A packed Court Three shows the huge level of interest in the case, writes Michael Clifford.
THE past echoed through Court Three of the Round Hall in the Four Courts yesterday. The recent past was parsed by counsel for Ian Bailey in the opening speech of his action against the State for wrongful arrest.
Tom Creed gave a run through the last 18 years of Bailey’s life who, the counsel said, had been “vilified and demonised” as a result of being fingered for a crime he didn’t commit.
Another past was also present. Mr Bailey’s legal action, and what he alleges were illegal actions by the gardaí, have their origins in the violent death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier on the night of December 22, 1996.
The courtroom, with its high ceilings and dusty furniture, is one of the original Four Courts, and has hosted many dramatic and heart-rending murder trials down through the decades. This is different.
Nobody is on trial here. This is not a criminal trial but a civil one, and what’s at issue is the actions of the State’s agencies concerned with criminal justice — the gardaí, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The counsel’s opening speech laid out in simple terms the substance of the action being taken by Mr Bailey.
“The gardaí set about blaming Mr Bailey for a crime he did not commit and conspired to manufacture evidence.”
The sequence of events thrust onto the plaintiff, his counsel said, were reminiscent of the acronym coined by Conor Cruise O’Brien when referring to Charlie Haughey — GUBU: Grotesque. Unprecedented. Bizarre. Unbelievable.
The narrative laid out before the jury included Mr Bailey’s early life in the UK, before he arrived in west Cork in 1991. He met his partner Jules Thomas, a Welsh artist who lived locally with her three daughters.
Ms du Plantier’s violent death was discovered on the morning of December 23, 1996, Mr Creed told the jury of eight men and four women. She was bludgeoned to death. There were also suggestions that a concrete block was dropped on her head. Her body was found outside her holiday home near Schull.
Mr Bailey, who worked as a journalist, heard about the death from the Irish Examiner and was asked to go to the scene, where he spoke with gardaí.
Within days he became aware the gardaí were focusing on him as a suspect. He had an alibi for the night in question. After socialising in Schull, he and Ms Thomas had returned to their home.
Over the following weeks, members of the gardaí called to him on a number of occasions. He provided hair and fingerprints when requested. Then, on February 10, he was arrested. At Bandon Garda Station, a number of reporters and a cameraman were awaiting his arrival.
After enjoying a relatively cordial relationship with the gardaí theretofore, the atmosphere changed on his arrest. It turned “very oppressive and hostile,” Mr Creed told the jury.
“He was told he was a killer. They said: ‘even if we can’t pin this on you, you’re finished in Ireland. You’ll be found dead in a ditch with a bullet in the back of your head’.”
The gardaí have denied all allegations of abuse or corrupt practices.
As the narrative was being read out in the court, Mr Bailey and Ms Thomas listened intently, from their seats behind their legal team. The courtroom was packed, a procession of lawyers coming and going to get a sconce at a trial that is quite obviously attracting huge interest.
Mr Creed went into considerable detail on the evidence he said will be heard from one woman at the centre of the affair, Marie Farrell. The counsel said she will claim that she was put under pressure repeatedly to finger Mr Bailey for the murder, specifically by identifying him as a man she said she saw at 3am on the night of the killing at Kealfadda Bridge, in the vicinity of the du Plantier abode.
She also gave evidence at a libel trial taken by Mr Bailey in Cork Circuit Court in 2003. This, she now says, was perjured evidence which she had been pressured to give, Mr Creed said. Ms Farrell’s alleged initial sighting of Mr Bailey on the night in question was central to the fingering of Mr Bailey.
“That concocted piece of evidence was one of the main planks for his arrest,” senior counsel said. Mr Bailey was arrested for a second time in January 1998, again, he claims, on an extremely flimsy basis. Ms Thomas also was twice arrested in connection with the murder.
At the conclusion of his speech, Mr Creed read out a long list of denials from the defendants in relation to each of Mr Bailey’s allegations. Eventually, Mr Justice Hedigan suggested it would suffice to tell the jury the defendants deny everything.
Mr Bailey entered the witness box at 3.30pm, and was brought through his early years by his second senior counsel, Martin Giblin. He got as far as his early years in West Cork, all of which was about to change in the wake of a violent murder that shook the area, and turned his world upside down.
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