The treatment of Ian Bailey by the State continues to raise the question of whether the Irish justice system is susceptible to political interference.
Yesterday, the State applied to the High Court for the endorsement of a European arrest warrant for Bailey. He is wanted in France to answer a charge of murdering Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork on December 23, 1996.
A particular issue around the application is the timing, coming as it does a week before Bailey appeals a civil action he brought against the State.
The evidence on which the French charge is based is highly questionable.
For instance, in 2001 an assessment by the DPP’s office in this country came to the conclusion that there was precious little evidence to pursue a prosecution, and actually referred to Bailey as being “innocent” of the crime. The case was examined by the DPP again at least twice in the following years, with the same outcome.
Yet the French claim there is a case to prosecute. Their evidence relies on the Garda file and a visit to this country in 2011 by French detectives who were facilitated by the gardaí here.
Nobody, anywhere, has even hinted that the French have uncovered the smallest extra scintilla of evidence against Bailey.
The pursuit of this Englishman by the French authorities and the pressing of the murder charge would lead one to conclude, with some confidence, that if he does stand trial, the outcome is assured. Few envisage a scenario whereby he would be acquitted.
There is an issue over how the French have pursued this matter. Ms Toscan du Plantier’s family is well connected. Her murder was brutal and shocking. Understandably, her family is determined to get justice.
It might well be argued that had the outrage been perpetrated against a French citizen not so well connected, the same concentration of resources, and failure to acknowledge the conclusions of the Irish justice system, would have seen the matter abandoned long ago.
Here, the authorities have facilitated the French at every turn. (An earlier application to extradite him in 2011 was refused by the Supreme Court.) It’s as if the State’s attitude is, ‘Well, we couldn’t pin it on him, but we’ll let you lads take another shot at it.’
Along the way, Bailey sued the State for wrongful arrest. Following one of the longest civil actions ever heard, a jury dismissed his claim in March 2015. He has appealed that verdict, and that is where the latest controversy arises.
The High Court heard yesterday from Bailey’s lawyers that the State has had possession of the latest arrest warrant since last August, yet did not apply to have it endorsed until this week.
Coincidentally, Bailey’s appeal in his civil case is due to be heard next week. His lawyers are asking that reasons for the delay be furnished to the court.
Could it really be a coincidence that this issue, in relation to a criminal justice matter, is being pursued against an individual just at the time he is about to engage with the State on a matter of civil justice?
One might well believe in coincidences if it weren’t for the history of the State’s pursuit of Bailey. Leaks from the forthcoming Fennelly commission suggest the chairman will be the latest authority to criticise the investigation into Bailey.
Under the circumstances, it’s reasonable to ask whether the same tactics and pursuit would have been adopted by the State if Bailey had been a native person from, say, a political or business family, and not an Englishman of unsympathetic character.
Judge Tony Hunt has indicated he will most likely endorse the warrant. After that, Bailey faces once more into an extradition hearing to see whether the chase continues.
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