action to restore his good name”.

But, with access to Mr Bailey’s private diaries, senior counsel for the newspapers Paul Gallagher did not spare the blushes.

Evidence emerged of Mr Bailey’s personal life where he had three times assaulted his partner Jules Thomas.

Counsel during a surgical cross-examination noted at various stages in the journals, Mr Bailey referred to himself as “an animal on two feet”, that he “would be damned to hell” and that in one assault on Ms Thomas, he tried to kill her.

Mr Bailey had retorted what was written in the diaries or literary journals “was creative or poetic and some of it was rubbish and some of it he was proud of in terms of its literary merit” but stressed, over and over, it should not be read literally.

Pitched against a backdrop of an unsolved murder, there were eight days of bizarre and incredible evidence that unravelled tales of fallacy, fear, frustration and fiction.

Judge Moran, in a 35-minute summing up, said Jules Thomas suffered three nasty assaults but also noted Mr Bailey “was violent towards one woman and that’s it”.

Referring to the newspaper articles, the subject of the libel claims, the judge said: “The plaintiff says that the papers portrayed Mr Bailey as being a murderer. These articles do not convey to me that he was the murderer.

“What they do convey is that he was the suspect and that he was arrested on suspicion of murder.”

The judge dismissed claims the newspapers portrayed Mr Bailey as being a murderer. “These articles do not convey to me that he was the murderer, but that he was the suspect. The articles consistently quote him saying “I didn’t do it” and give equal prominence to what he says. I take the view that the plea of justification is established.”

He said there was no evidence of Mr Bailey washing his wellington boots at Kealfadda Bridge or burning clothes on St Stephen’s Day but said the references did not injure his reputation.

The judge said there was absolutely no evidence Mr Bailey was violent towards his ex-wife Sarah Limbrick and he was defamed. He awarded damages of €8,000 against The Irish Sun and Irish Daily Mirror.

READ MORE: Sophie Toscan du Plantier: 20 years on - Battle for justice goes on

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