By Alison O'Connor
YOU would be hard pressed, I’d wager, to find anyone in West Cork, possibly in all of Ireland, who does not believe that Ian Bailey is guilty of the murder of Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
The actuality of the situation is that this is a man who has been hugely wronged by the State for almost two decades now.
He is caught up in what is the equivalent of a living nightmare that has been ongoing for over 17 years. He is shunned by society, and faces immediate arrest if he leaves these shores, a situation that caused him to miss the funeral of his mother last year.
I’ve written before how as a young reporter I covered the initial investigation into the barbaric murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier. I have watched the case with interest since.
It was such an utterly shocking and violent crime against an attractive, talented and seemingly reserved Frenchwoman who had been visiting her holiday home.
The idea of her being battered to death with a rock in the dark outside the house on that remote hillside on that freezing night of December 23, 1996, was chilling and frightening.
With every violent crime such as this there is a wish by family and friends, and the wider community, that it is solved as quickly as possible because people feel in danger themselves. In this case there was also some element of self interest (understandable) that such a crime, involving a high profile foreign visitor, was not good for this tourist region.
The name of Ian Bailey as a suspect was mentioned from very early on, and what has happened over the years since then, with a campaign of vilification against him by gardaí involved in the investigation, is quite astonishing.
I know that he has suffered from the hatred and bile of people because I witnessed it myself on a number of occasions. For a number of years it seemed to me that I could hardly visit West Cork, be it Bantry, Schull, Ballydehob or elsewhere, and I would see him standing on the street, or selling his bread from a stall.
As he would pass there would always be a mutter from someone in the group of “that’s him, yer man Bailey”. He wasn’t helped by his large physical brooding presence.
There is some reason why the gardaí would have reason to suspect Bailey, an “outsider” who had moved from England. He has a criminal conviction for the assault of his partner Jules Thomas. He has beaten her up on three occasions, including in 1996 where a witness recalled she was in a terribly distressed bloodied state, with serious injuries to her face and head, with a swollen eye, bite marks on her hand and arm, and clumps of hair pulled from her head.
The detail is very disturbing and clearly it points to a repugnant aspect of Mr Bailey’s personality. But having a history of that sort of violence does not make him a murderer. He has always protested his innocence. Despite the strenuous and illegal efforts of the gardaí to pin the murder on him he has never been convicted of the crime.
There has been shock and horror in recent weeks at what we have learnt concerning the recording of telephone calls at Garda stations, and more recently, in prisons. In fact calls in the Bailey case, involving a civil action being taken against the State by Mr Bailey, are the very ones which caused such initial excitement in Government circles.
Mr Bailey was first arrested by gardaí investigating the Toscan du Plantier case in February 1997, and again in January the following year. In March 2000 the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) issued a formal direction that he should not be prosecuted on the basis of the evidence available.
The following year, a solicitor in the DPP’s office wrote a detailed and quite extraordinary analysis of the conduct of the gardaí in the case, and the evidence which they had submitted against Mr Bailey. That report, written 13 years ago, concluded that he should not be prosecuted on the basis of available evidence.
There are many twists and turns subsequently, including a libel action that Mr Bailey took against a number of newspapers in 2003. He lost and faced huge costs. He appealed to the High Court but withdrew that appeal in a settlement which saw the papers acknowledge that they never intended to suggest that he had murdered Ms Toscan du Plantier.
Roll on to 2005 and his solicitor, Frank Buttimer being contacted by a key witness, Marie Farrell, who was central to the Garda case. She withdrew a statement placing Mr Bailey at a certain location close to the du Plantier home, on the night of the murder.
In light of that information Mr Buttimer, who has worked on the case for ten years now, wrote to the then Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy expressing concerns about the investigations on foot of what Ms Farrell had told him.
At that time Commisioner Conroy appointed Assistant Commissioner Ray McAndrew to review Garda handling of the case. It was completed in 2007, and a file was sent to the DPP who decided not to prosecute anyone. In 2007, Mr Bailey and his partner Ms Thomas initiated civil proceedings against the State for damages for wrongful arrest. They have sought the McAndrew report but the State has refused to hand it over.
The next significant event was the attempt by the French authorities to have Mr Bailey extradited to France. Despite deciding not to convict anyone themselves for the crime the Irish authorities handed the relevant files to the French. Mr Baileys’s extradition was ordered by the High Court.
I remember writing a column at that time saying we had a criminal justice system which demanded a certain level of evidence before the State would attempt to gain a conviction — and clearly that had not been not reached by gardaí in this case. It seemed odd, if we believed in our own justice system, which decided not to bring a prosecution against Mr Bailey, to subsequently allow it to be outsourced to the French authorities.
The extradition decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2012, but the European Arrest Warrant remains in force meaning that Mr Bailey could be arrested if he left Ireland.
There was yet another extraordinary twist during that extradition attempt. Retired DPP Eamonn Barnes alerted the authorities to that 2001 investigation carried out by the DPPs office which had been highly critical of Garda conduct, questioning the credibility of several key witnesses who made statements, not to mention the attempts to use cash and cannabis to persuade an addict to assist the inquiry.
It’s no surprise that Frank Buttimer has said the current civil action is alleging, among other things, “a conspiracy to secure the improper prosecution of Ian Bailey on improper Garda practices.”
Now we’ve had credibility stretched to beyond breaking point in recent days concerning what one arm of the State did, or did not, tell the other in relation to phone calls, letters and inquires.
These are very serious matters, but none frankly as serious as what we know went on in the Bailey case, not to mention what has yet to be revealed. A number of these very serious facts have been known by those in the highest office for years. But there has been a political silence on it.
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