The family of murdered French film producer, Sophie Toscan du Plantier have challenged the chief suspect in the case, Ian Bailey to explain changes in his story about how he learned about their loved one’s murder as they prepare to mark the 26th anniversary of her death.
Ms Toscan du Plantier’s uncle, Jean Pierre Gazeau told The Irish Times that it was clear Mr Bailey had changed his story over the years as to how he learned about Ms Toscan du Plantier’s murder and what he did in response, and he should explain these changes.
“I read recently that Ian Bailey has said he has new information that may be of use to the Serious Crime Review Team but before he comes forward with this new information, perhaps he might explain how he has come to change his story over the years,” said Mr Gazeau.
“And I say this, based not on Mr Bailey’s statements to the gardaí, which he claims are not accurate, but rather on his own testimony during his libel case, his libel appeal and his case against the state where all his statements were made in the witness box under oath, entirely of his own volition.”
According to Mr Gazeau, the first notable change in Mr Bailey’s version of events relates to what he was told by Irish Examiner reporter, Eddie Cassidy when he rang the Prairie at Liscaha, Schull where he lived with his then partner, Jules Thomas and her daughters at 1.40pm on December 23rd 1996.
In his libel case against eight papers at Cork Circuit Court in 2003, Mr Bailey said Mr Cassidy told him that a body of a woman, a foreign national, had been found in Toormore near Schull and he thought that Mr Cassidy had said she was “possibly French” and asked him to check it out, said Mr Gazeau.
However, Mr Cassidy testified in the same hearing that he had only told Mr Bailey that the woman was a foreign national as he did not know at that stage that she was a French national and Mr Bailey later told the court that he learned from a 2pm radio news bulletin that the victim was French.
But, when suing the state for wrongful arrest and breach of his constitutional rights in 2014, Mr Bailey was certain Mr Cassidy told him the victim was woman and French, an important change of detail when it came to following up on Mr Cassidy’s request to find out about the victim, he said.
Mr Gazeau said Mr Bailey also changed his story in relation to what he did once he got the call from Mr Cassidy, telling the libel action in 2003 that he proceeded to Dreenane in Toormore as he knew there was a French woman living near Alfie Lyons for whom he had done some gardening work.
“But at the case in Dublin in 2014, Mr Bailey suddenly introduces this element that he decided to go Jermyn’s Post Office as the post-office would know what foreigners were living in the area, so he and Jules Thomas drove over by Sophie’s house at Dreenane, just over the hill from Dunmanus Bay.
“The only problem is the quickest way to the Post Office from the Prairie is to go straight down the R592, Durrus to Toormore road and turn east on the R591, Goleen to Schull road – not go west to Dunmanus and over by Dreenane – it makes no sense to go by Sophie’s house to go the Post Office.”
Mr Gazeau said that there was a third element of Mr Bailey’s story which he had also changed over the years, namely in relation to a phone call he made to Caroline Leftwick on the day of the incident to say that he couldn’t come to collect some garlic from her because there had been a murder.
At his libel case in 2003, Mr Bailey disputed Mr Leftwick’s version he had rung her between 11.30am and 12.30pm pm to say that he couldn’t come to collect the garlic because there had been a murder as, he said, he did not know about the murder until he was told about it by Mr Cassidy at 1.40pm.
And this was the version of events he stuck to – that he rang her around noon but never mentioned the murder – despite rigorous cross-examination by Paul Gallagher SC for the papers in the 2003 libel action only for him to introduce a new detail in his High Court case version in 2014, he said.
“It wasn’t until 2014 that Mr Bailey suddenly announces that he made two phone calls to Ms Leftwick – one at noon where he doesn’t mention the murder and then one at 2pm to tell her that he can’t collect the garlic because there’s been a murder – after he says he heard about it from Mr Cassidy.
“One would have thought, given it’s such a significant detail in terms of explaining the discrepancy between his first version of events and Ms Leftwick’s version of events, that Mr Bailey would have mentioned in his court cases in both 2003 and 2007 that he made two phone calls but he does not.
“But these changes by Mr Bailey all follow a curious pattern – Mr Bailey seems to remember more details about the day of Sophie’s murder in 2014, almost 20 years after my niece was killed than he does in 2003, just seven years after she was killed and for most people, that is just not credible.”
Contacted by The Irish Times regarding Mr Gazeau’s comments, Mr Bailey declined to comment, saying he was not going to engage in any discussion of the minutiae of the case at this point, but he would be producing a podcast next year which would answer many questions.
“I’m not going to respond to Mr Gazeau’s comments even though he’s got the wrong end of the stick on this. I am very sympathetic to the French family – I am working on my podcast, ‘Ian Bailey in His Own Words’ and that will come out next year and should answer any questions people have.”
Mr Gazeau was speaking as he and Ms Toscan du Plantier’s parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, her brothers, Bertrand and Stephane Bouniol and her son, Pierre Louis Vignaud-Baudey are preparing to remember the 26th anniversary of her death.
Ms Toscan du Plantier’s badly beaten body was found near her holiday home at Dreenane, Toormore on the morning of December 23rd 1996, and while Mr Bailey was twice arrested and questioned in Ireland about the killing, he was never charged in Ireland in relation to her death.
However, he was convicted in absentia at the Cour d’Assises in Paris in 2019 of voluntary homicide over Ms Toscan du Plantier’s death and sentenced to 25 years in jail but the Irish High Court refused to sanction his extradition to France to serve the sentence and he remains at liberty in West Cork.
Mr Bailey, who separated from his partner of nearly 30 years, Jules Thomas in April 2021, told The Irish Times that he would be spending Christmas on his own in Bantry but was looking forward to the opportunity to engage in some writing for his podcast.
“I’m going to be on my own – I have my own little place but it’s nice and cosy with a little electric fire – I’m going to be writing, working on the script for my podcast so I’m looking forward to a quiet, creative Christmas,” he said.